Monday, April 1, 2013

Good Friday in Lima...and Good Saturday, too

    Lima is an awful lot like Toronto, but with triple the population and no meters in the taxis. We were told that there were ten million residents and climbing (some say 12 million), but there are no jobs and not enough infrastructure to support the new ones arriving every month. They keep coming anyway, and the shantytowns will grow. The lifestyle and prices in Miraflores are similar to prices in Scarborough, for meals at least; it's an area favoured by tourists. Meals and prices in other neighbourhoods are more Peruvian, and Lima residents are extremely friendly, even the cab drivers who, once they agree on a price which might have been a little less than they first proposed, are very cheerful and talkative.
    We're staying at the Buena Vista hostel for two nights. We lucked out: the owner of this hostel has often stayed for free at Apu Lodge, and vice versa, so we explained that we'd been volunteering there for six weeks, asked him for a discount for our stay, and he let us stay for free! It's a lovely hostel with a pet parrot named Lorenzo who is quite a character. A parrot is called a loro in Spanish. There are lots of wild birds in the city.  We can hear flocks of parrots, morning doves, and "zap-zap" birds.
    We went out to see the Catacombs and the Archaeological Museum today, but both were closed because it is Good Friday. Instead, we saw crowds of people in the Plaza de Armas, a.k.a. Plaza Mayor, celebrating their religious festival and a long weekend off work. The San Francisco cathedral was open, however.  The religious have to walk a long way today, visiting seven different churches to represent the seven words spoken by Christ on the cross; they buy a little decoration of creatively woven palm leaves, sometimes with flowers, crosses and miniature statues incorporated, and have them "blessed" in each church. Then they wander up the hill outside of town to watch the re-enactment of the crucifixion. 
    We found that the Museum of the Inquisition as it manifested in Peru was open, and free, so we wandered in and took some photos of that.
    Some Tripadvisor comments say that the public transit in Lima is "broken"; however, we found a great bus line up the main thoroughfare, called the Metropolitano. It looks pretty new, clean and comfortable, and there's a central hub underground which suggests that it will soon branch out from the main line. We paid 18 soles to take a cab to the square (cab drivers jack up the prices during "Holy Week", and on Good Friday), but only 4 soles to come back on the bus. We stood because the seats were filled, but it wasn't crowded or uncomfortable.  We'd got on ahead of the crowd going home from the Plaza Mayor, and the passengers were friendly and helpful. They have a very confusing system of buying a "tarjeta" which then has to be recharged for each ride, but any number of people can ride on the same tarjeta, so other riders are quick to step forward and let visitors ride along on their tarjeta as long as they cover their own fare. This way the visitors don't have to purchase a tarjeta themselves. I hope that when the system matures the administration will consider ways to accommodate short stay tourist visitors as well.  They could provide daily, week and monthly passes like Toronto's system does for visitors.
    The only downside to the Buena Vista happened Saturday morning, when an small army of loud, inconsiderate young Frenchmen woke each other up at 6 a.m. by banging on doors and clomping up and down the stairs.  They talked excitedly over each other all at once at the top of their inconsiderate voices in the courtyard at breakfast just below our window. They were so boorish I thought they might be Germans or Americans at first.  I'd forgotten that these days it seems that Germans and Americans who actually travel are more aware of their earlier reputation. They are now more sensitive to foreigners and fellow travelers than the French, who rival the young Israelis in obnoxiousness when the Israelis take their free year of travel after their three years of compulsory military service. There's a great stereotyping synopsis - not nice of me, but I couldn't help reflecting that Peruvians would be like whispering monks at that hour of the morning, and the gentle Quechua people would never be that rude.
    We weren't allowed to take photos inside the Franciscan monastery during our tour of the building and the catacombs below it. I'm not really sure why - there are tons of photos of it online already anyway, so here's a link to some of those images. They've estimated that 25,000 people were buried there.
    The really horrifying thing about the Franciscan monastery wasn't the bones, however. It was the library, which looked like something out of Hogwarts, with dust everywhere and spiral iron staircases to the upper levels. There are 20,000 books on the shelves, some up to 500 years old, all rotting in the open air, with bookworm holes visible in the spines. There's been no attempt to protect them or share them with the rest of the world. Unbelievable.
    I built a photo album of the pre-Colombian ceramics we saw in the national museum of archaeology, mostly for Laurence Wright who directed us there.  Many other people will be amazed at their quality.  Deborah was, having been a potter herself.  For erotic Moche pottery, you'll have to view Google images, because we chose the national museum over the Larco museum  where they are housed.  Warning: this is a PG, X-rated link to how people had fun 2000 years ago, which, as it turns out, is not much different than today.
    The red eye home to Toronto through New York was comfortable. Once again, LAN came out ahead in spades over American Airlines, in terms of food, service and comfort. I'd never hesitate to fly that airline.
    Here in Toronto, it is snowing lightly, but forecast to warm up again in a couple of days with warmer weather blowing in from Edmonton. The internet was back on by the time we got home, but we're renegotiating our contract, and getting the phone service turned on.  We had to call Bell on Skype, which felt strange.  We dealt with four months of mail, got the vehicle insurance coverage restored, and took care of all our first-week-back details and chores.
    And that's was it.  We've "done Peru".  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Goodbye Ollantay, Hello Sexy Woman

