Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Arequipa, Peru.

Having smashed my bad knee into a rock at Machu Picchu, and then losing a tooth on top of that, getting exhausted at high altitude, and stupefied to the point I forgot (and therefore lost) my guide book there in the downpour of tropical rain, I decided it was time to go for more water at the bus pick-up station at the entrance to the site. That only cost me a few bucks, whereas the woman next to me paid closer to twelve dollars for a sandwich. A cup of Coca Cola was around $5.00. I was mightily discouraged by most of the experience of visiting Machu Picchu, and by the time I left I was happy to say it was over.

I've been to a fair number of lost cities recovered from the wilds, and most, in fact, all of them, have offered me some interesting and often times unique insights into the ways of humanity that are, for me, beyond my experience in the modern world. Often times I am transported, if only in my imagination, to past times and am allowed experience of other ways of living that I can't get from reading or imagining on my own in the privacy of my own space; but in a setting far from the usual, in a place where I am surrounded by the exotic, then I find myself in a different state of mind altogether, at times so strange and awe inspiring that I am hooked on such adventure seeking. My time at Machu Picchu, however, was not a great experience; it was a huge let-down in that there were so many people tramping around, that the commercial aspects of the visit so over-powered any sense of the sublime, that I was put off badly and could hardly think of the place in situ let alone the hoped for and expected transport of the mind. But, having grumped about it, there will come a time when all the edges are worn off and the bright spots will shine like the sun.

At Machu Picchu I saw a marvel of human ingenuity and perseverance and imagination that is almost unrivaled in my experience. I was more or less disgusted by the initial encounter, but such will pass. I have the images of Machu Picchu vividly in my memory, the kind of deep impression that lasts and grows stronger with time. Good for me, after all. But my tooth. I was in trouble and needed help, which I couldn't act on at such altitude. I could hardly breathe at Cuzco when I returned, it being even higher up than Macchu Pichu itself.

I went for a consultation with a dentist, who just happens to be the most beautiful woman I have seen in Peru. Her name is Yerte, and not only is she young and beautiful and delicate and lovely, she wrote out a persciption for antibiotics and antiinflamtory drugs to get me within spitting distance of health. I had to get to a lower elevation, which I did by hopping a bus to Arequipa, some 12 hours south. At 6,000 feet I am in the safety zone, more or less. I've been a week now on the medicines, and will continue my way south from here. But I have had a week to look around Arequipa, a city I enjoy to some extent, though in many ways I am forced to consider that the people here are of a different race from those of Lima, a race not so pleasant that I feel any desire to stay here longer.

I've been here a week, in which time I've been taking my pills on schedule and am now more or less recovered from the infection I got. I've taken some time to explore the city, to see what I can, and to learn about the life of others. I see from the rooftop of my latest home the mountains all around this quaint and sort of attractive city, cobblestone streets likely laid at the beginning of the 20th Century, crumbling buildings, unfinished buildings, empty buildings crumbling, and rubble. The sidewalks are narrow, and the main street of downtown, San Juan de Dios, a two lane cobblestone street filled with taxis and pedestrians, drivers and pedestrians alike looking like extras in a Hollywood movie, near misses and seeming chaos as everyone negotiates without the benefit of stoplights or traffic control of any kind other than luck and daring, cars darting in and out, intersections a heart-stopping spectacle of rushing and jumping, of what looks like certain death turning into just another car crossing through.

In many ways this is a 19th Century city, but here there is electricity and endless imported consumer goods for sale in shops on every street, some shops selling stuff so obscure I can't describe it. What can one say of a shop filled with metal bits that make no sense to the average man? It must be for something, though I can't place metal bits as anything useful. Perhaps it's for some repair job I have never seen before. But other shops sell things universal, shoes, plastic goods, Chinese food.

