A Taste Of South America
4/17/16 through 5/5/16
Bolivia - Brazil - Colombia - Peru
We left Los Angeles International Airport for Miami Florida around 9:00 AM Sunday 4/17/16 via an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft - about a 5.5 hour flight. We had a short layover in Miami and then boarded another American Airlines Boeing 757 and flew for 6.5 hours to La Paz Bolivia. This, and returning via the same route with the same airline proved to be the worse part of the entire trip. I will never fly through Miami again nor will I choose American Airlines as a carrier. Miami has no reasonable places to eat in terms of price or selection. They are all specialty restaurants and expensive. The food we choked down on our layover almost killed us - at least made us ill and we hadn't even left the good old USA yet. American Airlines was expensive. We tried to make some alterations to our trip and +$1000 each was the immediate answer. The South America airlines like LAN and TAM (now the same airline) are much more forgiving with a small fee of $75 for changing itineraries and they will even call you back and try to accommodate your needs. Not American Airlines - they don't do that and they will tell you so. Also, most of the aircraft we flew on in South America via LAN and TAM were Airbus aircraft and configured for more comfort than the Boeing cattle cars American uses. Miami airport security was ridiculous on our return where 2 of 5 security check lanes were open and there was a 30+ minute waite standing in Disneyland like queues. This was very annoying especially just after getting off of a long uncomfortable flight. In South America, we never had to wait for more than a few minutes at most to get through security checks because all lines were open and the process was conducted efficiently - unlike what we experienced with the TSA in the USA.
That said, we traveled almost 11,000 air miles in South America over the 19 day journey. All of our flights and airport experiences in South America were reasonable, unmemorable, and acceptable to say the least. We first flew from Los Angeles to Florida and then to La Paz Bolivia. We visited the ruins at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku and also drove to Lake Titicaca. We then flew to Belo Horizonte Brazil and drove to a little town named Ouro Preto and purchased imperial topaz. A few days later we were off to Cartagena Colombia and visited our friends at the Caribe emerald store and museum for a few days. Then off to Cusco Peru and visited Machu Picchu. From there we flew back to La Paz Bolivia and stayed one day and then returned to the USA via Florida.
La Paz -Bolivia
We arrived in La Paz Bolivia early in the morning - like 4:30 AM Monday 4/18/16. Actually, the airport is in a place called El Alto which sits on a large plateau above the valley that is La Paz. We got a taxi to the El Rosario hotel which is in La Paz proper and about a 20 minute taxi ride from the airport.
All the hotels are a little scary from the street but really very nice on the inside. When we arrived we were greeted by a very friendly receptionist who spoke English even though it was early in the morning. Fortunately, they had a room we could occupy immediately. We laid down for a while and took a well-disserved nap. We were now at 12,000 feet elevation and acclimation to the altitude was in order. The room was clean and comfortable but up several flights of stairs. At 12,000 feet altitude, a couple of flights of stairs had me stopping several times in an attempt to catch my breath.
After we took a nap we ventured off into the city. Fortunately what there was to see was down hill from the hotel so we went to visit the historic Basilica of San Francisco at the center of town. This began our investigation of La Paz.
The Basilica of San Francisco is a Catholic church under the advocation of Francis of Assisi in the square that bears its name "Plaza San Francisco". It was built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries in the so-called baroque-mestizo style. In 1548, the Convent of San Francisco was founded along the river Choqueyapu by Fray Francisco de Morales. In August 1549 the construction of the first Church of San Francisco began, which was concluded in 1581. Between 1608 and 1612 the first church collapsed as a result of a snowfall of considerable proportions. Between 1743 and 1744 the construction of the present church began. In 1753 is finished with the closure and the roof of the church's dome. On April 23, 1758, it was consecrated.
Although the church and surrounding area was beckoning us it was a priority for us to find transportation to the ruins at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku which was the purpose of our visit. We were reasonably sure we could find transportation in one form or another between where we were and our hotel.
On our way back to the hotel - uphill - it started raining so we took shelter in a coffee shop.
We met a couple from Canada and Switzerland. It was interesting discussing American politics with them. They knew much more than I thought they would about the Clinton Trump debacle. It rained pretty hard for an hour or so. When we could breathe again, we continued on our journey in a light rain. We eventually found a travel agent and booked seats on a tour bus to Tiwanaku and Puma Punku the next day. Little did we know the joys that would bring us - especially Frank.
Monday morning we ate breakfast at an old local restaurant recommended by the hotel. Had our first go at drinking coca tea. Frank had a little headache from the altitude. The tea tasted like boiled weeds to me and had no effect. Although, I was not feeling poorly from the altitude. The picture is the view out of the window of the restaurant. Notice the bevy of wires on the pole. This is typical of countries I have been to like Guatemala, Mexico, and Bolivia. It always amazes me that the whole thing doesn't just blow up in a big poof of smoke.
