We headed to Urubamba in the sacred valley to take a break from the cold in Cusco. Els and Gerret came with us so we were able to spend a few more days together.
Unfortunately Urubamba does not have many places to camp that accommodate vehicles. We tried several options with no success. The first night as it was getting late, we went to a site that another over lander had mentioned.
The place looked like it was once a hostel, but no one was there. We decided to stay and wait for someone to arrive to request permission. Several hours later a girl did arrive however she was a tenant and could not commit to giving us permission. In the morning we found out that she had called the owner and he had given permission, and even said we could camp free for the night. However we left money with the tenant to pay for our stay.
The next day, after several more attempts to find a place in town we abandoned the idea and headed to the Salinas, above Urubamba, to explore and to find a campsite for the night.
The Salinas are salt pans cut into the mountainside of a valley above Urubamba. They are still in use after more than 400 years.
We found an incredible campsite overlooking Urubamba near the Salinas, where we stayed for 2 nights. We just hung out, shared meals, I studied Spanish, and Mike and Keira explored the surrounding wheat fields. Els and Gerret are such a pleasure to spend time. with.
One of our main goals of heading to Urubamba was to study Spanish in a warm and relaxed environment. It took a lot of organizing to make it happen, but finally we able to secure 3 days of 2-hour lessons for Mike and I, and 1 hour for Keira. We were able to camp in the garden area of the hostel associated with the school, which was great.
The lessons went well, and we were able to practice with the staff and teachers after hours. Keira’s confidence and ability to speak Spanish improved even in a few days. Mike and I did learn more grammar and also learnt how much we do not know.
I decided then to do more lessons in Cusco the following week. With that in mind we decided to head back to Cusco but decided to go via Pisac to visit the market.
We had met 2 American ladies, Megan and Gina at a coffee shop in Urubamba a few days before. Megan and her husband Eric run a hostel out of their home in Urubamba. We were interested in seeing their place and talking to them about their experiences living in Peru. So we organized to visit their home La Casa de Tres Osos, (the home of 3 bears) for a coffee and a chat.
Megan and Eric have created a very relaxed and homely environment. We all instantly hit it off and talked for a few hours. We felt so at home that we decided to splurge and stay a night in a real bed. Keira played in the garden and with their dogs, creating a marriage ceremony for the 2 dogs that everyone had to participate in. We had a delicious meal that night, made by Eric and shared by the household.
The next day we headed off with plans to return with our Scottish friends Lesley and Phil.
Pisac market, like everything else we have come across in Bolivia and Peru, has increased 10 fold in size since our last visit. It is an amazing market with a variety of textiles, clothing, bags and a few pieces of pottery. It is geared towards tourists but is still a cool place, and relatively cheap, if you barter.
We held off on making purchases waiting until our next visit with Lesley and Phil.
We returned to Cusco and Quinta Lala campsite. A few of our friends were still there, and it was like coming home to somewhere familiar. We were able to secure a campsite in an area that gets the morning sun and is about 2 degrees warmer than our previous location.
We spent the mornings at the campsite and Keira and I completed Spanish classes in the afternoons. The teachers were surprised about how many words Keira already knew. She has benefited greatly from the lessons, and is now responding in Spanish during basic conversations with local people. I gained a lot from the lessons too, but I need to do daily Spanish study myself to move to the next level. I am determined to do this! I will let you know how I get along.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: my Spanish notebook from our lessons 18 years ago
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- camping above Urubamba ; Keira- playing with Hermana the little girl at the Spanish school; Riss- camping above Urubamba/studying spanish
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-learning spanish; Keira- making the dogs sit still during the wedding ceremony; Riss- learning Spanish past tenses
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- freshly plucked whole chickens in the market in Urubamba, Keira- a chocolate mouse; Riss- gluten free bread in Urubamba
BEST CAMPING SPOT: above Urubamba with Els and Gerret
We crossed the border from Bolivia into Peru at the border near Lake Titicaca. We were actually relieved to be out of Bolivia. We were tired of dealing with the gasoline issues and on the whole we had found the Bolivian people to be less than friendly.