    We spent a day at the Sun Temple complex in Ollantaytambo. I had 260 photos that I whittled down to 212, and then reduced that to a smaller number to put in my photo album.  The rest stay on my hard drive. After all, how many photos of rocks piled up can I post, no matter how cleverly carved and piled they are?
    Two days later we said our goodbyes and got to our hostal in Cusco, the Pakcha Real, by noon. We met Daniel again, and learned that it might not be worth recommending the place to others. They play games with you when you tell them you expect to pay what's on the website.  This is our second visit, so it has happened twice now.  They make excuses for why online information hasn't been updated. Daniel quoted 8 soles for a taxi ride to the airport because he was trying to get us to pay for it ourselves; last time it was 12, and the "official airport taxi" rate (no different than any other taxis, except that they are a group that have formed a price-fixing cartel that no authority seems to have the ability or the will to bust up) wants 40 soles. This place is a minefield for travelers on a budget.
    Before we left Ollantay, we bought a ten-day "boleta", a $100 ticket for two of us that allows entry into various archaeological sites, art galleries and museums, and a folkdance performance. We used it first for Ollantaytambo temple and Moray, and then for sites and museums in Cusco. We're pretty used to the altitude now; Cusco is higher than Ollantay, at 3300 metres, but this time we're able to scamper back up the hill or the stair-streets to our hostal at a pretty good clip.
    We had a very good meal at "Jack's" in San Blas, toured a couple of museums which are fairly pathetic, mostly because of their inability to maintain good exhibits and to write decent explanations. Oddly, in a town which gets so many good English writers and fluently bilingual tourists, their English captions are worse than the worst Google translate you've ever seen. 
    In the contemporary art museum in Cusco we enjoyed viewing paintings by Amilcar Salomon Zorilla, a former Peruvian ambassador to the U.S.  He used to have lots of fine Inca images in paintings on his website, including depictions of the fourteen Incas and a series of temple virgins, but his website has disappeared and it is difficult to find images of the paintings online.
    In the evening we went to an arts cultural centre and watched an hour long show of folk dances from different provinces of Peru. It's amazing how many different traditional costumes there are. Photography was difficult - they move too fast, in low light - but I got a few cute shots.
    We went to the Sun Temple site of Cusco, called Sacsayhuaman, and sometimes spelled Sacsaywaman. When Spanish speakers say it, it can sound like they're trying to say "sexy woman" in English, so even the guides call it that on purpose. We got there as a hop-off from a city tour in an open-topped bus, but it took some convincing for them to let us get down there and catch the same bus the next time it came around. It was worth it, though - we saw some other sights and saved cab fare to Sacsayhuaman, and while we were there we lucked into watching a crucifixion by a number of school kids. They crucified a high school kid, probably wished it was a teacher, but there you go...they got him popped up on the cross in the rain and cold just before our bus had to leave.
    When we came back down to town we visited the regional museum which has fourteen galleries and slightly better captioning for the exhibits than we saw the day before. It was a much better museum, though, and no matter what, in English or in Spanish, every museum has something different to see and think about. 
    We also visited the Popular Art museum, which is small but really enjoyable. Then we watched The Name of the Rose in Spanish in the City Hall cinema for free - I was hoping for The Mission, but that came on next and we were ready to leave by then. We had supper in an East Indian Korma restaurant on Tandapata, our street: I had curried alpaca. Could have had tandoori guinea pig as an appetizer. This must be the only place in the world where you can have your choice of those two dishes.
Next diary entry: Good Friday in Lima

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Yachay Wasi, Helpx Farewell, Moray and Salineras

