Archive for the 'Peru' Category

Islas Flotantes


Off the coast of Lake Titicaca the Islas Flotantes, or Floating Islands, of the Uros people are built using layers of the buoyant totora reeds that grow abundantly in the lake.  The reeds are constantly replenished from the top down as they rot away and the ground is always soft and springy.  These days the islands have become shockingly commercialized and a tour to visit them is little more than an opportunity to purchase crafts from the islanders.

Lake Titicaca


Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America.  Stretching for more than 230km in length and 97km in width, it stradles both Peru and Bolivia.  Situated at an elevation of 3820m it is also said to be the highest navigable lake in the world.  The water is a stunning shade of sapphire that glistens in the high-altitude sunlight.  Set against the stark plains of the altiplano with traditional Aymaran villages dotting the coastline and the snow-topped peaks of the Cordillera Real rising up in the background, the limitless horizons and beautiful landscapes of Lake Titicaca are magical.

on to Bolivia


Having discovered that the real reason Carlos was initially refused entry to Peru was an attempt to extract a bribe in exchange for ushering him across the border left us nervously anticipating this next crossing.  Though at that time neither of us had any idea and we spent the day jumping back and forth between the consulate and the border before they finally gave up on us and let us across.  I had also heard rumors about Bolivian border officials confiscating “fake dollars” from travelers.  That being said, we were wondering if we would encounter any unusual problems crossing from Peru into Bolivia.  We didn’t.  Everything went smoothly and we were on our way to Copacabana in just under a half hour.  

American citizens require visas to enter Bolivia and at $135 they’re not cheap.  Fortunately, I had already obtained mine at the Bolivian consulate in Cusco.  Crossing into Bolivia I was one of five Americans on our bus and the only one to make it across the border.  The others had waited to obtain their visas and apparently didn’t have all the documentation the immigration officials were demanding.  Ironically, when I arrived at the consulate in Cusco I was prepared with all of the required documentation and without looking at any of it they took my $135 in U.S. bills, stuck a sticker in my passport and that was it.  Apparently the charge for the visa is considered a reciprocity fee and Bolivian citizens are charged the same amount for a visa to visit the U.S.

Machu Picchu


Our visit to Machu Picchu was amazing, even better than we had expected.  After spending the night in Aguas Calientes we were up bright and early to catch the first 5:30am bus up the mountainside to the site – and already we weren’t alone.  After waiting in line to enter the site and again at the base of Waynapicchu we were ready to start exploring.  The highlight of our visit was climbing Waynapicchu, the tallest peak overlooking the ruins.  We made it to the top in just over an hour and the views were amazing. 

machu picchuWe were fortunate to have arrived at the ruins early in the morning.  Only 400 people are permitted to climb Waynapicchu each day and most people who arrive via one of the treks or by same-day train arrive too late in the day to sign up.  The climb alone is enough to make it worth spending a night in Aguas Calientes and waking up before sunrise. 

Best of all we loved everything about our visit to Machu Picchu.

Aguas Calientes and the journey to Machu Picchu


After departing Cusco we traveled by bus to Ollantaytambo.  Ollantaytambo is the farthest point en route to Machu Picchu that is reachable by road, after which travelers to the lost city of the Incas must either hike the famous Inca trail, one of the less popular alternate treks or take the train.  Peru Rail is the only company that currently runs trains to Machu Picchu.  We opted for the cheapest ‘backpacker’ option, but at $62 RT it still seemed like a lot to pay for the two hour ride, plus they charged us another $10 to store our packs.  Peru Rail also runs a ‘local’ train that costs only a few dollars for the RT journey but foreigners aren’t allowed to ride it, only Peruvians.  When it was time to board we came to find out that the two are the exact same train, they just seperate the Peruvians and the foreigners into different cars.

