Archive for März, 2012

Arequipa, Peru – Big birds

Freitag, März 30th, 2012

Peru isn’t really blessed with wildlife. The coast is inhabited or plastered with chicken farms. The Andes are emptied by hunting and eating. The more we enjoy our ride through the mountains. Now and again shy vicuñas cross our path and three condors circle for us completely free. A small flamingo colony lives on a red salt lake. After crossing several passes close to 5,000 m the road descends slowly to the Pan Am, crossing several climatic zones from mountain grass via trees and cacti to just desert.

Despite the crazy Peruvian drivers we make it without accident into Arequipa’s centre where Hostal Las Mercedes offers camping on its parking lot – there aren’t many options in town. The hostel is situated favourably close to the city centre, unfortunately also close to a heavily used main road. The grassy camping zone is behind a wall neighbouring this road, but the receptionist allows us to camp next to the hotel building behind a kind of embankment. That’s not only further from the road, the embankment protects from the noise. Furthermore we have full Wi-Fi reception here that declines towards the camper are. Uniform price incl. water, electricity, bathroom, hot shower and internet are 22 PEN per person and night. Staff is friendly, campers are treated like regular hotel guests. Hostal Las Mercedes, Arequipa: S 16°24’02.7’’ W 71°32’31.2’’.

Cañon de Colca, Peru – The real king of birds

Donnerstag, März 29th, 2012

Condors don’t stick to timetables and travel guides. Nothing is going on at 7 a.m., not more at eight. Just at 8:30 it is warm enough that the first one slowly spirals upwards. The majestic birds need thermal to fly, since with up to 3.2 m wingspan flying needs too much energy. Elegantly gliding nearly without any effort the world’s largest raptor (Californian condor’s “big brother”) is lifted into elevations of 5,000 m and more, looking for carrion. Still the Andean condor is a bird of prey and can strike a sheep or a young cameloid. Therefore it was nearly extinct since the Spanish conquest, but the bird definitely prefers carrion.

The black-grey birds stay for long time with us. Even at noon they spiral into the air. It’s hard to leave, so we only make 60 km in the afternoon. We take the southern exit dirt road, along uncounted terraced fields that are kept in top shape since Inca times. South of Huambo there is an old unused landing strip where we choose to stay overnight. It doesn’t take long when it knocks at the cabin wall. It is the police that is relived that we are harmless tourists. They tell me the area was dangerous, and cattle theft, poaching, robbery, and even murder happened here. It might be a long time that something happened since they let us stay and just tell us to be careful and lock the door well. Now that we know they go on patrol we can sleep with an easy mind. Who also dares to sleep here: S 15°44’40.3’’ W 72°06’46.1’’.

Cañon de Colca, Peru – Access to “Cruz del Condor”

Mittwoch, März 28th, 2012

The entrance station to Colca Canyon is Yanque where admission has to be paid. The boleto turistico costs 70 Nuevo Soles (26 $), the Latino charge is 40 PEN (14.50 $). You have to find a good reason why you want to pay the Latino charge instead of the foreigner charge, but sometimes it works… The ticket is valid for some ruins, the Valle de los Volcanes where you can see lots of volcanoes with good weather, as well as for the Cañon de Colca where you can climb down.

Colca Canyon was for long time thought to be the world’s deepest canyon with 3,191 m, at least the deepest one in the western hemisphere. A few years ago it was discovered that the neighbouring Cañon del Cotohuasi is 150 m deeper. Still the 100 km long Colca Canyon is twice as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon, but no comparison, since you only look down 1,000 m to Rio Colca and the surrounding mountains tower another 2,000 m high – a beautiful sight anyway.

Main attraction is the viewing point Cruz del Condor where condors can be watched. There is no checkpoint on the access road from south, but tickets are regularly checked at the miradór. Camping is said to not be allowed on the parking lot, but nobody bothers us there: S 15°36’45.0’’ W 71°54’14.5’’.

Sillustani, Peru – The burial towers of Sillustani

Dienstag, März 27th, 2012

They were belligerent people that admired their nobility so much that they built towers for their last journey. The Colla once dominated Lake Titicaca, after their “integration” they became the south-easternmost group of the Inca and continued the tradition of the burial towers on a higher construction level. Such round towers are found everywhere in the area. The largest and best preserved so-called chullpas are located in Sillustani on a hilly peninsula in Umayo Lake. The higher the position of an aristocrat has been the higher the tower was. Whole families with all their belongings and even food found their final resting place there.

