Three weeks in the wilds of South America
- Submitted by: Evelyn C. Leeper
- Submission Date: 15th Feb 2005
December 23, 1985:
Well, it's taken me a while to get started but now I'm sitting on the beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica. 'Jamaica?' you say. 'I thought you were going to Peru!' You see, it's like this... Our 8AM (Sunday) flight had already been delayed to 10:30AM by the time we got to the airport (6AM). We boarded at 10:30, only to deplane, still at JFK, at 1:30PM, at which point they projected an 11PM departure! This wrecked havoc with our 3:30PM Aero Peru connection, but there was nothing else to do but wait. Air Jamaica put us in 'day rooms' at a nearby hotel. We had dinner at 6, and napped/watched TV until 11, when they called our room to tell us the bus was there. When we got downstairs, it turned out to be a false alarm. We slept until 1AM (Monday) when they finally did take us back to the plane and we took off at 3:15AM! The 80 passengers whose cruise ship sailed at 8PM weren't too happy--or mellow--but arrangements were made to fly them to the ship's next port. It looks like we'll miss the half-day tour of Lima, but should make our flight to Cuzco. (There are 14 of us 'Peruvians' on the plane; the rest were 'cruisers' or 'Jamaicans.') There is a Japanese couple, Katsu and Kuniko, who are also taking the Peruvian Explorer package, so we'll get to the hotel with them if we can't Telex ahead for ground transportation. Ah, life's little adventures.
But the beach? Well, when we landed at 6:30AM (gorgeous sunrise, by the way, from the plane), Air Jamaice had us taken to a beach hotel for breakfast and a few hours rest on the beach. Too bad Aero Peru has our suitcases. I can't wait to change clothes!
December 24, 1985:
We took off from Montego Bay, but not without problems. In spite of Air Jamaica telling us we had confirmed seats on the flight, and in spite of the Kimuras' travel agent verifying this, we still ended up on standby. I suspect we got the seats for Monday's Air Jamaica transfers, because they were 4 hours late and missed the flight.
One problem with resorts, I realized in Montego Bay, is their sameness. The hotel in Jamaica looked just like the hotel in Cozumel. There must be some way to go for a relaxing vacation and still know where you are.
Immigration and Customs were much faster in Lima than in Jamaica, and when we got through, we found the representative from the local tour company (Receptour Peru) waiting for us. This was a surprise, since we hadn't been able to Telex him our new flight information. Apparently he had met the flight the night before and picked up people who were supposed to get in the night before that, and figured we would arrive a day late also. Jamaica was nice, but don't fly Air Jamaica to get there.
Admittedly you don't see the best part of a city driving from the airport to the downtown area. Still, I was less than impressed with Lima. It looks old--not quaint old or historic old, but used old. There don't seem to be many tall buildings (because of the danger of earthquakes) and almost all of the buildings are old, with peeling paint, etc. The Hotel Crillon is a fancy (older) hotel.
Oh, true to form, we did have one problem at the airport. Angelo (our host) apologized for having to park the van outside the airport, but he said a car had 'exploded' at the other terminal and the road was blocked. I don't know if he meant 'caught fir' or 'exploded.' At any rate, he talked to us on the way to the hotel and told a little about Lima and its problems. One major problem is the influx of people from the countryside. Lima now has seven million people, and while the government is trying to encourage development elsewhere in the country, the city is already overpopulated. Mexico City also has this problem, as do many cities in undeveloped countries. One book described it as 'In the countryside, they can scratch out a subsistence living. They come to the city for TV and end up with nothing.' THE EMERALD FOREST shows this also.
Angelo also talked a little about terrorism (mostly in the northern part of the country, though there have been incidents of bombing of electrical towers in the cities) and crime (not much violent crime because of strict gun control, but a lot of theft).
In the hotel, we went over our itinerary. Without our even mentioning it, Angelo said it would probably be possible to get our half-day city tour of Lima at the end of the trip (it was supposed to be Monday, which we passed on the beach). Our flight to Cuzco is at 6:30AM, so pickup was set at 5AM. We didn't get much sleep, but at least we knew when we had to get up.
We are now waiting to take off. It looks like the Kimuras are the only other people who signed up for the package. I assume we'll combine with other groups on some of the tours.
(I realize I haven't written much yet, but we haven't seen much yet.)
It's now 7:40AM. We should be arriving in Cuzco soon. We've seen some mountains poking through the clouds, but now we're flying too high (we're probably at 30,000+ feet; Cuzco is at 11,000 feet and it's high in the mountains, though La Paz is higher).
9:15 and we are in the Hotel Libertador in Cuzco. The view when the plane comes down through the clouds and you see the Andes for the first time is magnificent! Snow-capped peaks in the distance, green ranges closer by, with fantastic gorges and valleys. This is what we came to South America for. The air did seem thinner, but they may be the power of suggestion. Mark took out a bag of corn chips he got in New York and it was all puffed out. We opened all our unsealed bottles and it was the same with each one. (That, by the way, is why my purse smelled of vanilla for about three months after our Mexico trip--the bottle of vanilla leaked in the lower cabin pressure of the flight. Plastic bottles can puff out; glass leaks out the lid.) We are not rushing out, because there is a two-hour rest period for all incoming tourists to adjust to the altitude. Also a cup of coca tea (mate)--not narcotic, mind you. We put some SPF8 on our faces just in case the sun is strong. The temperature is about 10 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit) so suntan lotion may seem silly, but there's a lot less atmospheric sunscreen here. We are at 3400 meters (11,000'). I was wondering what altitude most airlines pressurize their cabins to. My pulse is about 90--I think it's usually about 75, but I'll check back in Lima.
I suspect the Kimuras may have some language difficulty, since they don't appear to know Spanish. Most people we have dealt with speak some English, but even a little Spanish is helpful. Of course, it's always the important word that you don't know. At the hotel in Lima, there was some confusion when they couldn't find the bill. I wanted to say that we had paid yesterday by voucher, but my Spanish doesn't include 'voucher.' Coffin, I know, is ataud, but voucher they never taught.
After our nap, we went to an alpaca factory. Factory is a word used all over the world with different meanings everywhere. In the U.S., it means a place of manufacture. In China, it's a place of manufacture with a store for tourists attached. In Latin America, they eliminate the noise and pollution of the manufacture and have only the store. And the store sells everything, not just alpaca products. It's the equivalent of a Chinese Friendship Store, but privately-owned, not governmental.
Unfortunately for the owner, we had all come to see Peru, not to buy alpaca sweaters. Why is it that gringos are known as buyers everywhere? And every guide book include copious shopping tips. I admit I enjoy buying chatchkas--small knickknacks, a hat, a T-shirt (how American!). But I don't travel to buy jade, or silk, or alpaca, or anything else. Why do I travel? Good question, glad you asked. :-)
(By the way, :-) is a smiley-face and means that the statement preceding it was tongue-in-cheek.)
I travel to learn. Reading about someplace or something, or even seeing a film of it, isn't the same as being there. But I do that also before a trip, so I guess I learn to travel too. Everywhere we've gone has been different than what I expected, and in totally unpredictable ways. But I can't explain how--it's more a feeling a place gives you.
One of the things I've learned from this trip (and the studying for it) is that when the Spanish decided to loot South and Central America instead of settle it, they impoverished first Latin America and then themselves. Let's hope we've learned since then.
Well, enough philosophy--back to the travelogue. We returned to the hotel from the 'factory' via taxi. It took a long time for the shop owner to flag one down and then he and the driver had a dispute over what the fare should be (paid by the shop, I should add). I suspect the other taxis would rather pick up rich tourists who don't know what the fare should be.
We then went to the bank to change money, but it was closed, whether for lunch hour or Christmas Eve, we couldn't tell. Yes, it's Christmas Eve and the plazas are packed. La Plaza de Armas has been closed to vehicles and is apparently a street fair, but we're really not up for that. Anyway, we ended up changing money at a money exchange. We got 16,800 soles to the dollar. Since we change $100, we're millionaires!
We had a light lunch at the hotel. I had cream of asparagus soup, flan, and mate. Mark had a cheese sandwich, flan, and a chocolate milkshake.