    On Friday Louise took me to Yachay Wasi, the little schoolhouse where her daughters study. It's a private school with only four classes, two of which are renting space; class sizes are 14 2/3 yr olds, 16 3/4/5's, 17 in the State sponsored "Prenoi" (early childhood education) that rents a classroom from them, and 9 in Nina's 6/7's, who are another private school that also rents a classroom. There are Yachay Wasi's in every town by the way; the name translates literally as "school house" in Quechua.
    Two of the teachers joined us later at the lodge for a farewell party, mostly for Gemma and Cesar, but also for Deb and me. Deb, Gemma and Monica made a nice pesto with basil, spinach and pecans, and Gemma made Spanish potato, onion and egg omelettes ("tortillas"). The beer and Pisco flowed freely, and Maf, a teacher originally from Botswana, brought his guitar and entertained us by playing and singing.  He got thoroughly drunker than anyone else, even diminutive Gemma, who keeps up with the men but is half their weight and size, and suffers for it the next day. 
    Maf claims to be 4th generation Botswana, descended from French and Portuguese (the Frenchman likely a criminal escaping the law in the late 1800's, he says, and his family name was changed - he doesn't know from what), and he still has family there. His Dad is tight with Ian Khama, he has a stepmom, and one of four remaining brothers (originally there were six of them) lives there doing "entrepreneurial things", he says. Another one lives here in Lima, and is a journalist. He claims to be Jewish, but I don't think he's terribly sure of that either, and he gets drunk like an Irish poet. He played and sang "Oh, Botswana, Oh, Mama Africa...", with good guitar playing and guitar-slapping rhythm work, even when he was thoroughly pissed.
    On the morning after, I got up make sure all traces of our party were cleaned up before the breakfast guests came down, but Gemma and Cesar had already done a pretty good job before they went to bed.  Ruth was only ten minutes late, so after sweeping and making coffee, my job was done except for schmoozing with the guests when they came down. Deb and I ate our own breakfast and, with Mike and Monica, we headed off with Moises in his private car to see Salineras and Moray. 
    In the Maras valley there are warm salt springs. We're high in the mountains, but there is limestone around Cusco.  A long time ago this was an ocean bottom that got up-thrust with the rest of the Andes, and as it evaporated, it created a fantastic salt reservoir. The city of Cusco was once a lake that eventually, slowly drained away. At Salineras a spring from the hillside runs underground through the reservoir and picks up salt in very high concentration, and then emerges. There are 5700 individual pans where the water is evaporated to give salt. This has been going on for thousands of years, since long before the Incas, of course, and is posited as one of several reasons why the Incas chose first Ollantaytambo, the "House of the Dawn" of the Inca Empire, and then Cusco as the centre of their empire, which spread out in four distinct provinces from that point.
    Moray is a fascinating agronomic laboratory, a place where the Incas grew and adapted different kinds of plants to different altitudes and conditions, creating hardier corn varieties, etc, in a controlled environment where they could select the sun's angle at various seasons by planting at any point of the 360 degree circular terraces, as well as the depth into the sheltered funnel of terraces. Scientists have measured a temperature differential of 10 degrees Farenheit between various points of the terraces. The improved seeds from plants here were a precious and valued gift from the Inca to the leaders of other subjugated indigenous peoples around the empire. Here's are our photos of Moray, Salineras and some surrounding mountain peaks.
    One of the most readable and succinct books about the Incas, with great photos, is one sold outside the Temple here, by Fernando and Edgar Salazar. 
Next diary entry: Farewell Ollantaytambo

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fresh Helpx blood, and a trip to the Kiya Survivors School

    A friend writes, "loved The Doors of Ollantaytambo and The Dogs of Ollantaytambo. May we now have The Women of Ollantaytambo, please? Be sure to keep the nudes tasteful..." Well Don, there's occasional toplessness here, almost always in the form of unselfconscious nursing of infants when they get cranky; other than that, I suspect you're out of luck for nudes.
    On Sunday evening at 5 p.m. the power went out - a tree had fallen beside the flood-weakened river bank and taken out the power lines to the whole town and the upstream communities as well.  The hydroelectric station is downstream from us, near Machu Picchu.  I'm convinced that the river walls are weak because the rocks are locked in place with concrete masonry instead of stacked up free-floating rocks like the Incas would have built. We read by candlelight and had a longer sleep than usual. The power came on again at about 10:30 Monday morning. Good thing, once again, that we had no guests in the building. Four guests arrived on Monday, all of them exhausted by airline delays and heavy rain while being driven down from Cusco.
    Before Ruth got here on Monday morning (late again - I think she's been on time for work twice in six weeks) the milk lady came with her daughter.  I got Deb out of bed to make that purchase because I wasn't sure how much to buy and what to pay.  I did the dishes from the night before - it had been too dark to see if we were getting them clean, so we just left them until the morning.
    The day went well, but for the most part we sat and waited to meet the guests, who were delayed. The first couple had not arranged their train tickets in advance, so they raced down to the station and were lucky enough to get a mid-day train to Machu Picchu.  
    The second couple arrived five hours overdue, and included a young lady in a miniskirt and platform sandals.  I don't know where she thought she was coming to. I was sure she'd twist an ankle on the cobblestones. They went down to the plaza for dinner in the evening with no raingear, and the power went out again. The town was plunged into pitch darkness, and they had to walk home up an unfamiliar street between stone walls, on cobblestones, with a ditch full of running water on one side. Cesar and Gregorio went to look for them in all the restaurants with a flashlight, while I set up candles along the path and at the front gate.  Then the rain began. Cesar and Gregorio couldn't find them, and came back alone.  Fortunately the power came back on a half an hour later, including the recently repaired streetlights on our "street", so they were able to find their own way home, somewhat soaked and bedraggled. They had to get up at 5 a.m. the next morning to make it to their train to Machu Picchu.
    We make lots of friends here at the lodge - people who travel do that - and we swap email addresses, business cards, and invitations to visit each other. Mariane, Thomas and son Calvin gave us a bag of Calvin's clothes for Kiya Survivors, and invited us to stay at her apartment in Costa Rica if we ever travel there. They actually live in Tampa, where she is completing a doctorate in gerontology. She speaks fluent Spanish, having grown up in Costa Rica, and Thomas is German, so Calvin is working on becoming trilingual. 
    The power went out for the third time in a day just after lunch, shutting down the internet router; Gemma had a small fit: "I hate this place! Join the 21st Century!!" That was her second fit of the day - the first one was bigger, she tells us, when the hot water cut out in the middle of her shower while her hair was full of shampoo; which had also happened to Deborah this morning. The air was blue from both ends of the lodge. But the sun was shining and it looked gorgeous outside, so I teased Gemma about how enchanting Ollantaytambo is. 
    Ruth worked hard cleaning today, while Pancha did the biggest weekly shopping trip, which happens every Tuesday. The new Helpxers, Mike and Monica, arrived - I put their travelling blog link in my last entry. We spent a few hours giving them an orientation to the lodge, village and region.  We walked with them down to the plaza to introduce them to some of the choices of places to eat, and we arranged a trip to Moray and Salineras for this Thursday with the four of us in the car. Then we took them to Puka Rumi to have dinner together.  They were a nice couple.
    On Wednesday we visited the Kiya Survivors school, which by all outward first appearances gets ten out of ten for a responsibly run charity. The staff and volunteers seem committed and cheerful, and the grounds and facilities are marvellous by Peruvian standards. Kiya is a UK based foundation, but Alan Harman's Alma Foundation funds their Outreach program, and one of their newer programs in Life Skills. We spent an hour or so doing some last checking of the receipts for the year and then Julia gave us the receipt book to deliver to Alan when we get back to Scarborough. Here's what we saw.
Next diary entry: Farewell to Apu Lodge

