Mountains and lakes, August & September 2011
First few days in Cusco
August 4, 2011
Last Wednesday I was leaving Iquitos early in the morning like a thief, under the cover of darkness. The streets were mostly empty, only few dogs around. My arranged motortaxi didn’t show up, so I took another one. He got a good business, because I had only 20 soles note and there is nowhere in the airport at 6am in the morning to get change. My plane was late as usual and didn’t leave Iquitos until 10am. Another lesson in patience while lacking precious sleep. After few hours in the air with stopover in Lima I have arrived to Cusco. I was glad to have window seats on both occasions. The first flight provided great views of the Amazon river, which looked like a snake in the grass. On a second flight the view of the Andes was breathtaking.
Cusco is a big difference compared to hot and sticky Iquitos. Main city is located in the valley at the elevation of about 3400m above the sea level. Its suburbs are spreading to the surrounding mountains, so wherever you go from the centre it is up the hill. There is a network of narrow one way streets and stairs, that are buzzing with life till the early morning hours. In the night the surrounding hills lit up like stars enclosing the city. The climate at this time of the year is very pleasant during the day, when the strong sun is shining from the clear sky. During the night it gets very chilly and every hotel bed has at least three or four thick blankets.
When I arrived I got first sightseeing tour of the city, the cab driver didn’t know where my hotel is. But soon he found it and I found Brent waiting for me in the lobby. That first afternoon and evening I spent fighting the lack of sleep and the altitude. Coca leaves tea is very good antidote for both, so I just kept drinking it. I have passed out quite soon and left Brent to go and find Caritha, who stayed with the rest of Alan’s group at Casa de la Gringa.
The following morning Brent woke me up and told me he had found Caritha and if we want to join her group for San Pedro ceremony at Lesley’s place we should leave soon. We met everyone at the Casa and Lesley’s son Simon took us up the hill to their house with a wonderful garden, with Temple of the Moon just outside the gate. We made a circle in the garden and drunk the greenish, chunky, slightly bitter liquid. After some time few of us took off to explore the ruins, chase the sheep and goats and generally have lost of fun in the hot sun. In the evening we continued the day in the Thai restaurant and later in the bar drinking cocktails.
Now let me allow to point out one oddity I have found out here in Cusco and that is a disappointing level of spiciness. Thai food graded at spicy level 5 out of 5 was very mild and the phaal the other day was actually very pleasant as well as the vindalloo. You still get a certificate and free beer for finishing the whole phaal, but it just doesn’t have the weight, does it? I am not sure why this is, the chillies in Iquitos were pretty potent. Maybe it is the altitude or some safety local regulations? Otherwise Cusco has some good places to eat, also lots of organic and vegetarian eateries.
We also checked out the Sacsayhuaman ruins on Friday. Some people wanted to try sapo, so we have found a quiet shady spot away from the tourists and Keith and David got burned by me and Caritha. We applied sapo, but the effects were very mild, not sure what we were doing wrong, but it was quite hard to make proper burns with the small stick we had. The ruins itself are impressive. Much more impressive than the massive statue of Christ aka Cristo Blanco, that overlooks the city close to the ruins and is illuminated in the night. You can’t help but notice it anywhere in Cusco, day or night. “Jesus is coming, look busy”, is what creeps in my mind every time I see it.
On the weekend everyone left back home and I am now on my own, properly since I have arrived a month ago. This gives me a time to reflect on the events of previous weeks and also to write a lot. I have found Andy and Maria, who were recommended to me by Peter, and booked five days Salkantay trek with them starting next Tuesday morning. The trek finishes at Machu Picchu next weekend and I am planning to stay there two nights. It will be full moon on Saturday, perfect timing. Now I am chilling in Pisac in the Sacred Valley and regrouping before the next adventures. The market here is amazing, time to go and do some shopping.
Dreaming in Pisac
August 17, 2011
Few weeks ago, when the last of the jungle group left Cusco and I have recovered a little bit, I packed my stuff and walked to the small Putipi street, not very far from San Blas where I was staying. From there minibuses are departing very often to Pisac, maybe an hour drive away from Cusco. I won’t hide it, my main reason for visiting Pisac was to drink ayahuasca at Melissa Wasi, Diego Palma’s house. I had good recommendations from few good friends for his medicine and I was feeling that after few relatively uneventful ceremonies I was ready for some action. The work still wasn’t finished. There were two ceremonies, on Tuesday and Friday, and my original plan was to explore Sacred Valley in between, but in the end I stayed in Pisac the whole time.