Our afternoon tour of Cuzco--again, just the four of us-- started with a somewhat hair-raising drive to Saqsayhuaman. They don't believe in guard rails for cliffs here. Saqsayhuaman (it means 'grey hawk') was an Incan fortress. We got to see the stonework up close. The stones are fitted together without cement, and not just rectilinear lines either. This makes the construction earthquake-proof because the walls can give rather than break. Where some stones had been removed you could see that the inside edges were not as precise. There were also women in traditional dress who would pose for your pictures (for a fee, of course). And lots of people selling souvenirs.
Then we drove even higher, to Tambomachay, where there is a mountain spring that the Incans built a tambo (inn) around. There was also a temple of part of the inn.
More exciting roads and more ruins, but just seen from the road. From that height you also get a magnificent view of all of Cuzco with its red tile roofs (required by law).
A couple of side topics now--those who don't want to wait to hear what we did next can skip this and the next paragraph. Soroche is the Qechua word for altitude sickness. (Qechua is the primary Indian language of Peru, and as common here as Spanish is in New York.) Most people get the shortness of breath that comes with the altitude. Some get headaches (lower pressure on the head), dryness of the throat, etc. So far we've been lucky, with shortness of breath only when climbing stairs or hills. A short sit-down and you're fine again. We'll see what happens tomorrow.
Other topic--research. My research for this trip included Prescott's THE CONQUEST OF PERU, Darwin's THE VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE (excerpts on Peru and Ecuador), Melville's 'Las Encantadas,' and the films THE EMERALD FOREST, ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN, and SECRET OF THE INCAS. (Also several guidebooks and newspaper clippings.)
Back to the plot--we then returned to Cuzco where we saw the Monastery of Santo Domingo, which used to be the Temple of the Sun. One thing about the Incan ruins we've seen so far--there are no decorations or statuary. Aztec, Toltec, Mayan ruins all have elaborate decorative motifs, but the Incans seem to have concentrated on just making a very well-constructed building.
We got done a little early because a couple of churches we would have visited were closed because of Christmas Eve. We may get to them on Friday (our day at leisure in Cuzco).
At 6:30 we went to a folk dance show, which lasted about 90 minutes. There were about seven or eight dances, some simple, some complex. In between (during costume changes) the band played folk songs and at the end they played some traditional songs on traditional instruments. In spite of the Christmas Eve traffic noises intruding, we enjoyed it a lot.
Afterwards we had dinner at the hotel with the Kimuras and a couple from Denver that we met. The Denver couple was a lot of fun--he told us about his 70-year-old aunt who smuggled 500 yarmulkes into the Soviet Union, and all sorts of other stories. Service was very slow because the restaurant was crowded. I had sea bass with hearts of palm au gratin.
December 25, 1985:
Well, we thought we'd finally get a good night's sleep because our bus wasn't until 9AM, but the hotel mistakenly called us at 5:20 along with all the people who had a 7AM pick-up. I did get back to sleep, but it wasn't the same.
Breakfast was buffet--I had fruit, a danish, and mate.
Oh, I forgot to mention all the noise from firecrackers and fireworks for Christmas. This went on through most of the night.
We began with a ride past Pukapukara, near Tambomachay, and then over the mountains into the Urubamba Valley. This is without a doubt the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. I can't even begin to describe the mountains and valleys, the terraced slopes, the gorges...you have to see it for yourself. We stopped to take pictures a couple of times and the quiet was amazing. You could hear the river and the birds in the valley and nothing else. In spite of the steepness of the slopes, many were farmed using terraces, and many other had animals (cows, sheep, llamas, burros, pigs, even horses) grazing on them. The people we see here in traditional dress are not doing it for the tourists. We stopped in Pisaq and saw part of what I believe is called the March of the Mayors. These are parades, about 15 minutes apart, across the square (in Mexico it would be called a zocalo, here it's a plaza) to the church. I can't tell if this is done mostly for the tourists or not. The streets are very narrow (as they are in most towns here) and have drainage channels down the center or sides. At one point, the street was so narrow that the bus couldn't pass until the store owner took down her sign! We see a lot of dogs here (unlike in China), but they're all fairly mangy-looking.
We dropped off three women in one of the small towns we passed through (apparently we were doubling as bus service because it was Christmas) and proceeded to Ollantaytambo, one of the great Incan fortresses. Built to cover the side of a mountain (well, a small mountain), it consists of dozens of terraces leading up to barracks, work areas, temples, and other buildings. When we first looked at it we all thought, 'We're going to climb that?' but it was easier than we thought, with several rest stops, of course. Ollantaytambo is lower than Cuzco and it is easier to breathe. (Also we're becoming acclimated.) From the top you can look across the valley and see Incan ruins on the mountainside there. The top has a wall consisting of six huge rocks, brought from the other side of the Urubamba River, many miles away. Each weighs several tons. Although it was warm at the base, it was windy and chilly at the top, making me wish I hadn't left my sweater in the bus. And it also started to rain (just a light sprinkle, though, and my hat was sufficient protection). I asked the guide about the lack of decoration and was told that was traditional Incan design--very somber and solid.
We then went to Yucay and our hotel for the night, the Alhambra. Lunch was very strange. It started with an appetizer of two small pieces of pork (very tough), a small fried potato (some variety that tasted like it already had the butter in it), and a marinated onion slice and mint leaf salad. Then came soup (cabbage, we think) and the main course, which could best be described as a chicken fruit cake. It was a cold chicken loaf with bits of fruit in it; along with it were whipped potatoes (sweet tasting) and some fruit. For dessert, there was a cake with an orange gel filling with a layer of chocolate pudding. All in all, a strange meal. We were finished by 2PM, but had nothing scheduled until the next day. Yucay not being one of your major metropolises, we weren't sure how to spend the afternoon. We rested a while to let our lunch settle, then went out walking with the Kimuras. When we got to the main road, we found ourselves following a Procession of the Virgin (I think). We followed that for a while, then came back to a park where families were all picnicking and enjoying the holiday.
We went back to the hotel (the Kimuras walked on). As we were writing our logs a herd of bulls wandered by our window. Gradually people started picnicking on the lawn and other animals wandered by too. This is definitely rural!
Dinner (at 7:30) was much better than lunch (yes, I admit I wasn't fond of the lunch). There was cream of asparagus soup, followed by broiled fish in a mustard sauce with capers, beets, and potato. Dessert was a crepe. Even if you ask for tea at the beginning of the meal, it doesn't arrive until the end.
After dinner we went walking with some other Americans (one was even from East Brunswick!). They had seen Machu Picchu and were going river rafting next. Walking down the street we got pulled into a Peruvian hora. Even though we couldn't communicate very well, we had a good time.
December 26, 1985:
We woke up to donkeys braying right outside our window. Breakfast was two pieces of monk's bread, orange juice, and tea (Mark had coffee). We then went to the Ollanta train station--about a 40-minute ride from Yucay--to catch the train to Machu Picchu. The train station was full of people selling things, from ears of corn with kernels the size of marbles to wall hangings. A lot of the vendors are children, making us wonder what provisions, if any, have been made for their education. Luckily, we found our guide on the train--or rather, he found us, 'the four Japanese' as he called us. The train ride was magnificent, just like the drive the day before. We saw some distant snow-covered mountains, but as we descended the climate became tropical. The Urubamba River, which we followed, is the color of chocolate soda, probably from stirring up the riverbed with its force. We got to the Machu Picchu train station about 10AM and boarded the mini-bus for the 20-minute ride to the top. This ride is definitely not for the faint of heart, since it is nothing but hairpin turns and sheer drops on one side of the road.
What can one say about Machu Picchu? Even on a flat plain it would be impressive, but perched up on top of an enormous, almost impossible to climb mountain, it staggers the imagination. We spent three hours walking through it and merely scratched the surface of what there was to see. Now that they have the hotel there (not in the ruins, but just below them), one really should stay the night to have time to really see it (the train for Cuzco leaves at 3PM, meaning you have to take a bus down by 2:30PM). We both got slight sunburns, even wearing hats and long sleeves (I think Mark rolled up his sleeves, but I got burned on the backs of my hands). Our guide, Oscar, knew Hiram Bingham, the 'discoverer' of Machu Picchu, and had worked on several movies filmed there.
After three hours, we were quite tired out, and willing to go back to the Machu PIcchu hotel for lunch--vegetable soup, fish or beef with rice, and a fruit cup. And sodas--three hours of walking had left us very thirsty.