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Visiting Juan Carlos

    Juan Carlos and his mother live just up the hillside in the Patacancha valley at a place called Mores, about five kilometres from Ollantaytambo. Juan Carlos has autism (undiagnosed but obvious to anyone with experience in autism classrooms) and Downs syndrome. The Kiya Survivors discovered his presence and have been working with his mother to get him ready to attend school a couple of days a week. They visit with supplies of milk and soy/kiwicha flour, and they've built a little toilet to get him trained in how to use one - he used to be dressed in skirts and relieve himself wherever he felt like it. The mom and any other family members who were there would go up into the fields to do their business, but now they all use the new toilet.
    Yordi Angles Garcia Usca, Juan Carlos' nephew, is a handsome young man of twelve and in grade six; he lives with his grandmother because his mother has a new husband who doesn't want him, if I understood that correctly. Iris the social worker took some simple school supplies and books for him, and handed out toothbrushes.  A female cousin was also visiting today. Mariane and Thomas from Tampa, who were staying at the lodge for a couple of days, had given us some clothes that their son Calvin had outgrown, and some of those were the perfect size for Yordi, who was very grateful to get them. I believe the rest will go to other Kiya children at the disabilities school.
    The family cooks in a small hut that is built on the foundation of an old Inca or pre-Inca fort, and they farm terraces with rock walls.  The walls are overgrown and falling down, and a little difficult to distinguish. They have a second building closer to the road which has a board floor and two newer beds for sleeping, as well as farming equipment and sacks of produce that the Mom, who is about fifty, takes to market in town once a week. She has ducks, a house full of guinea pigs, and two sheep up the hill that she gathers wool from. She spins and dyes the wool with natural dyes, and probably weaves with it also.
    The washroom is rudimentary, but has a water source for flushing and cleaning, and a covered septic drain. Plastic pipe takes water to a shower head as well. Cold water, of course, and not potable. The water coming from the irrigation ditch, which is where they used to hike to get their water, and is merely strained of larger debris by a plastic pop bottle with holes in it that has to be replaced on a regular basis. 
    I had a short discussion with Miguel and Julia about how easy it would be to build a covered concrete capture and settling tank, or even a wood board one lined with plastic sheeting.   There's a natural three-sided hollow in the hill that's the perfect size already, right under the pipe.  They could scoop or pipe the clear water off the top and filter it through a $30 ceramic filter to provide clean drinking water to the family, so they wouldn't have to bring their drinking water in, and wouldn't have to waste hard-to-gather fuel on boiling water, assuming they actually boil their drinking water.  
    The final step before ingesting that water would be to let it sit in the sun in clear plastic bottles for 6 to 48 hours depending on what you're trying to kill and the weather conditions, in the concave valleys of the bright galvanized corrugated roof panels they've put over the new toilet, to kill any remaining micro-organisms, molds and fungus. Ultraviolet light is used in high end purification systems to kill bacteria and micro-organisms, and the UV levels up here are the some of the highest in the world.
    We discussed adding black piping, a black vinyl solar shower bag, a black five gallon plastic can, or even just large plastic bottles painted black, to have passive solar heated shower water. The water is all gravity fed, so there's no need for pumps of any kind.  It's just a question of adding a bit more tubing and some valves.
    Iris tried to visit a second home on the way back, but they were not at home. We got home in time for lunch, and then I spent the early afternoon editing and captioning my photos and writing this blog entry, most of which also doubles as a report for Alan Harman of the Alma Foundation. 
    Back at the lodge, Gemma taught me something.  She's been working on adding higher resolution photos to, where the lodge gets at least 20% of their bookings. She's managed to increase the lodge's rating with from 67% to 100%, after working at it over the past week, and that translates into being presented to customers at a higher level on the website. accounts for 30%.  Agencies only book one night at a time, and direct bookings account for the other 50%. They don't seem to get any business from three others that they have to continually monitor anyway - Hostelworld, Hostelbookers, and Despegar - probably because Apu Lodge is priced higher than hostel-seekers are looking for, so they'll be dropping those services. All good to know, in case we want to buy our own lodge some day and market it on the internet.
    A few days ago I made a photo album of The Doors of Ollantaytambo. This morning, in a fit of whimsy, I took photos of dogs top create another photo album: The Dogs of Ollantaytambo. I took some other random shots around town, and of the school.  The new term was supposed to start at the beginning of March, but as we were warned before we even came to South America, there are an inordinate number of days when the children are not in school for one reason or another - religious days, fiestas, teacher inservices, strikes, contract signings - making it difficult to volunteer in schools here...this time, after only two days, the teachers all went away for a whole week of "inservice", and they're only back today - but the kids were not required to sit in the classrooms and learn anything to make up for the time they'd missed; instead, it was a "fiesta" day to celebrate the return of the teachers. Am I impressed? Not so wonder countries like this have such a hard time pulling themselves up to First World standards.
    The bakery here is interesting. It's a community oven. The baker has dibs in the morning, builds the fire and spends the morning baking up batches of fresh, flat little buns about the shape of small cow patties.  People from all over the village step inside to buy the fresh buns at about 6 1/2 cents each until they run out.  After that anyone else may go in and use the oven to bake a cake, or whatever else they desire. However, today the baker decided to take the day off and go to Cusco, with no warning, no notice.  The consequence is no fresh bread, for residents or tourist guests at the many accommodation homes throughout the town.  There's no oven at Apu Lodge to whip up some biscuits or bread, because Louise took the good stove to her house - we only have a tiny little two burner propane stove, good for frying eggs and making soup.  How lucky it is that we have no guests this morning!
Next diary entry: Kiya Survivors