I have arrived at the house quite early on Tuesday and no one was around, except this lady Kathleen and her group, who I remembered been to the same restaurant the night before in Cusco. We were meant to spent some time together, but by that time, we just had a little chat. I left my luggage and went to explore the town. On the way there by the river in the middle of nowhere, I have met a couple selling jewellery. I have bought a pendant an got an Inca cross as a present from lady called Mercedes. I continued towards the town smiling. Pisac is nice little town embedded in the valley in between monumental hills with some Inca ruins scattered around. The dominant of the town is a market at the central Plaza selling handicraft of all kinds. Every day in the late evening they dismantle the whole market, move wooden pillars and tables somewhere and the next morning when I woke up the whole shebang was up and running again. Every day.
When I got back to the house the same way, it was already dark. I have met a wonderful couple from South Africa there, Daniella and Lucas, and we started preparing for the night. The guy who conducted the ceremony was young man from Venezuela and it was a very different type of ceremony from what I have encountered so far. There was a lot of buddhism, noble silence and medicine songs played on guitars and singing. It was definitely interesting. There was maybe 15 of us, and except for maybe four of us, it was a first encounter with the medicine for most of them. And what a ride it was. It took me completely by surprise, there was no build up, it just went – bam – straight to that weird and beautiful universe I remember from my first ceremony in the jungle.
The brew was so strong, that it reminded me of Jairo’s stuff. I wasn’t very successful in following my teachers that night though. I know they were there, they were trying to get my attention, but my body was giving me lots of trouble and I wasn’t able to focus. There was so much happening that night and I think I was little bit put off balance by the strength of the medicine. On the other hand I knew there was another ceremony on Friday and now I was used to the place, the way the ceremony was conducted and the medicine. I knew I will be more successful on Friday.
The days between the ceremonies I have spent mostly chilling, writing a lot and shopping in the market. At some stage, when I was paying for my lunch in the restaurant, a guy was buying a poster of Leo zodiac sign. I have asked him when was his birthday, but I knew the answer before he told me. I have met only three people in my life that share my birthday, and two of them within last three weeks. Friday morning started well. I had a good sleep, found a group of nice ladies that do vipassana meditation in one cafe in Pisac, send a letter to someone very special and then went for four hours hike up to the mountains to check out the Pisac ruins. It was awesome. And I thought that if I will get my body tired, it will not trouble me that much like it did few nights ago.
From the ruins I went straight to Diego’s house and hang out with our group for that evening. And it was really strong group. Daniella came again for more. Then there was Kristie, who I swear I met before, although possibly not in this life. And Kathleen, who I also met few days ago. She teaches long time about plants and knew Terrence McKenna very well. She never drunk before, but for some reason she decided to drink that night. Then there was Damian, son of her friend. He was sixteen and drunk for seventh time! And on top of it, there was lots of Peruvians and some amazing musicians. Very strong group.
My intentions were to trust my body to take care of itself and to be able to recognise, to follow and to communicate with my teachers. I expected to continue the lesson from Tuesday night, but as usual, I got something much better and exactly in line with my intentions. My body was quiet for the whole time and allowed me to relax my mind a lot. First I have found myself in a sort of staircase with sacred geometry designs and strange light. I realised that I was there the previous night too, but forgot about it. Then there were these beautiful insect like spirits, doing something in different parts of my body. When I later asked about that, I was told they were just checking.
And then the ride started and for next few hours my mind has been blown away by communication with my spirit teachers. It is all bit too personal to put it out here, but just to summarise it – the work I have started almost a month ago in the jungle has been wrapped up there in the mountains. I got many answers, I got answers to questions I didn’t even know I have. And from that August Friday onwards this work is within me, I carry the fruits of this work every step I take and think about it a lot. Something wonderful has started with this medicine and it is continuing growing every day.
I got a message, that I don’t have to drink again unless I will need to learn something new or explore the spirit world. I was told I will be taken care of next time I will drink. And I am thinking that in few months in Czech Republic, I will be ready again. Hopefully few of my good friends will take up the opportunity that will be available in October there and will try ayahuasca with the Shipibo masters. And I would like to be there to support them and continue my journey. The lifetime journey at which I just took a first small step.
Salkantay, Machu Picchu and more medicine
August 17, 2011
I wanted to do Inca trail, but this trek is hopelessly booked out till October. Andy and Maria, who were recommended to me by Peter, suggested to do Salkantay trek instead. This trek is probably the most famous alternative to overcrowded Inca trail and, boy, am I glad I could hike on this trek instead. I have pre-booked it a week in advance, on Monday last week I have met with a guy at the tour office who gave me all the information I had already anyway and went to repack my stuff again and grab few hours of sleep. The wake up on Tuesday was deadly early one.
