Monday, May 31, 2010

Another two-week bite

I got into a rhythm on this trip. I got used to taking quick two-week journeys with friends and I haven't been able to change the beat. I went to visit Ronaldo in Sao Paulo after Illa left. I had a visa and a friend to stay with, so I figured, "why not?"

Then Ronaldo suggested traveling to Peru and Bolivia together. He's never been and didn't want to go alone. Again, why not? So we flew the 5.5 hours from Sao Paulo, close to the Pacific coast, to Lima, on the Atlantic coast. The long flight was a reminder that South America is a vast continent.

I met Ronaldo at Spanish school in Buenos Aires. He's about 5 feet 9 inches with perfectly coiffed brown hair. He spent over $800 pesos on hair products while we were in BA. He likes to walk arm in arm down the street so he can squeeze my hand when a "cutie" walks by, usually an attractive guy with blond hair and blue eyes.

I skipped Lima the last time I was in South America because I heard it was dirty and dangerous. Ronaldo, coming from Brazil, has always expected teh rest of South America to be a bit backwards--dirty and and dangerous.

We were both surprised and amazed in Lima. It was clean with fresh new roads, beautiful gardens and parks. The security guards outside the government palace even approached us to give us information usually provided by tour guides. They are proud and know what they're protecting.

We went paragliding over the Atantic and Lima. It was an amazing feeling, just like flying. My guide said he had the best office in town.

From Lima, we flew to Cuzco and jumped immediately in a van headed toward Macchu Pichu. The train has been out of commission since the floods a few months ago. The van took us to where the train started again and we road the rails for the last hour or so of the jouney, arriving in time to enjoy the thermal pools above the town.

We befriended two cousins from Sanfrancisco, Reena and Krina, and enjoyed dinner with them.

The next morning we got up at 3:30 a.m. to wait in line for the bus to Macchu Pichu. It was worth it, because we had it to ourselves when we arrived. Though I'd been there before, it was still a magical and spiritual experience. It was a lot more casual this time. And arriving with friends made me a little more realistic and a little less dreamy about the place than I remembered being the last time. None the less, I'm glad I got to see it again and would go yet again if the chance came up.

I have a bit of a cold and convinced Ronaldo to stay a day in Cuzco instead of getting up early for a third day in a row to travel to Lake Titikaka. We wandered around the city and Ronaldo took many pictures of the colonial architecture. We also had a rather sentimental tour guide who whispered in reverey when telling us, very emotionally, about the Incan ruins. Since the tour was in Spanish, I had little patience for his weepy style and we ditched the tour half way through.

The next day, we were on an early bus through the Andes and incredible mountain scenery to Puno, Peru on the shore of Lake Titikakka.

This is why I love letting the trip decide for me where to go. This is why I was so happy to tag along with Ronaldo. We went to see the Uros, a group of 60 man-made floating islands in the highest navigable lake in the world. It was amazing.

They have to move their homes every six months to stack fresh reeds underneath them. The island we visited was 11 years old, but the islands themselves have existed since before the Incas. They were constructed so that the people who lived on them could pull up the anchors and float away if there were any threats.

The people on the island showed us how they create the islands using porous roots and reeds. It was the most amazing thing and I'm so happy I got to see it.

From Puno, we bussed to La Paz and discovered that we once again were arriving just in time for a big celebration. El Gran Poder is one of South America's biggest festivals. The parade went on all day and all night. It was amazing. The costumes were rich and elegant. The music was impressive. The people peeing in the street were innumerable.

La Paz is a dirty city. It has a smell. And the altitude is killer. At about 12,000 feet above sea level, it's the highest city in the world. The altitude has been punishing for us. We crawl up the hills here and Ronaldo had a bout of altitude sickness the day we left for Bolivia. Coca tea was his savior.

La Paz is an amazing city though. Planted in a valley, surrounded by mountains, it's beauty is unmatched. The people wear traditional dress and the streets are filled with people selling things ranging from underwear and light bulbs to plastic washers for your sink and dried llama carcasses.

It's been amazing trip so far. Today, we're off by plane to Sucre. Ronaldo and I will part in a few days and I'll go back to Spanish school.