Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31, 2011 Wishing all a Happy New Year

Reverse warrior
 Here we are at our yoga studio...Free Spirit Peru with Al Toth. We went almost every day for the last two months and had a great time. We will miss you Al...your jokes but more than that...your kind personality and comfortable yoga teaching style.
We had a great holiday week celebrating both holidays in Cusco, Peru. It is New Years Eve and we are getting ready for the big celebration tonight at the Plaza de Armas at midnight. As we are leaving Cusco tomorrow, this has been a bittersweet time....saying goodbye to some good friends. We are excited for the next adventure, but it is always hard to say goodbye to people that we know we will not see for a long time. We do hope to come back to Cusco again, especially for these friendships.

Here are pictures with captions to explain the happenings this week from just before Christmas to today. I shall have to let you know about tonight's events in a few days.

Finished these earrings for our friend Telma

Clothes for baby Jesus. The day before
Christmas there is a big festival in the center
of Cusco with items for Nativity scenes as
well as garments for Jesus. Tradition
has that one buys new clothes every year.

Our Christmas tree, llama, creche and gifts

Jean-Jacques prepares Christmas eve dinner

Christmas eve with friends at Centro Tinku.
We both spent the afternoon helping to
get ready for this delicious meal.

The Nativity at the Plaza de Armas

The tradition for New Years is to wear
 yellow underwear.We don't know why,
except for good luck

Our anniversary gifts...yellow underwear
for good luck.
 Yesterday, Dec. 30th was our 21st wedding anniversary. We celebrated by joining our friend Gaby with her family in the countryside - about one hour from Cusco. It was a beautiful day and once again, it was difficult saying goodbye to all but we will return.
A view from the mountain top in the countryside

collecting flowers on the hike

watching the rain coming in from the top
of the mountain

Here we are just before the rain came.
We hurried down the mountain.
Tonight we will head to the Plaza de Armas at 11pm. We know that at midnight there will be fireworks but also the tradition for those who hope for good luck and travel in the year run around the Plaza 12 times for this luck to happen. We shall surely walk, if not run to insure our luck in travel. Also, as the tradition is in Mexico...each person eats 12 grapes - for good luck each month in the coming year. I have our grapes ready too. We are not sure what other festivities will happen but we will find out tonight. (We will be wearing our yellow underpants). Yellow is the big theme here...people have yellow flowers everywhere and also put yellow confetti around their houses. We saw big yellow eyeglasses and yellow flower necklaces all over town today also. This afternoon we did a few things that we had missed these last 2 months - the Coca museum and the church in San Blas that has an incredible wood carved alter. The Coca museum explains all the uses of coca which is many - both medicinal as well as illegal drug use. It was really interesting to learn about. Richard has been drinking coca tea here every day as most do. (I did not care for the taste). We would have loved to bring some home but are afraid as though it is not illegal, nor a probably would be frowned upon in Mexico or the US at the borders! 

This has been an incredible 4 months and as you all have followed...we had interesting times with friends in all the places we have been - mostly local with some from foreign lands. We both learned much about the cultures of Ecuador and Peru, improved our Spanish, enjoyed our travel together and hope for more adventures to come.

Tomorrow we shall leave for Nasca and will fly over the Nasca lines on Monday afternoon. Then on to Lima and back to San Miguel on Thursday, January 5th. Thanks for traveling with us and our hopes to all for a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR with love from the both of us.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

December 18 - amazing trip to Lake Titicaca

Bus tour to several sites along the route
 of the Incas from Puno to Cusco. We
traveled with Cruz del Sur.

Raqui - walls up to 15 meters high - unique
in the Inca empire
This short trip from Cusco to Lake Titicaca was one of the best and unique trips of our lives - other worldly would describe it.

We started out last Thursday on the Cruz del Sur luxury bus to Puno. It was a tour bus that stopped at several spots along this famous Inca route which made it more fun as a way to travel and broke up the trip nicely. We arrived in Puno, a commercial city right on the lake to a heavy rain storm so we did not really get a chance to see the city at night. We really did not have any idea of what the tour to the various islands would be like and we were tempted to cancel it all thinking that the weather would be terrible. I am so glad that we did not cancel.  We were picked up for our two day trip to the islands in the morning and taken to our boat. 

