Water. Wars will be fought over it in the future. For now, we are left with burning bridges.
We arrived in Cusco with grand plans of traveling in a large circle to Puno (city on Lake Titicaca), Ariquipa/Colca Canyon (the deepest canyon in the world), Nazca (famous for the mysterious desert drawings) and returning to Cusco to trek to Machu Picchu. As we set out for Puno, farmers began striking over water. We were told three versions as to why but since we are unsure which version is true, we’ll just stick with water. In protest, the farmers blocked the road between Cusco and Puno and our bus could not travel. We were assured that strikes never last long (no problema!) and we could take the bus the following day. When the strike continued, we frantically decided to reverse our trip circle and jumped on the next plane back to Lima. Once again, we were assured the strike would definitely be over before we needed to return to Cusco - “Strikes never last a week!“
After a traditional (Crazy! Loud! What are lanes?) taxi ride through Lima, we took an 8 hour bus through the Peruvian Desert to Nazca. The desert lines were incredible when viewed from our little Cessna plane. The near-by Pre-Inca tombs in the middle of the desert were eerie and reminiscent of a Stephen King novel. At one point our guide bent over, scratched away a little dirt from the main path, and revealed human hair remnants and teeth. It turns out the tombs were raided by grave-robbers who uncaringly scattered human remains all over the desert.
Since mining is the number one industry in Peru we visited a gold processing plant - but not one of the plants run by large, multi-national corporation. We visited a “plant” used by the locals to process the ore they extract, transport, and process by very primitive means - basically by hand. We were amazed to see men standing barefoot for hours in water mixed with mercury. Where is OSHA when you need them?
Colca Canyon was beautiful but we didn‘t see any of the condors that also make the place famous - apparently mating season kept them in their nests and out of the skies. We visited the Hanging Tombs where people were mummified and placed into cone-shaped rock structures high on the cliff side. And, we were dumbfounded by the street celebration that took place at 6:00 am in the city square - seriously!
Puno and Lake Titicaca (or Titicala as the locals prefer - for the obvious reason) was interesting with its floating islands made completely of reeds. Sadly, after visiting Puno one of our full camera memory cards disappeared into thin air. All pictures after the Galapagos, gone. Luckily, Joe took pictures, too, and could help fill the gap!
Now it was time to return to Cusco and (Surprise! Surprise!) the farmers were still striking and were still blocking the main, paved road from Puno to Cusco. Fortunately, there was an “alternate route” only passable by small vehicles that would take 6-8 hours (compared to the normal ~4). We hired a small van with two Norwegian ladies and two drivers (not sure why they provided two drivers?!) and headed out at 7:30 a.m. Three hours later we were only 1-1/2 hours from Cusco, pleasantly surprised by the ease of the trip, and thought we‘d be in Cusco in no time.
About that time, the driver hit the brakes and turned onto a barely identifiable dirt road that headed straight up a 14,280 foot Andean Mountain. The road was a tight single lane dirt road that dropped off on one side with plenty of washboard to make you crazy. After five hours of jiggling, jerking, sliding around corners, and holding our breath through low-water crossings, we found ourselves less than an hour outside of Cusco. Yipee! It was almost over. As we rounded a corner, we came to a dead stop behind 6 other vehicles perched on the mountain side. All of the vehicles’ passengers were standing on the side of the road peering down the cliff side. What was that in the distance? You got it! A burning bridge. The very bridge that we needed to cross to get to Cusco.
Shaking his head, our driver returned to our van and informed us there was another road to Cusco, but it would take another 6 hours and he did not have enough money for gas. We all looked at each other and asked, “Is there a place to buy gas?” The driver said that there was, so we offered to pay for the gas if he could get us to Cusco. With a quick U-turn, we were headed even further into the depths of the Andes. To make a long, bumpy, dusty, and nauseating story shorter, our driver knew there was A ROAD to get us to Cusco - but he didn’t know THE ROAD to get to Cusco. So, with a little luck, periodic looks at a topographic map provided by one of the Norwegians, going right instead of left when the road forked (why right?), and asking the nice people (who looked as if they had never seen tourists) in the tiny villages we passed through, “which way to Cusco?”, we made it! Never could we have imagined that we would be so happy to spend the next week trekking in the Andes to Machu Picchu with nary a van in site!
SPEAKING ENGLISH TO A KENYAN AT A FRENCH RESTAURANT IN LIMA, PERU
After our Machu Picchu trek (those pictures/blog to come soon), the three of us spent a few days in Lima, Peru. The title best explains our time there (and describes a real situation we encountered) - Lima felt a little strange. We did attend a bull fight after Jennifer agreed to go “for the cultural experience.” Needless to say, she will never attend another one. Overall, Lima was enjoyable but we were glad when we boarded the plane for Santiago, Chile.
View our pictures at: