13 February 2009

Peru: The Final Chapter

Ending rampant speculation and weeks of anxious waiting for an update to this highly-trafficked blog, no, I didn't die in Peru. But I've almost been killed by my workload resultant from taking 10 days off, so I'm only now getting a chance to come up for air and post the remaining thrills, chills, and ills from the Peru 2009 Tour.

When my tale last left off, I'd been spotted kissing alpacas, sampling beef hearts from Peruvian street vendors, and running the Incan trail. This recklessness was about to catch up to me in a hurry.

By late afternoon we made it to Urubamba, a small city nestled in a spectacular Andean valley.

The city dates back to Incan times and its main attraction is an impressive set of ruins that were primarily used for worship by Incan priests and royalty. Although the Inca were very advanced in terms of astrology and math, they certainly didn't invent large SUV's - if the size of the city streets is any indicator:

The ruins were expansive, built straight into the side of the mountain with extensive terracing to create useable space. Credit the Inca for their hard work and genius in making sheer cliffs into inhabitable spaces, but take off a couple of points for their failure to figure out that building these massive structures on the flat ground at the valley floor would have been much easier.

This site, called Ollantaytambo, was constructed on a mountainside opposite a huge mountainside forming the other valley wall. After building their temple on the one mountainside, they carved an enormous face on the opposite valley wall, ostensibly a portrait of their ruler king. Not exactly Mount Rushmore, but pretty impressive still.

After visiting this site we retired to our hotel - a fantastic upscale place that had been converted from a hundreds-of-years-old monastery. Within about 10 minutes of sitting down for dinner in their restaurant, I was feeling nauseous and loopy. I scarcely made a dent in my fettucine carbonara (so you know something was definitely wrong) before heading straight back to the room. I had severe chills and my stomach was riding the Viper coaster at Magic Mountain. I took a steaming hot shower for about 40 minutes to fend off the chills, but spent the next hour or so planted firmly on the pot. Cali rounded up some bactrim and ibuprofen but by the time I took the pills I couldn't put a set of coherent thoughts together. I just remember thinking that it was a real bummer that I was going to die in the mountains of Peru just hours before making it to Macchu Pichu.

Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up completely covered in sweat, fever broken, with the restored ability to think straight. The medicine had kicked in and I was so happy to be free of the chills. Around 5:30 a.m. we got up and drove to the train station for the 90 minute ride to Macchu Pichu city. I felt okay and thought I was home free, but the train ride ahead had plenty of adventure in store for me.

I spent more than half of the 90 minute train ride sitting in the phone booth-sized lavatory in the back. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that from the space and layout, to the mechanics of the toilet, to the availability of the supplies - this facility was not designed for "heavy use". I would have stayed in there the whole trip, but about an hour into it someone started knocking on the door. Then banging on the door. Then banging and saying something in some language I couldn't discern. At first I ignored it and then I shouted back "I'm IN HERE!" a few times, but every 3 minutes or so the knocking would begin again.

I finally decided to close up shop and head back to my train seat. When I came out of there, some Euro chick was lurking in a nearby seat, babbling about something (probably me) to her group of Eurotrash pals. I shot her the nastiest look I could conjure. I later saw her several times on the ruins at Macchu Pichu and I gave her a mean look each time.

Here's me back in my seat, trying to sit as still as possible while the train rumbled through the valleys towards Macchu Pichu.

We hit a local pharmacy in Macchu Pichu city and within minutes I was feeling great. Although I would spend the next 7 days making double digit visits to the restroom, from this point forward I felt great - just in time to visit one of the most breathtaking sites in the world.

Macchu Pichu is amazing. Again, I can't understand why the Inca decided to build their fortresses into the sheer sides of mountains. But they did, and the remains are stunning. Here are a few shots of this tremendous archeological site:

We spent about 6 hours touring these amazing ruins and then shopping/resting in Macchu Pichu town as we waited for the return train. By that evening we'd made it all the way back to Cusco, to the comforts of the Hotel El Puma again.