We spent some time on Monday with Otmar, who returned from Inca trail not long ago. He gave me some hints and suggested to pack lightly. Still, my backpack was about 10kg and I was preparing to carry it with me the whole time. I woke up at 4am, as I was told I will be picked up from my hostel at 4:30. No one showed up till 5:30 and I spent the hour waiting in the hostel’s communal area, falling asleep and freezing. When the guy finally showed up, he took me to the Plaza in the centre where bus was waiting full of people and I was the last one to join. I think there were maybe three groups altogether. Last free space was between three young Australian girls, Georgie, Abby and Leah, at the back of the bus. I didn’t complain much. The two hours to our starting point, small town of Mollepata, went fast. We chatted and laughed a lot, which wasn’t very well welcomed by the rest of the sleep deprived people on the bus. We didn’t care, we sat on the rascal seats.
In Mollepata we met with the rest of our seven strong group – Jordi, Raffa, Alexandra, Julian, Peter and Laura – and with our young guide Marco, who became fast friend. I have found out that my backpack will be carried by horses, so I have just bought a water belt, took out my coca leaves bag, bought a walking stick and was ready to go, travelling really lightly. After breakfast we took off for maybe 18km long, slightly ascending walk to out first camp site at Soraypampa. First half of the walk was very warm with lots of vegetation, like blueish eucalyptus trees and quinoa fields. After our lunch in small kiosk the rain started and the second part of our walk that day was bit wet and windy. The vegetation was slowly receding and more and more we could see snow covered peaks popping out behind the hills. The first campsite was very cold at night, but in beautiful surrounding and to sleep we were helped by the sound of a water in few creeks.
The wake up routine for next few days was a knock on the tent and then a cup of coca tea was handed down. This usually happened around 4:30. Especially on a second day, which was the hardest. Some people took the chance to ride on horses to the high point, the rest of us left the camp earlier and walked another 1000 meters higher. The walk was great, we got past the snow-line, past small almost frozen lake all the way to the Salkantay pass at 4600 meters above the sea level. The monumental Salkantay mountain was watching us from the right most of the day. After the pass, the harder part of the day, in my opinion, took us 2000 meters down, to our second campsite at Challway. It was hard on the knees most of all, constant descent for at least 6 hours. This day I made really good connection with the wonderful medicine that is coca. She carried me across the peak and the mountains nicely, there were no problems at all with altitude or with anything else.
Day three was easy, we walked by the river, crossed the river in metal carriage one by one, and the vegetation returned. We walked through the coffee region of Santa Teresa and reached our campsite in Lucmabamba just in time for lunch. In the afternoon we took a minibus to local hot springs. It was nice and relaxing and it was funny to see how they are building the project while people are having a swim. There was construction work going on everywhere. The road from Santa Teresa was full of boulders from an avalanche 10 years ago, which completely destroyed the old city of Santa Teresa. Few beers in the evening felt really nice, but there was another early wake up on Friday.
Five of us opted for a longer walk on Friday, which would take us to the peak of Llactapata. We left the camp while the stars and moon were still up and first half an hour or so of our walk that day we had to use head torches. The climb was hard but beautiful. It took us via original Inca trail terraces and lots of coffee, avocado, lemon and orange trees. Also aloe vera cactuses and lots of birds. After the peak, which had awesome views and some Inca buildings, we descended to Hydroelectric project. Massive mountain with beautiful waterfall houses turbines inside that power the whole region of Cusco. By the train station we regrouped with the rest, had some lunch, some of us picked up their backpacks as we said bye to the horses the previous day and we took off for last 11km jungle walk by the rail track, that would lead as to the town of Aguas Calientes. We got first view of Machu Picchu from that track. In the town we got accommodated, had dinner and hang out for a bit in a bar, but there was another early wake up ahead of us on Saturday.
We caught early bus to get up to Machu Picchu before the sunrise, but the queues were massive already. We almost didn’t make it, because we waited for our guide, but he sucked. So we found another one. Soon our group disintegrated and we all did our own thing. The place is really magical and powerful. I have made some small rituals in the middle of the complex, walked all around, hang out with the rascals for a while and at the end went to the Inti Punku, the Sun Gate, the sacred entrance to the site and the end of the Inca Trail. The view from there was amazing. In the afternoon I got back to town and had lunch with the rascals and hang out with Raffa and Jordi from our group. They were all leaving the town that evening. I have moved to Inti Wasi, Kucho’s place and hostel, and was about to spend extra night in the town.