(Since entire books have been written about Machu Picchu, I will not attempt to describe it in detail--you can look at our pictures, or better yet, go yourself.)
By the time we took the mini-bus back down to the train station, it (the station) had become a marketplace with vendors selling books, postcards, T-shirts, jewelry, wall hangings, etc. We almost missed our train because we were looking for the 'b' train and it was hidden behind the vendors. We did get ourselves loaded on, though, and had a three and a half hour ride back. The first hour was scenery we had seen, then we passed Ollanta (where a couple of girls in the station were playing jacks with pebbles instead of jacks) and proceeded through new country (actually we had driven through it the day before, but the train followed a slightly different path). We climbed back from the 8000' of Machu Picchu to the 11000' of Cuzco (including a switch-back descent into Cuzco itself).
By the way, the festival on Christmas in Yucay has been written up in tour books, so that could be why we stopped there. They should have told us ahead of time, though.
Dinner at the hotel was less than thrilling. It took several requests to get our sodas, and my aji de gallina consisted mostly of chicken scraps. The causa limena wasn't bad, though--whipped yellow potato with meat, shrimp, avocado, and spicy onion topping. Except for my error in eating what I thought was a slice of green pepper; it wasn't. I quickly gulped down a quarter of a tomato to quench the fire and everything was fine again.
December 27, 1985:
We spent the morning seeing Cuzco with Kuniko (Katsu wasn't feeling well). We walked to the Plaza de Armas to see the Cathedral (which didn't open until 10AM) so we went to the Regional Museum instead. This contained one small room of poorly displayed Incan objects (which were mostly reproductions) and many rooms of art from the Colonial period, interesting for its mixture of European (Christian) and Incan symbols. Pictures of saints would often show Inca-style dress and snakes or pumas. The Indian interpretation of the Trinity is also unusual--three figures with the identical face. Often the Father is shown holding an orb, the Son is shown with His wounds, and the Holy Ghost is shown appearing to Mary. There was also a painting portraying Jews flogging Jesus. The guide asked us if we knew the word 'judios' and was somewhat embarrassed by the painting when we said we were Jewish.
The Archaeology Museum was very similar to Egyptian museums, even down to mummies, though Incan mummies are in a fetal position. It was a fair-sized museum of Incan (and a few pre-Incan) artifacts.
We then went back to the Cathedral. It was very ornate and (one might almost say) garish). We did get to see the painting of the Last Supper showing the Apostles eating guinea pig (which was the meat for ceremonial meals for the Incas). There was also a Crucifixion by Van Dyck and many more paintings, too numerous to describe.
We had picked up a guide at the first museum and there was some confusion/awkwardness when the time came to pay him because we (foolishly) had not determined the rate beforehand. There appeared to be a fixed rate of $2 per person per museum, which was more than we expected, though not unreasonable by U.S. standards) and a bit unfair to Kuniko, who probably didn't understand a lot of what was said. Oh, well, such is travel. We bought some souvenirs from the vendors outside the Cathedral, including a women belt from a woman who seemed ready to follow us back to our hotel to make a sale. I gave her a ripped, stapled 10,000-sol note as part of the payment, which she didn't want to take, but when we started to take the money back and return the belt, she decided it was good enough.
For lunch I had Arroz a la Cubana--rice with two fried eggs on top, a (thick) slice of bacon, a piece of ham and a fried banana. Also tea--it takes a long time to get beverages here. The second time I asked, I got the teabag, but it was another ten minutes before the hot water arrived.
After lunch Kuniko came out to say that she and Katsu weren't going to Pikillacta. Our guide showed up late and could only speak a little English. So off the three of us went, in a beat-up Datsun taxi with a broken speedometer. We first saw Andahuaylillas, known for its church, wherein is 95% of the town's wealth. It was difficult to understand our guide and often I think I got the gist of what he was saying, but couldn't translate.
Pikillacta is a pre-Incan ruin (c. 1100 AD) accessible only via a dirt road which had turned to mud in several places because of the rain. The ruins are quite extensive and worth the trip, showing a different type of architecture, multi-storied, with mortar, and entrances on the second floor. I think the guide could tell we were tired, because we started back rather abruptly.
Have you ever spent a night in a Peruvian jail? Well, neither have we, but it was close. We were stopped at a police checkpoint and our papers were not, as they say, in order. In fact, they were in the safe deposit box where the guide had said to put them. The driver's papers weren't in order either, but he did have the necessary papers--two 10,000-sol notes.
By this point, Mark and I both decided that between my cold and the overall strangeness of the afternoon, we were not up to going to a chicheria for cuy (guinea pig) and chicha (corn beer). In fact, we skipped dinner altogether.
December 28, 1985:
Our flight from Cuzco to Lima left 3-1/2 hours late (no surprise, right?). Luckily, we had a six-hour gap in Lima before the flight to Iquitos. Mark bought a couple of table chatchkas at the airport in Cuzco. I went to the bathroom at the Lima airport--toilet paper and towels are not provided, but can be bought from the attendant for a tip.
Our flight for Iquitos actually left on time. And they say the age of miracles is past! It was somewhat bumpy--any flight over the mountains would be--and got in to Iquitos at 6:30PM. On the way we could see rivers snaking through the jungle, but it was too dark by the time we landed to see Iquitos.
Iquitos is hot. It looks like a Wild West town crossed with the Lower East Side. The Turistas Iquitos may be the city's luxury hotel. In our first room the toilet wouldn't work so we went to the desk to complain--in Spanish, no one speaks English. They sent someone up to look at it and he decided it was broken, so we changed rooms. He went into the (new) bathroom to check the toilet. When he came out he said (in Spanish, of course), 'There was a cockroach in there, but I killed it.' He went and got some Black Flag and a dustpan and killed another one also (each about 2' long). After he left, we saw a lizard run up the door. At least it eats some of the bugs. The hotel room itself is on the level of a YWCA room.
(I forgot to mention earlier that I also read AMAZON by two men whose names escape me, and will be reading THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS by Hiram Bingham which I bought, appropriately enough, at Machu Picchu.)
Mark had a large fish platter for dinner (~$1.30); I have asparagus and his hearts of palm salad. Total (with beverage, tax, and tip) about $4.70.
December 29, 1985:
We had a continental breakfast with papaya juice (included in the $12/night room charge) and walked around a little, but nothing was open. We saw a strange Nativity scene with Indians and jungle animals in the manger and, of course, THE AMAZON! At about 9:30AM we boarded our ship, the Margarita. It's larger than the 'African Queen.' Our cabin is two bunk beds, about two feet of space next to them, a shelf, and a chair. The toilets and showers are aft, two each. The sinks are just outside the toilets with one faucet apiece. So far the boat doesn't seem to rock much and the breeze makes it quite comfortable. (Is it a ship or a boat? Who knows?)
We sailed (well, we don't have sails, but that's what it's called) at 10:30, right after the seaplane landed. (Lots of interesting goings-on here.) At first we saw lots of houses, etc., along the river (the Nanay at first, then the Amazon) but as we got further from Iquitos they thinned out considerably. We did see a lot of smoke from 'slash-and-burn' fires where people are clearing the jungle. The Nanay is dark, and there is a distinct line where it joins the Amazon, which is brown from all the sand churned up by the current. With the boat moving, there's a nice breeze and it doesn't feel like the 90 degrees that it is. You see lots of houseboats (thatched) and shallow canoes.
Lunch was fish in a spicy sauce, rice, tomatoes, cucumbers, and papaya--delicious! I pigged out and had three helpings.
The afternoon was pretty much the same as the morning. We passed the Yacu Wayo, a Peruvian ocean-going ship. I was able to identify it with my small Zeiss 8x20's before the captain with his armored 7x51's. I love these binoculars! Mark and I sat in the bow, while most of the other people (a family of six and the Kimuras) relaxed astern. Along the Amazon, the jungle doesn't look all that different from regular forest and the river is about a half-mile wide. Even with binoculars we haven't seen any animal life (except for a few birds) yet, but the captain says we will. About 5:30 we turned up a tributary, the Apayacu, which we will be exploring. Sunset was about 6:30 and it got very dark with no background lights. Even though the sky was partially overcast, we could see many more stars than at home. (The Southern Cross was too low behind the trees to see.) We anchored (tied up) and had dinner in semi-darkness with only a couple of dim bulbs burning. Dinner was a beef stew, rice, tamales, cold sliced beets, and a cabbage and onion slaw. Children in shallow canoes gathered around the boat and the captain gave them each candy. At one point one canoe swamped and all the children quickly transferred to another, then swung the swamped one back and forth (the long way) to clear it of enough water to use. They obviously learn how to swim and canoe very early.
