Copacabana – Bolivia

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PLACES TO STAY: El hostal Andino (15 bolivianos per night) – walking up the main street like going to the mercado.  In Copacabana it’s worth climbing up the the top to view the lake.

BOATS TO ISLA DEL SOL: 25 bolivianos. North part is the best

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Copacabana, Puno York – from Peru to Bolivia

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Two months in Arequipa, Peru flew by. They were full of joy, happiness, amazing work with children, teaching salsa, but sadness and difficulties at the same time. I got too overwhelmed with the everyday life and was ready to leave.

Before crossing the border with Bolivia, we headed to Puno on the south of Peru with Vincente and Motta to see my best Arequipeno friend Manu. We took a boat to the Uru floating islands, ate a humongous trout and went to the most unusual Birthday party in the middle of nowhere with lots of pigs.Then, Vincente, Isa and I took a bus to Copacabana. On the border I was asked to pay $56 to get a visa. I am happy I did not mention that I live in the USA.

Otherwise, I would have paid $150.

Copacabana seemed like a pretty nice little town with Lake Titicaca view allover. Unfortunately, it was full of gringos like us. We didn’t really feel the difference between Peru and Bolivia until we went to a restaurant to have lunch. The service was very slow, the portions were tiny and the prices pretty high. Who said that Bolivia was that cheap?

After a night in Copacabana, we said goodbyes to Vincente and took a boat to the Isla Del Sol. (Island of Sun). It was great but the whole way through we basically slept on a 4-hours boat ride. The guide was great, we learned a lot though.

When we got back, had to catch a bus to La Paz.

In the world’s deepest canyon! – Cotahuasi, Peru

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HOW TO GET TO COTAHUASI: You would need to get to Chuquibamba and from there take a local transportation that leave at 6am from the mercado (infront of the green little tienda).

TO GET TO CHUQUIBAMBA: We took Transportes Alex (the cheapest at that time), but Transportes Reyna and Transportes Eros Tour go there as well.  The price was about 35 soles, 5 hours.

LODGING: There is no official lodging. You have to knock on the doors at the village. They charged us 15 soles for a matrimonial bed and 10 each for a double.

                                           BRING LOTS OF WATER!!!!

Have you even been so thirsty that you feared not to make it?

Kelly and I decided to hike the deepest canyon of the planet. We left at 6:30am with a block of salty cheese, six pieces of bread, two mandarins and 1.2 liters of water each.

The morning was pretty chilly but as we walked and the sun was climbing up, we kept putting more sunscreen, taking more cloth off and drinking more water. Up and down the hill, the trail didn’t seem difficult but the sun was killing us.

After 7 hours of hiking I asked Kelly:

¨How are you doing?¨ ¨

¨So thirsty¨´ said Kelly. Her eyes were saying it all.

´¨Do you still have water? Drink it´¨ I said, ¨´we are close¨´

¨¨I am not going to finish my water¨´ said Kelly.

According to the map, we were supposed to reach a village a long time ago, but the road seemed to continue on and on. Throu my mind were going three things:

-Water

-Fear

and… how are we going to survive?

We were thinking about the last mandarin we have left, a bit of cheese, warm coat and towels to cover ourselves during the night, and water from the river. The worst feeling was the THIRST! We were dehydrated from toes to ears, our brains were exhausted and lips dry.

I looked at Kelly and all I could think was: ¨´we are close, we couldn´t have missed it!¨

¨´watch my bag, I will be back¨, I got the last bit of my energy and went back on the road. I climbed up.

´¨A village!´¨ I started waking faster. There was a facet. With hunger and thirst, I opened it up and got my hands full of water!

We had to find lodging. After knocking on a few doors, I finally found a man who was willing to host us. I asked for a 2.5L bottle of water, drunken half of it and run back with it to where I left Kelly.

We were saved!

The next morning we left at 5am to make the same route back to another village to take a bus. That time, we had enough water but were terribly existed from the hike. In 24 hours, we walked 42km.

I think that was one of the hardest hikes I have done! But having a good friend near and a beautiful view made it unforgettable!

