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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mama Africa ...

Since I last left off at the cafe, I was having a hard time adjusting to the altitude.
It´s better now, but now it feels like I´m getting a cold. Sniffles and watery eyes. It´s a mild version of altitude sickness, they say. Supposedly when you come back down to sea level, it all goes away... We´ll see, I guess. I´m still drinking the coca tea (mate de coca) to keep it together. It still takes like crap. I´ve switched to eucalyptus a couple of times, as herbal remedies are big here and that´s what I´ve been told to drink. Ok....

Yesterday, I looked around the town and got acquainted with Cusco. There is so much to see here. There´s part of me that can´t believe places like this exist. Since we´re so high up, I´m completely unprepared for the weather, which is hot in the sun, and freezing (could go down to 40 degrees at night) when the sun goes in. Also, it´s rainy season, so needless to say, it drizzles or rains at some point every day. I really shouldn´t have given my dad my North Face fleece as we said our goodbyes in Miami and can´t find anything I like to buy to wear to warm up. So, I´ve just been really really cold most of the time.

Part of the allure of Cusco is the Inca Trail hike to Macchu Picchu. Since the trail is the original trail of the Incas, and mostly ruins, the city of Cusco limits the # of people they allow on it each day in an attempt at preservation. So, getting onto a hike is a pain. (yes, everyone told me this before I got here, but did I listen....obviously not). I spent a good part of yesterday running around from tour company to tour company trying to get on a hike. No dice. I am now on a trail on the 12th, so I decided to change my hotel (b-c mine couldn´t accomodate the new dates) and spend a little more time in Cusco, chilling out. There is SO much to buy here. Obviously, I´ve browsed. BUT, I have a really hard time with the whole ¨bargain¨thing. I mean....I´m a sucker for a great poncho, sure. But to have to haggle over it, yeah....not me. BUT, you have to here. I hear people doing it all over the place, but I haven´t bought anything yet, b-c I can´t overcome the anti-haggler in me. Imagine, going into like, Scoop, in NYC and being like, ¨Seven Jeans, $130. No way. I´ll give you $65. Final offer.¨ And they take it!!!!! Maybe you´d end up paying $80. Tops. I mean.....!?!?? The main thing here is Alpaca. It´s Cusco´s cashmere. A little scratchier, but it´s the thing to buy. Now, BABY Alpaca, whole different ballgame. Softer, more $$. I´ve found 2-3 BABY Alpaca things to buy, but can´t commit to the haggle so...I am purchase-less thus far. Oh right, I bought a magnet...

So, you go into all these shops and American music is playing. ONLY. Like, you´re perusing the Alpaca and ¨Meet Me Halfway Across the Sky¨is playing. Or, you´re in a public restroom, washing your hands to ¨Karma Chameleon.¨ Nobody seems to be bothered by it. It gets me everytime. Like, it´s Inca country, and yet, they´ve embraced the Black Eyed Peas.

I visited all the churches yesterday, they´re amazing. I´m actually moved to tears whenever I visit foreign churches. Italy, Spain, now South America. I don´t know why (my mom is like praising the lord and saying Hail Marys right now for me saying that...) but it happens. So, the churches here, like others, moved me immensely. They are so ornate and beautiful, trimmed in gold. Pretty amazing to see. And all the religious paintings are housed in museums near the churches. But, it´s funny, these museums, housing important religious works have like a xerox copy of paper taped to the wall next to it, with notes in pencil, detailing what it all is. The Incan artists all knocked off Spanish works of art, but added Peruvian details to show that the influence was Peruvian. Jungle in the background, for example. The best one that I noticed was a photo of the Virgin Mary wearing a COWBOY HAT!! I guess even the Incans in 1500s knew that the hottest girl in the room was the one in the Cowboy Hat.