The older burial towers are lower and roughly made from unhewn stones. The Inca artists instead used accurately fitting blocks that they built up to 12 m hight and partially decorated with animal reliefs like lizards or snakes. The burial objects were lost to grave robbers long before science or tourism arrived. Admission to the burial towers of Sillustani was recently raised to 10 PEN. But it’s allowed to camp complimentary on the parking lot behind the barrier (S 15°43’26.2’’ W 70°09’03.4’’) as long as the admission ticket in paid in advance, as we did yesterday evening.

On the way back to the main road we visit one of the Indian houses in the so-called Pukara style. The locals open their houses to foreign visitors. A wall encloses a square courtyard with two or three small buildings in adobe style in the corners that are used as residential or warehouse. In a corner that would be vegetable garden we learn the use of traditional agricultural tools. Here the guinea pigs are kept as well. The fireplace is outside and the most common crops are shown: Quinoa, different kinds of potato, oca, another starchy tuber, and chuño, a bitter potato that grows up to 4,500 m and is preserved with the Indigene chest freezer process. So they are non-perishable for years and easy to transport. Arcilla is another curiosity, edible clay, served as sauce with boiled potatoes. There is no entrance fee levied, but a donation or purchase of a souvenir is expected. Our nightly camp will be at Laguna Saralocha close to Lucia (S 15°48’47.8’’ W 70°37’18.7’’).

Juli / Lake Titicaca, Peru – The village of the dacaying churches

Montag, März 26th, 2012

Juli is a pretty village on Titicaca shore. The lake is the earth’s highest navigable lake in 3,800 m elevation, up to 274 m deep and slightly bigger than Lake Nicaragua. The amount of the unusually decayed colonial churches seems disproportionally high for the small village. But Juli was the base for Christianisation of the Aymara and Inca folks at the lake in the 16th and 17th century. Jesuit monks were prepared for their task here. The churches are slowly restored nowadays, but only few are accessible.

One of the exceptions is San Juan de Letrán, today a museum for 6 PEN pp. The church is a colonial gem. Huge paintings cover the walls. The carved thick wood frames are gold-plated, their patterns continue below chiselled in stone. The main altar and the two side chapels are also made from finest carved stone. Alabaster windows with also voluptuous golden frames bathe the nave into smooth light. Taking photos is forbidden, but there is one guard only. Here is the point for us to turn round and go back before crossing the border to Bolivia, because this is for later.

Puno / Lake Titicaca, Peru – Shocking commerce: the Uro’s swimming islands

Sonntag, März 25th, 2012

There is one thing you shouldn’t expect: authenticity. Prepared for the worst you might be able to understand the people’s need for a better life, to earn money the easy way,and to see which damage tourism can cause. It is interesting to see the see the Uro’s swimming islands once and especially to walk on them. What is show and commerce today started with bitter seriousness. The small Uro nation originally lived at Lake Titicaca’s shores. Escaping the aggressive Colla, then the Inca and finally the Spaniards they built boats first and after the swimming island to protect their culture and to live their traditional life (they might have lost sight of this aim).

The islands consist of totora reed that abundantly grows in the shallow shore areas. Each island is made from many layers that rot at the bottom and have to be replaced from top. The traditional boats are made from reed as well and last only few months. Totora is also used for building of the houses – the traditional tipi shapes as well as the modern square ones. Partially the roots are even edible.

Puno is the starting point for excursions to the Uro islands. A roundtrip by boat costs 10 PEN plus 5 PEN island access and takes 30 minutes (altogether the trip takes 2.5 hrs). There are boats every hour or more often. Several islands are situated in a circle in a reed clearing and resemble one another. Walking on the fluctuating ground is very strange. One of the women explains us the construction of the islands, how they are pegged down to not move away. The suspiciously unused looking house is demonstrated first, then the souvenir stand where we are expected to buy handcrafts, but at least we can take photos free of charge. For another 5 PEN we are offered a ride on one of the elaborately made reed boats to another island where more souvenir stands and a restaurant wait. The island’s girls sing a traditional song and “vamos a la playa, oh-oho-oho”, a perfect moment to throw a screaming fit, but we bear it with a lenient smile. There are still more traditional islands, but only reached by expensive private boat rides.

The only camping option for RVers in Puno is Sonesta Hotel Posadas del Inca. The better known El Libertador doesn’t accept campers any more. For using the parking lot with hooting morning train the hotel asks for 15 US$ (we might use bathroom and showers), with electricity 20 $ (S 15°49’26.2’’ W 70°00’19.6’’).

