Sunday, February 21, 2010

South America Trip - Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Cusco was the center of the Inca empire in the 1400s. The Inca culture is still prevalent in the region and many of the modern buildings are constructed on old Inca foundations.

Our first afternoon we took a city tour of some churches and nearby Inca ruins.

The Inca walls were built of perfectly fit rock pieces. They didn't use mortar for their sacred buildings. They also figured out a way to make the mortar-free walls strong enough to withstand major earthquakes. All the walls standing today have survived 5 huge earthquakes in the last 600 years.
The tour was ruined by rain. It poured the entire 5 hours of the tour. Also, we were the only English speaking couple in the group so the tour guide would gloss over the details with us and then give a lengthy explanation to the rest of the group.

We were the only ones in our group to hold out and not buy a poncho. Instead we huddled under the umbrella we brought from home. We got soaked.
When it stopped raining Cusco was a beautiful city. The city center had several impressive churches and the surrounding hills offered excellent views.

A couple hours outside of Cusco were some famous Inca ruins. The ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo were impressive. I can't imagine how much manpower was required to chisel so much rock and move it around that terrain.

The Incas were big into the science of farming. They built these terraces on the hillside as laboratories to test farming techniques. On each terrace they tried something different. The successful experiments were transferred to the large farms on the valley floor.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

South America Trip - Arequipa, Peru

Our first stop in Peru was 2 days in Arequipa. Arequipa's claim to fame is the unique look of all the buildings. The buildings are made of Sillar - white volcanic rock. The rock is softer and whiter than granite and gave a beautiful and unique appearance to the city.

In the middle of Arequipa was a 400 year old Spanish Monestary. The monestary is a city within the city and has only been seen by the public in the last 30 years. It was extremely colorful and filled with unique archetecture.

Arequipa is known for its adventure sports. We decided to raft down the Rio Chili to get our adrenaline fix and we were not disappointed. The river was running a little low, but there were plenty of class 3 rapids.

One of the best parts of the rafting was jumping off some tall rocks into the water.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Winter Weekend 2010

The pickerel lake gang gathered for another winter weekend. Unlike the last 5 years we actually had sunshine, not very much snow, and mild temperatures. We were hardly 'roughing it.'

On Saturday afternoon we hiked across the lakes and explored some woods trying to find the famed 'old water tower.'
We didn't find the water tower, but did find some good trees along the way.

At night we had our traditional 5 lbs of 73% beef hamburgers (27% fat). They were awesome, and VERY flame broiled.

Of course nighttime brings on games of all kinds. Regular ping pong, around-the-world ping pong, Super Settlers of Catan, Carcassone, and poker were our choices this year.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

South America Trip - Crossing the Border

After our time in Santiago we headed off to Peru. We kind of knew this day was going to be an adventure, but really had no idea what to expect.

We hopped on a flight early Thursday morning to the Chilean town Arica, about 10 miles from the Peru border. Here is the tabulated version of what happened.
  • The airport was tiny
  • No one spoke English at the airport
  • The only 2 cabs present took off with other people
  • While waiting for a cab, we asked other backpackers if they wanted to split a cab
  • They didn't speak English - much confusion
  • The cab driver didn't speak English - more confusion
  • The cab driver started driving us AWAY from the border...oops...pit stop for the other backpackers to get money from an ATM
  • The cab driver pulled up to the border and said "problema"
  • The cab driver made us get out and pointed toward Peru - we were confused
  • We walked toward some offices and they stamped our passports
  • We walked 1/2 a mile through the barren desert
  • We found some more offices, they stamped our passport again - we were in Peru!
  • Another cab driver was waiting for us, who also spoke no English - some confusion
  • We drove to the nearest city in Peru about 30 miles away.
While walking through the desert we couldn't help but laugh at our predicament. It seemed no one spoke English for 1000 miles, which was also the nearest plant life.
While crossing we thought it fitting to do something completely out of place, like taking jump pictures at the signs.

The desert in northern Chile and southern Peru is like nothing I've seen before. Over 1,000 miles of NOTHING!! No grass, no cactus, no trees, absolutely NOTHING. Sand, dirt, and rocks. It was quite a sight.

Once in Peru we shopped around for a bus to Arequipa - about 200 miles north. We took the bus with the best price, which we later realized was only for locals. Here is how that went:
  • Got on the bus and no one spoke English - little confusion, but we knew where we were going
  • 45 minutes later the bus stopped - some confusion
  • Then half the people got off - much confusion
  • Then we looked outside and all our bags were being thrown off - what?!?
  • We got off
  • Others formed a line
  • We got in line with our bags
  • The line took us to some police officers
  • The police officers were searching through every one's bags. So it was a police checkpoint, which makes some sense...but not very much.
  • Everyone got back on the bus
  • The bus stopped 2 more times at other checkpoints, but we didn't have to get off anymore
  • The bus arrived 7.5 hours later, 2.5 hours late
We finally made it to our hostel after a day of great confusion and many laughable moments. Most of all we were really proud of ourselves for making it in one piece and for relatively cheap. So we celebrated with some good old delivered Domino's.

Monday, February 01, 2010

South America Trip - Santiago's Surroundings

Our 3rd day in Chile was spent on the coast in Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar. In Valpo we headed to the bay and got swindled by a boat tour operator. Actually, we got a 40 person boat all to ourselves for an hour for $15! It was a terrific view of the bay and city landscape, which is built up on the coastal hills.
Erin's highlight was seeing a couple of seals while driving around.
For lunch Carissa and I pounded a Chorillana, which is a Chilean specialty. Basically it is a heap of french fries topped with egg, onion, and meat. Awesome!
Valparaiso was a colorful city, with painted buildings and lots of random murals.
In the afternoon we visited one of the houses of a Chilean poet named Pablo. This house had one of the best views of the city.
Later in the evening we made our way to Vina Del Mar, another coastal city. This one seemed like more of a vacation spot with lots of big resorts. We hung out by the ocean, walked around, and watched a nice sunset.

On our final day in the Santiago area we caught a bus into the Andes mountains. We found a private reservation and spent the afternoon hiking.
There was a nice waterfall but the rest of the hike was basically a desert.

After the waterfall hike we got really ambitious and marched up a rather steep and sandy incline. The heat and sun were punishing but we peaked at a beautiful flat pasture with stunning views of the valley.

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