La Raya - the highes point along the route
at 4335 meters above sea level. Notice
the snow capped mountains in the background
We met the rest of our fellow travelers and by the time we ended on Sat afternoon we had many new friends - hopefully to stay connected for years to come. This was one of the best parts of the trip....the fact that so many from all different lands could come together (all ages from 6 - 60's) and bond in such a short time. [Represented were Eduardo (age 8) and his brother Enrique with mom and dad Katty and Jose from Venezuela; Paul (Wales) and Anny (Peru and Spain)who live in Switzerland; Pavel from Lima, Peru; Celia (Japan) and Denis (France) who lives in New Caledonia - islands in the South Pacific; and Werner and Christine from Austria]. Some of our new friends will be in Cusco during our final two weeks here and we will meet them again.
The floating island of Iros

Greeted by the women of Iros

Small cookstove on Iros

Boats of this style still used to get
from one island to another - we road on this boat

Our first island stop was Islas Uros which are "floating islands" made of reeds that grow in the shallows of Lake Titicaca. By the way, this lake is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3830 meters (almost 12000 ft). This island is prepared for tourists and though a feeling of "Disneyland" was still interesting to view how differently people live in this world. They live in small reed houses, travel with reed boats and are self sufficient in many ways. Iros is only one hour by boat from Puno so some do travel to the mainland....unlike the other islands that we visited which are much farther away. There are primary schools on the island but no high school or beyond.
On our boat - 3 hour boat trip from Iros to
Amantani. Here I am with Eduardo, age 8 from
Venezuela. We spent much of our boat
travel time together - drawing in our
journals and painting with watercolor.

In the afternoon we traveled three hours to Isla Amantani our spot for the night. This island operates its tourism as a collective. About 4000 people live on the island in 10 communities and each takes turns hosting tourists in their homes. We stayed with Theo and his family along with Anny and Paul. We were served simple meals - lunch (almuerzo) dinner (cena) and breakfast the next morning. All the food is grown on the islands and was vegetarian because it is much cheaper. There is fishing though fish was not served in our family. We had quinoa soup, potatoes and some vegetables for the main meals and a fried type dough for breakfast.
After lunch we all hiked to the top of the island - a spiritual spot for the people with remains of pre-Inca ruins that are still used for their holiday celebrations.

The accomodations were simple, but sufficient. It was quite cold on the island at night but we were basically prepared having brought our long underwear and several layers of clothing. Shortly after dinner we were given some local clothing and dressed (over our clothes) for the party or "disco" that night. Everyone gathered and we danced around to music for a time with lots of laughter as we looked ridiculous but the people of the island seemed to enjoy us. Richard was his fun loving self and got everyone out on the dance floor. We left but there were 30 or so young people from one of the other islands who stayed on.
Farming on Isla Amantani

Terraces and homes on Amantani

The Disco at Amantani

Our family at Amantani - we hope to visit again sometime

More terraces on the island
The next morning Richard was up very early (at sunrise) and went out to explore the island a bit. After our breakfast we all met again at the boat for the next island which was Isla Taquile. We spent several hours walking on the island and then had lunch at another cooperatively organized restaurant. This time there was local trout for those who wished and some rice, potatoes, omelette and tomato. This island is also self sufficient for its food and its main industry is textile - knitted hats, scarfs, bracelets and other items...all in small needles with colorful designs done by both men, women and children. Many of the items found in other parts of Peru are coming from this island.
Hand knit - all made on the island of Taquile - famous for
these knit designs done by both men and women.
 Amusing to the families,the tour guides and our new friends was Richard who when asked for his name answered with "Hombre de arana" - Spiderman. Everyone on the islands laughed and was amused by his fun loving ways. In the end they were all calling him Hombre de arana.
Leaving Isla Taquile

Hombre de arana (Spiderman) taking
a short time at the helm of our boat back
to Puno.
For the return we went to Puno and several of us had dinner and left on a 10pm bus which arrived back in Cusco at 4:30 am this morning. It was a quick trip but for us, most amazing and a window into an unusual world. We were on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca but learned from many that the Bolivian side and islands are different yet again so we shall put that on our list of things to do in the future.
Now we are back in Cusco with new friends to meet this week, Spanish classes for another two weeks, yoga and of course ... the holidays.
We shall take this time to wish everyone HAPPY HOLIDAYS and a PEACEFUL AND HEALTH NEW YEAR.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

December 11 - friends and volunteering

Drinking "Chicha Morada" - a drink
made from purple corn 

Our 20 year old friend Tess from Holland
(and Peru)

My new home away from home with
Yeni at the bead store. We are enjoying
teaching each other - in Spanish only!