We were now on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. We headed to Puno, the next big town to get Peruvian soles. We also intended to complete a trip to the floating islands, as Keira really wanted to do a boat trip and we had not been there before. We knew it would be touristy and this turned about to be true.
The Floating Islands is a group of reed islands. The local people have established communities on these islands. They make a living from fishing, and tourism. It is a real tourist trap where they play on you being a captive audience. Keira did like the boat trip, and the islands held her attention for at least 5 minutes before she found a little boy to play with.
From Puno, we headed north to the Sillustani Ruins, where we camped for the night in the parking lot. That night a man claiming to be a security guard approached us. He wanted money from us in exchange for his services. We did not give him any money suspecting a scam. The next day, we found him attending the toilets!! We visited the ruins that day. They had some buildings intact, which were burial chambers called Chullpa. The architecture was interesting, as they had carved out the inside of the rocks and filled them with rubble to make them more stable. They uncovered several mummies and many artifacts from the site including adornments made of gold. The houses in the surrounding area were made of local stone, a contrast to the adobe homes of Bolivia and northern Argentina
Heading north the following day we encountered our first roadblock at a small town called Ayaviri. The local people were protesting because a mine in the area is dumping waste into their water supply. We had no problem being stopped for almost 2 hours for such an important cause. Unfortunately quite often the local people have no impact, as the mines are big businesses with more influence on the government. They sprayed a slogan on our windshield in support of their cause.
This delay did put us behind, so we entered Cusco in the dark. Thankfully our friends Els and Gerret had given us directions to the campsite, so we were able to avoid downtown Cusco with its narrow and steep streets.
It was wonderful to see Gerrett and Els again. We had met them in Cafayate in Argentina about a month before. We exchanged stories of our travels, and hung out in the campsite together for several days.
The campsite, Quinta Lala, is on the hills above Cusco. It is on a large parcel of land and specifically targets over Landers. It is a cool campsite as people often stay for long periods of time, so a real sense of community is established. Whilst there we meet some great people including Sol and Alvarito, and Julia and German 2 couples from Argentina; a couple from Chile, Claudia and Cristian; an Aussie couple Tony and Betty, and 2 couples from the USA. Everyone shared travel stories, information, food, tools and skills. We even had a birthday party for Sol, decorating their car in balloons and having an Argentinean style asado.
The campsite is a wonderful place for children. It is fully enclosed, has a large area with trees and grass, has chickens, cats and dogs, and the community embraces the children. Keira thrived there, playing with other children, feeding the chickens, saving mice from the cats, visiting other travelers and hanging out in their vehicles, and patting the many dogs.
The temperatures were very pleasant during the day, but at night the temperatures dropped dramatically. The temperatures were -2 to -4 degrees Celsius during the night. We woke up to ice on our tent and frost on the ground. We were lucky to have Els and Gerret’s trailer/living room to hang out in.
The festival of Inti Raymi, the Inca new year, was held on June 24th in Cusco. The main festival took place at the Sacsayhuaman ruins, the inca ruins above Cusco. There were hundreds of performers dressed in a variety of costumes. They performed dancers and acted out scenes from the inca times. Thousands of people were in attendence crowding the hills. Crowd watching was just as interesting as watching the performance. The local people bought full meals of chicken, rice, and vegetables with them. People were selling all sorts of foods, from porky bits, to popcorn, to jelly and fried foods. That evening Millie and her husband, the owners of the campsite, had an asado (BBQ) of alpaca and vegetables, to celebrate the festival and their 10 year anniversary.
The connections we made with fellow travellers at the campsite were amazing. We parted, exchanging emails with hopes to meet up again in the future.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: hot water bottle- needed at the campsite as the temperatures dropped below freezing.