Often I just wander around looking at this anachronistic city. There must be something this city produces, but it escapes me. So far from the centre of things, from Lima and the manufacturing and exports on the coast, and so far from the handicrafts economy for tourists that one finds in the Machu Picchu area. I have no idea what sustains this place. People have enough money to buy everything a people could need in our time, and I see only a few homeless men, obviously mentally deranged, and I see many people well-dressed and well-fed. It's not rich here, but stable and livable. It should be a good place. I find I don't like it at all as much as I hoped I would. On the surface it looks just about right.

I took a short walk to the river here, and on the way saw what seemed like a happy middle class area of smart looking houses and a well-tended homes.

The street is off the beaten track, the fronts looking clean and healthy.

But behind the houses I found the ruin of ages.

The stench of sewage behind the facade was unbearable.

But, like so much of this nation, the facade is as deceptive as the seeming disgusting reality behind it: I found a super market here that is a delight to my mind, a place a block in size and a beauty like a cheap Walmart. Food, food, food, and clothing and housewares and electronics and endless delights of the Modern age. All of it cheap and clean and new. I am in love with such places, the sign of the future when every man can live in peace and plenty. Vea. I see. I see the future. It is beautiful.

Manuel Carceres, Jefe of Machu Piccu Trains.

I took a walk along the Rio Urubamba this afternoon, crossing the train tracks and inching my way along the bank to look into the water in the faint hope of seeing fish jumping for flies. The water here churns in swift rapids high up in the mountains, and dark, filled with dirt and vegetation. I don't begin to know what kind of fish there would be in such waters. I had seen on my way here to Urubamba many fine places for a fisherman to cast his lot in the hope of plenty, but this is the first time I have had a chance to examine the water closely, and I must be pleased with the beauty of it all, passing on those natural places a fisherman would test his skill against nature, the man connecting, perchance, with a fighting fish, the two becoming one in the duel. I seldom eat fish anymore, catch and release being my personal policy, if only because I don't kill solely for pleasure. I have killed many fish in my time, but it's clear to me now that for the most part those days are fading. Much is fading, as I am slowly and painfully discovering on this leg of my journey.

I walked along the railroad tracks gazing at the river, many other rivers running through my mind as I did so, memories of wild beauty and calm. Those rivers flow through my mind even though today many of them have likely shifted and dried up and died on this earth from those places they were. But the flow continues somewhere, forever. I wanted to know about fish in the river, and I saw a young man who works for the railroad company and I called to him and asked about fishing. This is not, as I knew, a place of cutthroats, of sparkling trout. This is a land of Inca ruins and trains and locals working, so the man and I took a walk down the riverside and talked about rails and ruins, Manuel and me.

Another tired man, I had no need to tell him I am a stranger. Everybody knows. Manuel and I took a walk down the riverside by the tracks and he pointed out ruins there and a path across the water on the mountain side, part of this settlement built on steep slopes and the constant danger of falling. We looked at trains. At railroads that curled like smoke above his shoulder.

Maybe all things move and all things change; or maybe all this is illusion. I love the rocking and the swaying of the movement forward in the night, the surrounding darkness giving shelter like the womb or the perhaps the tomb, quiet and peaceful like a fish swimming in a river; like a man going nowhere.

In this valley of rivers and trains a man could reach for the sky only to surrender. There is nowhere else to go but onward. A stranger to Manuel, a man among trains by the river in a dark valley.

Primarily Red

Times come when gutters over-flow and men walk ankle deep in blood curdling slowly on paving-stone streets.Women suffer and die, as do children, all being one. Cities burn to the ground, motley smoke wafting upward through heated troughs, released to the sky beyond, grey ash swirling amidst the blackened ruins. The skies themselves aglow, a deep, shimmering red. The streets lie down and wait in red.

Red, red, red. Red as the eyes of the girl what loved me.

Red. To display what can be seen but cannot be felt.

I have read 10,000 books, listened to100,000 conversations, dreamed a million nightmares; and still my grasp of the moral is mired in red. Far from clear, the moral is marbled. It is red.

I have seen churches and cathedrals, galleries and museums, all filled with the glories of human greatness in this world. Across the spectrum of the arts much is red. Far more is empty space, not red at all.