Tipón + Santa Rosa, Peru – On the way into the Altiplano

Samstag, März 24th, 2012

The fields gloom dark red, the stalks sway softly with the wind. The beautiful cereal is called Quinoa, looking a little bit like millet, just poofier and coloured. The traditional corn grows in elevations up to 4,000 m and might be called Kiwicha in Quechua. We leave Urubamba and Pisac behind and are heading to Lake Titicaca. We circle around Cusco and reach Tipón on its south-east side. Here we find beautiful Inca terraces with perfectly constructed supporting walls and irrigation systems. The lavish terracing counteracted erosion of the earth’s surface and assured the Inca higher crops, but is rarely used today – too much maintenance is needed. Access to the archaeological site of Tipón with boleto turistico or for 10 PEN pp (S 13°34’17.9’’ W 71°47’03.6’’).

Following a smooth valley we climb nearly imperceptibly without sharp bends and steeper slopes into the height. The snow-covered Cerro Cunurana, 5,443 m high, rises into the thin air. The Abra La Raya, a 4,360 m high pass, doesn’t only mark the route’s highest point and the watershed between Atlantic and Pacific, but the beginning of the Altiplano, the extensive plateau in around 3,600 m that extends far into Bolivia.

Just few kilometres south of a town called Santa Rosa we find a gravel road that is basically a dead end with a peaceful private campsite for us on a murmuring river: S 14°46’44.5’’ W 70°43’51.0’’.

Munaychay, Peru – Goodbye from the hearts’ project

Freitag, März 23rd, 2012

We put things away. Everything has to take its place if we want to move again. Many emails and analysis have to be written, the driver of the children’s village receives a tool set for his workshop that we bought for him in Cusco. On Friday night the aid organisation invite us to the pizzeria in Urubamba. But the employees have another delightful surprise for us: A letter of thanks, a snapshot of Joerg shuffling the mud for the road, and a notebook, handmade an painted by the village’s kids. Thanks to all!

Munaychay, Peru – The Machu Picchu question

Mittwoch, März 21st, 2012

Machu Picchu is Peru’s greatest sight and South America’s most famous ruin. It is the Inca’s best-known construction – never discovered by the Spaniards it was never destroyed and sank into oblivion until its “rediscovery” in the beginning of the 20th century. The purpose of the building is shrouded in mystery to this day. Theories talk about a royal retreat or a country palace close to Cusco; others speak of a political, religious and administrative centre. Machu Picchu was built in the middle of the 15th century to the end of the Inca reign.

Today the archaeological find is Peruvian tourism’s centre of attention. Maximum 2,500 visitors are allowed to visit daily, and they do it. As a result Peru lost somehow appropriateness – supply and demand dictates the price, as it does for Cusco’s attractions and the already described boleto turistico. Since there is no road to Machu Picchu to this day, a railway line was built. The government wants to be paid too dear for all of this. Only the entrance fee gives you 60 US$, in addition to the expensive train ride and the bus ride. More inexpensive train tickets demand an overnight stay in the last town before Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, which means financially more or less the same.

For the two of us the visit would cost altogether around 400 $ – quite a bit for some old stones. Especially as the ruin itself isn’t said to be the world’s best, although its location is usually described as particularly beautiful. Eventually we emulate so many other globetrotters and relinquish Machu Picchu visit and boycott the impudent prices. Nonetheless we don’t want to withhold our collected information from other travellers. There are many ways to Machu Picchu:

1. By train: The train starts from Cusco, Urubamba or Ollantaytambo (more inexpensive with lower distance) to Aguas Calientes. Differently comfortable trains can be booked for different prices. From there you’d have to continue by bus (or on foot) to Machu Picchu. Tickets and info under Advance booking is absolutely necessary (also at the train stations or in Cusco).
Car park options:
Cusco: Camping Quinta Lala, S 13°30’20.8’’ W 71°59’06.3’’, info see blog entry 09.02.2012
Urubamba: Camping Los Cedros,
Ollantaytambo: bus parking, S 13°15’32.6’’ W 72°15’57.5’’, guarded, 5 PEN/24 hours

2. With own vehicle: From Cusco via Urubamba, Ollantaytambo and Chaullay to Santa Teresa. Camping / vehicle parking at Genaro Moscoso Laforre’s campground, S 13°07’55.4’’ W 72°35’46.9’’. The distance is 250 km one-way and is a dirt road from Chaullay on – 4WD recommended, and in rainy season often blocked by land slides. Calculating fuel costs for 500 km there is probably not a big difference to the train ticket. From Santa Teresa one takes the train to Aguas Calientes – or follows the rails walking. Then one continues by bus or on foot to Machu Picchu as mentioned above.