Monday, March 11, 2013

Knocking off the Conquistadors

    Deb and I walked to a place that tourists never go, unless they hire horses just for a pleasant ride along the terraces. It isn't in the guidebooks, but it is in one of the history books I've read over the past month. It's where Manco Inca's warriors tried to knock the Spaniards off their horses as they approached the temple city of Ollantaytambo along the Rio Urubamba, coming from Cusco.  It is probably the site of the first and only devastating defeat of the Spanish in battle by the Incas. It fits the description better than the main temple site. 
    This is the battle site described in the Wikipedia account, in the sections titled Battle, and Battle Site. The site should be famous but is ignored by local guides and unknown to most tourists who just come to see Machu Picchu and race home.  The walk to get there is along a beautiful stretch of treed terraces overlooking the Urubamba valley, with hummingbirds and rock waterfall features that are part of the aqueduct system irrigating the terraces. It should be developed as a municipal park and alternate destination for tourists. I didn't even know it was there until I stumbled on it and suddenly recognized where I was from the description I'd read. There are no plaques or signposts. I'm hoping I'll get a chance to guide a visitor or two there myself before I leave, and enjoy their astonishment.
    I have finished the last of the books on my reading list, an older (1997), dryer Penguin book by Nigel Davies called The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru, which covers what is known about the pre-Incan cultures, of which there were many, stretching back thousands of years. A lot of the ruins we call "Incan" were built by earlier peoples in the same areas who were conquered by the Incans and incorporated into the Empire. The empire has been compared to the Roman Empire, but in some ways the Inca seem more like "the Borg". Many cultures gave up without a fight as the Incan Empire expanded - "Resistance is futile", say the Borg. If a culture resisted, they were brutally defeated and their citizens marched off en masse, thousands at a time, to other parts of the empire for resettlement and indoctrination.
    This was part of the Incan administrative genius for empire building and social engineering - cruel, but effective. People could be slaughtered for any number of reasons, and that included regular child sacrifice.  How did parents and communities ever come to accept that?  Free trade was discouraged and carefully controlled, in favour of economic "vertical archipelagos".  The system remained stable because nobody starved.  Today's New Agers are impressed with the Incas as the first "socialist" or "communist" society, a mystical society with no writing but with skilled astronomy; they conveniently forget the brutality and repression, the extremism of the Emperor cult, the constant need to sacrifice people and animals to the Inti and other gods. 
    It was not a time and place I'd have wished to live, no matter how impressed I am, like everyone else, with the stone building technology.  As one U.S. soldier from Kabul said when he was here two weeks ago on a break with his wife, "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you have enough slaves." Yeah, that kind of cuts through some of the mystery, doesn't it? 
    Apparently it took 50,000 men 20 years to build the temple I looked out on as I wrote this, and the town between me and the temple. I don't know where they were all housed at the time, but from what I've read their diet was poor, and the commoners in Cusco lived a squalid existence. The military, the luxury goods craftsmen, the priests and administrators, and the Emperor all ate well.  It more closely parallels the Soviet Socialist experience than any sort of New Age enlightened socialism or Christian communism.
    Not that the indigenos were any better off under the Spanish, mind you...
    We're getting fresh Helpxers shortly. Mike and Monica from Eugene, Oregon, have been travelling and blogging in S. America since last September, but they've started at the bottom and worked their way up, staying in hostels and travelling like locals, and riding in some of the amazing trans-continental buses.
    Deb and I held the fort alone, this time all day, with the help of Gregorio and Pancha.  Gemma, Cesar and Carlos have a day off to experience the magic cactus, with Louise' blessing (I didn't have Deb's blessing to join them!).  Louise and Ruth are both went to Cusco for the day. We only had one family of four for breakfast, a pretty nice family from Houston. The son, about ten, had a steel-trap memory and was a bit of a rainman.  We talked about why people built in high altitudes here, and I mentioned the desert between the Andes and the coast, and common diseases of the forested lowlands, in particular Leishmaniasis, known as Uta in South America. "Oh," said Thomas, "that's caused by sandflies, isn't it?" His astonished mother said, "How did you know that?" "It was on a TV show about horrible diseases that we watched together a few months ago", replied Thomas. Later I mentioned that we had 1800 species of birds here, second only in number to Colombia. "Cool," said Thomas. "We only have 600 species in Texas."
Next diary entry: Visiting Juan Carlos