People come from far away places to raft on white-capped rivers, to hang in clear amarillo skies, to tramp the pardo plains, to gaze in blanco astonishment at verdant jungles. I do not know what I am looking for, although I think it must be red.

As a boy I walked away from the black holes of mines, copper and silver, for the red wide world. Now in my old age I have travelled far and forever, and red eludes me when I most need it. Red. Red. Where art thou, Red?

I fear that many a man's soul is red, and I see in my blind state only green, finely wrought.

My road is red, and I shall want. I shall want red and have red. Red will be mine for all the days of my road, and I will give thanks for red.

Life is horror and ends in red; but life is red for us all, and I rejoice in red. Red, red, red. Red as the road that loved me, a flood of flowing red, organ's red. All the days of my life I will w*nder in red.

Monday, November 28, 2011

To Arequipa from Cuzco by bus

I got lucky, I guess, in that my bus trip from Cuzco to Arequipa, Peru's second largest city, was more or less uneventful, especially given that some of my fellow travellers were not so lucky. We all have seen newspaper filler of "Bus Crash in Third World Kills Dozens." I've seen some of those crashes myself, though only once was actually in a bus that hung off a cliff side without going over. A few days back two bussed did go over, killing eight and injuring over 40. That was from Cuzco to Puno, my alternate route. I went instead to Arequipa. Lucky me. I had stayed a few more days in Cuzco, seeing the sights, and resting up from my broken tooth and sore knee. I looked out the window to see what the world is like there, and of course I saw a lady and her llama.

I saw a lot, which I hope to detail in my book when this part of my journey is over and I have a sense of what happened and can write it in some coherent narrative form. I'll leave it for now and will write more about Arequipa next time.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Onward to Macchu Piccu and back again

One can walk the Inca Trail for three or four days to Machu Picchu, as I heard from a number of younger people, one a young woman who was collapsing sick at Machu Picchu itself, she and her group having fallen ill from food poisoning, and from a couple of older fellows from Rochester, New York, a building developer and a medical doctor out having a good time in this life. For me, the only practicable way to get to Machu Picchu was to go by train from Ollanytaytambo to the base at Aguas Calientes. I used to be a dedicated cyclist and mountain climber, but those days, sick to say, are finished. I've been hit twice by cars, and my knees are so badly damaged I often have a hard time walking at all. I took the train.

I took a nice train, to be fair, and went first class. On the way up I met a young couple, the boy and his mother from Chile and his girlfriend Columbia. I have notes to come in the form at some time of a book I compile as I travel. Here I must keep it brief.

We had an excellent view of the valley as we rode for an hour and a half toward Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to take photos out the window, so I chatted with my new friends. That's one of the great pleasures of train travel, the slow and comfortable ride with strangers who quickly become friends.

Off we went, and when we landed at Aguas Calientes, this below is the view from my hotel window of the pee-wee hill that is so small compared to Maccu Picchu that when I saw the latter I was thrilled at the thought of climbing it.
It didn't all go as well as I had hoped. My climb up the hill from the actual settlement at Machu Picchu was for me an effort, which surprised me badly. I had no idea how badly I had been hurt, assuming that I would be just like I was ten years ago, ready and eager to bound up and gloat over my little triumph. 

I went up in a slight drizzle.The day was warm enough, and I felt good if slightly winded due to the lack of oxygen at this altitude, roughly 9,000 feet or 3,000 meters. I wanted to go the extra mile. That was a mistake on my part. I climbed the path easily enough, but I had some trouble when I needed dexterity and agility. I don't have much of that left. I encountered a rock on the pathway, suggesting a slide, coinciding with a monster boulder on the road up, which I took by bus, middle aged sissy that I have become. This little rock should have told me, perhaps did tell me and I wouldn't listen, that there was a problem ahead.

I finally did get to the top look-out at Machu Picchu, having successfully negotiated a wash-out with the help of a group of locals working on repairing the path. A stretch of six feet or so was gone, and one had to cling to roots and branches to make it across the gap. I did that with the locals lending me some hands. 

The vista was lovely, and added a bit to my catalogue of small triumphs accumulated over a long life time of bumming around.