About 7:30 we all went to bed--not much else to do.
December 30, 1985:
We woke at about 5:30AM to the sunrise and the sounds of birds. In the Amazon, no one needs an alarm clock. Breakfast was fried eggs (greasy), smoked meat (species indeterminate), a fried potato (Peruvian hash browns), and tacona juice.
At 8 we left in motor boats (small outboard types) for our ride up the Apayacu River. This looks more the way people picture the Amazon--about 60' wide (sometimes narrower) with overhanging trees and vines. At last, we began to see animal life--blue and green butterflies flitting across the river, black and yellow orioles with their hanging nests, brightly colored macaws, blue kingfishers with their long beaks, blue birds, white birds,...even alligators. Gradually the reeds made the channel narrower until one spot we actually had to get out and push. In between, the river would widen into a small lake and we could pick up speed. The reeds gave way to fallen trees and tree limbs. These were more of a problem than the reeds and our progress was slowed by them. We finally arrived at the camp about 11:30. Disembarking was quite an experience--if you couldn't balance on the log, you got to slog through ankle-deep mud. Except for the part with the oil slick from an earlier boat, and the fact that if you didn't move fast you kept sinking, it wasn't much worse than a typical day at work. We walked to the hut (actually a floor six feet off the ground and a thatched roof above that--no walls), which took about 15 minutes. After a rest, the guide asked us how long a jungle walk we wanted. The consensus was one hour, which seemed short at the time. So off we went.
Walking through the jungle is hard work. You have to constantly watch your step. The ground is often soggy and there are lots of mud flats and streams to cross. (Since we were on a trail, logs had been placed across them. Unless you have very good balance, a walking stick is pretty much a necessity.) I reached out to grab hold of a tree to steady myself while crossing one of these logs and found my hand covered with red ants--the kind that bite! We also had them crawling up our legs if we stood still too long in one spot. My socks weren't long enough to tuck my pant legs into, and even Muskol didn't seem to deter them. Luckily, Mark and I did have our mosquito net hats, so our faces weren't bothered. We saw no animals (besides the red ants) though we did hear many birds, and we saw termite nests, wasps' nests, and anthills (6' clay ones). We saw rubber trees, 'blood' trees (with red sap), banana trees (with green fruit), balsa trees, etc. Halfway through the guide cut walking sticks for those who wanted them and that helped a lot. After what seemed like hours, we finished our one-hour jungle walk and returned to the hut, where we had lunch. It must have been catered by Aero Peru--it was ham and cheese sandwiches. There was also some salad and boiled eggs, and papaya for dessert.
We rested a while, enjoying the breeze, and started back about 2:30. Getting back to the boats was easier with the walking stick, and the guides were always there with a helping hand if you needed one. The boat ride back was faster, since we were traveling downriver. We saw many more birds, including an entire flock of 'locredo' which flew across our path and more alligators (or crocodiles, but they call them alligators). Most of the time all we saw was the splash as the alligator hit the water upon hearing our approach. And in an outboard, we were pretty loud. But I did spot a couple in the waters hiding under some overhanging branches. And I saw a lizard sunning itself on a patch of sand.
I just checked; here's the scoop on alligators and crocodiles. In the Old World are crocodiles. In North Amercia are alligators and the American crocodile, found from southern Florida to northern South America. There is also the Orinoco crocodile, found only in the Orinoco river system. Most of what we are seeing (maybe all) are caimans, of which there are seven species; they are closer to alligators than to crocodiles.
We got back to the boat about 4:30 and hit the showers (one temperature only--river temperature). When everyone was back, the captain made us pisco sours (pisco and lime juice--he didn't have the bitters--and I think he put an egg white in). Not bad. I had mine and Mark's; Mark had limeade from the rest of the lime juice. Dinner was chicken in a spicy sauce, rice, mashed potatoes, and a cauliflower dish seasoned with some orange herb that most people didn't like. Dessert was a fruit cocktail of banana, pineapple, and papaya (topped with rum if you wanted it). Then to bed about 7:30.
December 31, 1985:
Up at 6. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, and juice made from the leftover fruit cocktail from last night. At 8 we went out to pick up dinner-- piranha. We went back upstream for about an hour, then fished for an hour and a half using raw beef as bait. The rods were branches with a length of fishing line attached. I hooked a piranha fairly easily, but it got away, as did one later on. That's okay, though, because I landed six piranha in the meantime, better than any of the other tourists (I think some of the guides got more). Mark got one piranha and one something else that he claims is much better than a piranha, but I call a 'wimpy-fish.'
Eventually our bait ran out and we returned to the Margarita. Most of the bait was nibbled off the hooks be piranha too smart to bite directly onto the hook. We were the last ones back (at about 11AM). Lunch at noon was a peppery steak, rice, avocado shell with a salad in it, and tomatoes. It started to rain while we were eating, then stopped.
After lunch we hit a real squall. Most people went into their cabins,; I stayed in the hammock astern. They put down tarpaulins on the sides of the boat to keep the water from blowing in. There was thunder and lightning and we could see a lot of flotsam (or is it jetsam?) floating in the water. Then the storm passed, but it remained cloudy and cool (about 80 degrees Fahrenheit with a brisk breeze).
We turned up the Ampiyacu River (I think) and docked at Pevas, the provincial capital. We walked around a little, but there isn't much to see in a jungle outpost besides pigs and chickens wandering the streets. It did have street lights, surprisingly enough, and a well-built school. There were some old political posters up of someone promising to 'provide jobs and lower the cost of living.' Some things are the same everywhere. Then further upriver to Pocaurquillo, an Indian village shared by the Bora Indians and the Huitoto Indians. When we anchored, the children came running down to the boat, and the captain threw them candy and cheap plastic toys. Then we walked up to the village where the captain negotiated for them to dance for us. We walked around for a while. Even though the two tribes live in separate halves of the village, they go to the same school. Soccer is very popular.
Dinner was fried fish (though not the fish we had caught earlier), yucca, rice, and hearts of palm. Dessert was pineapple. We also had Atacama red wine in honor of New Year's Eve. At 8PM we went back up to the village (it's on a high embankment overlooking the river) and went to the main meeting hut (maloka). This was about 50' on a side and had a roof that sloped down almost to the ground. We went inside, along with most of the village, and sat on split logs. The 'natives' did about five dances, which seemed very similar. For the last two they pulled in most of us gringos also. This is more on the level of the folk dances in Cuzco than anything else, but it was still a most unusual way to spend New Year's Eve.
Mark had quite a following of children who kept calling him 'Marco' and 'Aldo'; I don't know where the latter came from.
We returned to the ship at 9 and somehow it didn't seem worth it to stay up until midnight, so we didn't.
January 1, 1986:
: Happy New Year! To celebrate, the Indians started dancing and singing about 5AM, so I got up then. Breakfast was at 7--fried eggs, salt pork, fried potato, and orange juice. At eight some people from the village came to sell some handicrafts. I got a couple of necklaces and Mark got a designer rattle (with the maker's name on it). Total expenditure--40,000 soles or about $2.50.
At 9 we left for another canoe ride. We stopped at a small village of Ocaino Indians. The villages are in general cleaner than the towns like Pevas. We then proceeded up the Ampiyacu for another 2 hours. The ride was not as interesting as on the Apayacu River because there was less animal life. The river sides were eroded (and you could see the boat's wake eroding them even more), and you could see alternating layers of leaves and dirt, dozens of them, like a piece of mica. After about an hour the river started getting shallower and more obstructed by branches. Navigating through all this slowed us down considerably. By the time we got to Villa Nuevo we were all tired of sitting in the boat. Not to mention that the river basically ended there--since the water was so low, there was a long stretch of dry river bed with only a trickle about a foot wide through it. We beached the canoes (intentionally this time) and disembarked.
As soon as we got to the maloka, I asked about the W.C. It turns out that even though all the books say that 'W.C.' should be used instead of 'bano,' people use 'bano' anyway among themselves. In any case, it was a small hut with half-height and logs over a pit. All things considered, I've seen worse in campgrounds in the U.S.