 

Cusco and Machu Picchu

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MICHAEL? NOT AGAIN!

Staying with Rodrigo was kind of relaxing. He was just living his normal life as I was strolling around Cusco on my own.

One day after breakfast he said “Well, let me know when you are ready to go home and we can meet.” Then he took off and I went on a quest around the vicinities of Cusco. I tried to walk as far as possible from the touristiest places and as far as possible from the Plaza de Armas. I climbed up a hill, pulled my camera to take a picture of the city and as soon as lift my head, I heard:

“I think I know this girl.” A tall blond guy was staring at me and laughing as he approached me.

That was Michael….. yes, that Swiss Michael whom I met in Colombia, with whom I travelled to Ecuador and whose passport, credit cards and camera were stolen on the bus to Latacunga.

“Wow” I said. “If would understand if we met in the center, but here, in the middle of nowhere… I can’t believe it.” We had a nice warm hug and then he asked:

“Would you like to join me to the ruins of Saqsaywaman? (Try to say it a few times).

“Yeah, why not?” (I really had no idea what it was and that it existed).

As we started walking to the top, two Peruvians came up to us and offered a horse-back-riding tour for 45 soles for two hours that included three places to visit. We bargained down to 35 soles but at the end ended up visiting only two places and from the Spanish family who was in our group, realized that we overpaid about 20 soles ($10) each. Ladrones!!!!

It was fun thought and after a ride and a hike we headed to the market to have a huge meal for $1.50. After that, I had to by a few things for the Machu Picchu trip and asked Michael if he would accompany me.

As we were walking on the street and were about to cross a busy road, someone splashed a scoop of vomit on Michael’s neck. I pulled a wet towel out to help him clean up, as a lady with a kid on her back run by and touched Michael’s pocket where he had the camera.

“Hey” he yelled. He reached into his pocket but luckily the camera was still there.

We walked to the center while Michael was complaining about people and showing me how a lady was trying to rob him. As he touched his pocket one more time, the camera was gone.

That’s the second time he was pickpocket while with me…. Not sure, a coincidence or he should be more careful?

TREKKING MACHU PICCHU

I don’t think I have ever climbed that many stairs in my whole life. Rodrigo booked a tour through a friend of a friend and in the morning of September 7th we were waiting at the Plaza de Armas with our day packs. There were four of us in the group: Rodrigo, two girls who seemed to be a couple and me.

The first day was biking down the hill. I think after an unfortunate biking fall in Ecuador while crossing a waterfall, I get more and more scared of biking. At month seven I finally got a travel insurance as I had been traveling without one, just being faithful, hopeful and caution. Thanks God it ended up well.

Day two and three we walked, swam in hot springs, had lots of beer and watched a Peru-Venezuela game. At night we were staying at hostels and even went salsa dancing (I was the only one dancing I think).

The forth day was the hardest. We woke up at 4:30 am, left the hostel at 5am and from there, it was hiking up and down the Inca stairs till 4:30pm. I was existed. On the way back we took a train back and were home by 11pm.

I had a great experience but am sure you can crash the Alternative Inca trail without booking a tour and taking buses and walking by yourself. It’s doable. In addition, I haven’t had any good guides in Peru so far and Machu Picchu wasn’t an exception. Our 23-year old boy was more like a kid who knew the road and led us along.

When we got to Machu Picchu, I guess I was expecting some sort of a show of energy and feelings but really didn’t sense anything. I was definitely amazed by the architecture, calendar and clock system but didn’t have any mind-opening occurrence.

I am not saying it was a disappointment; you should definitely do it if you get a chance. Just don’t expect the awakening. It was like seeing Mona Lisa in Louvre if you know what I mean…

Lima

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Two days in Lima were just enough. Although, I ended up staying with a very nice family, the city was exactly what expected. It was dirty and grey, cold and hot at the same time, big and unsafe. I stayed with Karla’s cousin. She took me everywhere, fed me pollo a la brasa and ceviche. Ceviche is made out of row fish here. By accident I ate little piece of chili and was sweating and crying so much that thought my eye were about to fall off on the table. It was delish though.

