Peru Part II
Date: Thu, 8 Jul 1999
A very out of date update!!!
After leaving Cuenca, where our last update came from, we visited Vilcabamba - a wonderful ride (40km downhill!) along a ridge into the valley. Vilcabamba itself wasn't much but the surrounding area was gorgeous & we found accommodation in a tree house by the river about 4 km out of town.
Normally such accommodation would be outside our budget but because of the devaluation of the Sucre (6400 sucres per US dollar when we entered but when we left 3 months later it was 15000 per dollar!), it was incredibly cheap as they hadn't raised their prices in line with the dropping sucre. They were the only people who hadn't - even the price of an egg had doubled. When I questioned the price I was told that the dollar had risen. What need exactly does a chicken have for dollars? was my question.
They also had the best shower we had had in months -certainly the best in Equador & maybe the best in South America so far. It was a real gas hot water heater. Not the normal electric ones with the electric shock wires hanging out waiting to get you. For those not in the know, these showers are a special delight as you have to turn the tap on so low, you only get the smallest trickle of hot water out of them & normally it's not worth the effort. To get a decent trickle means adding lots of cold water hereby defeating the purpose totally. We were warned that in Equador that when the hotels claim to have hot water they are normally exaggerating. When questioned as to whether the water is hot, they will nod their heads enthusiastically & claim it is hot enough to burn. What they really mean by "burn" is an ice burn!
Then, deciding we didn't want to return on the same route (bad luck to travel the same road twice right? (especially when the return is uphill!)), we set off on a dirt road for El Tambo. After 30 km of a beautiful but hellish road (aren't they always?) we stopped at a house to eat some lunch. The women enquired as to what we were doing & when we replied that we were heading for El Tambo, they shook their heads & told us it was impassable. This cleared up what the Tractor driver 2km down the road had meant when he waved dramatically as we edged through a pile of mud past him. It also explained why we hadn't seen a single vehicle since departing Vilcabamba. The men returned from their work & confirmed what the women had said. The only option was to return back - it was only one road - but we couldn't bear the thought of struggling back. So we continued on & sure enough their warnings were correct. There had been a huge landslide & it actually took us 15 minutes of scrambling around on dirt to locate where the other side of the road was. But that's the advantage of bikes - pushing & shoving the bikes one by one we managed to get them across & continue on the road which returned to its normal muddy, jolting, bone-rattling norm.
But it was all made up by the road to Macara which was mostly paved (bar about 30km of the usual mud) but as we had been told it would be closer to 90km we were delighted. But we made a mistake on entering Macara. Someone we were chatting to said he was visiting his brother & we could probably camp the night in his garden. His brother agreed & was very nice but as the night entered turned into a religious fanatic. No offence to all our devote friends but this guy wouldn't give us a moments peace & spent hours preaching to us, nearly having a fit when ever we said anything normal like we met in a disco (Yep music was EVIL), Richard was a wine sommelier (ALCOHOL!!!!!!).We tried retaliating with things like Jesus turned water into wine & what about all the religious hymns etc but to no avail. His brother eventually admitted he’d done it as a joke on us when we snuck around the back for a fag, feeling like naughty school kids!
A few weeks later:
We're in Lima at the mo. Nice to be in a big city again but already missing the mountains. We've been Peru for 6 weeks now - wow it goes fast. It's weird as we can't remember what our impressions of Peru were before coming here. Whilst in Equador we thought about it, but it was difficult to get a real picture as our expectations were so coloured by the other Latin American countries we'd visited. We remember how different Mexico was from our expectations - that's not it - more that it had so much more diversity than we had envisaged. But after travelling in Latin American countries for 1 & a half years it's difficult to recall what we expected Peru to be like before we left England. Probably the biggest surprise was the extent of its deserts.