3. By bus: From Cusco take a bus heading to Quillabamba, get off in Santa María and change to a collectivo to Santa Teresa. From there continue as described above. This is the most economic solution.

4. The Inca Trail: The highly praised Inca Trail is only one of meanwhile 12 discovered Inca trails to Machu Picchu, the best-known though, and therefore source of revenue for the Peruvian government. The Inca Trail can only be walked in company of a licensed agency, only that costs 350 to 500 US$ pp. Since the 43 km steeply lead over three mountain passes, one can only do without porters with interstellar fitness, what additionally costs. Guides, cooks and porters need to be tipped. Even the budget friendly travel guide Lonely Planet estimates the costs for the Inca Trail with at least 1,300 US$ pp. What is more is that 500 persons are allowed on the trail daily. If you can really enjoy the scenery with 499 people around you remains an open question. Furthermore you’d have to use outhouses used by thousands of other people in the past few days. The insufficient waste disposal increasingly causes – not only optical – problems.

5. On foot via alternative Inca Trails: There are different agencies who offer different routes, all of them are involved with high costs. Examples are the 2-days-Inca-Trail, the Lares Valley Trek, the Salkantay Trek, the Inca Jungle Trail as well as the alternative Inca Trail from Mollepata.

An additional word to the Wayna Picchu topic: If you want to climb the mountain at Machu Picchu you nearly can’t get out of a pre-reservation of the Machu Picchu entrance ticket together with the Wayna Picchu ticket. The number of hikers is limited to 400 per day – 200 at 7 a.m. and another 200 at 10 a.m., hence spaces are limited. If you don’t feel like climbing steep stairs together with so many other tourists, you might want to hike the incomprehensibly little known Cerro Machu Picchu. That takes a bit longer, isn’t limited, still lonelier and shall offer the better view to Machu Picchu together with Wayna Picchu. Get exact hiking directions e.g. from Lonely Planet travel guide “Peru”.

Munaychay, Peru – Got through

Sonntag, März 18th, 2012

We nearly got through. No, not the time in the children’s village, we even extend for a week. We are talking about the rainy season. It’s nearly over. The sky presents itself more and more in deep, nearly night-dark blue, interspersed with pretty white clouds. There is rain only every few nights now. Therefore it appears that here are only two kinds of weather: grey rainy cool or unpleasant piercing hot sun, where even sunscreen doesn’t really help.

Our excavation work is also done. The garage access received a fine gravel layer; some more drainages were made to allow rainwater to run out so that the track doesn’t silt up any more, then we go on to joiner’s works. The hamlet Huilloc above Ollantaytambo is also supported by Corazones para Perú. The school receives support, a proper health centre was established, and a trout-farming built. Soon a fish restaurant shall be set up to create new jobs and to bring tourists in this remote corner. Currently a computer training room has to be furnished. 11 new PCs were bought, and today the computer tables shall be assembled, which were made in the proper carpenter’s workshop in Santa Rosa.

The cabinet maker, Joerg and I screw them together and afterwards lacquer them the Peruvian way: A kind of huge wad of cotton wool, made from cotton fibre, has to be dipped into the varnish with the hand (the surgeon’s gloves dissolve after few immersions). After a few trials we have got the hang of it how the single fibres don’t stick to the table but stay at the wad. With this technique we are so close to table and nitrocellulose varnish that I can take a proper breath of it each time. I have to seek fresh air in between times. Next day I feel like having a hangover. Sniffing doesn’t seem to be anything for me.

Next we shall take care of the children’s village fleet of vehicles. The benchmark figures are sorted out in a meeting, and then we set off: On one day we visit Cusco’s car dealerships to compare prices and performance of new pick-ups, the next day we check the second-hand car market. Like in most developing (or still nearly developing) countries with strong import restrictions used cars are sought-after and excessively expensive, and in addition run-down by mining companies. Speedo- and odometer are disconnected on time between 40,000 and 70,000 km, so that nobody can detect the exact mileage.

On Sunday eventually – we don’t have always a weekend – the driver of the children’s village receives a driving lesson. Certainly he is able to drive, but he doesn’t know what for is the gear reduction of the 4WD gearbox. But it is ideal on these steep mountain sections and in these high elevations, and downhill it goes easier on the brakes. Joerg draws up a vehicles’ maintenance plan for the driver, and that has to be discussed and explained. Another week has passed in a flash and we have to worry about how and when to leave Peru, since the Unimog’s temporary import permit for three months will expire soon.