On the way out from Lima, Karla’s aunt made chicken with rice to take on a 22-bus-ride to Cusco. I was a little embarrassed to eat it but as soon as the light went down and everyone seemed to be asleep, I secretly pulled the dinner and ate it.

I traveled with Civa Transport. The bus was the cheapest you could get but probably the worst. Dirty and smelly…. hehehe.. on top, a guy who was sitting next to me kept making earplugs out of toilet paper by rolling the little pieces of paper, wetting them in his mouth and putting into his ears. When it wouldn’t fit in, he would take them out, put in this mouth and then in his ears again. At first it was disgusting but then I found it funny. He also kept talking about the French revolution, European Union and how good the combination of bananas and oranges was for you.

At the end of 22-hour ride he asked if I would want to leave my backpack at his house and have lunch with him. Yeah right…. I told him: “You are very nice but I have some business to take care of.” He introduced me to an Argentinean boy and I ended up leaving my backpack in his hostel room.

Finally in Peru

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The beauty of the world, people and situations surprise me and really fill me up with love and happiness over and over again. At a disco last night I was asked “Are you a happy person?” and I said “Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”  We have been going to Adventure and Climbing Film Festival in Huaraz for the past three days and it made me think a lot about my trip.

“If there is no risk or fear, it’s not real” has been repeated there over and over again. I have been on the road for 7 months now and thank God it has been great so far. This trip has been growing on me and the fear, unexpected, beauty and people have been teaching me a lot.

I guess every time I cross the border or go from one town to another there is a bit of fear and risk. I always try to look for travelers like myself and stick to them. On the way from Ecuador to Peru I spotted a tall blond guy with blue eyes. A bigger and taller guy is always a plus and the knowledge of Spanish is like a cherry on the cake.

Well, my new German- Bavarian 24 year-old friend Korbi barely spoke Spanish and was on the way to Peru from an Ecuadorian wedding. When we got to the border with Peru, the Peruvian officials didn’t even have a computer to register us. A border officer was reading a newspaper, asked me how long I was going to stay, stamped my passport and let us go.

The first impression of Northern Peru was – desert! The destination town was Piura from where at 10pm we were planning to take a bus to the next town. So we arrived to the terminal and a bus driver said we had to take a taxi to another terminal to take another bus.

A fat Peruvian taxi driver was waiting by the door flagging his official card. “How much is it to the terminal?” I asked. “5 soles” ($2.50) “but there are no buses. I can take you to other terminal but it will be another 5 soles.” Then, it happened all in 25 minutes. One terminal – the buses are booked, 5 soles; another terminal – the buses are booked, 5 soles more, another terminal – everything is booked.

Then were hotels: first hotel – booked, 5 soles; another hotel – booked, 5 soles more…. At the end, a taxi driver called one of his friends and found us a room for 60 soles ($30) with a matrimonial bed and shower inside the bedroom. We ended up paying 25 soles ($12) for 25 minutes taxi city tour and finished our night eating Chinese food and sharing a bed.

What the heck is this country? – We thought and the first thing in the morning we headed to a bus terminal to get tickets to Trujillo. The taxi this time cost us 3 soles for the whole ride; we had papas rellenas (stuffed potatoes) with rice and ceviche. Yumm!! The day started much better!

When we got to Trujillo the taxi driver just said “You can walk to the hostel.” So we walked and after getting settled, went to get food. We didn’t walk too long when saw a “concert” in a little court yard. We walked in. An older guy, who had at least 5 bottles of beer told to Korbi “Dance with her, dance with her.” Korbi and I definitely needed a bottle of beer to start.

We headed to the counter. There were a bunch of 40sh year old guys with their wives and kids dancing and drinking. All of them had yellow sweaters that said “Class of 1990.” We were at a high school reunion!!! One of the guys was an English teacher and got us involved in the group. There we were for five hours dancing salsa, cumbia, merenggue and drinking beer.

There is a special beer drinking tradition in Peru. You don’t drink from the bottle and no one has his own bottle. You get one glass, one bottle and a few people pass the glass around. When you finish, you drop your foam on the floor or if you drink at the table, you put and extra glass on the table and keep pouring the foam in that glass. That wastes about a glass of beer after a few bottles drunk. So strange!