Last night, I went out to check the scene at night. The Plaza de Armas, the main square is JUMPING. There´s a million people on it (the bars surround it) in various stages of intoxication. You hear murmurs of ¨coca, coca...¨as you walk through coming from the likes of dark, shady looking men. This, after all, IS South America. Supposedly, everyone goes to the ¨gringo¨bar called Mama Africa. Ironic, no? At dinner, met a German who was really nice and headed to NY next to have a hamburger and fries for dinner. And, visit Ground Zero. I found that SO interesting. That he´s in NY for one night and that´s his itinerary. Ground Zero as a tourist attraction. I got the chills when he said that. But, after dinner we went to Mama Africa, which is all rasta-esque (In Peru, LOL) and tries to be loungy with pillows that are flatter than flat on stiff benches. All iridescent lighting and...throbbing loud American music. Everyone in there is a traveler of some sort and before long, I´m deep in conversation with Gabriel, the sweetest guy from Buenos Aires. Longish dark hair, scruffy but handsome face, medium build. Told me I was ¨very tall,¨ was very impressed that I was from NY b-c ¨New York girls don´t do that I was doing and that I had to email his mom to tell her how well he held a fluent conversation in English with me. He also quit his job and is doing the same thing as I was re: travel. We had a blast dancing, him imitating the American guy´s hand-pumping-torso-throwing-hip-hop dance, me imitating the roll-your-hips-around-lemme-get-so-close-you-can-feel-every-bone-in-my-body South American guy dance. It was hilarious. We got drunk on Pisco Sours (me) and Rum and Sprites (him). He walked me home, like a true gentleman and we met on the square today for coffee before he headed to his next stop, and me to mine.

It´s AMAZING how you meet people, defy the language gaps, have commonalities and can just have random friendships grow out of fleeting moments. It´s been the most wonderful part of this. Anytime I venture out of my hotel room in the AM, I come home in the PM with another story, another friend, another smile on my face...

Until the next entry . . .
I´m in Peru until the 13th. Then, back to Lima for a day, then Santiago, Chile.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Pack-Of-Cigarettes Feeling

So... I've been hearing all about this blog for the past week now and am just getting on for the first time today. I must say that in preparing for this trip, l've been apprehensive about doing the blog thing. But my sweet sister and dear friend Mark have started to keep this for me, and so I said I would give it a shot and check it out. Being Type A (who me??) and all, I felt like blogging was just another thing to focus on (and be good at). I also wanted the experience to be totally mine. I know, I know...Miss-Share-Every-Detail-of-her-Life-with-Everyone (Sometimes-Too-Much)-Marie NOT blogging (total lunacy, yes?)...but I must say that it's been really nice having my own experiences over the last week. That all being said, I enjoy GETTING your emails but keeping up w/writing back the same cut/paste is getting tedious so I'll give this a try. I have no idea how often I'll get to do this, but here goes.....

Right now, I'm sitting in a cafe eating lunch. Let me catch you up what's been going on thus far...
Galapagos. Amazing. Everyone has to get there in their lifetime. It's an stunning contrast between the breathtaking turquoise of the water with the terracotta earth of the land. As the boat pulled into the port where we were transferred to taxis (which are mini white pick-ups...the kind that mexicans crossing the border are always driving in movies...), there is a sea lion frolicking on the incline of the dock, barking (yes...the bark like big dogs) like the welcome committee of the Galapagos. Like he works for the Gap. You know the greeter who's folding meticulously but still manages to snag your eye for a hello. God knows how hard I try to avoid that Gap greeter. That's how the sea lions are. Needing to say hi. But sooo cute with huge, doughy circle eyes. The islands are vastly different too. There's hot dry parts where the trees look like they've been thru wildfire, I'm burned to a crisp from my dives ... Yes, Rosenberg, I wore 15 SPF. Then, where the hotels are is humid and foggy and the vegetation is lush, at night you're in layers.

I stayed at the hotel called Silberstein but as you know from previous entries (that were emails that my sister and Mark posted for me from things I sent them), I barely stayed there. I was kidnapped (willingly) by the Gipsy Cholos. (Basically, that translates to a bunch of friends who, for this trip got shirts and hats made that said Gipsy Cholo Team, the Galapagos Project. It was all very official looking, with flags from all of their countries of origin - Ecuador, China, USA & Spain - on them. One might think them traveling Olympic fencers or something (I did...), but they were actually just friends celebrating their friendship in a fun way.) As I told them, when I first saw them, I was like 'who the hell are these freaks?' but they're like any other group of friends. There's the preppie who, according to the others, "owns 1/2 of Ecuador," the beauty from the States, the out-of-control, but terribly sweet party boy, the paternal leader of the pack making sure all is always OK, the silent brooder, the Spanish dark and handsome cigar-smoking gentleman, the outrageously smart lawyer who takes care of all the boys, and the easy-going, but opinionated, one who is everyone's best friend (he held hands with the outrageously smart lawyer on our dives, and it made me smile every time!). I stayed in their villas, ate with them, dove with them, laughed with them. And it all was so normal. When I protested about imposing, I was shut up. They were lovely people who made my first week of transition seamless. I miss them already.