So a little trivia about La Paz is in order. Nuestra Señora de La Paz (English: Our Lady of Peace), commonly known as La Paz, named Chuqi Yapu (Chuquiago) in Aymara, is Bolivia's third-most populous city (after Santa Cruz and El Alto),the seat of the country's government, and the capital of La Paz Department. It is located on the western side of Bolivia at an elevation of roughly 3,650 m (11,975 ft) above sea level. It is, de facto, the world's highest administrative capital. While the official capital of Bolivia (and its seat of justice) is Sucre, La Paz has more government departments. In May 2015, La Paz was officially recognized as one of the New 7 Wonders Cities together with Vigan, Doha, Durban, Havana, Beirut, and Kuala Lumpur. The city sits in a bowl surrounded by the high mountains of the altiplano. As it grew, the city of La Paz climbed the hills, resulting in varying elevations from 3,200 to 4,100 m (10,500 to 13,500 ft).
Overlooking the city is towering triple-peaked Illimani, which is always snow-covered and can be seen from many parts of the city, including from the city of El Alto. As of the 2008 census, the neighboring city had a population of 877,363. La Paz Metropolitan area, formed by the cities of La Paz, El Alto, and Viacha, make the most populous urban area of Bolivia, with a population of 2.3 million inhabitants and surpassing the metropolitan area of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.
We ate dinner at a upscale steak house located about half way down the hill toward the center of town. It was as far away from the hotel as Frank and I wanted to walk - downhill. It was Frank and my first go at eating lama. It came on a shish kebab with other meats. I would not have known it was lama if someone had not told me. Note: food toasts kind of bland at this altitude.
Tuesday 4/19 - The tour bus guide showed up in front of our hotel a little late and a half dozen of us walked down the street a ways to find a small van type bus awaiting our arrival. At this time it was not full but was already crowded. We all piled in and claimed our ground. The van would leave and we thought we were on our way. A few miles down the road the van would stop and pick up a couple more people. Each time this happened, Frank would start telling the tour guide in Spanish that there was not enough room - that he was not to let any more people in the van - on and on he would go. Well as it turned out, every seat was full by the time we had picked everyone up - about 11 or 12 I think which included the driver and tour guide. Anyway, we were packed into this van like little sardines and off we went to see Tiwanaku.
In the van we met couples from Tasmania, Germany, Chile, and France. Friendly people who really opened up as Frank supporters when they were packing the van as full as possible with people.
It is a couple of hour drive from La Paz to the Tiwanaku and Puma Punku ruins. The scenery on the drive there is of a vast plateau that consists of mostly farmland but at a very high elevation.
Tiwanaku (Spanish - Tiahuanaco) is located near the southern shores of Lake Titicaca on the Altiplano, at an altitude of 3,850 m (12,631 ft.), in the Province of Ingavi, Department of La Paz. Most of the ancient city, which was largely built from adobe, has been overlaid by the modern town. However, the monumental stone buildings of the ceremonial center survive in the protected archaeological zones. The spiritual and political center of the Tiwanaku culture began as a small settlement which later flourished into a planned city between 400 A.D. and 900 A.D. However there are those who believe the area around Tiwanaku may have been inhabited as early as 1500 BC or earlier as a small agricultural village. The original port of Tiahuanacu was built on the shores of Lake Titicaca less than 600 feet away, but whose southern coastline now lies some 12 miles away. According to author / researcher, Graham Hancock, “Fingerprints of the Gods,” scholars including Arthur Posansky, Becker, Kohlschutter, and Muller have concluded from astronomical investigations of the ecliptic, that the site may well have been constructed as far back as 12,000 BC making Tiwanaku one of the oldest city temples on the planet, if not the oldest, if the astronomical calculations can be proven! However, the name by which Tiwanaku was known to its inhabitants has been lost, as the people of Tiwanaku had no written language and were supposedly ignorant of the existence of the wheel.
The maximum expression of this culture is reflected in the civic - ceremonial organized spatially with a centre oriented toward to the cardinal points, constructed with impressive ashlars stones carved accurately and equipped with a complex system of underground drainage that was controlling the flow of rain waters.
There are a lot of theories and much has been written about Tiwanaku and Puma Punku. But remember, these people had no written language so all the theories are just that - theories. I will say that it is abundantly clear, after being at the site and taking it all in, that I am unsure that there is anyone alive that truly knows the when's, how's, and why's of the Tiwanaku ruins and most certainly the Puma Punku site which is thought to be much older than the Tiwanaku site.