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- hanging out with all the other over landers; Keira- playing with Barley and Bar the two big dogs at the campsite ; Riss- meeting and hanging out with people at the campground
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-sitting still and pretending to be interested in the cultural performances at the festival.; Keira- saying good-bye to friends and the dogs; Riss- getting out of our icicle laden tent and braving the cold
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-the Argentinean asado at the campsite; Keira- chocolate somewhere probably; Riss- soy milk again
BEST CAMPING SPOT: Quinta Lala, above Cusco
Leaving “the Death Road”, our challenging driving had just begun. We entered La Paz at peak hour! Using our maps we were able to circumvent the main part of the city, however once we hit the suburb of El Alto the frenzy began.
It was like swimming with a crazed school of salmon, except the fish were swimming in both directions.
As I have stated before, there are no traffic rules in Sth America. Traffic lanes are non-existent, as are indicators. The mini buses are the worst as they weave in and out of traffic, stopping suddenly to drop off or pick up passengers. Add to that the fact that we were driving into the sun, and the main road suddenly ended due to road works, and yes, you could say it was a stressful drive.
It took us a lot longer to get through the city than we anticipated. It was now dark, but we wanted to clear the city outskirts so we could find a safe place to camp. Once again we relied on ioverlander. It lead us straight to a campsite by Lake Titicaca. We knew when we stopped that we were on a small peninsula of land and that we were surrounded by water. In the morning we were pleasantly surprised with the amazing scene surrounding us. Local fisherman and families using boats to ferry their supplies from the market to their homes on the surrounding islands greeted us. They were surprised to see us camping but were very friendly.
Somewhat refreshed we continued on to Copacabana which involved crossing a small strait of water on a barge. Mike and I have memories, from our last trip, of watching the bus carrying our backpacks travel across this body of water. A man on the barge was bailing buckets of water out as it went. This time, 17 years later we again saw the same thing, but thankfully it was not aboard our vessel. The crossing was non-eventful, but again we were informed after the fact that we had been charged gringo prices, it wasn’t much of a difference, but added to our sour taste of Bolivia.
We gave a local man a ride from the ferry to Copacabana. He was a little hard of hearing, that coupled with our limited Spanish made it a quiet trip.
Mike and I have fond memories of Copacabana. The town was quite small back then. We stayed at a recently opened hostel called La Cupula. Mike helped the owner cut down trees. There were only about 10 of us staying there. Now La Cupula is one of the best hostels in town, with many new buildings and a new price tag.
We decided to splurge and stay at La Cupula for nostalgia sake. We really enjoyed our time there. We relaxed in hammocks, explored the markets and towns, and socialized with the other guests.
We took a drive north of Copacabana the day before the festival. One of our destinations was the local museum at the Inca Baths. When we arrived a ceremony was taking place. We were welcomed in by the locals to share in the ceremony, which involved offerings and drinking from the water from the well. We opted not to drink (for fear of Giardia) but Keira and I did splash water over our heads, deciding to take every blessing we were offered.
The day of the festival, we awoke at 5am and made our way through the streets in the cold and dark. We climbed a hill to a special Inca site, where locals had gathered to welcome in the New Year and to offer food and special gifts to Mother Earth.
Keira was so excited about this concept. We bought a small offering package and received our blessing, making a wish as we placed the offering on the site. The important members of the community said prayers, music was played and everyone raised their hands to the sun to receive the first rays. It was a very moving experience. Once the sun had risen the offerings were burned.
An elderly patient of mine once said, that if he was the President, the first thing he would do is make it mandatory for all 18 year olds to live in a third world country for a year so they could develop an understanding of and an acceptance of other cultures. Maybe he is right!!
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: ioverlander and forever maps apps
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- staying in La Cupula, remembering past experiences ; Keira- feeding mother earth ; Riss- relaxing in a hammock with Mike and Keira at La Cupula/attending the Inca new year ceremony
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-nothing, totally relaxing; Keira- getting out of bed so early for the festival; Riss- trying not to let the rudeness of some of the Bolivians taint our opinion of Bolivia
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike-beef stroganoff at La Cupula restaurant, Keira-nada; Riss- nada (nothing)
BEST CAMPING SPOT: by Lake Titicaca
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.