I already gave up on the option to work with Kucho in the mountains again some time ago, when Kucho haven’t replied to my email. But when I have moved to his place we met and he told me he can’t access his email. Then he asked me what my plans about medicine are and offered to join him and two Chilean sisters the following morning to climb up the mountain to drink San Pedro at high place overlooking Machu Picchu. There is no way I would say no to that.
I thought I was done with walking, but on Sunday we walked again and again we started really early. We left Inti Wasi while the stars and full moon were still shining bright and climbed Putucusi mountain. At the start of the ascent we gave her coca leaves offerings to safely let us pass to the summit, which was some 700m up from us. There were few parts where the wooden ladders were swept away by floods recently and only way up was by using metal rope and legs to climb up flat and slippery stone. It took us few hours to reach the peak and we were exhausted. But we got up before the sunrise and it was awesome to watch sunrise above the peaks on one side and Machu Picchu being flooded by sun rays on the other side.
We gathered on a small stone above the cliff of area of maybe 4 sq meters and we drunk the medicine. It was powerful, I could feel the mountain energies being moved. I felt like a laser beam and battery in charger at once. I have focused the laser beam on the spot in the middle of Machu Picchu where I made my rituals the day before to give them more strength. I have asked the mountain to give me energy for my future work, and the medicine to strengthen my body and my spirit. And I have received. Few times the tears of thankfulness and gratefulness flew again, for all the gifts I was given. I prayed for guidance to use them well. When the sun got strong, we moved to the cave few meters below which Kucho calls his casa. Butterflies and dragonflies came and I could see spirits in the clouds. It was great opportunity to see Kucho working in his home. This was a wonderful day and most powerful San Pedro medicine so far. The mountain spirits or Apus were very generous to us.
The way back was harder, we were still full of medicine while climbing down. I have picked up my train ticket, my luggage from Inti Wasi, had last meal at the coffee place at Plaza and soon the train and bus was carrying my sleepy head back to Cusco. What a splendid week this was.
Back in the Sacred Valley
September 1, 2011
On Sunday it was my turn to take evening few hours long ride in flash tourist train back to Ollantaytambo and then a bus back to Cusco. At the train station in Aguas Calientes I have met a young guy from the UK, Cieran, who was basically on a drug holidays in South America. I got the urge to get stoned and arranged to meet him later in his hostel, where apparently one can easily get anything. I got there round midnight, because my bus ride took ages, and found Cieran depressed. His guy wasn’t around and so he went to Gringo street and got scammed. Brought back two empty bags worth 100 Soles. I felt sorry for him, but at the same time I thanked the Universe to give me a sign that it is not time yet for this kind of shenanigans. I went back to my hostel Viewpoint and enjoyed good post-ceremony sleep in my massive four bed room with a balcony and magnificent view, as they fucked up and didn’t have my simple room ready.
As usually, I used the few days in Cusco to regroup, do some washing, plan my next steps and eat good food. I treated myself to post-hike treatment – an hour in jacuzzi and hour and half full body massage by pretty girl Carmen. What a bliss.
On Wednesday I took a late combi to Pisac. After dark I was looking for Kristie, who I met few weeks ago, but she and her group found me first by an accident. One of them, girl called Stephanie, was having her birthday, and I got invited for a carrot cake. Slowly I realised that I have not much in common with these people and after an hour or so I took a mototaxi back to town. Slowly it was becoming apparent to me that there are two sides to Pisac. There is an area where most gringos, mostly Americans, hang out called surprisingly Gringoville. This is where Diego’s house is. I came to conclusion that I was grateful to have two wonderful ceremonies there earlier in the month, but I wouldn’t be going back there.
But during my few days in Pisac there were some good encounters. I hang out with Larissa at her cafe, met sweet Finnish guy there, who’s main purpose for several last months was to chew as much coca as possible so his lips turned dark green, and also met nice girl Elfi in the beautiful botanical garden. On Thursday evening I went briefly back to Gringoville to see a presentation of nice guy John who treats people with this crazy red laser machine. As a by-product of this event I met a respected astrocartographer Dan, who I plan to work with later. All good on Pisac front.
Friday morning I took off before the market was set up to catch a bus to Ollantaytambo via Urubamba. It was a smooth journey through beautiful surrounding of the Valley and by 10am I was at the main plaza having breakfast and sipping organic long black. At noon I was met by Ingemar who told me he will go now and check the place for our ceremony, which I have arranged earlier in the week. So I had few more coca teas and at half past one we walked to a beautiful place under El Tunupa mountain, big face carved out of the stone from pre-Incas times. We had to ask a family to let us pass their property to get to the place. It was just me and Ingemar, wonderful man, who stressed is a descendant of Incas, how his middle name, Atayupanqui, suggested.