The most intriguing thing about Tiwanaku and Puma Punku is the stonework. We did not see any granite at Tiwanaku or Puma Punku. However, at both places, some of the monoliths are carved in volcanic andesite and the remainder are carved in red sandstone. Andesite has a composition that is intermediate between basalt and granite and derives its name from the Andes Mountains of South America.
So let's compare hardness and weight of these materials.
As you can see, andesite and red sandstone are just as hard as granite but granite is slightly heavier. Working these materials, even with modern technology, requires the use of heavy equipment to move the stone and diamond abrasive cutting tools to cut and polish the stone. I have worked with granite and cutting and polishing even the simplest of cuts with modern equipment is difficult work and time consuming. The only way to get truly flat surfaces and precision cuts is by using machinery. Accomplishing this by hand is nearly impossible. It is truly remarkable that these ancient people were able to move, cut, and polish these materials in a time that had no equipment, machinery, or written language. Obviously, how they did it remains a mystery but in my mind, the bigger question is why they did it. It must not have been as difficult for them as we perceive it to be or they would not have done it in the first place. Remember, these people lived on this high plateau at some 12,000+ feet elevation where there and few resources. It is cold and wet. Life in and of itself is harsh. Why do something that is even more difficult by moving some of the heaviest material around and then carving materials that are as hard as granite? We are definitely missing something here!
Pumapunku or Puma Punku "The Door of the Puma" is just down the road from Tiwanaku. You can easily walk from one site to the other. Puma Punku is a smaller site than Tiwanaku covering only a couple of acres. Puma Punku has not been excavated to near the extent of Tiwanaku. Puma Punku is thought to be part of a large temple complex or monument group that is part of the Tiwanaku site. Surveys in the area separating the Puma Punku and Kalasasaya complex using ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry, induced electrical conductivity, and magnetic susceptibility indicate that there is a vast complex still buried underground. However, Puma Punku is thought to be much older than Tiwanaku.
The most intriguing thing about Puma Punku is the stonework. The red sandstone and andesite stones were cut in such a precise way that it’s as if they were cut using machinery and diamond tools. Some blocks can fit perfectly into and lock with each other. Another phenomenon of engineering is that many of the stones weigh up to 800 tons. Interviews with modern day stone masons have revealed that even with today’s advanced technology, it would be almost impossible to replicate the precision observed in the stones found at Puma Punku.
According to the local myths, Puma Punku is related to the Gods and the time of the first creation. The legend states that the first inhabitants had supernatural powers and were able to move stones from the ground and carry them through the air using sounds. The Inca tribes accept those legends and deny that their ancestors had anything to do with the building of Puma Punku. In fact, one legend says that Puma Punku was built in one night by the gods.
For me, Puma Punku looks like a stone quarry of a bunch of truly talented stone masons who had at their disposal some unique machinery and knowledge. It would be difficult, even with today's modern technology, to reproduce these carvings with 5 axis milling machines and diamond abrasive tools. When you look around the area nothing makes any sense as intricately cut stones are strewn all over the place as though they were randomly thrown about and then stood up where the fell. All different shapes and sizes all over the place. There must be more to this than meets the eye. More importantly, it appears to me that Puma Punku and Tiwanaku are strongly related as the back side of the Gateway of the Sun displays many of the same extreme stone cutting skills (inside 90 degree cuts) as does the stone work at Puma Punku. The Gateway of the Sun is made from andesite stone which may as well be granite. So I believe that the Tiwanakan people at least learned the trade from the folks who created Puma Punku and used similar machinery to carve these intricate patterns into the stone. I am willing to bet that these carvings were not accomplished by hand with primitive tools.
|Someone tagged the sign. That sucks!||Not a large area.||Unbelievable stone work.|
|Unbelievable stone work.||Temple area?||Unbelievable stone work.|
|Unbelievable stone work.||Unbelievable stone work.||Unbelievable stone work.|
We had a pretty good lunch at the Tiwanaku ruins put on by the people who run the place. It was an extra cost and not included in the tour. We purchased some souvenirs, packed ourselves back into the van and off to La Paz. We got back to the hotel in the late afternoon.
I had an interesting observation while looking at a map of Peru. The proximity of these mysterious sites - the lines at Nazca, Machu Picchu, and Tiwanaku - are all fairly close to one another in the same part of the world. There must be a reason for this. I think there is more to be found in the region that has remained hidden for all these years.
Frank had contacted the sisters (2) of his first son's mother (Sonia) and one of their children's daughters husband picked us up at the hotel and took us to have dinner with the family at a pizza establishment in down town La Paz.
We met the entire family of Frank's first son's mother Sonia who has not been to Bolivia to see her two sisters for many years. What an awesome, friendly group of people. We ate and talked and had a really wonderful evening.