Friday, March 8, 2013

Life at the Lodge

    These photos illustrate life at the lodge and around the town of Ollyantaytambo.  
    Our days have settled into a familiar routine. I get up just before seven unless there's an "early breakfast" scheduled for people trying to catch the early train to Machu Picchu. "Early breakfast" set-up happens the night before and I just inspect for any missing items, and host the breakfast, often starting at six. "Regular breakfast" set-up begins at 7 for a 7:30 sitting and I usually get most of it done before Ruth arrives fifteen minutes late. She used to be an hour late, sometimes two, but now Louise is back and has read the riot act to her, so she's shaped up a little. Usually Gregorio arrives on time, and helps by cutting fruit and other little chores. Some mornings he brings in the fresh buns; on other days if he hasn't arrived, Deb has run out to get them.
    After clean-up, I have my own breakfast and shower, and then check our portfolio and read the equity reports quickly before we hold an English class for Gregorio and Francesca ("Pancha"). We've started pushing Gregorio forward at breakfast to ask whether the guests want "fresh squeezed orange juice" (he does the squeezing), and whether they want "two fried eggs or two scrambled eggs" (he does those, too). I hover, in case he doesn't fully comprehend their answers to his questions - for example if they use unpredictable vocabulary such as "one egg, easy over", if there are multiple orders of different types and amounts of eggs, or if they speak too quickly or indistinctly.
    Ruth invited Gemma out for a walk last night. They ended up at a disco, and were gone five hours, precipitating a spat between Gemma and Cesar; but while they danced, Ruth told Gemma she had been pilfering, after having denied it vehemently during her meeting with Louise. However, she insisted on sharing the blame with Pancha, and I guess she figures that makes her only half-guilty, somehow...thinking like a kid. Seems like a dumb move, the kind a cop would seize on to wring a confession.  
    We haven't connected with any local schools even though their vacation period is officially over next week.  Some are in class already.  We may choose not to. A small amount of volunteerism mixed in with the days of a snowbird seems comfortable, at the moment. We only have two weeks left here, and some of that time will be used to see other Inca ruins and sites of interest. 
    Next week we'll go out on a field trip with Kiya Survivors. I've learned about one school here that is staffed entirely by foreigners, mostly Spanish and French, and including one male teacher from Botswana. When people ask the administrator why there are no Peruvian teachers, she explains that she tries to hire them, but they never arrive on time for classes, and have to be canned - I guess they keep "Peruvian time", like Ruth does. When I was growing up we used to talk about "African time", but we were quick to forgive because most Africans didn't have clocks and didn't know how to tell time by minutes and hours; but here they do, and everyone has a cell phone. If you ask them the time and it is 7:26, they won't round to 7:25 or 7:30. They'll tell you that it is precisely 7:26; yet punctuality just doesn't seem to matter to most of them. Gregorio and Pancha appear to be exceptions rather than the rule.
    Before and after English class, Deb can usually be found helping the staff with laundry, or sweeping the kitchen and dining room.  I often do the breakfast dishes. Not that we're supposed to do those chores, but it helps out, especially if we're taking time out of their mornings to make them sit through an English class. Then I read - mostly Incan and pre-Incan history over the past month. 
    One thing I'm pondering lately is the appearance in mythology of several S. American cultures of a Moses-like personage, sometimes a poor but powerful prophet and religious leader in a modest but flowing robe and a long white beard, with a tall staff, sometimes made of gold. In Incan mythology the first Inca ruler, Manco Capac leads his people (as Moses did) on a journey from the Island of the Sun in the middle of Lake Titicaca, through an underworld tunnel (an echo of the parting of the Red Sea).  They come out in the cave of Pacariqtambo in the Valley of Cusco. As he goes he plunges the gold staff into the earth looking for soft, arable land. Moses' staff turned into snakes; here snakes are revered as representing Mother Earth, Pachamama, and they are a sign of knowledge. The guardian of the underworld in the Old World was a two headed snake; and the two headed snake is an important cultural icon in pre-history here, on friezes, pottery, and textiles. 
    These are pretty interesting myth parallels. It reminds me of the fact that all of the miracles and legends of Christ in the Bible had already existed in pre-Christian religions and cultures, including healing the sick, virgin birth, crucifixion, and turning water into wine.  In the middle east those stories were all in the same part of the world, where they could be easily overlaid from one religion and region to the next. How did they spread to central America?  There is some evidence of foreign visitors and even one who became a ruler of a pre-Incan coastal kingdom, arriving here in pre-historic times with, presumably, other stories and customs which might have influenced the mythological traditions here.