Ingemar walked around, checked the place and then we cleaned it. He changed his clothes and one by one took his tools out of his stuffed backpack. He set up an altar – a blanket with stones, Inca cross, crystals, agua florida, some other perfume, mapachos, flowers and I put my amulets there too for charging. Then he took out the main proprieties – bag of coca leaves, of which we will chew shitloads over next two hours – and from a tube his two big condor feathers.
Then he made me sit on a stone in the middle of our place and made me meditate for about half an hour. I meditated deeply in the hot afternoon sun and towards the end I focused strongly on my three main future goals. While I was sitting there meditating, Ingemar was performing body and spirit cleanse – using his feathers, some indistinct words I didn’t understand, he was blowing agua florida over me, smoking me and placing stones over my head and cheeks. The bright light behind my eyelids slowly turned green. After the meditation part came last part – chewing more coca. We were both getting quite charged. We smoked the cigarettes, two drags each, swallowed the smoke and passed it on. Then he put big white crystal in my hands and asked me to hold it firmly and close my eyes. This made my hands clench a lot and after few minutes I had problems to let go of it. At that stage a strange guy came along and we both felt change in energy. There was something odd about him and Ingemar later told me he could sense some head troubles from that guy. So we slowly closed the ceremonial place, packed all the stuff , thanked each other, put some yellow paper dots over each other’s head as a thank to Pachamama and had a massive hug. After it was all done I was shaking a lot and it took me maybe an hour to calm down. I invited Ingemar for a beer and before we parted he performed some healing miracles on my back in the restaurant.
First thing on Saturday morning I moved to a beautiful little place with a garden yard, a cute little puppy, crazy parrot and nice family. It was my base for the weekend which I spent mostly walking and climbing in and around Ollantaytambo. Before the tourists flooded the main ruins, last Inca fortress where Incas retreated from the Spanish, I walked them with my crazy dog guide. There were wonderful views of the waking town from the very top. In the afternoon I climbed the opposite mountain above El Tunupa face. Barely any tourists go there even though this part is free, so it was easy to find quiet spot for meditation and different view of the town.
On Sunday I ventured for a longer trip. First I was having a coffee at the plaza and there was a demonstration of some sort. I was wondering what is going on as all the participants had machetes or sickles in their hands and chanted frequently. In the end they just put two flags on the poles, clapped and went to work. I took a colectivo to small village of Turubamba and walked across the river up towards the salt baths of Maras. When they appeared it was a breathtaking view, also thank to seeing all the tourist buses coming from the other side of the valley. I didn’t meet a living soul on my route. After checking out the immense salt pools that apparently cover about 10% of Peruvian salt consumption, I set to continue towards Moray, old Inca crop testing facility. For some reason I thought it is not very far from the Salineras. The walk towards the town of Maras was amazing and the day was hot. Besides few mountain bikers I again didn’t meet anyone. I kept going past the town and soon it became apparent to me, that I will have to think about going back, so I get home before dark. Moray was nowhere in sight and only people I met and asked for directions were local sheep farmers who only spoke Quechua. Then I discovered that the chocolate I have bought recently melted in my bag and totally messed everything in there. It looked like fresh shit was dripping from my bag on my shorts. At least it smelled nice. I decided it’s time to head back. Back in Maras I noticed a sign, that would probably, had I seen it earlier, made me to take a taxi. Moray was 9km away. Still, it was an amazing day and great hike in a stunning countryside.
The next day , after breakfast at Hearts cafe, I took a bus back to Cusco via Pisac, enjoyed once more the crazy uphill ride edged with crosses every few meters and said goodbye to Sacred Valley. It was time to move on towards another sacred site – Lago Titicaca.
September 1, 2011
One more day and night in Cusco before heading south. I checked in a basic hostel on Tigre street next to Ingemar’s office. I was trying the whole day to meet with him to thank him again for the work he did with me, but unfortunately he didn’t show up. I cruised the city once more and stuffed myself with the delicious veggie food at Gina’s little hole in the wall.
I took a tourist bus towards Puno as it was nine hours long trip and the bus stopped at various spots that I wanted to see with short guided tour. The service was great, but our attendant was bit weird and when he asked me for fourth time if I want sugar with my coca tea I just had to laugh. And our english guide was using word “appreciate” in almost every sentence, which soon sounded funny too.