Wendy Sonya's sister's daughter and her husband took Frank and I all the way to see lake Titicaca and Copacabana beach. Copacabana beach is a popular beach that sits on the shores of lake Titicaca not far from the Peruvian border. This turned out to be a 10 hour round trip journey from La Paz.
The mountains you see in the pictures are all in excess of 5182 m (17,000 ft) elevation with some being more than 6,400 m (21,000 ft) tall. These mountains are ice covered all year long. However, this covering and the associated glaciers are diminishing rapidly as is being witnessed all over the world.
So we left La Paz and drove route 2 along the high-altitude basin 3,810 m (12,500 ft) above sea level, located between the eastern and western Andean cordilleras (an extensive chain of mountains or mountain ranges), that covers an area of 57,000 km2 (22,008 miles2).
It took a couple of hours for us to arrive at Estrecho de Tiquina. This is where the road ends and your must take a "ferry" to a little town called Mercado de San Pedro de Tiquina on the other side if you wish to continue. Many of these "ferry" operators only speak the local language and will not speak to you in spanish and will not acknowledge you if you speak to them in spanish.
It is windy and a little cold but the scenery is breathtaking to say the least.
It is windy and a little cold but the scenery is breathtaking to say the least.
The terracing of the hills - everywhere - is what blew my mind. Mile after mile, the hills are all terraced. I am not sure who did this, in fact, I am not sure anyone knows who actually did this but it is as amazing as Tiwanaku. It is known that the area adjacent to Lake Titicaca has long been a major center of agricultural production and dense human populations. It was the home of several important Pre columbian civilizations. Over the past 8,000 years, the environment of the basin has been transformed into a highly patterned, artificial landscape. The construction of raised fields (waru waru, suka kollas), stone-faced terraces (andenes), sunken gardens (q’ochas), and irrigated pasture (bofedales) are thought to be related to an agricultural infrastructure. These terraces were mostly abandoned long ago and only few are in use today in Bolivia and Peru.
We finally arrived at Copacabana beach, a popular resort destination for foreign travelers and locals alike. It is a relatively small town. This is the original Copacabana beach actually lending its name to the beach in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. The name derives from the Aymara kota kawana, meaning "view of the lake", and the region was revered by the Inca even before the Spaniards built their chapel of the Virgin and turned it into a Catholic pilgrimage site.
We ate trout at one of the many restaurants that sit on the shoe of the lake. Even though I am not that fond of fish, it was quite good. The restaurant serves trout many different ways and I had the garlic trout - I think.
A trip to Copacabana beach would not be complete without stopping at the chapel of the Virgin. The Virgen de la Candelaria in Copacabana is a statue of the Virgin Mary sculpted by an Inca craftsman in 1576. The statue of the "Dark Virgin of the Lake" is the most important pilgrimage destination in Bolivia and is believed to work miracles. The Black Madonna was moved from its shrine to a chapel in 1583, which was enlarged by the Spanish in a Moorish style in 1619. The statue soon gained a reputation throughout Bolivia and Peru for working miracles. The present Basilica de la Virgen de Candelaria was completed in 1805.
Our trip back to La Paz found us navigating the streets of El Alto after dark. This was quite an experience as much of the main street through El Alto and its suburbs is undergoing a transformation where much construction is going on to modernize several miles of the city. There are many streets literally shut off from the main road by large mounds of dirt and barricades. If you do not know precisely what streets are open to cross the city or own a 4 wheel drive vehicle, getting from one side of town to the other is nothing short of an adventure straight out of one of the apocalypse movies. Needless to say, for a short while, we were lost - very lost. As you can see we barely got the car over one of these earthen mounds. But, Wendy and Ruben were quite the navigation team talking to various people along the streets to eventually find our way back to the main highway and back to La Paz.
We flew from La Paz Bolivia to Santa Curse Bolivia on Airbus 319 then to Lima Peru on same plane - then to Sao Palo Brazil on Boeing 767 - then to Belo Horizonte Brazil on Airbus 321. All flights were good. Frank arranged window sheets and we were able to get some rest.
Belo Horizonte -Brazil
Belo Horizonte means Beautiful Horizon and is pronounced in Portuguese as Belorizot. It is the sixth largest city in Brazil, the thirteenth largest city in South America, and the eighteenth largest city in the Americas. Belo Horizonte is ranked as the third most populous metropolitan area in Brazil and the seventeenth most populous in the Americas. Belo Horizonte is the capital of the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil's second most populous state. It is the first planned modern city in Brazil. The region was first settled in the early 18th century, but the city as it is known today was planned and constructed in the 1890s, in order to replace Ouro Preto as the capital of Minas Gerais.
