Tuesday, February 23

Day 1: Bus Breakdown/Moonlit Descent

Mom and I left Arequipa at 4 am for the six-hour ride to Chivay the northern-most town in Colca Canyon. At around 6:30 am, we were jolted awake by a loud crack and the bus rolling to a halt. The bus had hit one of the many potholes along this dirt road and broken something having to do with the axel. 
We, along with the 20 other tourists on the bus, loaded off and sat among the barren landscape of the altiplano for two hours while the guide and bus driver desperately looked for a solution. The bus driver tried to fix the bus while our guide flagged down every passenger bus that passed to see if they could take us. 

One bus did end up taking about ten people, but there wasn't enough room for their things, so they had to leave their backpacks with us. 

Meanwhile, the bus wasn't completely fixed so we tried going at 10 mph. 

It took us until 2 pm to arrive in Chivay--where we should have been at 8 am. 

We ate our group lunch, and were told it would be until 3 pm before the bus was fixed. Three turned into 4 pm and finally at 5 pm we were on the bus again. 

Driving two more hours farther into the canyon as it grew deeper and deeper, the bus got quiet. Everyone was absorbed by the incomparable views--small pueblos, Inca terraces, snow-covered volcanoes and the sheer canyon walls. 

But now we had to make a decision--hike down into the the second deepest canyon in the world at night or wake up early the next day and hike eight hours. 

The group decided for a night hike. And what luck we had--a full moon!
We descended five hours, hugging the steep canyon walls. Finally, the group arrived at our bungalows in the canyon's bottom at midnight. I'm not sure we really understood the hike we had made until we awoke the next morning. But that's for day two. 

Monday, February 22

Destination: Second-Deepest Canyon in the World

The department of Arequipa is known as Peru's "Canyon Country." It is home to the world's deepest canyon, Cotahuasi, twice the depth of Arizona's Grand Canyon, and Colca Canyon, the world's second deepest canyon. 

Colca Canyon is 11, 150 feet deep at some points, and, according to Mario Vargas Llosa, is a "Valley of Wonders." 

A string of volcanoes line the canyon on both sides, one of which is the second highest in Peru and where the 500-year-old mummy Juanita was discovered.  The terraces that line the walls and base of the canyon were first cultivated by the Incas more than 1,000 years ago. 

Beyond being filled with the wildlife Peru is known for (llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and condors), 14 pueblos sit in Colca Canyon, some of them only accessible by mule trails. 

The women wear traditional Colca clothing, intricately embroidered and brightly colored skirts, vests and hats. Many locals speak Quechua as their first language.

Colca Canyon is only six hours by bus, a popular option for tourists.  So Mom and I decided to go investigate. 

With Sergio's help, we contracted a three-day trek into the canyon's base. The guided hike cost $60 and includes transportation and food, except for one lunch. 

The plan was to leave from Arequipa for Chivay and finally Cabanaconde (see map below). That's where our five-hour descent on foot down into the canyon starts. 

Thursday, February 18

Inventory: Six Months in Peru

So folks--I've officially been in Peru for six months. What do I have to say for myself so far?

Let's take inventory:
  • 118 hours traveled by bus
  • 1,569 pieces of bread eaten
  • 2 friends made
  • 174 out of 180 days without rain
  • 40 days of traveler's diarrhea and 2 with food poisoning
  • 16 pirated movies bought and watched
  • 3 cases of altitude sickness (including one upchuck in the bus bathroom)
  • 53 hours spent hand-washing clothes
  • 50+ cups of maté de coca and 17 pisco sours drank
  • Approx. 10 (yes, 10) two-pointers sunk by yours truly on the courts of Arequipa
  • One million blessings counted; one million more questions about life
What can I check off the travel to-do list?

As my Spanish improves, I understand less and less of Peruvian culture. 

Culture is like an iceberg. There are facets of it you can see from the surface: language, food, dance, religion, music, celebrations, dress, etc... 

But there are vast layers below that aren't seen until you crash right into them: practices in punctuality, professionalism, gender relations and ideas about personal space, for example.

Some parts an outsider may only get a glimpse of, or miss completely: the influence of a culture's history on the individual; group-wide prides and embarrassments; perceptions about love, family, money, friendship, political life; and ethics and morality.  

How much of a people's beauty, ingenuity and diversity is hidden underwater? I think there's a lot more "lost in translation" than the phrase implies. 

Tuesday, February 16

Video: Peru in 1937

From 1937, this eight-minute "TravelTalk" by James Fitzpatrick was featured on El Comercio's website today. 

If you can overlook the paternalism and gross simplification, this video does have some interesting views of Lima, Arequipa and Puno from almost 75 years ago. Plus, it's in technicolor:

Monday, February 15

It finally rained!