We entered Peru via the Macara / La Tina border. Immediately we were harassed by calls of "Mister" -certainly makes a change from "Gringo" but just as unpleasant. On spying a bike shop with MISTER signs all over it I asked if that was the reason everyone called us "Mister", hoping that maybe this was their version of ciclista. But I just received a sullen "No that's what we call you people here". Richard countered acted for a while with "Monsieur" & "Sir" but to no avail.
The 1st hamlet we stopped in was Suyo - a very friendly place where even the dogs didn't bother to lift their heads as we passed. They continued to doze on the chair or next to the cat & chicken as the case was! After our ordeals with the dogs of Equador this was a pleasant surprise. To be honest we've had very few cases of dogs chasing us since reaching Peru – a definite plus for the country!
We went to a great festival - Qoyllur Riti (yes there are various spelling before everyone replies!) The festival is set in the ice ringed Sinakara Valley which is pretty uninhabited - except by the alpacas! We caught a Kombi there at about 10 at night arriving well shook up about 3 in the morning, gasping most of the way as the Kombi was packed full of the local Indians. (It always amazes me how even when we haven’t showered for 5 days & sweat all day while cycling &are totally rank & these people always smell worse than us!) We were worried as we’d been told the festival finished that morning but we were there for the final showdown. After a couple of hours climbing up to the glacier we found ourselves surrounded by stalls selling trinkets - many people grasping fake$100 notes, toy trucks (lorries in English!), little toy shops & houses. They believe that if they buy these toys they’ll receive the real thing within the year. (though I read somewhere you had to attend for 3years running for this to come true). At one point a man approached Richard & I & greeted us as Consuls from Europe. We explained that no, we were mere tourists - nothing to with the Embassy. But he insisted & asked us to give him a visa entering our respective countries. We started writing in the toy passports he had, keeping an eye on our bags. To be honest we thought it was some kind of scam to distract us & then pick pocket us or something. But then more people saw what was happening & started thrusting similar passports at us. We then realised that this was all part of the wish factor, like they bought toyshops hoping to get the real thing - they all wanted visas to Europe (and the States though we refused to complete those!)& getting us to sign in the passport was the closest thing they could get to the real thing!
In a swirl of smoke & music, 100´s of Naciones came charging down from the glacier (pilgrimage groups with a ritual leader, dancers & the non dancing tourage), each with their own icon of Señor de Qoyllur Rit´i to be blessed - the majority either Qollas (Aymaras) or Chunchos (ancestors of the Quechua of the Cuscoregion.) The customs were fantastic & they all looked like they were having great fun. Each nation had a few Ukuku dancers in their woollen masks & shaggy coats. The Ukuku represents the Andean bear & the dancers dance ritual combats whipping each others legs. One beckoned at me o take my hat off - not realizing that this was a sign of disrespect I refused - was he crazy- it was freezing! I thought I was being singled out as a tourist (of which there were surprisingly few) but then realized that they would quite happily knock the hats off the locals too so as the sun was out by this stage & acquiesced. These "bears" had so much life- if was difficult to believe that as the full moon had risen the previous night they had set off on an all night march up to the glacier & across the mountains. The Ukuku is considered a threshold being, creature of dawn & dusk whose habitat is the precarious edge between the 2 worlds (real & fantasy), half human, half savage (a product of a woman & bear) & is a sort of policeman, clown & trickster all rolled into one!
The best thing was that no one seemed to be drinking (as many of our friends already know it’s sometimes difficult to find non drunken natives on festival days.) & for a change these people were proud &happily cheered us taking photos - quite a change as these people rarely want photos taken & if they do they want money for it. A woman came up & insisted I try her hat on - and no she wasn’t trying to sell it to me - it was just for fun. To be honest this was a vast contrast to a festival we went to in Bolivia where everyone was completely plastered & it was very much little groups of Indians, other Bolivians & the foreigners.
Okay that’s all for our latest update.
Ciao for Now
Stani & Richard
Next Newsletter: Bolivia Part I 18 Aug 1999