When we got to Belo Horizonte it was in the evening. Frank had booked us a room at the Holiday Inn.
This hotel turned out to be awesome - a great place with a very reasonable price. We were hungry and needed food and bottled water. The desk person at the hotel (who spoke english) sent us down the street to a mall for both. When we got to the mall Frank and I realized that Portuguese was the language and everything at the mall was way
over priced. I got a little worried - well maybe a lot worried. I think Frank was as well but he wasn't showing it. Very few speak English or Spanish so we are screwed language wise. In fact, outside of the hotel, we did not find anyone who spoke English or Spanish.
Fortunately, on way back to the Holiday Inn, Frank found a corner food stand where we got chicken kabobs, rum and coke, and beers all for around $10.
While we were sitting at one of the outdoor tables enjoying our chicken and beer a motorcyclist pulled into the motorcycle parking area just next to our table. I moved my chair to give him more room to pull in and park. He took off his helmet and said thank you - in english! I asked him if he spoke english and - wouldn't you know it - he is an english teacher and speaks english and Portuguese.
His name is Lucas and we befriended him. He agreed to show us around - but more importantly - be our interpreter.
Friday 4/22. We were able to sleep late - well - until just before 10 AM so we could make the free breakfast the Holiday Inn offers its guests. It is a awesome breakfast where they serve several kinds of cheese pastries. All day the electricity in the room was on and off because of some construction going on so we just rested up all day. We did reserve a rental car for what turned out to be a great price at a local car rental establishment within walking distance of the hotel. That afternoon, by accident, we met a taxi driver in front of the hotel who spoke some English and Spanish. He took us all around town looking for some jewelry stores but none of them were still in business. He showed us where the museum's are in the center of town. He took us to the money exchange down town and Frank exchanged more money. He had a device for holding a cell phone in the air conditioning output duct of a car. Frank liked it and gave him some money to get him one. He actually bought one and gave it to Frank a couple of days later before we left Brazil.
Belo Horizonte is a modern city similar to any city in the USA.
Saturday 4/23 - Frank picked up the rental car early in the morning. We had another great breakfast at the hotel. We paid extra for Lucas to join us. All 3 of us left for the city of Ouro Preto (Black Gold) - at 11:30 AM. Ouro Preto is maybe a 2 hour drive from Belo Horizonte.
Ouro Preto is a city in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. It is a center of Brazilian history. While Americans go to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. to see their history, Brazilians go to Ouro Preto. It is a former colonial mining town located in the Serra do Espinhaço mountains and designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of its outstanding Baroque architecture. Artists and the elite from Europe came to Ouro Preto, fostering Brazilian Baroque and Rococo art to develop here. The town’s many churches are what it’s most famous for, especially those with the work of Brazil’s most famous artist, Antonio Francisco Lisboa (Aleijadinho). Ouro Preto is located in one of the main areas of the Brazilian Gold Rush and was the center of what was then (1690s) the largest gold discovery in the western hemisphere. The town developed in the early 1700s as a result of the wealth from this gold rush. Officially, 800 tons of gold were sent to Portugal in the XVIII century. Other gold circulated illegally, and still other gold remained in the colony to adorn churches and for other uses. In the 18th century, Ouro Preto became for a time the most populous city in the New World, with an estimated population of 80,000 in 1750. At that time, the population of New York was half that number, and the population of São Paulo was around 8,000.
Although Ouro Preto now relies heavily on the tourism industry for part of its economy, there are important metallurgic and mining industries located in town, such as Novelis, formerly Alcan, the most important aluminum factory in the country, the Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, and others. Main economic activities are tourism, transformation industries, and mineral riches such as deposits of iron, bauxite, manganese, talc and marble. Minerals of note are: gold, hematite, dolomite, tourmaline, pyrite, muscovite, topaz and imperial topaz. The imperial topaz is a stone only found in Ouro Preto.
The center of the square contains a monument commemorating Tiradentes. On the other end of the square is the old university, which now houses the Museu Mineralógico Da Escola De Minas (Mineralogy Museum). Because this area has such rich mines, you can see beautiful examples of all kinds of minerals in this museum, some from the surrounding area and others collected from around the globe.
From town there is a view of the nearby mountains and the famous shape of the peak of Itacolomy, which formerly served as a handy landmark for gold seekers trying to find their way back to Ouro Preto.
While in Ouro Preto went to several shops. With Lucas interpreting along the way.
We visited several shops. They were impressive and good places to visit.
Mosus, the proprietor of this small shop on ??? street was very helpful.
We had dinner at the little outside cafe we had grown so fond of down the street from the hotel. We decided to go back to Ouro Preto tomorrow. Frank calculated total expense as $140.
