Posted tagged ‘Andes’

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

November 25, 2019

Today is already in the high 40’s. It may reach 50 degrees. The sky is clear and the air is still, a pretty day all in all.

The washing machine repair guy is here. Henry announced the man’s arrival with his constant barking. I grabbed the leash and Henry took off upstairs. He was more concerned about the leash and the possibility of a ride than the interloper. Meanwhile, I am watching a disaster movie about a snowstorm which will freeze anyone outside.

On the coldest days, my mother said it was too cold to snow. I believed her until one day it was in the teens when the snow started. Another old wife’s tale was debunked.

One summer I traveled through South America. When I got below the equator, I was in winter. The Andes were ice capped. Snow was on the ground, but it was warmer than I expected. Even at Machu Picchu my sweatshirt was warm enough. When we got out of the mountains, a long sleeve was enough. I remember in Buenos Aires the rose garden was in its winter mode. I always think of that trip as the year I missed summer.

In Ghana, the hottest time of the year was during December and January. The heat dried everything. The ground was hard-packed, and the air was filled with so much dust that the sun was sometimes hidden in the haze. During the height of the afternoon, stores were closed, even the post office, and my students were in their dorms for a rest period. Every now and then I took a nap, following the local custom. At Christmas time, the harmattan was in full force. The dusty winds blew sand off the desert. Everything was brown. The fields were empty. The only saving graces were the humidity disappeared and the nights were chilly. I even used a wool blanket. I always think of those two years as the years I missed winter.

Now my seasons are in order. Winter comes in its turn so I’m getting ready for the cold and the snow. The heat is on, and I’ve brought out my hats and mittens. On the coldest days of winter, I miss the harmattan the most.

“Like you’re riding a train at night across some vast plain, and you catch a glimpse of a tiny light in a window of a farmhouse. In an instant it’s sucked back into the darkness behind and vanishes. But if you close your eyes, that point of light stays with you, just barely for a few moments.”

August 2, 2012

The humidity of the last few days has prompted an early hibernation for me. I started out with doors and windows opened then raced to close them and turn the AC on. Today and the next few days will be in the 80’s, warm for us, so I’ll hunker down and enjoy the cool air.

On with the travelog!

First, I apologize for the oversight so I’ll introduce the other half of the we I keep using. It was my roommate Francie, who had traveled only once out of the country on a guided tour of Italy with a bunch of high school kids, so this was, for her, a huge risk. She was the best of companions.

In Cuzco, we went to the market and bought some fruit and some coca leaves. We had read that chewing them allows the Peruvians to work at high altitudes without getting overly fatigued or hungry. We figured they’d help so we gave chewing them a try. The leaves weren’t worth the chew. We found out later they are mixed with something or better consumed in tea.

In those days, there was no tourist train to Aguas Calientes, the stop nearest the road to Machu Picchu, so we got up early and took the local. It was filled with Peruvians with their produce and reminded me of travel in Ghana. All that was missing were the goats and chickens. It was an amazing train ride. We traveled on rail so twisty we could see the front of the train from the back. I hung my head out the windows many times to see the train and the view along the way. We passed through Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the valley of the Incas and could see terraces up the mountains, places where the Incas planted their crops including potatoes and quinoa. After about four hours on the train, we arrived at the station where we had to buy bus tickets to get to the ruins. The road to the ruins was an amazing back and forth twist of a road, a zigzag switchback allowing travel up the steep hill.

All the pictures I see of the site now are filled with people roaming around. I didn’t find that. There were few people so I could take pictures without anyone in them. Machu Picchu is easily recognized as it sits between two mountains. The first view I saw of the ruins was from the hill which overlooks all of Machu Picchu. I don’t think I could move for a bit, astonished as I was by the sight. Finally I headed into the ruins where I walked around for hours. I went up to the sundial whose corners each point to a different direction. I took pictures through windows of the same view the Incas must have seen. I walked up and down the terraces. I took picture after picture of the ruins, the mountains and the ruins across from us on another mountain. I sat and just looked all around me. I think I forgot to breathe.