Also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, Aguas Calientes is the last stop before heading up the mountain to Machu Picchu.  We arrived around 9pm Saturday evening and purchased our ticket to visit Machu Picchu for the following day.  At around $41, foreigners pay double what locals pay for a ticket to the ruins, except that we were visiting on a Sunday and Sundays are free for locals.  All that remained to be purchased was our bus ticket to the site the following morning.  At around $7 the ticket for the 20 minute ride up the mountainside costs about the same as a six or seven hour bus ride anywhere else in Peru.  We had planned our visit to Machu Picchu in the most economical way possible, though it still ended up costing each of us more than $100 and we figured about 10 times what we might have paid had we been from Peru.

Museo Irq’i Yachay

This past Monday my Spanish teacher, Holga, and I visited the Museo Irq’i Yachay as part of the ‘real-life practice’ portion of our lesson.  Located in the center of Cusco this museum was established by the Asociación Cultural Ayllu Yupaychay in an effort to promote intercultural diffusion.  On display are various examples of indigenous children’s art works and documentary archives gathered during teaching trips to remote indigenous villages outside of Cusco.  The museum offers a unique insight into the culture and traditions of these indigenous children and the differences in education that exist between them and their urban counterparts.  Unfortunately, Ayllu Yupaychay’s website (see link above) is only available in Spanish.  This is an excerpt from the museum’s english language brochure describing the association’s mission and objectives:

“From 1991-1998, our Peruvian non-profit cultural association made forty-nine teaching expeditions to thirty-one distant Altoandino communities throughout Region Cusco to improve the limited primary education that their children have historically received.  The Quechua people living in these isolated villages have been one of the most under served indigenous populations in all of Perú.  However, for this same isolation in which they have subsisted for generations, it is here that the Andean cultural traditions and practices are still found the most intact.

In these distant Quechua communities to which Ayllu Yupaychay travels, self-expression through visual art is unknown to their children for lack of access to art materials and curriculum limitations.  Our alternative teaching methodology uses visual arts and creative activity to address this fundamental necessity for childhood development.

For children who have never before made a painting or drawing, their creative efforts have exceptional aesthetic qualities expressed with a purity that reflects the traditional lives they live.  These rural Quechua children know nothing, nor do we teach, about the art of painting.  Therefore, their paintings should not be viewed in the usual artistic sense.  These children have made cultural messages using an inherent visual code to try to communicate about their lives, traditions and beliefs.  Their extraordinary design sense and worldview is part of their cultural inheritance from the Incas.”

As of 2006, the Asociación Cultural Ayllu Yupaychay has resumed its teaching trips to remote Altoandino communities and is currently working to document the changes that have taken place in the communities over these years.

Museo Irq’i Yachay (Museo de Arte de Niños Andinos) is located at 344 Calle Teatro in central Cusco.  Admission is free.

and more spanish lessons…

proyecto peru

There’s no question that prior to beginning our trip I underestimated how difficult it would be to learn a new language.  Like many people I thought that once I spent some time in Spanish speaking countries I would start to pick up the language and be able to communicate, as simple as that.  Of course, that’s true to an extent but my goals for effectively communicating in Spanish reach beyond my being able to pay for the bus or locate the bathroom.  For the past several weeks I’ve been awake and out the door by 8am for my daily lessons at Proyecto Peru and it was a real confidence booster on the first day of class when my teacher, after speaking with me for a few minutes, left the room to exchange the workbooks she had brought for a more advanced level.  Although, the real test of what I’ve learned while traveling will come at the end of our trip when we’re back in Mexico City with Carlos’ family. 

Aside from Peru another popular location to study Spanish in South America is Argentina.  Except that in Argentina Spanish is spoken with a strong accent – one that my teachers are always jokingly trying to imitate – and my learning Spanish in Argentina would be kind of like being taught to speak with a speech impediment to the rest of the Spanish speaking world.  Instead, I’ve decided on more lessons when we arrive back in Mexico.  With the end of our travels quickly approaching I’ve found myself thinking about the possibility of teaching English in Mexico.  Knowing the challenges I’ve faced, I think I might enjoy being on the other side of the desk for a change and sharing in someone else’s satisfaction when it all finally makes sense.  Fortunately, there’s a recommended TEFL training program in Guadalajara and no shortage of job opportunities for native speaking English teachers south of the border.