Sunday 4/24 - We went back to Ouro Preto with Lucas where
Frank negotiated with Moses over 2 Paraiba tourmaline cut stones 1 - 1ct+ and 1 was 2 ct+. The cost of both stones was $4000 worth maybe 10 to 15k in the USA if actually Paraiba but only worth $600 or so if not so we will arrange for Moses to send the stones to the GIA for testing and we will buy them if they are actually Paraiba. They must contain copper for them to actually be Paraiba but only the GIA can make that determination. He did not want to take the risk.
We drove back to Belo Horizonte in the afternoon. Our little cafe down the street was closed so Frank and I had dinner at the hotel. It was a little expensive and just OK. We had to get to bed early because we are off to Cartagena Colombia early Monday morning. Frank will return the rental car early in the morning, we will eat breakfast at the hotel, and take a taxi to the airport at 7:30 am. We arrive in Cartagena at 11:30 pm. This will be a long travel day for us from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo Brazil to Bogota Colombia to Cartagena Colombia.
Cartagena de Indias - Colombia
Leaving Brazil we flew from from Belo Horizonte to São Paulo Brazil on a Airbus A321 then on to Bogota Colombia on a Boeing 767-300. For both flights there was no person in the middle seat between us. That was great. We then flew on to Cartagena on a Airbus A320 where we got upgraded from last row to over wing exit seats. These were great flights and not bad at all. At the Sao Palo airport on a short layover we ate at a Carl's Junior where the sign said in huge letters "The Taste Of California". A flashback of home but not as good as McDonalds - I think.
It was so awesome that Juan Carlos and Jose met us at the airport. It was great seeing them again. It was late in the evening and we were exhausted from a full day of travel. They packed us into Jose's car and took us to our hotel. The hotel was not good. In fact, it was pretty bad but standard for the old city as we found out. It was late and everyone was tired so we spent the night anyway. Frank was not a happy camper.
Tuesday 4/26 - "The shower head fell off in my hand". Well that is all I heard as Frank stormed out of the room. "I'm going to find another place. I'll be back." The beds were uncomfortable and the room smelled. Frank went to find another room. Somehow he ended up running into Jose. Apparently Jose talked to Alfredo and Alfredo offered us accommodations. Now this place is above one of the jewelry store in the old city. Presidential is all I can say. Several bedrooms and baths with a kitchen and living room. Clean, comfortable, and very nice - a palace compared to where we were. Frank and I were more than appreciative. It was the nicest accommodations we had on the entire trip.
Alfredo took us to his ranch where he has 25 employees, cows, horses, 2 huge ponds, many mango and fruit trees, and a house he is refurbishing. We also went to the 2 new emerald stores in the old city with Jose and Juan Carlos. We are having dinner with Alfredo, Eduardo, and Ricardo, and their wives at a restaurant next door to where we are staying. I had beef stroganoff and it was delicious. Alfredo wants us to meet with the curse ship director of advertisement when in las Vegas. He will send details before the JCK show in Vegas.
Wednesday 4/27 - The last cruise ship comes to cartagena until October so we observed how his employees sell emeralds to the tourists who come through their museum and store. Alfredo took us to see the jewelry teaching center where we attended the end of a jewelry making class they have at the center for cruise ship guests. This was an awesome experience. We went to dinner with Juan Carlos and had pizza at one place - Hawaiian for me - and a hamburger at another - 2 for one. In the plaza when we were walking back to the apartment a hooker with big boobs "boobed" me in the back and took off laughing and smiling. Everyone got a good laugh including her and some of her friends.
It was very hot for our stay - 94 with 80+ humidity during the day and 85 at night. Really uncomfortable to do anything that did not include air conditioning. But I think that is the weather in Cartagena all the time. At least it has been every time I have been there.
Thursday 4/28 - Juan Carlos and Jose picked Frank and I up at the apartment at 6:30 AM and took us to the airport. Thank you to the Diaz brothers for their hospitality.
We flew from Cartagena to Bogota on a Airbus A 320 then to Lima Peru on a Airbus A319 where there was a C17 aircraft parked at the military parking area at the Lima airport then to Cusco on a Airbus A319. We ate at McDonald's in bogota. The Egg McMuffin sucked. Fortunately all the flights were good. Frank had become proficient at rearranging the seating to our advantage and he did just that for the last flight even though it was packed.
Cusco - Peru
We got to Cusco at night. Frank found a taxi driver who spoke English pretty easily. While taking us to our hotel he negotiated a $20 city tour for the next day. He wants $100 to take us to the city of Ollantaytambo in a private car including a tour of Sacred Valley. The pitch diden't sound too bad.