I spent a bit of time chatting with a couple from California, and then, having seen the view, having taken some pictures, and mostly, having made it to the top, I ventured down again.Snapping a few last shots.
Which is good for me, given that the actual site of Machu Picchu is so crowded with tourists it is nearly impossible at this time in history to have a moment's peace otherwise.

I've been to many such places, though this is something extra, being so remote, in spite of the 25,000 tourists and the hustling going on all the time that made it a trying experience for me. And then it went pear-shaped indeed. I fell on  the way back down and hurt myself. I smashed my left knee and lost a tooth. But I recovered in time to meet my train friends shortly thereafter, my pain and slight bleeding mostly forgotten for a time.

Here they are, and a welcome sight, indeed.

I'll post a bit more of the aftermath next time.

Links to recent Peru Posts

I'm doing so me slight catching up on my travels in Peru. For a better look, here are some links:

Ollantaytambo, toward Macchu Piccu.

I got my final ride to by normal transport to Ollantaytambo, a ride in a jam-packed little bus, and then, upon arrival, I got out and had lunch and coffee and spent some time chatting about travel with a Russian. That story will come some other time. For now, here are a few sights of the village, almost to Macchu Piccu.

Not for any practical reason anymore, but I do like to look at schools to see what I, not to mention students, are missing. For those camped out in city parks and other public places in America, people complaining that their $35,000.00 student loans for graduate studies in Puppetering are hurting them, I look at people in a nowhere village in Peru who are happy to take some night school training to maybe improve their lives and the lives of their community members in a more practical and possibly finer fashion. But that's just me.
When I'm not complaining about spoiled American hippies, I go go lunch. I found this lovely place close to the bus stop, as it were, a big open area by the market where I spent some time chatting up the locals. They seem pretty happy with things, as was I while I was at Ollantay. Lunch wasn't free like it is for hippies sleeping in the park in America, but I didn't pay as high a price as this fellow.
The lady swinging the axe who served my lunch was quite nice. Thanks to her and the cow here, I had some good soup.
But I didn't go all the way to Ollantaytambo to have lunch. I went there to catch a train to Macchu Piccu, the only way to get there without walking. In town, this is pretty close to Main Street. It looks far nicer on the outside that what one encounters inside.

Another view of Main Street.

I looked up at the hillsides when I arrived, and there I saw what I think amounts to the Inca version of a retirement settlement for guys with bad knees.
If you click on the image you should see a settlement on the mountain side. This is but one of many seen from the town plaza. Here's a closer view.

I was still suffering from cramps due to elevation sickness, but my knee is so badly damaged now that I probably couldn't have made the hike anyway, so let us for now be happy with a picture.

I'll return in the next post with a bit more about Ollantaytambo and my train ride to Aguas Calientes, onward to Macchu Piccu. Till then, here's a Liderman, Manuel, a fellow who wandered around the riverside with me, pointing out ruins across the way, telling me a bit about his life, and looking pretty pleased with life, which he and I are happy to share here.

Hello, Manuel!

Urubamba: Onward to Machu Piccu

I took a train to Aguas Calientes, the hell-hole entrance to Macchu Piccu one cannot escape except by hiking the Inca Trail, which I am no longer capable of.Lots of younger people do it, and many my age as well, but not me. :(

I was stuck with taking the train to this nasty little place and by good fortune just happened to share a seat with a young couple and the boy's mother. What a lovely time that was. But before arriving at Aguas Caliente, and out of sequence here, I stopped at Urubamba, a little village where I had coffee at this lovely spot just like home.
If one goes downtown Cuzco and finds the local bus terminal, one finds a combi or a collectivo to Urubamba for about $0.50 U.S. I did that. I transfered later to Ollataytambo, another $0.85 or so to get to Aguas Caliente and on the train for Machu Piccu. At Urambamba I had coffee. I was going to have lunch but the place filled up with a family of over a dozen and I was forgotten. Though the coffee kept coming, my lunch never did. Such is life in the Los Angeles fast lane.