On the way down to the train, small boys raced the busses which had to negotiate the twisty road. The boys beat us to the bottom. We boarded the last train and headed back to Cuzco where we’d spend one more day exploring other ruins including an Incan foundation which still runs with sweet cold water. Then we took the train to Puno, a regular train back then. The ride was magnificent with the snow-capped Andes beside us for hours, the stops at small stations where we saw Peruvians in bright colors sitting in the sun, and in my mind’s eye, I still see the small children dressed in colorful clothes, red shawls are what I remember the best, who waved at us as the train passed. We always waved back. The second part of the trip was over the Andean plains, an amazing contrast from the mountains but no less beautiful. There we saw llamas, herds of llamas, shepherded by boys who followed behind them.

The trip to Puno took about 11 hours. We found a hotel and then wandered. Puno is right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. When I was a kid, that name always made us giggle when the nun said it. It was as if she were swearing somehow. We bought dinner from a stall along the street, and I bought a small, woven woolen wall decoration from another stall. The cloth was green and on it were appliquéd people who looked like all the Peruvians we had seen. One of them was playing Andean pipes. I still have it.

The next morning we went to the lake and booked passage on a hydrofoil guided tour which would stop at three islands on the lake then take us across to the Bolivian border where we’d board a bus to La Paz.

The journey continues!

“!Ama Sua, Ama Kjella, Ama Lllulla!”

July 31, 2012

If I were given the power to create a morning, it would be just like this morning. The air is cool, the sun bright and the breeze strong enough to rustle leaves. Everything is quiet. All the animals are asleep: Fern and Maddie are on my bed and Gracie is in her crate. All I hear are the leaves sounding a bit like the ocean coming to shore.

I have saved all my errands for today: four stops of errands. I figure if I have to waste time going from place to place I might as well waste a single day.

When I left you last, I was on my way into Peru.

After we went through all the border stations, we took a bus to Lima. The trip was about 600 miles down the coast of Peru straight through to Lima, but when you travel, it doesn’t always happen the way it’s planned. The bus broke down two hours into the trip. We got off and sat in the sand. All along the coast of Peru, the land is like a giant desert with cities and towns popping up out of the sand as if they were oases. The bus chose to break down in nowhere land. We had food and water and books to while away the time, but we didn’t expect to be waiting so long until we were off again. The driver and his mate tried to fix the bus-nothing doing. The mate hooked a ride back to Lima. We waited. About three or four hours later the new bus arrived. We had waited about five hours, eaten all our food and finished the water. We grabbed our backpacks, bordered the bus and fell asleep. It was dark when I woke up. That was the best part of the ride. All around us outside the windows was nothing but blackness until the bus happened up on a town or city. Each lit up the night like a tiny Las Vegas. It was quite late or quite early, depending upon your perspective, when we arrived in Lima. We took a taxi to the hotel and promptly fell asleep, clothes and all.

The nest day we walked all around Lima. At the Plaza de Armas, where Pizarro founded the city, we went into the magnificent cathedral and walked around the government palace. Those buildings were spectacular as were the windowed, ornate carved wooden balconies on the outsides of the buildings. What was less spectacular were the tanks and armed soldiers ringing the central plaza. Lima had had a strike and there was now a 9 o’clock curfew, and the show of arms was to maintain that curfew. We just walked by and kept touring. It provoked interest in us, not fear. I hadn’t ever been where the military was out in such force, not even during my trip to Russia.

I think we walked miles and miles over the next few days. The curfew was raised to midnight while we were there. We didn’t stay out that late anyway. After dinner we went back to the hotel where we watched the Olympics. The narration was in Spanish, but it was still easy to follow. It was Nadia Comaneci we managed to see while sitting in that small TV room in a hotel in Lima. One day we rode out to see Incan ruins about 20 miles or so outside of the city. They were right on the water. The ruins were still being dug so we got to see work in progress. We walked down and in some of the buildings, none of which had a roof. The buildings were the color of the sand.