As you might remember (see post: "I must be really thirsty."), as of mid-Dec, there had not been a single drop of rain since my arrival to Arequipa in mid-August. 

While we were gone to Huaraz for 10 days, we heard rumors that there had been a day of rain here. But as there was no evidence of such an event, I decided to wait to see for myself. After all, it is "rainy season," so more should be on the way...right?

Well, now almost two months more have gone by, and I haven't seen much more than a 10-minute drizzle. 

Except last week while we were in Puno, it rained a LOT here. Finally! And the evidence was impossible to refute--Misti the volcano had put on what Arequipeños like to call "his poncho":

The mountains off to the north had done the same thing:

But within a day, the poncho was gone. All evidence of rain had been dried up by the desert sun.

Sunday, February 14

"El Cupido Panadero"

Pictured above, "el Cupido Panadero" (the baker cupid) delivered his *love* dough to all the pizza restaurants in Arequipa last night. 

Today, hundreds of Arequipeña couples will share small heart pizzas over lunch, thanks to Señora Delia, Sergio and all the worker cupids at the Miraflores bakery.

Hope your Valentine's Day is filled with love...and warm bread!

Saturday, February 13

National Pisco Sour Day...

...was last Sunday, February 7, but why don't you celebrate with me this Sunday? Only a week late--I think that falls within a reasonable holiday grace period.

Pisco sours have won my heart, and I think they will win yours too. In fact, if you haven't permanently traded in margaritas for pisco sours by Monday, I'll give you your money back.

This family recipe for this traditional Peruvian drink I snatched from a Lonely Planet guidebook on Peru. Try it out:

3 parts pisco (a Peruvian rum-like liquor made from grapes, see "Pisco is Peruvian, carajo!")
1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
1/3 egg white
1 part sugar (or Cane syrup)
Angostura bitters

Combine the lime juice and pisco in a blender. Add sugar to taste. Add plenty of ice and blend. Spoon in egg white and blend again. Serve immediately. Add a drop of bitters to the top for decoration. 

Friday, February 12

The First Academy Award Nomination for Peru!

When you cuddle up to watch the Oscars on March 7, keep your eye out for La Teta Asustada (English title: The Milk of Sorrow), the first Academy Award nomination ever for Peru

At least everyone here will be watching. In the "humble Lima neighborhood of Machay" where the movie was filmed, residents--many of whom were extras in the film--will come down to watch the ceremony on a big screen in the plaza. 

The lead actress, Magaly Solier, sings in Quechua in the film to earn money. But she says she might also sing in Quechua and English for the awards ceremony. 

Magaly plans to chew a coca leaf for luck, and in solidarity with the Andean people of Peru, she said on her website. I don't know if she knows that the U.S.G. won't let her bring even one leaf to Los Angeles. Maybe she can chew on something else. 

I would give my personal reaction to the film, but unfortunately, I haven't seen it. (The version we could find here was pirated in a movie theatre, complete with sounds of people munching on popcorn and whispering comments so loud that we couldn't hear the dialogue.)

But in any case, here is a trailer of the film for you to preview. 

Friday, February 5

Uh, what is Machu Picchu anyway?

It wasn't the Incan capital. It wasn't their last refuge either. What was Machu Picchu? 

If you just read my two posts (see Feb. 3 and Jan. 25) and thought to yourself, hmm, I've heard of Machu Picchu before, but what is it, really....

...well this PBS documentary, "Ghosts of Machu Picchu," is definitely for you. 

Or even if you already know about Machu Picchu, well, the video is free and online, so why not?

Thursday, February 4

Matadero=Back of a Chevy?

I started noticing an interesting trend in Arequipa's hotel industry.

Why is there a strip of hotels hidden only a block away from Dolores street, where most of Arequipa's salsa clubs are? Why are there various hostels all the way up here in Miraflores, a primarily residential neighborhood? Why do so many of these places look so shady? 

I mentioned my observations to Sergio, and he explained to me about "los mataderos"--literal translation="slaughterhouse." 

The sign says hotel or hostal (hostel), but just by looking, any Peruvian can tell the difference between a real hotel and a matadero--one frequented by young, local couples. 

In Peru, it's normal to live with your parents through college and until you get married. Even then, you and your husband or wife might still find yourselves living in a part of your parent's house. 

But even though at 19, 20, 26, you still live with your parents, those hormones don't just control themselves. So where do you take your girlfriend for a romantic evening? You take her to a matadero. You can even rent these rooms by the hour. 

Sergio and his brothers mock these places a bit because they are a bit unkept. But they seem to be very popular, as indicated by the booming "hotel" business in Peru. 