The next day we met a girl from Costa Rica who joined us to go to the mochikas and chimus old sand ruins of Chan Chan and Huaca de la Luna. Then we headed to the beach Huanchaco. The more I travel the more I realize how complex and amazing the world is! The complication of the ruins and the past civilization fascinates me! I think I have been growing so much stronger in my faith and just cannot not to believe in God. How did this entire world happen? Whatever the God is for you, there is one. And the world is just amazing!

After Trujillo we took Trnsporte Linea and headed to the mountain town Huaraz. When we arrived to the terminal, our backpacks were covered with fish juice and all the cloth smelled as if we were transporting ceviches. We nicely complained about the situation and to our surprise got a free bus ticket to Lima!

People really take care of you here but sometimes you just wonder if they have a disorder. You rarely get what is on the menu or what you ordered. The room in a hostel could be nice but then you realize that the bathroom doesn’t work. It is a nice disorder full of surprises this country!

During the three days in Huaraz we have been actively hiking above 4000 meters, visited Laguna 69, Laguan Vilcacochas, a bunch of little pueblos like Caraz, Yungay, Carhuaz, had the best ice cream and dulce de leche, watched about 14 films about climbing and adventure and of course went to a rumba till 4am! I even attended a workshop about writing a travel-adventure blog. So, hopefully you have been enjoying this. Thank you for reading!

Tonight heading to Lima.

Volunteering in Salasaka, Ecuador – Katitawa School

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http://katitawa.blogspot.com/

I have arrived four days ago to a big spacious volunteer house where I am sharing a room with a French and a Swedish nicest girls and the rest of the house with a girl from Portland, a guy from Germany and from Ecuador and Robert.

ROBERT: Let me tell you about Robert because when I grow up I want to be like him. When I was in contact with him through e-mail I thought he was 40, when I met him in-person, I thought he was 60, but when he told me he was 80, I almost fell on the ground. He is probably one of the very few elder Americans I know who keeps going and doing good no matter what.

He gets up at 5:30am, makes oatmeal for the whole house, leaves to school before 7, teaches at least 2 classes, helps with the library, and fixes whatever needs to be fixed including solar power panels and water pipes. He gets home by 8pm. We normally cook dinner but if not, a bowl of pop-corn makes Robert happy.

He is not one of those volunteer coordinators that make s profit out of having foreigners to work for him. He is one of those leaders who says “Let’s do it together” and is always there if we need him to cover. He is fully present in conversations and knows what he is talking about. He walks faster than I do and you should see him working with a shovel on a roof. He is truly awesome!

SCHOOL: I haven’t taught at the school yet as the children are on vacation but from what I have seen it seems great. There are two solar panels (one needs to be fixed and we are actually raising money) and two water pipes (one has to be fixed as well and we are also raising money). Here is the link if you are interested in helping. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/193328. Anything starting at $1 is greatly appreciated. The school was build about 8 years ago and has 6 classrooms, a garden and a cafeteria. I can’t wait to work there.

WORKING WITH KIDS: Because of the vacation we have been working in the library that was also organized by Robert. It has WI-Fi, four computers; quiet a big collection of books a few classrooms as well. I have been mostly teaching Math and Algebra which I love!! However, the indigenous kids are hugely lucking the discipline. I have been pretty strict.  I am pretty sure some of them are terrified of me and probably dislike me; but on the other hand, I believe the most important they can get out of the education is being a respectful and responsible citizens and be able to learn and work.

FOOD: Is absolutely horrible. When I arrived I heard five people killing two pigs. They suffered for about 3 minutes but the sound was heartbreaking. Then, those two pigs spent a night on a library table with the blood dripping on the floor. The next morning, the whole community, or 120 people got together to fix a community center roof and celebrated the finished work with the pigs baked in a dirt whole. That day I pilled about 30kg of potatoes but couldn’t eat anything because everything smelled like pig. A few days later we went out to eat where for $1.75 we got a soup with a piece of pig and rice with beans, potatoes, salad and a big piece of a P-I-G!!!! I couldn’t eat anything and had to stuff myself with bread from a nearby bakery. At the house we don’t eat meat, and from now on, NO PORK FOR ME PLEASE.