The hotel Frank booked us was awesome. We walked to city center square - Plaza de Armas - and took some pictures. A little cool but not cold although everyone except Frank and I were wearing coats. This is a very clean city. Many speak English. All of the traffic police are women and there is one at every major intersection. We went back to hotel to get some sleep. Beth would like this place.
Friday 4/29 - We went to the free breakfast at the hotel. It was very good. One problem was that Frank ate literally all of the chocolate cake. 3 helpings. I only got one tinny little piece and I had to fight him for that!
The taxi driver who brought us from the airport had told us prices to take us to the city of Ollantaytambo. The city tour was supposed to be $20 and the ride to Ollantaytambo with a guided tour through the Sacred Valley was $100. When he arrived to take us on the city tour he wanted to sit down and talk. This was weird. We were ready to get into a vehicle and go and this guy wants to sit down somewhere and talk. Frank and I were already uneasy. It turns out it was $20 each and we had to pay $45 each for the tickets to all the places and it was on a tour buss. The ride to Ollantaytambo was now $150. Anyway we figured out fairly quickly he was a hustler and Frank sent him on his way. We had already found out from the front desk that we could get a taxi from the hotel in Cusco to Ollantaytambo for 90 sol or about $30. So we had the front desk get us a taxi and off we went to see Cristo Blanco at the top of the hill in Cusco. During the city tour Frank negotiated our ride to the city of Ollantaytambo tomorrow and a ride back in a couple of days - 120 sol. The taxi driver was happy to show us all the sights around town and he even took us to a local dinner house where we bought him dinner. A great day that cost us 50 sol + dinner - just under $20.
Follow this link Cusco Ollantaytambo Aguas Calientes Machu Picchu Peru for a detailed review of the Cusco / Machu Picchu part of our trip.
Saturday 4/30 - We had breakfast at the hotel and then off to the Sacred Valley and the city of Ollantaytambo with our taxi driver. We stopped several places along the way for pictures. This is a very scenic drive. We got to our hostel. I would call it primitive and small but from what I see around me hot water is a plus. We walked around town and to the train station. Many ruins are visible in the mountains around the city. We had chicken and beef kabob from a street vendor. They were so good we had a couple more. We went back to the hostel and took nap before dinner.
We went to one of the restaurants on the street leading to the train station. I had a Hawaiian pizza and Frank had alpaca. What's with me and pizza's? We went to the vendor center just over the bridge and bought Beth a really nice alpaca blanket for 120 sol. We stopped at the chocolate store on the way back to the hostel. I learned a lot about chocolate that I never would have believed. We met a couple working there that were from Northern California. They get 30 sol per day plus a room. Their last day there is tomorrow. Awesome chocolate.
Sunday 5/1 - We woke up early and had breakfast at the hotel. We are off to Machu Picchu today. On the train, we sat across from a couple from Uruguay. She was a biochemist and he studied spiders for the use in insect control. We had to take a bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu. There are a few things in life you want to pay for and this one of them. Machu Picchu was kind of disappointing because at the entrance there were so many people. We spent about 2 hours walking around the ruins and taking pictures. We walked up the side of the mountain via some very steep stairs for as long as we could and found ourselves near the top of the ruins where the vistas of the ruins are the best. We then traveled to the center of the ruins and the out moving down hill practically the entire time. This made the longest part of the walk easy and enjoyable. We had cell phone reception the entire time. I even called Beth from the ruins. We could have stayed longer but our legs were giving out. We didn't see everything but we had seen enough. We then got back on a bus and went down to Aguis Calientes where we had lunch. Lunch was really good. I had enchiladas and Frank had chicken. I bought 3 wooden with silver and stone decorated saddle llamas for $130. We bought Jamie a fuzzy white llama for $10. We had several hours to wait for our train so we sat at a restaurant and had a coke then walked around some more and sat on a bench for a while. Finally Frank had enough and for $20 Frank got us on a earlier train saving us 2 hours sitting around waiting. On the train back Frank sat with and talked to a couple from Poland. As usual, Frank rearranged the seating on the train for our comfort. We got back to Ollantaytambo and walked from the train station to the hotel - up hill the entire way. It about killed me but I made it. We rested for a while then went to dinner adjacent to the square. There was a band playing in the square - something to do with the end of a big bicycle race. Frank ordered guinea pig and I had Hawaiian pizza again. Both were not very good. The guinea pig was greasy and did not have much meat and the pizza was bland - nothing like the pizza I had yesterday at the place on the river side on the way to the train station.