Lunch was the Peruvian national dish, ham and cheese sandwiches. After lunch we walked through the village (over some shaky bridges) to the sawmill, a small gasoline engine and a blade. Forget the picturesque waterwheel--this is the Amazon! We passed a house that was being built (rather foolishly, I thought) with full wooden walls and windows instead of open-air style.
We then had another jungle walk, this one 45 minutes through urma or 'cultivated' jungle instead of the virgin jungle of two days earlier. This walk was on a well-used trail leading to some fields. (It must be used; I saw scraps of paper with Spanish on them at a couple of points.) We saw more plants--birds of paradise, pineapple, etc. We rested a bit after we got back to the maloka and then loaded ourselves back into the boat for the long ride back.
Now things get rather complicated. Boat A had John and Allison; boat B had Don, Goody, and Eric; boat C has Lynn and us; boat D had the Kimuras. We left in the order A, B, C, and D. By the time we had all cleared the shallows, we started to hear strange noises from the motor, sort of like it was running out of gas. We (C) caught up with B and flagged down D. Guess what? We were all really low on gas except B. Since we (C) were the lowest, B gave C some gasoline (in a picnic cooler!). Then we started up again: B, C, D. A was still ahead somewhere. D pulled ahead of us but basically stayed in sight. We (C) ran out of gas, so we paddled a bit, the D towed us while the guide fiddled with the engine so it would take the little we had left. When it finally caught we untied and D went on. Meanwhile Mark, Lynn, and I were lying in the bottom of the boat to lower our wind resistance. Also meanwhile, storm clouds were gathering. Mark put it best: 'It's times like this, when I'm stranded on the Ampiyacu River in the middle of the Amazon jungle, with no gasoline, in the rain, that I ask myself, 'How came I to be in this position?'' We (C) caught up with A drifting and towed A until we ran out. Then we both paddled while we tried to guess how far from the Margarita we were, if any of the boats had made it back, and just what it would be like in a small canoe in a big storm. It had, in fact, started to rain, but so far it was just a light sprinkle. After being there about 10-15 minutes, we saw another canoe. Saved! It was someone from the boat with more gasoline. When we got started, it was ten minutes full speed to get back to the boat, so figure we were only three to five miles upstream when we finally ran dry. What a way to start the new year!
Dinner was beef stew, rice, chicken salad, and green beans. Dessert was pineapple. After dinner a woman from the village came with purses to sell. After she had sold her stock, she and the captain had a long conversation, mostly consisting of her asking for things (more candy for the children, tobacco, medicine) and the captain telling her how much he had given already. He did give her some of what she asked for and promised to have some antibiotics sent down from Pevas. To the villagers, he and all of us must seem incredibly wealthy, and I suppose we are. But the solution isn't just handing her tobacco and toys. I'm not sure what it is.
My mosquito bites were really getting to me, so I was up late enough to hear the dolphins around the boat, though it was too dark to see them. Fresh-water dolphins are apparently shyer than saltwater ones.
January 2, 1986:
Around 4AM, a real storm hit us--pouring rain and all. I got back to sleep a little but the rain made it difficult. I finally got up about 6. The village was quieter this morning than the day before.
Breakfast was scrambled eggs, etc. We were under way before we finished, heading back down the Ampiyacu to rejoin the Amazon. We stopped at Pevas to buy sugar and continued back upriver. We had one final jungle walk, through a banana plantation and then through the sort of jungle people picture when you say 'jungle'--lots of rotting vegetation on the ground, vines to trip over, someone in front hacking out a path with a machete. We were going to see a lupula tree. It was about 70' tall and the base would fill a goodsized living room. The wood is soft and is used for plywood. The ants were less of a problem on this walk because I had my pant legs tucked into my socks.
Lunch was pork lo mein (!), peppers stuffed with a meat salad, rice, and cucumbers. The pork is all very salty--probably to preserve it. Dessert was bananas.
The afternoon was uneventful, more chugging upriver until dark. Nothing here seems to have changed in the last hundred, or even the last thousand, years. Oh, the few people we see are wearing Tshirts and shorts, but their canoes are still dugout canoes. All the things the Amazon has are too scattered to make exploitation possible. We saw a rubber tree on one walk, but only one. For all its lushness, the jungle can only provide subsistence living for those in it. At some point pollution of the river may become a problem, though at present there aren't enough people here to make a dent. Whether man should exploit the Amazon or not is one of the important questions in this area. Partly it's the question 'Is man part of nature?' If he is, then what he does is also 'natural' and the ecologists' protestations of man destroying nature are meaningless. Of course, man must also accept the results of what he does. In either case, it is difficult to accept all the restrictions that the rich countries suggest when you're a poor country like Peru or Brazil and the Amazon is your major resource.
We tied up at sunset and had dinner--salted pork chops, beet salad, and rice and beans (yum!). Dessert was a spice cake in honor of our last night aboard. My mosquito bites had calmed down, but Mark picked up a lot, all around his ankles. The cabin was a little cooler, but still had that sour smell of wet clothes.
January 3, 1986:
The crew started up early today; they want the afternoon off in Iquitos. We had been under way for two hours by breakfast at 7. We started seeing more and more people and villages as the morning went on and sailed up the Nanay about 11:30. Our last lunch aboard was pork with ginger, rice, potatoes in a yellow sauce, and cucumber salad. Dessert was canned peaches, a real luxury item in Peru. We docked about 12:30, but it took almost an hour for the captain to settle all the official paperwork and get the bus to the dock to pick us up. Then back to the lovely Turistas Iquitos Hotel. Everyone else went on to the airport for their flight to Lima, but we did all exchange addresses so we may be in touch again.
(Actually, that last part turned out not to be true. After I wrote it, we went down to the lobby of the hotel and found everyone sitting there. They had convinced the driver or whomever to let them stay in the hotel lobby instead of at the airport, since they had several hours.)
We walked around Iquitos for a while. It's sort of like a giant flea market. We didn't find anything interesting (though we could have seen RAMBO II for 36 cents) so we came back to the hotel. The Kimuras hadn't left yet so we talked to them for a while and walked over to a couple of souvenir stores. It was then that we noticed that the clock said 6 while our watches said 5. Apparently they went to Daylight Savings Time or something while we were on the Amazon. It's always nice to know these things.
We had dinner at The Maloka, a restaurant across from the hotel and overlooking the Amazon. It was there we finally saw some monkeys--they had some tame ones running around the tables. At least I think they were tame. I had ceviche and paiche with fried rice and fried bananas. We also had 'lemonade,' actually limeade-- they don't seem to have lemons as we know them here.
January 4, 1986:
Our 9AM flight left at 10--apparently Faucett is no different than Aero Peru (except they serve luncheon meat instead of ham). We arrived at 11:30, got our luggage (what chaos!), and proceeded to the Hotel Crillon. Since our city tour (for which we had to pay another $10) started at 2, we skipped lunch and showered (oh, it's wonderful to be clean again!), washed out some clothes, and walked around for a while. There are a lot of bookstores in Lima and each one has a large section of esoterica-- flying saucers, mysticism, etc. We've also seen romance novels, so it looks like all the bad habits of the U.S. are here also.
Our city tour was complicated by the fact that the other four people spoke Spanish, so our guide had to give descriptions in both languages (that must be why the extra $10). First we rode through the old section of Lima, where all the buildings are painted pink. It was once the fancy section, but it's come down in the world. There are a lot of government buildings in this section. Throughout Peru there is a strong governmental--or perhaps I should say military--presence. Everywhere you see soldiers with machine guns in about the same numbers we see police and security guards.
Our first stop was at the Cathedral (Lima has many churches, but this is the main one on the Plaza de Armas). We spent about a half hour here, seeing Pizarro's casket and a lot of religious art (why do so many Nativity scenes have a cross in them?!). There are apparently three Peruvian saints; Santa Rosa of Lima, San Martin (something), and someone else. Then we went to Miraflores, the high-rent suburb. People were on the beaches, although the weather seemed rather chilly. We saw 'the famous street vendors of Lima' (like 'the famous street vendors of Chinatown') and 'the famous flower market of Lima' (do I detect a trend here?). We also saw the bull ring, the stadium, and the race track (three different structures), all from the outside.
