This diary is an extension of 2 Weeks of Vacation - An Untold Number of Diaries to Come about our family vacation to Peru and Bolivia. Diaries are part travel, part photos, part politics and personal reflection. Links to more diaries in the series can be found in the original.
I find myself reminiscing a lot about December of last year. It was Christmas Eve when we woke early in the morning to catch our bus for Puno, Peru - a city on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We had just finished our 4 day trip on the Camino del Inca the night before. In fact, we had arrived at the hotel in Cusco so late, we didn't eat dinner until almost midnight. A grandmotherly Peruana made chicken and egg sandwiches to order from her simple street stand. We each waited in turn since she could only make one sandwich at a time. They were well worth the wait! I highly recommend Peruvian street food!
We weren't necessarily in top form when we woke up early the next morning to catch the bus. We were tired and sore from our four day hike; we were culturally saturated by Incan ruins and the glory of Machu Picchu; two of us had recently recovered from altitude sickness but still weren't 100%. Little did we know that we had more in store for us... but don't let me get ahead of myself.
A view from the bus.
The nice thing about a bus trip is that we could sit and see the countryside and not have to walk very much. The bad thing is that we didn't get to chose where to stop nor when. We visited some of the most touristy destinations possible during our long day but managed to experience some of the true culture of Peru despite the buffet lunch, the folks waiting in costume with their llamas and sheep, and the trinket vendors.
Our first stop of the day was not too far down the road - the Andahuaylillas Church. It's a small church in a quiet town on the edge of a huge plaza. I imagine that during festival time, the place would be crowded with locals as well as vendors for the tourists. But this morning it was peaceful and quiet and our lone tour bus put a smile on the few vendor's faces.
The plaza at Andahuaylillas.
The church wasn't the only attraction. Next door we visited a small museum full of odds and ends. Since the church had been built on an old Inca site, the area is ripe with artifacts, including the famous Andahuaylillas Skull. There are multiple debates about the origins of deformed skulls. Some people actually believe that one specific skull found near this town is not even human in origin but is alien. Yes, extraterrestrial.
After a quick run around the plaza to see the vendors, we boarded the bus and continued on our trip. From the large windows, we were able to see so much of the Peruvian countryside. At first, the landscape was a mixture of green farmland and more scrubby cactus with an occasional body of water. We saw a wide variety of homes but most were built from red brick adobe with red tile roofs. One settlement had garbage piled up and teeming into the nearby stream but most communities seemed tidy and neat, walls separating planted beds from animal pasture. Every community had at least one building with a political sign painted on it's side.
Examples of political signs on local buildings
The walls of the Temple of Wiracocha.
I didn't have a chance to ask her, but I wondered how she felt about the church in the central plaza. There seems to be a battle here between following the ancient ways and accepting the ways of the modern Catholic Church. It is subtle but very clear when you listen - some guides on our trip spoke positively of the Church and of Catholic culture and glossed over the Church's treatment of the native population. Others guides glorified the Inca culture to the point that you might believe they want to see a return of the Inca themselves. Very few people seemed to have a more realistic view of the two. Of course, my Spanish is less than perfect so some of my assumptions are probably unfair as I miss nuance in many conversations.
The central plaza at Raqchi.
The high mountains make for stunning views, even from a bus window, but we were all ready to stretch our legs when the bus stopped at the mountain pass of La Raya. We had reached 4,338 meters of altitude - or in a measurement we understand better here in the US, 14,232 feet. To put it simply, we were high. I should have taken this as a warning.
Young women posing for pictures.
View of the vendors at the high mountain pass.
Our beautiful blue sky had slowly disappeared until the clouds finally turned into sheets of rain. We were happy to be back on the bus. Fortunately, the clouds pushed back once again just in time for our last stop. We were able to walk up the city streets to the central plaza without getting wet.Enjoying a high perch of blankets for sale.
Blue sky turning into rain.
We settled in for a couple more hours of driving. The rain came back and it started to pour. That didn't prevent the locals from being out and about. I saw both men and women wrapped in wool blankets tending the animals out in the field. One man reminded me so much of Pa in Little House on the Prairie that I had to remind myself I was in a foreign country and not in some century long past.Note the people on the pyramid at Pukara.
It was about this time that my youngest son, sitting next to me for most of the bus trip, looked up and said, "I don't feel so good." He was as white as a sheet and I first thought that he was car sick. It's happened before and with the high mountain passes and windy roads, it wouldn't have surprised me. I had him lay his head down to rest. A few minutes later, I ran my hand over his brow and realized that he wasn't just car sick. He was burning with fever. Suddenly, our evening in Puno, Peru was no longer looking like a celebration of Christmas Eve but a mad panic to find my child either a doctor or some medication or both. I spent the last long miles of that trip wondering how I was going to get him help on an evening when I figured everything would be closed up for the festivities.
The streets after a heavy rain.
Typical mode of transportation - the tricycle taxi.
We split the family. A taxi took my husband and sick son to the hotel. The driver took my other son and myself away from the hustle and bustle of downtown to a smaller, quieter street. There we found a tiny pharmacy that was open and run by an older woman who seemed willing to listen to my poor Spanish with a little more patience than those at the more hectic bus terminal. That meant I was a little more willing to listen to her. She convinced me that it was altitude, though fever is a rare side effect. I walked out with a liquid fever reducer that was guaranteed to work.
As I sat in the car and breathed a sigh of relief, I looked around me. There in front was a woman with a huge jerry can like one we might use to carry water while camping. She was holding it up to a car, pouring it's contents into the gas tank. I shook my head and began to wonder if I was beginning to see things. We asked the driver what was going on. She was selling gasoline from Bolivia - where taxes are less. It was then we noticed other women standing on the curbs with their containers by their sides waiting for customers. I can only imagine the contamination to themselves, the gasoline poured on skin by mistake, the spills into the gutters of the city, the fumes from the open containers. I shook my head and made myself stop wondering at the ways of Peru.Last minute Christmas shopping, Peruvian style.
We found ourselves tucked away in an oasis of tourists, safe in a hotel by the lake, far from the fireworks that would happen at midnight, far from the joyous sounds of Christmas Eve celebrations that I had hoped to enjoy. I was content because the medicine was working and my son was going to be okay. He would wake up on Christmas morning in a strange bed, in a strange country and I only hope he didn't regret embarking on this adventure. Hopefully his Christmas Day would not be a horrible one.
Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
This series took a LONG break - it normally takes me about 6 months to get settled in to a new assignment. Washington DC is treating us well and life is beginning to look normal. Therefore, I am once again finding time to write. Thank you for your patience.
If you would like to help me further my travel resume, please visit 5 Steps at a Time, an entry into Photobucket's My Life's Adventure contest. I'm in the running to win $25,000 and your visit could help me do that.Coca Cola is everywhere.