Machu Picchu Peru
Cusco Ollantaytambo Aguas Calientes Machu Picchu Peru
Guide to Machu Picchu Peru
Guide to the Citadel of Machu Picchu Peru
Machu Picchu Review
Ruins of Peru Machu Picchu
Travel to Machu Picchu
Where to stay Machu Picchu
Monday 5/2 - We woke up early - 8 AM - and had breakfast at the hotel. It was prepared by a family living at the property and it was quite good for where we were. While eating we talked to 2 Canadian girls who had been to the salt flats on the Peruvian Chilean border. They were telling us how primitive but beautiful it was. The salt flats are at 20,000 feet elevation and they had to sleep in concrete shelters on concrete slabs with a few blankets. They were sick from the altitude and cold all the time, running around the salt flats in Range Rivers. The journey didn't sound like fun but they said they had a good time but that they would not go back.
It is 9 AM and we are waiting for Oscar to come to pick us up at 10 to take us back to Cusco. We are taking a different route back to Cusco through the northern part of the Sacred Valley. There wasn't much to see except Guinea pig on a stick and the puma place where they actually have pumas (mountain lions). When we arrived in Cusco we took our luggage to the hotel. Oscar parked his car and then took us down the street to a local place - the San Pedro market - where they had food concessions and places to eat with bread and fruit and coffee and all combined with booths that were selling all kinds of gift items. This place reminded me of a swap meet in the USA but Peruvian style. This is a place where mostly locals go with only few tourists. Oscar bought us lunch. We all had fried chicken. It costs about $2 each for lunch and Oscar paid. Oscar and the lady cooking the food both actually thought I was Sean Connery. Oscar had mentioned it the day before and the cook wanted to take a picture with me. Frank and I went back to the hotel and took a nap. About 7 PM we walked back to the Plaza de Armas and walked around a bit. A celebration was going on - the celebration of the crosses. We did not eat. We came back to the hotel and hit the sack because we had an early flight.
We flew back to La Paz Bolivia. We left for the airport at 4:45 AM. Frank left his phone in the taxi. Fortunately the LAN ticket person let Frank use her cell phone to call his. The taxi driver Oscar brought Frank's phone back to the airport and saved the day. The LAN ticket person was amazed that Oscar did that. She was sure Franks phone was gone forever. Follow this link to get Oscar's phone number if you ever visit Cusco Cusco Ollantaytambo Aguas Calientes Machu Picchu Peru.
We got to Lima around 8:30 AM. We flew on a Airbus A319. The C17 military aircraft was gone from the military area at the airport. We ate at McDonalds. We got a message from Beth that Blue Sheppard and Shannon got married. We left Lima at 10:20 AM to Santa Cruise Bolivia and then on to La Paz Bolivia.
La Paz - Bolivia
Wednesday 5/4 - in La Paz. We had breakfast at the hotel. Wendy met us and we started looking for alpaca yarn for Beth. We couldn't find any near the hotel so went to the sky tram and rode it to the top - El Alto. Then we took a taxi to the other side of El Alto and took another tram down to the center of La Paz - half way. Then we took a taxi to the market place where tourists do not go. Wendy found yarn and we purchased alpaca and 2 kinds and llama. The total cost was $120. Then we walked several blocks back to the hotel and dropped off the yarn. Then we walked down hill to the center of town. Then we took a taxi bus up to the top of the hill to the house of Sonia's sisters for dinner and birthday cake. We got back to the hotel around 5 PM. We packed and got some sleep because we need to be at airport at 3 AM to fly home. Go to birthday party. Staying at same place as we did when we arrived in Bolivia the first time.
We arrived home at 11:50 PM exhausted from the trip from La Paz Bolivia (flight was 1 hour late so had to sit at airport in La Paz for 3 hours to even begin our trip home) to Miami 6.5 hours (3 hour layover) then Miami to LA 5.5 hours all on very uncomfortable Boeing cattle cars.
Thursday - fly from la paz Bolivia to Miami then on to la. We get to the airport at 3:15 am to find out our flight is 1 hour late. We go through customs and the scan thing where they take my water away from me. I have to sit for 3 hours 30 feet from the scan thing and I have to buy water from a vendor. This is absolute bull shut. They let my can of Pringles potato chips through. After this 3 hour wait we still have over 12 hours traveling to go. Do not do this again. It is not worth it. We flew a Boeing 757 11/13 from La Paz to Miami. Wasn't too bad but we both d had window seats. Took a total of 20 hours traveling to get from la paz Bolivia to los Angeles - actually 19. Never go through Miami again. Had to stand in line to go through screening for about 30 minutes. Long line back and forth like Disneyland. 2 lanes open and 3 closed. Didn't see this nonsense in even the poorest of countries. Never waited more than a few minutes anywhere in south America. In Miami $15+ for a stinking hamburger. $6 for a water and a coke. No McDonalds, no burger king, no Carl's. Everything expensive unlike south American airports where you can eat for a reasonable price. F--k Miami dade airport! Never again. Flew from Miami to la on 737-800 cattle car.
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