We flew out of Lima a few days later to Cuzco, which had been at one time the capital of the Incan empire. The plane flew over the Andes, and we were so close to the mountains I could see the shadow of the plane as it passed over the snow-capped endless Andes peaks. We had been warned to take it easy at first in Cuzco as it is almost 11,000 feet in elevation. I figured I’d throw up once every morning and be fine. That’s exactly what happened.

It was outside of Cuzco where I first saw llamas all along on the roads and in the rocky fields. I watched girls using hand looms which looked like spinning tops. The hats had changed. Many were now mostly red brimmed and looked like small Mexican sombreros. Others resembled fedoras but with a tall center. The women’s clothes were still bright and beautiful. Some men wore wool caps which also covered their ears. There were patterns knitted on the hats and even llamas. We went out to Sacsayhuaman, an Inca ruin close to the city. It was magnificent. I couldn’t begin to imagine the feat necessary to lift those stones  then add one to another to build the walls. From the top part of the ruins, we could see Cuzco spread out below us. On another trip we went to Ollantaytambo, a couple of hours out of Cuzco. The town is built on Incan foundations, and the ruins were amazing. I learned how to recognize Incan construction, especially doors and windows. I am a lover of windows and take pictures of them everywhere. It is my way of seeing the past and remembering those long ago people who looked out the same windows and thought how beautiful.

Tomorrow we’re going to Macchu Picchu.

“To travel is to possess the world”

July 28, 2012

Clouds have descended permanently. The day is damp and grey. Thunder showers are predicted for later. I hope so as it is really dry.

Today I’ll harvest a few tomatoes. Okay, I’ll harvest two. They are red and beautiful on the vines in the raised garden I had built this year. My cucumbers are also growing. I expect they’ll be ripe when I’m gone.

Birgit asked about my trip to South America. I guess I’ll give you a few highlights. I did all the planning from all sorts of books, and my roommate and I left for Venezuela toward the end of June in 1976. She spoke no Spanish, but I spoke enough to get us by. I joked and said if we played our cards right, I could sell her, and we could come home with more money than we left with-she was not amused. We stayed in Caracas a few days then took a bus to Merida, in the foothills of the Andes. Back then, there were few tourists in South America, and we were the only non-Venezuelans on the bus. On the way we saw a crashed bus which had missed a hairpin turn and gone over the mountain. I heard muerte when the driver stopped to talk to one of the police along the road. I didn’t translate for my friend. We stopped once in a small mountain town and were told to try the fish. It was the most amazing trout I’d ever tasted.

We went to Merida because we wanted to ride the world’s highest cable cars. The next morning we were in line and waiting for the car to come back down the mountain when the wind started. It was fierce enough that they stopped the cars from going up the mountain, and those already there were stranded. We walked around Merida and went to the market but ended up leaving a couple of days later. The cars still had not gone up the mountain. We took a bus to Colombia and ended up at a small town near the border. The hotel was disgusting. I swore I was dirtier after my shower than before it. We left the next morning for Bogota where we stayed in a relatively expensive hotel compared to what we had been paying for the other hotels, and that start our pattern. We’d stay in dumps for a few days then in really nice hotels for the next few days.

I’ll give you the highlights of each country as I remember them.

In Bogota we went to the Gold Museum. The most striking memory I have of visiting that museum is being closed into a dark vault with thick doors. Nobody moved in the dark. When they turned on the lights, we were surrounded by cases filled with Incan gold. Every one gasped.

Another stop was the cathedral in the salt mine in Zipaquíra, about an hour or two from Bogota. I was amazed that the salt was black and asked a guard how the salt got white. He went away then came back and said we had permission to tour the factory. Off we went in his official car. We donned hard hats and walked all over the factory. I remember two things: how awful I look in a hard hat and how my mouth was salty the whole time from the dust. He gave us a chunk of salt more black than white which I still have.

I found the English-bookstore in Bogota, and we ate some great local food in hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I don’t know other than carne what we ate. It was good, and that’s all that mattered.

We took another bus and were on our way to Ecuador. The travelog will continue another day.