Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Vacaciones con la Familia – Part III

The fam in front of Monasterio de San Francisco
At dinner on Christmas eve.
Erotic exhibit at Larco Museum. Recievee doesn't look all that pleased - a little startled in fact
The honeymooners

Lima – Were it not for there fact that the sun literally only shines for 4 or 5 months out of the year, I could live in Lima. Like all big cities, it has some pretty sketchy, crime infested areas but it also has some great areas and nice middle class neighborhoods with their own special feel. But, aaahh, back to civilization and sea level. It was refreshing to land at Jorge Chavez airport and breathe that sweet, sweet, desert-damp, sea-level air and not walk 10 meters without having to stop and breathe. We went to the hotel and chilled for the night. The next day, we went to the Peruvian equivalent of Whole Foods called Vivanda. It might have been the highlight of Mom and Sam's trip – they raved about it. Our hotel was in an area called Miraflores. Miraflores is a wonderful place of Lima but it's certainly not representative of Peru. Miraflores is where the rich, the pitucos, the "Haves" of Peru live.

In Lima we did the touristy double-decker bus ride. As we approached the enter of Lima, an historic but kind of shady area with a lot of crime, the view from the second story of the touristy bus was much better than the street level where all the shenanigans go on. During the tour we popped into the San Francisco Monestary, a church that had catacombs stuffed with thousands of bones. Later we hit Larco Mar, a shopping mall built on the side of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean complete with a Tony Roma's, Chili's and TGI Fridays. We also visited a nice museum that had a whole exhibition hall dedicated to pre-columbian porn ceramics that turned me and my brother into giggling adolescents.

Christmas in Peru is celebrated at the stroke of midnight. Families gather on Christmas Eve, have dinner, eat paneton (sort of like fruitcake), drink hot chocolate, open presents and drink. We celebrated Christmas by eating at the only restaurant that was open - Chili's. Ordinarily you wouldn't catch me dead eating at a Chili's in the US unless I was in some bullshit suburb with no other choices, but it's amazing how delicious a chicken fried chicken with mashed potatoes and white cream gravy is after a year living here.

It was great to see the family again and spend some time together during the holidays.

Vacaciones con la Familia – Part II

Mom and I on the floating islands of Uros
The fam on the island of Taquile, Lake Titicaca in the background
Some temple (?) carved out of rock. The tour guide gave us some explanation about it but it sounded like some shit he just made up.

Puno – From Arequipa we took a five hour bus ride to the city of Puno. Puno is on the high plains in the south Peru on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world - high meaning around 3,800 meters or 12,500 feet above sea level. Now 12,500 feet didn't sound all that high but it is. After all, there's a group of folks called 14ers who climb peaks of 14K or higher for fun and that's only 1,500 feet higher than where we were, if my math adds up. Anyway, the altitude got to all of us and the Peruvian food got the best of my Mom and bro (happens to all the gringos) so we were winded whilst sprinting to the bathroom.

Lake Titicaca has a series of man-made floating islands called the Uros Islands. The floating islands are made of reed roots and reeds lashed together. Around six to ten families live on each floating island in tiny little houses also made of reeds. According to the guide, they eke out their living by fishing, gathering eggs, hunting, bartering and tourism. It was pretty cool hopping off the boat onto a floating, living island but to be quite honest, it was pretty touristy and I doubt that any of the folks actually lived on them. I've heard here and there that the people living on these islands are from the sierra and moved there to make a living off tourism and to avoid paying taxes. Either way, it's a tough way to earn a living. Looking beyond that, it was pretty cool to see a manmade floating island that was built the same way they did back in the olden days. Come to think of it, I don't recall the guide explaining why anyone would originally live that way in the first place – probably to get the hell away from some conquering assholes.

From the floating islands, we went to an actual island called Taquile. On the boat trip out there, I sat at the aft of the boat enjoying the sun and thinking that this looks a bit like the Greek Isles except I'm freezing and can't breathe. When we arrived at Taquile the guide pointed up and said we're going up there. So up we hiked because that was where lunch was (20 steps, stop, try to breathe, 20 steps, stop, try to breathe). Painful but worth the view. It was a nice walk on the way down with some impressive vistas.

I've been in Peru for over a year now and have seen poverty but not the Christian Children's Fund, Sally Struthers, fly in eyeball kind of poverty. Here in Puno, however, there was abject poverty. Everywhere we went, there were moms with their kids in their papooses on their backs waiting in a big-ass line for a little bit of Christmas paneton (fruit cake?), hot chocolate and maybe a gift for their baby. It wasn’t the kind of mom hacking of the kid's hand to make them more beggable kind of poverty like in Haiti but still heart wrenching to see especially during the Christmas season.

Vacaciones con la Familia Part I

Mom, Sam and I in Arequipa - Volcano Misti in the background
The fam in front of a church outside of Arequipa

What remains of the cuy I had for dinner

I spent Christmas this year with Mom and by brother here in Peru. They came down for a visit to celebrate both Christmas and my Mom's birthday (I was going to say my Mom's 70th birthday but she'd get pissed off at me so I'll just say we celebrated her birthday. For the record, I hope I look as good and get around as good as my mom when I'm 70 – if I even make it that far).

Everyone in my town of Rio Grande was asking if the fam was going to make it down to The Big RG but it's hot as hell there right now and I wanted to check out a different corner of this beautiful country. Originally, we had planned on visiting Huaraz, a mountain town with spectacular views of the Cordillera Blanca - high, snow-capped peaks which are being melted away by global warming at an alarming rate (insert your bullshit political view here). Unfortunately there were protests and civil unrest about mining operations a few weeks before. The riots had calmed down a bit but threatened to start back up again. As interesting as that sounded to me, the last place I needed to take my family on vacation was to see a bunch of pissed off, rock-hurling youths from a bus that was caught in the middle of the commotion. So, we went for Plan B (you always have to have a Plan B in Peru – or anywhere for that matter). Plan B wasn't so bad. First to Arequipa and then to Puno/Lake Titicaca then back to Lima to celebrate Christmas.

Arequipa – For some strange reason Mom and Sam weren't down for a 15 hour bus ride from Lima to Arequipa (even though it's a nice bus) so we flew. Flights are not that much more than the bus so it made sense on such a short time frame. Arequipa is a great city. Old colonial buildings build out of white volcanic rock called sillar, lots of history, and nice vistas of dormant and active volcanoes. There, we took a pretty touristy double-decker bus ride to check out the city and its surroundings. There, I rocked the shit out of some rocoto relleno (stuffed Peruvian chili peppers) and ate my first cuy chactado (fried guinea pig). Imagine eating your little childhood friend Sparkles, skinned, battered, fried and served in its entirety (head, eyeballs, teeth, claws and all) with a side of mixed vegetables. Tasted a little like rattlesnake, which tastes like gamey chicken, with just as many bones. Apparently cuyes are very high in protein, low in cholesterol (until deep fried) and reproduce like their rabbit cousins.