    Eventually the Incas arrived at Cusco, where the staff sank into the earth, and it became the land of milk and honey, at the doorway to the "Sacred Valley", and the new capital of the Incan empire.  It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Western Hemisphere.  The Spaniards built right above the Inca foundations and sometimes simply took over their palaces. 
    After lunch I usually nap, and sometimes in the afternoon we go for a hike in the village, looking for interesting photos. Later in the day there are usually new guests to meet and greet.  We provide an orientation to Ollantaytambo and the surrounding sights. In the evening we often sit and chat with Gemma, Cesar and Carlos; I usually make a bowl of popcorn and sometimes we have a drink of Cusqueña beer or Pisco - a Peruvian clear grape brandy, named after a city in Peru, that they use to make the famous "Pisco sours" with a sugar syrup, lime juice and beaten egg white. Deb read that we're supposed to include a dash of Angostura bitters, but we don't have any of those. Sometimes we just use fresh squeezed orange juice and make "Pisco screwdrivers".
    Today there is a family of four at the lodge: Mom, Dad, son and daughter about grade 8 age, who are eight months into a year-long round-the-world tour.  They keep a travel diary, like I do.  They're heading back to Cusco this afternoon - and others are flying in this morning - right in the middle of a city-wide strike. 
    Strikes are a very common phenomenon in Cusco, which some have called "strike city". All transport gets shut down, taxis can't get past the city limits, and the police swarm the airport - because 5000 teachers once decided to make that the locus of their strike and tried to burn it down. What the airport has to do with education, I don't know; it appears to be simply another selfish and short-sighted case of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Tourism is the major industry here. It supports public works, schools and teacher salaries as well as the rest of the city's economy.
    A while ago there was a strike over the price of drinking water. It was supposed to be a one day strike, and there were about a thousand people marching and yelling and beating drums, but it stretched over into the second day. However, on the second day there were only about a hundred official protesters - everybody else had turned it into an impromptu family holiday, and they were playing soccer on the streets where no cars or buses were allowed to pass. At noon the strike leaders assembled in the plaza for their heroic official photos for the press, and only then was the strike officially pronounced over. The populace has zero regard for the tourists who've spent an awful lot of money to come and enrich the people who depend on their foreign currency, and who will miss connecting flights as a result of the strike action.
    Two ladies arrived at the lodge. They'd planned to include a trip to Pisac on their way to the lodge from Cusco airport, but they got sick in Lima. The price including Pisac, which is a short distance in the opposite direction, is 180 soles; the price directly to the lodge is only 100 soles. The driver, a new one for the lodge, which usually has a list of five regular reliable drivers, was unsympathetic, claiming he could have had a different fare with someone else if he had known.  He wanted them to pay the full 180 soles even though he only drove them directly here from Cusco airport. He tried to ask for a compromise price of 150. In fact, you can get a car from the airport to Ollantay for 60 or 70 soles, so he was still asking for double the normal fare, and the lodge's usual drivers are already well paid for their trips at 100 soles. Ruth and Deborah were hemming and hawing with him over that, but fortunately Carlos arrived for his afternoon shift just in time, and he put a stop to the bull****. He simply handed the driver a 100 soles note and sent him on his way, with no further discussion. Deb says the driver was too shocked to argue...and maybe suddenly realized that if he expected to be on the lodge driver short list and get regular business from them, he'd better be reasonable with our customers.
    The drama wasn't over, though. The following morning, Juvenal, the driver who hadn't been able to get us through to Patacancha on our second try in his taller Mercedes van, even though other cars and combi's were going through, phoned to harrass Ruth about the lost trip to Pisac. He claimed the driver had been one of his drivers (he must be quite an operator!) and that he'd put 90 soles ($36) of gas into the vehicle and therefore only made 10 soles profit on that trip! Of course, the gas he used to come directly to Ollantay was about three gallons round trip, maximum 35 soles rather than 90, so the remaining gas is still in his tank for use for the next fare; and he could have picked up another fare to go back the other way as well. His argument is, to use a polite lawyerly term, "without merit" - and in the vernacular, he's "full of it".
    Carlos can instantly recount many problems he's had with taxi drivers being obstinate and overcharging, including one issue he had trying to get fair service for a disabled customer of the lodge the precious year. Taxis here, even in the capital city Lima, are not metered, they ignore the advertised and posted fares if they can get away with it, and with tourists they usually can. They have a terrible reputation even with the locals. In the "collectivos", 11 passenger vans that often carry up to 7 extra people standing in the aisles, you may not be as comfortable but you will at least be more likely to pay the standard, much lower fare.