We checked out Andahuaylillas, pretty colonial church that was spreading catholic faith to the indigenous people and that was built on old Inca ceremonial place. The Spaniards destroyed it and kept just the original stone floor. Next stop was Raqchi, Inca Sun temple and food storage, located in the middle of the original Inca trail that stretched almost the whole continent. In the afternoon we crossed the La Raya pass, highest point on our route, the end of Cusco region and start of Puno area. The mountains moved away and we entered the big flat antiplano. Looks like a desert but at almost 4000 meters above the sea. Our last stop was Pokara, where they recently discovered a temple of a pre-Inca culture that was active in the area between 200 BC and 400 AD. Highly probably they were cannibals and sacrificed humans. Their stone totems looked awesome, kind of alien-ish.
We arrived to Puno after dusk, so I haven’t seen much of it the first day. In the bus station I met Don Silverio, who took me to his hotel Tummi in downtown Puno and was very helpful over the time of my stay. The next day I cruised around and got feel for the city. The lake is magnificent, but by Puno itself I was less impressed. I climbed up to the condor viewpoint to get better view of the lake, but still, only a small part can be seen from the top. One day in he afternoon I have visited the funeral towers of Sillustani. The site is great, with a laguna nearby and stone funeral towers scattered around. They come from pre-Incas times, but Incas took them over and adapted them with their own stone style. There were several sizes that used to contain from one to twelve bodies. There are also two ceremonial circles, one for the Sun and one for the Moon. The sky was looking very grim that day, but the light was perfect and I took some great pictures.
The following day I took a day trip to Los Uros floating islands and Taquile island. I was prepared for this to be a tourist trap, so didn’t let go of my Soles easily. It is good to see the floating islands and how they are made out of reed with the whole root system. The surface is a bit unstable, but definitely solid – it can carry all those fat Uros ladies quite easily. But still, it seems this attraction has one sole purpose – to get money from the tourists – and they seemed to be doing quite ok at that. Taquile island was slightly bit better, but still it felt like being in a zoo.
For a long weekend I went three hours down south around the lake across Bolivian border to a fantastic place that is Copacabana. I instantly wished I had more time in Bolivia, it was a pleasant change after Peru. The place had kind of hippie feel to it and Bolivians seems to have more fun. Lots of chatter everywhere, their cars are pimped up with flowers and I even saw first proper fist fight after dark from the balcony of my hostel. From the advertisement of the tour agencies it also looked like Bolivia is the place for all kinds of adrenaline adventures. Well, next time…
On my first day I climbed two surrounding hills. One had old Inca observatory at the top and magnificent views. The other one I climbed to watch sunset over the lake was paved by 14 crosses and at the top one could buy all kinds of stuff – from models of buses to beer or candles. Lots of people were praying by the last cross at the top. I just had some coca leaves, smoked a mapacho and enjoyed the wonderful sunset. That night I took a lot of leaves from my big bag worth 10 Bolivianos I bought from an old man in the market and sketched till 4am. Considering there was a big hike ahead of me the next day, it felt little bit unwise.
But even despite the lack of sleep there was absolutely amazing day ahead of me. In the morning, red eyed, I took hour and half long boat trip to Isla del Sol. It felt longer – I was freezing and tired, but didn’t do anything about it. Once I set my foot on the island there was no trace of tiredness. The place is absolutely beautiful. I dragged my backpack to the top, found myself a bed for the night and set on for almost seven hours hike around the island. On the way to the north tip I took the coastal walk across the fields on mostly donkeys’ paths. Did meet only few locals, lots of animals and some fantastic places – a lagoon with pristine water, small villages, massive volcanic like rock formations to meditate at and watch the blue lake and ever present Inca ruins. From the north I walked back on the ridge and made it back just in time for sunset. I watched it accompanied by cold beer and the best trout I had in a long time prepared by a wondeful chef Pablo. There I was feeling very strongly, maybe for the first time, the urge to be there with someone special to share this beauty. It was glorious and very very romantic.
The morning after I climbed one more hill to have one more view around and took first boat back to Copacabana. I was planning to catch a bus back to Puno at 1PM, but unfortunately some angry party decided to shut everything up that day. It reminded me of Nepal, where maoists ordered everything to close, total shutdown. It was even hard to get anything to eat. Few tour offices were open but I had to gather my patience and wait in the quiet town till 6:30PM when a minubus took us to the border. There, after the official stampage, another bus took us to Puno.
