Thursday, July 31, 2008

Finding our Path as a Group

Our time in Nazca was great... leaving was a bit harder. Nothing to do with sentimental attachments, simply cultural differences and capitalism at its ugliest. We had to pay an extra $50 on a bus ticket that had increased rates due to a parade in Cuzco. The frustrating part was that the parade was over by the time we got there, so we didn´t even get to reap the benefits of the surcharge. Add that to the two and a half hour wait we had at the bus stop (we finally boarded groggily at 1 am), and the bumpy ride through the night with the smell of the bathroom mingling with the vomit from tourists with unacclimated stomachs (sorry Kathryn). And then there were the headaches and nausea from rapid elevation ascent...

That of course is from an overall perspective. From my perspective, I expected the late bus and, although the high fares were a thorn, the ride itself twisting through the Andes was incredible. I think the others appreciated the last couple hours also, as we neared Cuzco, the historic Incan stronghold in the mountains.

There was supposed to be a guy waiting for us at the bus stop to transport us to our hostel (again, a new travel concept for me... reservations), but not surprisingly, he never showed. So we took a ride with another tout who promised us a good hotel for cheap (Granted, I know this is a last resort move, and I knew he would take us to somewhat dirty back rooms at a nicer hotel, but it was getting dark and the city was booked up due to being independence day). We looked at the hotel´s somewhat dirty back rooms for somewhat reasonable prices and JooYeon said no. At this point, I was a bit tired, we all had headaches from the altitude and I didn´t want to walk around looking for a room with our bags just in case anyone had any complications from AMS. So we told our driver no, who was disgusted about losing the commission and left us standing there in the rain. Luckily, the rain soon turned to hail as it got darker, so at least we had a massage for our bodies which were tired from the 14 hour bus ride.

We looked at about 20 other places, 18 of which were full, 1 of which only had dorms (which was a no go for our group), and 1 which was reasonably priced and friendly, with vacancies, but apparently too dirty. At this point, heads ready to explode from the pressure and walking separately, I saw this great beginning to the sunset over the horizon (the picture does no justice of course, even though I at least followed the rule about not centering people)...

It helped me maintain a sense of peace and calm in a frustrating moment... I knew how I could handle the situation alone, but it was a new experience to handle it with a group. But seeing the stability of the sunset gave me strength and before long, JooYeon turned around, gave me a big hug and said it was okay to take the aforementioned dirty room. So we braced ourselves wo weather another round of bedbugs and dust allergies, unpacked our bags, and went out to get some dinner.

At this point the tone completely changed. Something about knowing where we would sleep that night, even if it was a dirty, infested room with public showers that had no curtain and a couple inches of stagnant water due to the hair caught in the drain... (At least 25% of us felt at home... not as in Sharon Showalter´s home, mind you, which is the exact opposite, but ¨home¨in the sense of India travelling). Anyway, the point was, the mood picked up and people were suddenly elated as we walked stone streets with llamas, romantically lit 500 year old buildings, fire jugglers, acrobats, and super corn!

We also stumbled across a wonderful pizza place with a wood stove (yes I know what I said in my last entry about eating local food, but some times you just have to... this was one of those moments). The owners daughter Brenda befriended us and cried hard when we left...

Returning to the room, the group was very adaptive and we did what we needed to do. I guarded the shower for JooYeon, completely ¨remodeled¨the bed with what was available from our bags, and Kiwi used his bedsheets for a towel (can you see his imprints in the picture below?)

The night´s sleep went well enough and by the morning, we were recharged and ready to head out to the countryside. We walked past the Plaza de Armas (central square) and the Peru and Incan flags were flying majestically in the air to celebrate Independence Day (although I´m not sure exactly why the Incans would be so happy about the whole affair, but at least they were good sports and everyone seems to regard them higher than the Spanish here).

I almost felt like I was in India when we stepped out of our hostel into a crowd of people, yelling, and firecrackers... turned out to be a typical Catholic-indigenous parade with lots of dancing and general celbration. Unlike India, I was not invited to sing for the parade. Although I did go back into the room to work on my dance moves...

Ever wonder how CocaCola got its name? As most trivia buffs know, the original formula used leafs from the coca plant, the same plant which has caused much strife since then in a much more modified form as cocaine. Here in Peru, the coca leaf is still a commonly prescribed tea and medicine (which I should mention has a much different and much more legal effect than its counterpart.) One of its main uses is to offset altitude sickness so, since we had just climbed over 3,000 meters in one day, we all sipped on some tea to help the pounding headaches and heart rates abate.

So, we had some ups and downs, but they all served to bring us closer together (as trite and cliche as that might sound). JooYeon´s insistence on searching for rooms ended up saving us about $15 because hotels kept giving us discounts after seeing the reluctance on her face. So, keep marching and hold onto those sunsets!!!

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