In most Peruvian cities, there are at least a few decent hotels, hostels and hospedajes (communal homestays) to choose from. But you can always be sure you'll find a plethora of mataderos at all prices and locations. 

The most concentrated areas of mataderos are definitely near the main bar and club areas, where I imagine these rendezvous are less romantic and more like one-night stands.

It would be interesting to do a mini-survey: how many Peruvians were conceived in a matadero

Come to think of it, how many Americans were conceived in the back of a car? I bet we'd come up with similar results. 

Wednesday, February 3

U.S. media coverage of the Cuzco flood crisis

When 400 American citizens are stranded at Machu Picchu, people want news about what's happening to their neighbor or family member. I can understand that a U.S. paper needs to sell to that audience.

But being in Peru during Cuzco's floods gave me a different look at the U.S. media's coverage of the floods in Cusco--an embarrassingly shallow analysis of a serious crisis. 

By the way the articles framed the flooding, I would have thought that a Peruvian losing his home and a year's crop was somehow comparable to tourists being "bored" and not able to use their credit card for four days.

Here's the facts of the flood:

The rains in Cuzco left 26,000 families affected, 4,500 homes destroyed, 39,500 acres of crops decimated and $100 million+ in damages, said Peru 21.  At least 14 bridges were carried away by the raging flood waters. Two thousand tourists were stranded after the railway and roads to Machu Picchu were gutted by mudslides. The area was placed under a state of emergency. 

Machu Picchu will be closed for at least two months while they repair the roads and railways, costing the 175,000 people dependent on tourism in Cuzco an estimated $1 million per day. That's not to mention the entry fees collected by the government--2,200 people per day each paying 70-something bucks. 

While the rains have been strongest in Cuzco, flooding has caused deaths, lost homes and lost crops in seven other central/southeastern departments in Peru.  According to AFP, the death toll across southern Peru had reached 20 by Saturday, with five people were missing.

This, however, is what the U.S. media reported back:

On Monday, January 25, the AP covered the 2,000 trapped tourists at Machu Picchu. They included one sentence close to the bottom of the article about the damage and Peruvian deaths in Cuzco. At this point, a state of emergency had already been declared, but there's no mention of that. 

The next day, the AP did finally mention the Peruvian deaths due to the flooding in the context of the deaths of a tourist and his guide. Only in the last sentence of the article was it mentioned that the flooding in the region had caused $172 million in damage. 

As the last tourists were flown out of the Machu Picchu pueblo, the ruins' "base camp," the AP again focused on the poor tourists' plight, leaving one sentence about the devastating flood damage affecting average Peruvians in the area. There was nothing about the deaths. 

CNN gets the prize for the most obnoxious headline: "Stranded tourists battle flooding, boredom in Machu Picchu." Boredom, seriously? 

This bit on a Dutch tourist exemplifies the media's strikingly shallow analysis:
"The only inconvience for him is being able to use his credit card at businesses such as restaurants, but he expects to get to the capital city of Lima in time to leave for a jaunt to Africa "if everything goes well."
"We're just bored," Fredrik told CNN.
Or maybe this story wasn't shallow at all. Maybe CNN's Joe Sterling was trying to poke fun at this tourist? Because on this AP video, you can see that some foreigners weren't bored--they were actually helping out!

Anyway, CNN did mention the regional crisis a bit faster than the AP; only a third of the way into the piece, a paragraph addressed the seven deaths and houses and crops destroyed. 

I was most disappointed in The New York Times' only story on the flooding. It finally appeared on Thursday, January 28, just a day before everyone was evacuated and the "tourist crisis" was over. The article mentions briefly the 10 deaths in the region and that houses were lost, but fails to mention that the Cuzco region was under a state of emergency, thousands of crop were destroyed. Nor does it place the Machu Picchu situation in perspective by discussing it's effect on the region's tourism-dependent economy. 

U.S. media coverage wasn't an entire sham: Dow Jones' newswire had a good article that really covers the breadth of the flood's impact in southeastern Peru.

But, as I shame U.S. journalists, I should disclose that the title of my last blog post on  the issue was, "Stranded at Machu Picchu?" Yeah, that's the one where I was all sad about how this was affecting my travel plans. Touché? 

*Sigh.* I guess I thought you might actually click on it if you saw that headline. So did CNN and the AP

Update: It's not U.S. journalism, but The Economist finally did a good piece on the flooding.

Tuesday, February 2

If your french fries could talk....

...why would they speak Quechua?

Where does the potato come from? 

Why is it that in Peru there are 5,000 different types of potatoes and we Americans eat only the white ones? 

This one-minute video, part of the PBS series Latinos in 60 seconds, explains a bit about the origin of the potato.