WEATHER: You would think that being a few kilometers from Equator would make this place the hottest on Earth. We are freezing cold here. You almost get burned on the sun during the day but at night you have to put every single winter warm cloth you have on. We don’t have hot water in the house either. Showers and laundry with cold water and cold air become a daily challenge. I think the last time I took a shower was three days ago.

OVERALL: I love it!!! The people who I am staying with are great! Most of us are in our mid-20s, business majors who quit our jobs and went on a year quest to help others and learn ourselves. We make dinners together, drink lots of tea, listen to music and play games. We are also grateful to live in a huge house with a beautiful view of Chimborazo (The closest mountain on Earth to the Sun) and have Robert as a boss. And, of course, it’s great to know we are doing not much, but what we can to help the local community.

Cheers!

Go Climb a Mountain – Climbing Cotopaxi, Ecuador

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Go climb a mountain. For courage, for respect, for adventure, for yourself, for others or just do it!

Climbing Cotopaxi was challenging, encouraging and refining. 5.897 meters or 19347 feet, 2 meters higher than Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was intense!

We left the refuge at midnight and started uphill. Ice-picking vertical snow walls, jumping over deep snow cracks in the ground and using crampons wasn’t something I had ever done. On top, climbing above 4900 meters was a new experience that definitely added a bit of headache to the climb.

It was not about competition, making it first to the top or making it there at all. It was all about the process and the beauty. “Just one step at a time,” was going through my head. “Relax and enjoy.”

The guide was pretty awesome. We hardly spoke along the way but having the harness and the rope helped him to feel my pace. I think I was stopping every single 30 seconds to take a minute break; yet we got to the top in 5 hours and were first to see the sunrise.

When we finally reached to the top and started to climb down, the beauty of the nature was something I can’t express in a few words. Here are a few pictures but if you really want to understand what I experienced, I would highly encourage you to climb a mountain.

GUIDE: I went with Jason Lara and loved him. However, a few other friends really disliked him. It’s up to you.

BOOKING: I booked through http://hostaltiana.com/chapters/view/9 They were awesome at helping and encouraging you to do it!

Quilotoa Loop

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Quilotoa loop is a 20-40km hike that takes about three to four days. It goes along small villages, beautiful mountains, rivers, and fields.

The tree day hike with as a solo female traveler was a pretty sketchy idea. I really wanted to do it to get some acclimatization before the Cotopaxi climb and asked almost every single person in the hostel if they would join me. One of the guys volunteered to explain the map and the rout and after a few minutes of talking, he said “Fine, I will do it again.” I think I looked pretty terrified.

The next morning, after a light two-pieces-of-bread breakfast, we left with a little backpack, stir hiking boots, and a white Sheep beanie. In two days we visited a volcano crater, walked about 27km up and downhill, walked along a few villages, met a few kids that we had to pay to take a picture with, ate a lot of street food, stayed in a few hostels, helped to bake bread, bought fruits on a market and took lots of pictures with our Cow and Sheep beanies next to cows and sheep.

There were no tourists in the places we went, we were moving from place to place every day not knowing what where we were going to stay and what we were going to eat. I finally got a feel of the local culture.

The people are not as friendly here as in Colombia and they are not at all curious about meeting foreigners and learning about the rest of the world. I shouldn’t generalize as we have had really great experiences with a few hostel owners but overall, I am not feeling as welcomed as I was in Colombia. The personal hygiene is very basic or almost absent here and I am grateful I haven’t had any stomach problems as yet (knock on wood).

Tomorrow we are leaving to climb Cotopaxy. Only 50% of the people make it to the top and hopefully we are going to be ones of the 50%. (It’s not deadly dangerous, it’s only physically and mentally very challenging).

WHERE TO STAY: you will figure it out. Get a map from your local hostel and from there, good luck! One hostel to stay is  TAITA CRISTOBAL! It was nice.