Our final stop was the Gold Museum. This is a distance out of the city and a whole day wouldn't be enough to see it all. The basement (really an enormous vault) contains an unbelievable amount of Incan and pre-Incan work, not only in gold, but in silver, stone, wood, feathers, pottery, bronze.... The quantity was overwhelming and it all belongs to one man (when he dies it will be given to the country). The ground floor is an arms and armaments collection, with case after case of guns, swords, daggers.... There were at least a half-dozen suits of Japanese armor and another half-dozen of Crusader armor (well, they couldn't very well be the same halfdozen, could they?). Like I say, there was just too much. Part of the collection was being packed to tour Mexico and the United States, so you all can see it too.
We had dinner at a restaurant we picked at random--Las Papas Fritas. I had avocado with shrimp salad and corvina (fish) in a tomato and onion sauce (also a glass of the house wine, which tasted just slightly resinated).
January 5, 1986:
Up at 5AM for our 6:15 pickup. Our flight is at 8 instead of the originally scheduled 7--it probably has something to do with the time change. Strangely enough, it left on time--but then, it's Air Panama, not Aero Peru. Breakfast was very good, with more food than I could eat. The view from the plane was of mountains coming through the clouds; I imagine we'll see more like this on our way to Quito.
Guayaquil is a big city; it looks pretty much like any big city. The Grand Hotel is much like a Hilton or a Sheraton--it even has a pool. Since we arrived Sunday morning, everything was closed so we did the rest of our laundry. At 11 we went out walking. Things seemed to be waking up; many small shops and street vendors were open and we browsed through a few bookstores as well as all the other stands. I got a T-shirt in a store not unlike a Woolworth's called TIA, and Mark got a belt from a stand. 'The famous street vendors of Lima' seem to have expanded their range!
It was very hot so we returned to the hotel and lounged by the pool for a while (how touristy!). then we watched TV for a while. This is the first hotel that has had TV. So what did we watch? The Three Stooges and Woody Woodpecker--in Spanish, of course. When we recovered from all that excitement, we went walking in a different direction. Here we passed several interesting-looking government buildings and eventually ended up by the Guayas River (I think). There was a promenade along the river so we walked along it. Almost immediately we saw something interesting--two iguanas sunning themselves on an old piling. They were so still, at first I thought they were fake. You don't have to go to the Galapagos for all the wildlife, I guess. Their skins looked all shrunken, as if someone had sucked the excess air out of them. We watched them for a while, then walked a short ways to where people were watching the sand below. We looked. It was practically covered with tiny crabs--one every couple of inches at least. The larger ones were only an inch or two across the body but had an enormously developed claw (sometimes the left, sometimes the right). They were most active where the sand was damp but not wet.
Further along we saw La Rotonda (a colonnade commemorating the meeting of Bolivar and San Martin in Guayaquil on August 9, 1822). There was also a bronze statue of a wild boar further on. Still, Guayaquil on a Sunday is only slightly livelier than Haifa on a Saturday, so we returned to the hotel. We ate in the coffee shop, where due to the limited selection, I had spaghetti. (We did share a ceviche appetizer.) Then to bed about 8.
January 6, 1986:
We left the hotel at 9:30 for our 11AM flight to Baltra. At the airport we met some of the other passengers for the cruise. None of them seem to speak or understand Spanish, so naturally the announcements on the plane were only in Spanish. The woman in front of me asked for more water and didn't understand that 'No tenemos mas' meant 'We don't have any more,' so I had to translate. Most items in the airport were priced in dollars. Our flight was un eventful. We needed to go through something like immigration on Baltra, which took a long time. This island does look like Melville's description: 'Take five-and-twenty heaps of cinders....'
Lunch was good. (Oops, I forgot--we went by bus to the pangas, or small boats, which took us to the Santa Cruz, a 200-foot ship. There is room to swing a cat in the cabin, which is about 6'x8' plus bunk, closet, and bathroom space. It is air-conditioned, has hot and cold running water all day, and has two chairs, a desk, and a table. It is well-lit also. Bottled water is provided. There is a lounge and a dining room also.)
Our first landing was on North Seymour. It was a dry landing, meaning that we took pangas to a natural pier of lava rocks and clambered ashore. The rocks were black here, with many multicolored crabs on them. Immediately we started seeing birds of all sorts--brown noddies on the water, a red-billed tropicbird overhead, some swallow-tailed gulls with their red eye-rings. Film began to be used at a fast and furious pace. When we had all gotten ashore and collected ourselves into groups (there are 90 passengers, so there are four groups; some are bi-lingual) we proceeded along the beach. The black rocks gave way to brown (all guano-spattered since it never rains) and then a beach of shell fragments and purple sea urchin spines. We saw some small lava lizards and a few marine iguanas (and their trails in the sand), but it was the sea lions that got the most attention (and the persistent horse flies, the only species in the Galapagos that you're free to kill). The sea lions would waddle up the beach to pose for us, or so it seemed. Their fur was dark when wet, but dried to a golden brown tinged with green. They barked occasionally but didn't seem to feel we were a threat. (We also saw some sea lion turds, light grey in color. I refrained from photographing them.) The guide pointed out several other islands as we walked as well as describing the local geology and ecology.
The plant life on North Seymour consists mostly of Palo Santo trees (bare-looking), Palo Verde trees (green thorny branches with long, frondlike leaves--also green--and small yellow flowers), prickly-pear cactus, and leather-leaf cactus (whose leaves are all vertical). There were also some spreading succulents, but that was about it for plants. The main inhabitants of this island are bluefooted boobies and frigatebirds.
Blue-footed boobies do indeed have bright (light) blue feet and nest on the ground, often right on the trail. They surround their nests with a ring of guano for territoriality. The females are larger than the males and have a darker pupil--yes, you can get that close. The chicks are white and fluffy-looking; they get grey as they get older. We saw several pairs 'dancing,' lifting first one foot and then the other repeatedly and reaching for the sky with their beaks in a mating ritual, also picking up and dropping sticks as symbolic of nest-building. The females honk; the males whistle.
The other major tenant is the frigatebird (both the magnificent frigatebird and the great frigatebird, which differ slightly in coloration). They weigh only about three pounds, but have an eight-foot wingspan. The male has a red pouch on his chin that he inflates as a courtship ritual. The two species nest together; we saw two mixed colonies. (We also saw a couple of Galapagos mockingbirds.) Our trail eventually brought us back to the landing point, where we boarded the pangas. The landing may have been dry, but the front three people or so had a wet ride.
Dinner was unexceptional, except for the dessert, which was figs in a sugar syrup with cheese. Odd, and a little too sweet for my tastes. Our table was basically a Span ish-speaking one, with a couple of other people who spoke some English, including a lawyer from Quito that we had a conversation (of sorts) with. After the briefing for the next day's trips, to bed about 10.
January 7, 1986:
: I slept well my first time at sea, although I awoke at 1AM when they started the engines (we had to travel 42 miles to the next island). I got up about 5. (It was too cloudy the night before for comet sighting, by the way.) Breakfast was at 6:45.
Our morning trip (at 7:30) was to Tower (or Genovesa) Island. We had anchored in Darwin Bay, formed of the crater of a partially sunken volcano. (The landing was 'wet'--the pangas pulled up to the sandy (coral) beach and you climbed over the sides into knee-deep water. The beach had many beautiful, multi-colored shells.
There was not the enormous variety of wildlife here as on North Seymour, or at least not the numbers. We saw more frigatebirds on the cliffs. Along the beach we saw the Galapagos mockingbird as well as lava gulls, grey birds with white eye-rings. Crabs (black mostly) scampered on the lava rocks. We saw a sea lion pup skull, looking very out of place somehow.
In the trees were many young red-footed boobies. Their feet had not yet gotten their pigmentation. We saw few adults (they were apparently searching for food), but we did see a couple, and we also got to see the white form which comprises only 5% of the total redfooted booby population. We also saw some masked boobies, the largest of the boobies. Our path took us past some tidal pools, where we saw many fish and more crabs, now bright red with blue bellies or black with a white stripe across the back. Marine iguanas (a smaller variety) were the other animal life visible, though we saw one yellow-crowned night heron and one Galapagos dove with its turquoise eye-ring. The path ended up crossing some interesting but barren lava formations. WE returned to the beach for snorkeling (which Mark did, so I'll let him describe it). Our return to the boat was delayed since they were using the pangas to retrieve a lost anchor (not ours!).