Friends along the way during our
7 hour hike in the countryside

More friends - Chantal from France and
Cathy from Berkeley, CA. This is a very
transient community but somehow we have
met some great people to share time with

Fredy and his wife Monica. Fredy was our
guide on the Inca trail 6 years ago. We
had the chance to spend the whole day with
the family today.
Catching up again with Fredy and his family has been great. We loved our hike of the Inca Trail 6 years ago to Machu Piccu and that's why we did not do it again - we wanted to keep the memory of the first time alive because it was so special. We are still in touch through email and facebook with many of the folks from that trip and they are also so happy that we reunited with Fredy. Today we spent the whole day with him and his family and visited his mother as well - we traveled to several small villages and ruins that we had not seen. Really it would be possible to see ruins every day in different parts of the countryside,

The street up to San Blas where we walk
every day for our yoga classes. Rare
to see the street with no cars.

The valley of Cusco - surrounded by mountains

The Plaza de Armas - decorated for Navidad

Fredy's mother grinding dandelions -
making a special drink for Fredy for
his health

My new best friend and spanish teacher -
Fredy's youngest daughter
Proud store owner - this hat is typical
of a small town outside Cusco.
Another big adventure this week was joining some folks from the local Indian Restaurant in Cusco who provide food for children several days each week. Driving in a police truck the many volunteers headed to a local school on the outskirts of the Cusco - high up on the mountain overlooking the city. The kids were so grateful and sweet and so happy to say a few English words to us of thanks or hello as they ate their large plates of rice with stew. In Cusco, just like in SMA, there are many volunteers and many volunteer opportunities.
With a police escort we head to a
school on the outskirts of Cusco to
feed 250 kids.

high - fives!

They may not have much in the way of food
but they have a great view of Cusco!

Everyone is happy!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December 2011...important happenings

My new tattoo.

Antonio working on my tattoo
During the process
Well, the most exciting thing this week was getting a tattoo. I have talked about getting one for many years and last week we met a friend whose boyfriend is a tattoo artist...Antonio. I always said that if I did not get one by my 80th birthday that I would do it on that day but I got to thinking that I just turned 65 and why not do it now and enjoy 15 years of my tattoo rather than waiting. My biggest fear before was that it would hurt while doing it but I was told that the pain would not be too bad (in fact was virtually pain free) and so I went ahead and made an appointment. I worked on my design and together with Antonio, planned it. My spanish teacher was also encouraging as he has several tattoos and he reminded me that I could choose my music for the event and to enjoy it. I asked for Joan Baez and they played special songs for me, including "Susan takes you down to the banks by the river" - one of my favorites. Richard came with me as well as a new 20 year old friend named Tess from Holland. It was so easy and I have no problems. It is healing well and the purple in the flower will show better in a few days - right now it is a dark purple but will get lighter.

New earrings that I made. 
The rest of this week was uneventful after my tattoo. I have been working on jewelry - I brought some beads with me and a few stones. I finished these earrings and am working on some pendants for necklaces. I have made a new Peruvian friend in a local bead store and tomorrow I am going to show her how to make this type of jewelry (beading around a stone) and she is going to show me one of her techniques. For me it will also be a great Spanish lesson as she does not speak any English.

Today we went to Chinchero which is a town about one hour from here in the Sacred Valley that has a large Sunday Market. We bought a few artisan objects and went to a studio where a cooperative of women weave and we were shown the process of dyeing yarn and weaving. Here are many pictures of the market.

Used for dying yarns

Check out my necklace - made by this man

examples of some of the beautiful woven
 fabric made into bags.

Speaking Quecha to each other but
Spanish to us.

little dolls


color everywhere

Now we are winding down our time in Cusco as we have just a bit over one more week here. It has been one of our favorite spots and we really feel like we know the town, the culture and the people. Luckily we have made a few Peruvian friends as well as other foreigners which always make the travel experience even better. We are looking forward to our last several weeks of traveling to other parts of Peru before returning to Mexico in early January.