    You just can't trust Peruvian kitchens. Deb and I went for pizza at a high end restaurant that's been recommended, but that's been closed for the month of February. Unfortunately, they must have used ingredients that they'd had in their frig for the whole month they were away.  We had terrible gas and other bowel problems overnight. There are no serious hygiene standards and no restaurant inspectors here that I'm aware of.  If there were, they could probably be paid off - in fact they would probably insist on it. The Sacred Valley is a little piece of paradise, which you can often tell more from my photographs than from my text, but there are various kinds of trouble in paradise. It's not all sunshine and roses.  If it were, I think we'd seriously consider having a winter property here.
    We went to Heart's Cafe, which had recently re-opened. The night before, we'd heard, someone had robbed them. We quizzed the waiter, and he said someone - probably from a nearby village - had broken in through an upper window, climbing along the roof, but there was a waiter still working on the ground floor who chased the robber out. The village is abuzz, because this sort of thing happens in Cusco or Lima, maybe even in Urubamba, but never in sleepy little Ollantaytambo. While at dinner, though, I appreciated our location at Apu Lodge, as the traffic lumbered up from the bridge to the plaza and from there to the road out of town. We're a long walk up a pedestrian-only walkway, and although we endured twelve hours of amplified birthday music and raucous P.A. speeches from a neighbour a few days ago, we are spared the noise of traffic and the music from the bars in the hostels for backpackers down at the plaza.
    The owner of Heart's Cafe lent me a thick Spanish language course called Repaso.
    Deb and I hiked to Rumira, a neighbouring village. Our main purpose was to view the "piedras cansadas", the "tired stones". There are three of them along the side of a road which, six hundred years ago, was the ramp up which these stones were dragged (on wood rollers, presumably) to become part of the unfinished Sun Temple. In the photo album you'll see how far they were dragged from their quarry seven kilometres away, across the valley and through a river.
    I collected a photo of "tree tomatoes" in the wild, and one of the Peruvian Torch in the lodge garden, one of 13 columnar cacti from which mescaline can be extracted. The most famous one is the San Pedro cactus.
    On the night I wrote this entry, we had almost a full house, and the volunteers were manning the lodge all by themselves. Carlos' wife 'Toinette is ill with a possible liver infection, and he has called in sick.  There is no paid staff who can be called in to replace him. Cesar and I made a trip to the plaza with the luggage tricycle and came back with five suitcases for three older ladies. We'll have another family of three for early breakfast. They're very nice, originally from Costa Rica and now live in Tampa, Florida, so they speak both languages fluently. After they've left for Machu Picchu, we'll have another seven to ten people for regular breakfast. However, Karina will be in tomorrow - Sunday - and she's a good, reliable kid.
    At around 9:30, a rounded pebble about the size of a very small potato ("but very much harder!" says Deb) came through a glass pane in our front door while our guests were seated at breakfast. Gemma was fit to be tied, because it just missed her while she was standing outside having a smoke. We suspected a couple of kids from one street over that we've seen playing with a slingshot, but we couldn't spot exactly who did it. They might have been shooting at birds, and possibly didn't even take aim at the lodge building. We don't think it's personal, unless someone has some sort of grudge against Louise, or some sort of jealousy. Gemma was rattled, though, and will probably begin smoking out back in the laundry area instead.  Of course, then a much bigger rock may tumble from the rock face. At which point, we'll just have to suggest that she quit smoking...
    Daz came in for a visit with his wife Chris this afternoon. They live and work in Urubamba.  Chris teaches English to Louise' staff two afternoons a week, but they were Helpx volunteers here at the lodge some time ago. Daz told me that a rock actually did fall from the vertical face behind the lodge while he was here, and when it hit another rock at ground level it shattered like a fragmentation grenade.  A large shard went through a back window. Fragmentation hadn't occurred to me - that increases the danger considerably. He said that another much larger rock fell into the neighbour's yard while he was here, as well.
    Little "nightcap" events: a guest fell in the "aqueduct" (a polite word for a ditch) down the side of the path coming home to the lodge, in the dark. She was attacked (she said) by a dog. We'd always found the dogs pretty calm in this town, quite capable of co-existing with humans, even in narrow alleys - they just accept each other and each goes about his business with no fuss. There was just once when one seemed eager to have an aggressive bark at Deborah; and I did read one review where a man claimed to have been bitten while wandering up "the wrong alley".
    Finally, while we were having supper in the kitchen, Louise's ex Arturo's door opened suddenly - his room has a door that opens onto the kitchen. A busty girl stepped into the kitchen, wearing some sort of nightie and corset, but she didn't get very far - Arturo's hand leapt out to grab her by the arm and yank her quickly back into his room!