On my dives, I saw schools of hammerheads, manta rays, turtles and the sea lions following us to play on our dives and while we jumped off the boat into the sea on our intervals between dives. They're like dolphins in their playfulness. They need attention. I could've stayed longer, easily...Every time I have left a city (Quito, Galapagos, even Lima last night) I get butterflies from thinking about the next leg. It's like a separation anxiety from the amazing people and places you're leaving behind. The next unknown place is scary....until I touch down. Then, I get a new sense of awe and adventure. And feel sooo lucky to be doing this.

Today I'm in Cusco, Peru. It's in the South, Inca territory. The sight off the plane is unreal. Rolling brown mountains, regal historical town entrenched in so much history that you can smell it when you enter. I am in a completely new world than the Marriott that I liked way too much...obv. My hotel is called Los Ninos. It's $20/night. I had to ask for a room with a bathroom!!! It wasn't an option to share, not a shot. There's a space heater in my room b/c it gets so cold at night. I had breakfast waiting for my room to be ready. A huge spread of eggs, jugo de naranja (I'm practicing...), toasts and jams, fruit salad (well, sliced bananas and like 2 lone pineapple slices that had me digging for gold...ech bananas) and of course coca tea for the altitude sickness. All for $2.50. So, the altitude here is 11,500 feet above sea level. And I feel like I smoked 4 packs of cigarettes and then partied like a rock star, that's how my breathing feels. Like a chain smoking lazy ass. But it's the altitude. So, you have to drink coca tea that they serve with a HUGE bowl of sugar b/c they know you need 7 scoops of sugar to make it work on the taste buds. It kinda looks like the tea in Jamaica, but without the rush. Much better with the rush b/c I've had so many coca teas already to no avail. How many of these must I drink??? To put it into perspective, I didn't dive more than 100 feet down and needed to decompress every 30 ft for 3 mins on my way up to level out. Here a plane just drops you off mid climb, practically, and you have to deal. More coca please!

Now I'm at a cafe, had lunch. More things I've never eaten. My father told me in an email not to come back 200 lbs. Nice, right? I think he's having (as am I) painful flashbacks to college when I went on a shopping spree for fat person's clothes on his dime. Don't worry Dad, I'll come back svelte as ever... OK so there's a quintet of what look like singing Jesus's in red ponchos playing recorders and other homecarved wind instruments but dancing around like Phish during a jam. the restaurant. What is my life? Oh, they're coming around now for $$. Shoulda known... Same shit. ;-) (The Swedish tourist next to me just BOUGHT THE CD!!! Aha!!! I'm dying and fully laughing out loud as I write this and they're watching me. So are the Jesus's (is that how one pluralizes Jesus? Can you pluralize Jesus or is there only one...whatever. I have to leave here now...)
I feel like this email....correction, "entry," has been a little boring. I'll write more after some time in Cusco, after things start happening. If I've learned anything in the past's that something always will.

Going to sign off and walk a block to get pack-of-cigarettes feeling again. Fun.

A Little Pampering...

So, I'm totally pampering myself tonight even though I was thorougly pampered in the Galapagos by JoseLuis and rest of the Gipsy Cholos. Right now, I had the Marriott (where they upgraded me to a suite b/c I have some Marriott card my dad made me him) make me a reservvation at Rosa Aquatica, a renowned restaurant here in Lima. Since I'm only here for the night, I was told I had to eat well, the only saving grace of Lima is the food (everyone says that) but even though it's dark & I won't see the city in the sun, it looks very pretty. Ah well...can't do it all, I guess. My flight to Cusco is at 6 AM. For Machu Picchu.

Rosa Aquatica, though, first. It's all the way out on a pier with the waves crashing all around you. It looks like a dollhouse from the outside and the when my table wasn't ready, they bought me a drink for that!!! Imagine that happening at like...Nobu?!?! It's a Pisco Sour, a Peruvian specialty, I have no idea what is in it, but I feel sauced
a) b/c it's delish and
b) b/c it's 10 PM and I haven't eaten since a roll @ breakfast... it was just too hectic w/all the flights today and I looked up and it was after 9 when I got to the Marriott. I ordered 3 courses, a ceviche, a hot scallop app amd my main course. That's how they eat here. Cold app, hot app, then dinner. My kind of town. Only downside to eating in all these places alone-lack of sharing more dishes... Where's Jordan when I need him? My steady sharer...

Ok, signing off.