Lunch was roast beef, artichokes, and salad, with passion fruit for dessert (do you eat the pulp or the seeds?). After lunch I napped for about 40 minutes--the combination of little sleep and much activity got to me. Although the day had started out overcast, the sun had been very strong towards the end of our excursion also.
Oh, I forgot two items of note. When we left Darwin Bay, a flock of brown noddies followed us a ways, swooping around the boat and sometimes even lighting on the masts. There were also some smaller birds that I couldn't identify (about mockingbird size). The other event was the lifeboat drill--everyone puts on their lifejackets and goes to their lifeboats.
Our afternoon visit was to Bartholome', where we were once again greeted by a sea lion (I think the guides have hired them to shill for the islands ;-) ). The rocks were covered with the red crabs. They are called Sally-lightfoot crabs because their legs are hollow, making them buoyant enough to walk on the water. The walk was of geological interest, there being no animal life to speak of away from the shore, and the plant life consisting mainly of a spreading succulent (currently grey) interspersed with an occasional prickly-pear or lava cactus. (Actually the prickly-pear cacti are mostly on the isthmus of the island along with other less hardy plants.) We were here to see the lava channels and craters. The lava here is old, having oxidized over the millenia to reddish and yellowish tinges. There is a lot of loose grey sand created by the erosion of the lava. The first part of the climb was through loose, shifting sand, so upward progress was difficult. Then we reached a more level area where we could see 'moonscape' vistas of craters and lava. Only the sea in the background marred the 'lunarity.' The remainder of the climb was up a log staircase placed there to slow the erosion of the slope from walking. (Our guide said that this island was going to be closed soon to prevent further erosion. Already we could see where sections of lava shelf had been broken away.) The volcano was 300' high and from the top was an excellent view of the isthmus, Pinnacle Rock, and the spatter-cones on nearby James Island. Bartholome' itself is very bleak-looking, sort of 'end-of-the-world' in aspect.
After our descent (much easier than our ascent), we rode the pangas to the beach. On the way we saw Galapagos penguins (the second smallest penguins) and brown pelicans. It was really too dark for snorkeling, so we crossed the isthmus to another beach where we saw sea turtle nests (covered-over pits in the sand) and even a sea turtle swimming along the shore, as well as more pelicans.
In case you're wondering at this point, we will not be seeing any Galapagos tortoises. There are only about 15.000 left of eleven subspecies on eight islands. However, some of those islands are closed to tourists and on the others the tortoises have retreated to the interior which is closed to tourists. Only on Isabela are tourists allowed to see them in their natural state and that is a six-hour hike, overnight stay, and a six-hour hie back. They can be seen at the Charles Darwin Research Center on Santa Cruz, but we don't go there. At any rate, that is still 'in captivity,' if only temporarily, and we have seen them at the San Diego Zoo. Programs to increase the population of tortoises include eradicating the predators introduced by man (dogs, rats, goats), sheltering the young until they can fend for themselves, and general breeding programs.
(The sea turtle had apparently just laid her eggs, a once-ayear occurrence.)
After dinner (chicken), I got involved in a conversation with someone who wanted to know how compilers worked. This went on until 11PM, when I went back to the cabin and read half of GALAPAGOS by Vonnegut (which the person interested in compilers had lent me). I was up until midnight. (Oh, we went looking for Halley's Comet at dusk, but although we could locate the constellation it was in, the ship's lights made sighting impossible.) me).
January 8, 1986:
Up at 6:45. I slept very well, although the ship was quite noisy all night--we had a lot of distance to cover. We had anchored in Tagus Cove off Isabela Island, the largest island of the archipelago (the official name of the Galapagos is 'El Archipelago de Colon'). We saw nothing of the large fire damage from last year's fire, that being at the southern part of island. Due to the extreme dryness, smoking is now prohibited on the islands themselves, however.
We had a double excursion this morning. First a dry landing-- no sea lions here, but a couple of flightless cormorants and a pelican did wave hello. We saw where sailors from 1803 on had left their names carved in the rocks, then up a steep slope to a path overlooking the salt-water lake in Volcano Darwin, which he visited on September 29, 1835. We heard some Darwin's finches and even glimpsed a couple from a distance, though not close enough to identify the species. There was also a Galapagos mockingbird and those of us with binoculars could see about seven pin-tailed ducks in the lake. The most notable animal life were the large horsehead flies as big as the end of your thumb. (It was still really too dry to support large numbers of finches.)
We climbed to the highest point on Volcano Darwin (4350') from which we could see Volcanoes Wolf and Ecuador, as well as Rock Redondo, which Melville described in such detail. We toasted this event with a bottle of mineral water that I had brought (we were told it would be a hard climb). We opened the bottle with my belt buckle. We talked with the guide about the conservation methods, whether killing the feral population to protect the tortoises was 'natural.' All species will eventually become extinct; should we try to stop this? Will we do more harm than good in extending a species' lifespan?
Regarding the specialization of finches, there seem to be four answers. One, evolution. Two, the mysterious work of God. Three, their creation by Satan to mislead man (but this implies Manichaeism (sp?)). Four, their creation by God to test man's faith. Take your pick.
We returned over the same trail and returned to the ship for a short break before the second half, a panga ride along the cliffs which form this cove. (Oh, yes, we also saw lava lizards.) At first from the panga we saw flightless cormorants and brown pelicans, along with frigatebirds in the sky. These gave way to blue-footed boobies nesting on the cliffs (a large colony). A small cave revealed brown noddy terns and another yellow-crowned night heron pecking at the crabs. A few Galapagos penguins were visible, including one swimming. Marine iguanas were common, usually sunning themselves, although one was in the water. A few sea lions had found warm spots also. Along one beach we saw a 'playita' (I don't know the English), or beach bird. there was so much to see and cameras were going like crazy. Eventually, I think, most people O.D.'ed on the variety and we returned to the ship at noon.
Lunch was fish, squid fried rice, and the usual cold salads.
Our afternoon excursion (and last landing) was at Punta Espinoza on Fernandina. We landed upon a promontory of black lava, much different (and younger) than the red and yellow oxidized lava of Bartholome'. There are two basic lava formations in evidence here: pahoehoe (ropy) lava which had cooled slowly, and aa-aa (jagged) lava which cooled quickly. Behind the Point was an area of mangrove trees, under which sea lions rested. Along the shore we saw sea lions (and some Galapagos penguins) swimming. Traveling inland we saw dozens of marine iguanas summing themselves, courting, fighting (by butting their heads), spitting (as a temperature regulator--the algae they eat cooks in their stomaches and they spit out the hot water). You had to be very careful where you walked since what at first glance looked like lava could easily be an iguana (or a lava lizard). This part of the island with its volcanic origins evident and its proliferation of dominant reptiles, looks genuinely prehistoric. We walked further inland, to better see the lava formations as well as the mangroves and lava cactus which have forced their way through cracks in the lava. From there we returned back towards the water and a sea lion pool. Although the guide had said there was a chance of seeing some sea turtles here, we didn't see any, but we did see some penguins, which the guide said he had never seen at this location before. On the way back from the sea lion pond, we saw a land iguana, unusual this close to shore since they tend to stay in the highlands. This one was mottled orange and brown, in almost a camouflage pattern (which of course it really was), while the marine iguanas were grayishblack. Its tail was rounded, not flattened laterally, and curved up rather than sideways.
We walked further out to another sea lion area, this one populated more by marine iguanas than sea lions, though there was a large bull there who eventually chased us off. On the way over, we saw a Galapagos hawk perched on a Palo Santo tree. We finally returned to the ship, the shores of Galapagos behind us. Though we had seen a lot, there was much more we hadn't seen: tortoises, flamingoes, albatrosses,.... I don't know about Mark, but I'd like to go back! (Oops, I forgot to mention flightless cormorants, brown pelicans, and a colony of blue-footed boobies on Fernandina.)
Dinner was filet mignon. The dessert was tree tomatoes in a sugar syrup. It was too cloudy in the west to look for Halley's Comet and there was also a volcano in the way.