There was one more mission ahead of me – to find the mystical Gate of the Gods aka Aramu Muru. Someone on the internet said that this place is one of three most powerful places on Earth. There is lots of legends and myths and stories about this place. Lots of people give you different direction how to find it, but it is actually not that hard. It is right by the Panamerican highway on the way to Copacabana from Puno. It can become a bit of a challenge, though, if you have a bus to Arequipa to catch at 3PM. First I took a minibus for about an hour long trip to Ilave. Puno minibuses stop at the edge of town. I had to find another terminal, which was strategically located at the other side of the ugly town. It took me a while and lots of weird looks from locals, but soon enough I was in another stuffed minibus going toward Juli. The village I was dropped by was Santiago, but there were no signs. I had to trust I was dropped in the right place. I walked out of the village and finally, I could see a blue sign pointing towards rock formations on my right. It was just after 10am and I started to mentally celebrate. I made it and I have plenty of time. Too soon. Unfortunately, the site was occupied by maybe 15 German tourists. Oh well, I decided to climb around first as the rock formations are really cool. And I had a good time for maybe an hour, found a place behind the rocks where there was almost absolute silence and enjoyed some amazing views of the surroundings and the lake. When I got back to the gate, to my surprise the people were still there. So I sat down and waited. It took almost another hour – they were entering the gate one by one, hugging each other (lots of permutation for 15 people), crying, sighing, shaking, while some guy in a hat was performing some shamanic moves on them. One lady even come to me and hugged me and told me in german, that she thanks me for everything. I said she is welcome and hugged her. I think she didn’t realise I am not with their group and really just waiting for them to fuck off, so I can take some photos of the gate without any German people in the picture. I became little bit nervous, because it was getting close to twelve, but finally they took off. I entered the gate, nothing happens obviously, but it is true, as someone wrote on internet, that it is hard to breathe in there for some reason. They say the gate becomes active at night, but I wouldn’t dare to travel there on my own. Maybe next time, would be great to have a ceremony in this place, because it is powerful, for sure.
I made it back just in time to pick up my stuff from the hotel and to get in the bus station. Goodbye, you awesome lake, I will see you again. And goodbye, Puno, I won’t really miss you. Maybe just the cakes, the cakes were awesome. But here in Arequipa, they are even awesomer!
Arequipa, the land of condors and volcanoes
September 30, 2011
I have arrived in Arequipa in the late Tuesday evening after pleasant six hours long journey across the mountains with beautiful sunset. The city is massive as could be seen from thousands of lights spreading to all directions as we were approaching it. When I have found my way from confusingly big bus station, friendly cab driver Luis took me to my accommodation. We chatted a lot in my non-existent Spanish, mainly about girls.
My base in Arequipa for few days was Marlon’s house at the outskirts of the centre. The girl working night shifts was very nice and we flirted a bit, but guessing by the open Bibles lying all around the place, it was probably futile. She made great chocolate though. After one night I have moved to the top, where one simple room was alone at the terrace. They were surprised and said they never rent that room (maybe because the lock could be easily removed from the door frame and thus fulfilling kind of symbolic function), but I liked it there. I had the whole terrace for myself and the room got heated up during the day and nights were pleasantly warm.
Arequipa has splendid weather – sun shines most of the time with apparently only 15mm of rainfall per year. Perfect after chilly Puno. In next few days I could explore the town, the backdrops of snow covered peaks and volcanoes around are wonderful. I also soon discovered that either there was a rooster farm nearby or the roosters in town were on full time duty. Their crowing ceased only after dark, when it was replaced by minute interval whistling of a guard.
Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is probably the nicest main square I saw here in Peru, with colonial architecture, pretty cathedral and lots of palm trees, which contrasted nicely with the surrounding mountains. Also they have the most laidback (or lazy) pigeons I have ever seen. The ground is covered in thousands of them and when you walk through them they just vaguely move aside and move back behind you. Felt like Jesus parting the Red sea of pigeons.
There were plenty of places to eat well, drink good coffee and eat cakes. My base of food operation became a place called Mandala. It wouldn’t win any beauty contest for decoration, but had extensive vegetarian menu and was dirt cheap too. And lots of locals went there, which was a good sign. So I had finally a chance to taste one of regional dishes – rocoto relleno – stuffed chilli pepper in cheese sauce which is usually made with meat. And the chilli pepper I tasted was a mighty fucker. It made me sweat and cry and the waiter to laugh his ass off.
During my time in town I have visited two places and both were pretty awesome. First was a 400 years old convent, still partly functioning, that opened to public about 40 years ago after centuries of total isolation. It is a town in town, with streets named after Spanish cities, different parts decorated in different colours and it took few hours to walk through it. There is lots of cells one can visit that are arranged in a way that have been used by the nuns. Mostly just a bed, altar with a cross and few other items. But some cells had great kitchens with massive clay ovens or place to keep guinea pigs. Also the cell of the doctor nun I liked a lot – plenty of interesting bottles there.