Munaychay, Peru – The Peruvian Gulag

Sonntag, März 11th, 2012

The whistle sounds shrill. Not again. Cusco is full to the brim with policemen who shall convey security to tourists. They whistle and wave totally senseless when traffic lights show green, and lift their arms stopping the traffic with red light. Wasn’t a traffic light enough or couldn’t they have spared the set of lights instead? But sometimes the officers whistle after drivers who made something wrong to issue a ticket. Like now. We made a u-turn in a quiet side road. The policeman comes and reprimands us immediately. That’s not allowed! We didn’t endanger or obstruct anybody, besides it is ridiculous to forbid u-turns without signs, but that doesn’t matter, a Peruvian policeman is always right. I leave the car: blond woman, trusty look. “Oh, we are so sorry, we didn’t know that. We are volunteers and have to pick up food in this shop for the poor Peruvian children of the children’s village Munaychay.” “From which organisation are you?” “Corazones para Perú.” “It’s all right then.”

Phew, that was faster than expected. Faster even than yesterday, as we made a u-turn at a green traffic light on a four-lane road with divisional island and without forbidding sign. Same problem: that’s not allowed. Nobody can know this! Then we had a Peruvian with us, the organisation’s dentist, who had to discuss and crawl to the policeman for five minutes until the officer relinquished to issue a ticket. We had to show all vehicle registration and insurance papers and even the International Driver’s Licence. Well the Peruvian misses the blond hair, the trusty look and … let’s forget about that.

On Monday and Tuesday we went to Cusco to purchase food and computers for the children’s village and a public computer school room. And I had to pick up a parcel from the post office with some small spare parts, new guidebooks and dictionaries, and of course keenest missed German chocolate. On Monday I didn’t get the parcel after two hours of waiting since an authority was missing. But on Tuesday I was successful and I didn’t even have to pay customs duties since presents up to 100 $ are free in Peru.

On Wednesday we couldn’t dodge the task any longer: The muddy access to the carports has to be cleared and cleaned. Road construction by hand with a four-man/woman team in three and a half thousand metres / 10,000 ft is very heavy labour. We feel a bit like transferred to the Russian Gulag, only in Peru. Nevertheless handwork is faster than expected, with enough people not slower than with machines. We are just not used to that any more. We have to remove the mud and the upper wet layer of earth until we find firm ground and stones. In the evening my hands are swollen and full of blisters, but we get the job done and can fill up the road with coarse gravel next day. This’ll have to set until Monday before we can add a layer of finer gravel. On Friday Joerg gravels over the workshop floor and I write some analyses regarding the vehicle fleet and do some internet researches, and then it is already weekend that we – at least felt to – have earned.

Munaychay, Peru – Week two in the children’s camp

Sonntag, März 4th, 2012

The rest of the 70 children arrived, because tomorrow’s Monday school will start. 70 pupils between six and 17 years live in the children’s village, 10 children and adolescents each in altogether seven houses with a “mother” each, called tia, aunt, and some substitute aunts. The children are orphans, semi-orphans, or other cases allocated to the facility by social security office or court. The children get a home here, food, clothing, and education, everything they need for a future. Some of them go home to relatives during the vacations, but others don’t have a home or nothing they would call so. There is a separate home for infants and another one for adolescents from 18 years on who are still in training. The public schools attended by the children are supported by the responsible body Corazones para Perú financially with food, materially e.g. with furniture, and personnel with teachers and psychologists.

Half of the aunts are nurses, the other half teachers. Not an easy job though, because they have to spend 24 hours daily with the kids for three weeks, and are a week off then. Most of them have own children who are big enough to care for themselves or a husband or grandmother who cares for them. And of course kids from a home aren’t automatically well-behaved, especially if they partially come from difficult social conditions. Here teeth cleaning is left out, there cutting the nails. The TV room is opened only Saturdays, but if you really would like to watch telly, wouldn’t you do anything for that? The kids are extremely curious, and if something is lying around, they might need it. We shall lock everything always. Kids, just normal. But ten of them, somebody else’s kids to boot and this 24 hours a day. Respect, and honestly, being tia wouldn’t be my dream job. The tias are supported by volunteers, young people between school and university or those doing their community service, and salaried employees.

We finished the workshop, although everything is a bit slower in South America, well, nearly finished since the gravel for the floor was missing. It arrived yesterday, and it is enough to gravel over the whole access road to the carports. Now we only have to care for equipping the workshop with tools and spare parts. In the meantime we began to examine the fleet of vehicles of the children’s village and carried out one or the other smaller repair, to draw up a list of defects and to evaluate if the vehicle shall be kept or sold. And so it goes on, we could spend weeks and months here – there would be enough work.