January 9, 1986:
This morning we sailed around the Daphne Islands (Daphne Major and Daphne Minor). In particular, we circled Daphne Minor, an older island which erosion has reduced from a cone to a cylindrical cliff. It's about 800' long and slightly oval. Used as a 'stepping-stone' from one island to another, it harbors many species. At the top of the cliffs were frigatebirds. Lower down were masked boobies and red-billed tropicbirds. Finches can be found here, and brown pelicans. Along the small beach at one end, sea lions rested. It was overcast, and the obvious impossibility of any landing on the Daphnes made us forgive them for only circling them.
At noon we transferred to Baltra. We flew first to Guayaquil and then on to Quito, arriving about 5PM. Baltra remains one of the less interesting islands, its indigenous wildlife limited mostly to small groups of marine birds along the shore.
Quito is 9000' up in the Andes. Situated in a bowl like Cuzco, it does not present the uniform appearance that the red tile roofs of Cuzco do. It does look very clean and modern, with many wide streets (in Cuzco to widen the streets would mean tearing down ancient Incan walls, but Quito is only 401 years old). We got to our hotel and went out walking. Just about the time we were ready to go back to the hotel for dinner, we met another couple from the Santa Cruz, so we ate with them. We had ceviche, cream of mushroom and asparagus soup, and paella. I tried to order sangria for one, but ended up with a liter (counting the fruit, about 1.5 liters) at a much inflated price. The fruits used here were strawberries, bananas, and pineapple. After dinner, back to the hotel and an early bedtime.
January 10, 1986:
This morning was our city tour of Quito. Our guide was an architecture student at the University, so he should know his stuff. We first saw the colonial district, which has been declared a 'legacy for mankind' (loose translation) by UNESCO. The city requires that all buildings maintain the white and blue facades, the iron grillwork, and the red tile roofs of the colonial period. We spent a while driving around this area while our driver looked for on-street parking. Eventually we parked in a parking garage and walked through a street market to the central plaza, which was surrounded by government buildings. In the center of the plaza was a monument to 'the first cry of independence' in 1809. We saw the entrance to the President's Palace, but the current president has closed the interior to the public for security reasons. (Ecuador, by the way, has elections every four years--the same years as the U.S.--and citizens are required to vote.) Then we walked to La Compania, a Jesuit church whose interior is completely covered in gold. Well, not completely, but all the walls and the ceiling have decorative patterns in which the dominant external material is gold. It is thought to be the richest Jesuit church in South America. Another church, La Merced, copied the interior design and decoration but without using all the gold. La Merced had a statue of the Virgin near the entrance and on her dress was embroidered a Star of David--interesting! We also saw a third church, the name of which escapes me (Santo Domingo, maybe?). Then we drove up to La Panecillo for a panoramic view of Quito. (Oh, at the beginning of the trip we saw a monument to Orellana overlooking Gualpa and the mountains to the east where Orellana discovered the Amazon. He was looking for El Dorado and since much of Ecuador's wealth comes from Amazon oil, some might claim he had found it. We also saw the congressional building with a bas-relief mural on the front depicting the country's history. One more interesting note-- the river in the country's emblem used to depict the Amazon, but since they lost most of the Amazon to Peru in 1941, it now represents the Guayas River in Guayaquil.)
For lunch we went to an Indian (Asian) restaurant near the hotel. Mark had beef curry and I had chicken curry. Unlike in the U.S., where it's usually a la carte, these came with rice, nan, raita, chutney, peanuts, and banana slices. We also had lassi--all very Ecuadorian. :-)
After lunch we were going to go to the Archaeological Museum of the Central Bank, but I was just too zonked (from the trip and the altitude, I suspect), so we stayed at the hotel; I rested (slept) and Mark read. About 5PM we went out walking to see what the town looked like. We went into a lot of bookstores and eventually went back to the hotel about 7. At 8:30 we went down to dinner at the hotel restaurant, which is supposed to be one of the best steak places in town. Mark had onion soup and a T-bone steak; I had avocado vinaigrette and cebiche (if the spelling of cebiche/ceviche varies in this log, it's because it does on menus also). We got to watch the waiter flambe' some strawberries for another table and next to us they ordered escargot and fondue--pretty fancy restaurant. Our dinner, with tax and tip, came to 1779 sucres, or $14.83.
I soaked in a hot tub (not all hotels have tubs here, by the way, even fancy ones), had a glass of sangria and went to sleep about 11. At about 3:45 I woke up to the sound of a dog barking; he didn't stop until about 6. Quito is a nice city, but it has very noisy dogs.
January 11, 1986:
Our Air France flight was about 45 minutes. The food was excellent--pate', cheese, fruit, I could even have had champagne! When we got to Lima, no one was there from Receptour Peru, but there happened to be a bus from the Hotel Crillon, so we took that. It turned out that Ladatco hadn't telexed our last stay in Lima to them. We finally got it straightened out. Our room is a whole suite, complete with balcony, refrigerator, TV, two sinks, a tub and a separate shower--real posh. (They must have been out of regular rooms when we showed up with our pre-paid voucher.
We took a taxi to Pueblo Libre (a suburb of Lima). This was a large fancy taxi from in front of the hotel and it cost us about $4.80 for the ride (about 7 miles? I'm guessing). Our first visit was to the museum of Anthropology and Archaeology (entrance fee 30 cents each). Except for the fact that the exhibits are labeled only in Spanish, I would say this is a must for anyone interested in pre-Incan art. Actually, I'll say it anyway. The section on Nazca ceramics is excellent and I could translate most of the signs. We spent about an hour to an hour and a half here, then walked to the Larco Herrera Museum (about a mile away--we had been told seven blocks). The first part of this museum is an exhibit of ceramics. Well, exhibit is the wrong word--warehouse is more like it. There are rows and rows of cabinets 30' long and eight shelves high, filled with ceramics. It demonstrates its owner's acquisitiveness more than the ceramics themselves. (The collection, like the Museo de Oro, is privately owned but will go to the state on its owner's death.) The rest of the museum was better arranged and included a surprisingly unpretentious exhibit of work in gold, silver, and precious and semi-precious stones. What it is most known for, though, is its collection of erotic ceramics. One book describes them as 'disarmingly exuberant.' be that as it may, none of the figures looked like they were really enjoying themselves; maybe the pre-Incans were weak on facial expressions in ceramics. After this we stopped at a small market for sodas and then got a small taxi back to the hotel. (You don't have to hail one; if you look like a tourist, they stop and ask you.) This cost $1.80. Moral--stick to the small cruising cabs.
Then we went out walking along a street with a lot of used book stands. As best I recall what happened then was this: Mark was distracted by a vendor whose confederate then grabbed Mark's wallet out of his front pocket. Mark grabbed the pickpocket and tackled him to the ground. I turned around, saw the struggle and ran over, also grabbed the guy and started yelling at him. At some point (whether before or after I arrived I don't know), he decided that he had made a mistake and threw back the wallet, saying something in Spanish like 'I give it back.' I grabbed the wallet and told Mark to let go (the police would never do anything even if we could find a policeman). The guy ran off, we retrieved Mark's glasses (which didn't even get broken), and returned to the hotel. I suspect as soon as the pickpocket realized he wasn't going to make a clean getaway (about the time Mark landed him face down in the gutter), he decided to cut his losses and return the wallet.
Apparently recovering one's wallet from a pickpocket is unusual. People were kind of staring at Mark, and people we talked to later found it unusual too.
We went back to the hotel and had dinner there.
January 12, 1986:
We took off a half hour late from Lima to Montego Bay, then an hour late from Montego Bay on a Rich International plane on loan to Air Jamaica. (We almost missed that flight since we could barely hear the announcements in the airport.) In Miami, we cleared Customs and waited for our Eastern flight. It was 3 hours late and had three gate changes (and not adjoining gates either). People kept talking about all the Eastern flights that had been canceled and how the rest had all been over-booked. I had packed all our souvenirs in my suitcase and carried it on to the return flights, figuring if I was going to get stuck in Jamaica, I at least wanted my suitcase. As I hauled this 25-lb suitcase (and 10-lb backpack) around, I found myself asking, 'Why didn't I check this?' When we got to Newark (midnight) and the luggage finished coming out (1:30AM) I found out. They had lost Mark's suitcase.
(Happy postscript: They found it and delivered it to us in two days. Apparently when you check your luggage at the 'Connecting Flights Check-in' just outside Customs in Miami, there's a very good chance that it will get side-tracked just long enough to miss your flight.)
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