In the second place I have finally, after seeing shitloads of Inca ruins on my trip, came face to face with one of them. Some time ago the glacier at the summit of Ampato volcano melted for the first time in about 500 years. Some researchers were in the area and discovered few bodies. One of them was a half frozen, very well preserved body of a young girl that has been sacrificed at the top of the volcano. I have learned about Incas from that short visit to the museum more than I have learned from my two months in Peru. Most of all, I got much respect for their vitality – they climbed up to 6200 meters, in sandals, carrying big jars of chicha (corn beer) at their backs to perform the human sacrifice as an offering to the mountain gods, and their only equipment were coca leaves. Even the climbers and scientists climbing the peak could not believe it. And on top of it they were travelling there all the way from Cusco. It was quite emotional to learn all about the 14 years old girl’s story and journey and then finally meet her in the last room of the museum in the freezer. By the way, they named her Juanita.
Friday morning after dreamless short sleep I was picked up at 4:00am for my three days trip to Colca canyon. We traveled to a town called Chivay via a pass at 4850 meters above sea level and stopped for breakfast. There were few groups in there, most of them going for two days trek which wasn’t recommended to me – same distance but bit too rushing. There were only three of us doing the three day trip – Marcel, Fabio and me. After breakfast we travelled little bit more on a dirt road to our first stop – the condor viewpoint. And we were lucky – had maybe twenty minutes there to watch these magnificent birds fly over our heads. We also got first chance to see the canyon in its beauty – around 1000 meters deep at this place. At it deepest the Colca canyon is deeper even than the Grand canyon in the States. Our great guide Joanmarco joined us at this point. After few more minutes in the bus we got close to the town of Cobanaconda, our starting point. The sun just started to get strong and it looked like a hot day ahead. From here we could see almost the whole trek below us. The villages at the side of the hills looked so tiny and we could barely see Colca river down at the bottom.
Our first day consisted from from the long descent to the river, crossing the river and small climb up to our first lodge. As we did the longer version we had afternoon free and could enjoy beer and, in my case, a great nap. The others had to walk for another three hours. It was only maybe six of us staying in this small village, where only three or four families live permanently. We slept well inside simple candle lit room and in the morning enjoyed our pancake breakfast well rested. The view of the opposite mountain we descended the day before was breathtaking, it was so massive that we couldn’t even see the path we took.
Second day was easy walk, one hour up, one hour flat, few minutes in another village visiting local museum and drinking chicha and one more hour down to the oasis. There, at the bottom of the canyon next to the river and few waterfalls lies the oasis – green village with palms and camps with pools. So tranquil and beautiful. We had a swim, lunch and in the afternoon we relaxed in hammocks and messed around with local kids. We had a game of volleyball – Peruvians against the rest of the world – and we got our asses kicked. And in the late afternoon football match we had no chances at all. First of all they were South Americans and then it was really getting dark, so before someone got hurt we got back to safe beer drinking. The night was filled with stars and we slept so good again.
Last day was the hardest, 1000 meters steep climb up back to the top before the sun rose on a zig-zag stone path. I thought my time of 1:40 was pretty decent and it felt really good to reach the top and wait for the rest to catch up. After we re-grouped we walked to Cobanaconda for breakfast and visited hot springs in Chivay. Those were actually really hot, which in the hot sun didn’t feel very refreshing and made our heads spin. But at least we could have a shower before our buffet lunch and long bus trip back to Arequipa. We stopped at the pass to have great 360 degrees view of surrounding peaks and stopped to have pictures taken with eagles and to taste Colca sour – local speciality. It is similar to Pisco sour – national drink in Peru – made from Pisco liquer, sugar, lemon and egg white. Colca sour uses sour cactus fruit instead of lemon and it packs a punch.
Back in Arequipa we had few more Pisco sours with Marcel, I picked up my stuff and took taxi to the bus station. Small complications arose when I found out I booked direct bus to Lima at 10pm which didn’t stop at Nasca. Luckily there was a bus to Nasca at 9:30 and I had just few minutes left to arrange a transfer and got one of the last three seat on that bus. Uff, that was close. I slept not much that night as there was a Peruvian boy sleeping next to me who was sleep-talking, grabbing me and jumping up all night. Woke up just in time to leave the bus when it stopped for three minutes. It was bright early morning and I was in Nasca.