And then the sickness hit Cali like a bullet train hitting a brick wall. For about 24 hours she was totally knocked off her feet. Luckily the following day was Sunday, so she rested for most of the day trying to recover for the trip back to Lima on Monday. Here's a photo of her when she was finally able to sit up - we'll see how long she allows me to keep this picture up here.

Late Sunday afternoon I took my laptop down to the lobby of the Hotel El Puma (3 stars) to access their wireless signal. With the aid of some Slingbox magic, I watched the Eagles vs. Cardinals NFC Championship Game. As improbable as it seemed at the time, I had a quiet calm about me heading into this game. I believed the unthinkable - that the Arizona Cardinals could make it to the Super Bowl.

Three hours later, following some tense moments and, from the view of the hotel's front desk staff, random outbursts of me yelling at or cheering for my laptop, the Redbirds had done it! At the time the thing I wanted more than anything was to be with my dad, my sons, and my cousin Cannon to celebrate. Lifetimes of longsuffering were vanquished! I exchanged some treasured emails with my family back home - I know it's just football, but when you have suffered and languished with this team for as long as we have, spending tens of thousands of dollars and committing family vacations to follow the team during training camp year after year, the euphoria we felt after winning this game was tops.

The next morning we flew back to sea level at Lima. We spent the next several days touring around that cool city, checking out Cali's old school from her 3 years there in the late 80's, touring the old house they lived in at that time, visiting the Lima Temple, touring Doug and Connie's offices.
The school Cali attended was a private school for expatriate kids and the curriculum was very advanced. Some recently-completed schoolwork from the current students was on display, so I snapped this photo from one of the grade school classrooms. From the display header, I learned that this exercise was to identify items on the continuum of Impossible all the way to Very Likely. Under the "Likely" designation, the kid who drew the picture in the lower right corner is apparently a lover of pork.

During these couple of days in Lima we also took in a few movies and ate some delicious American food (Chilis, Dominos, and this funky hot dog combo platter I got at the cinema. Yes, those are mini french fries on top of the dog, next to the churro).

On our last day Doug arranged for us to take a city tour in a double-decker bus. We saw the cool attractions of the city, and luckily we had Doug and Connie to narrate for us because our "English-speaking" tour guide was struggling to put meaningful English words in sequence.

Two fun things about the bus tour: first, the double-decker bus was pretty tall and we sat in the open air seats on the roof. As we drove through the city, the low-hanging electrical wires crossing the streets were regularly passing within 1-2 feet of our heads, sometimes closer than that. Good times!

Second, the highlight of the tour was when we stopped at a 400-year old church in the "old city" area that was first settled by the invading imperialists. The church had lots of groovy architecture, furnishings, and artwork. The main chapel was huge; ornately decorated and beautifully constructed like a classic gothic cathedral in Europe. At the apse in the front, a Peruvian woman was kneeling in worship, singing to the crucifix. She sang beautifully and she didn't seem distracted by all of the tourists walking around her.

The best part of this church tour, however, was the tour of the catacombs. There were at least 3 sub-terranean levels. The floors of the catacombs were dirt and the walls were rudimentary adobe and stone constructions - totally unlike the beautiful finish work of the above-ground cathedral. The ceiling height in the catacombs was about 6 feet at the most and there were several passageways that required us to duck down to a height of 5 feet or so.

What were the catacombs used for? Burying dead patrons of the church, of course. Fair enough - I've been to Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Vatican, and dozens of other churches and cathedrals throughout Europe and Latin America. I've seen their vaults and crypts and mausoleums. Most are beautifully decorated in honor of the deceased located inside the tombs.

None that I've seen are just enormous pits of skulls and bones. And that's where the catacombs of this church were a little different than what I expected to see.

The tour guide said that there are about 20,000 people buried down there. Yeah, that looks about right.

This trip to Peru was fantasitc. Despite the stomach issues, we were on the go the entire time. Doug and Connie gave up their time to make sure we saw everything and had a great experience. I know Cali and Justin loved being back in Lima, reminiscing about the time they lived there 20 years ago.
I don't know if I'll make it back to Peru any time soon, so the chance to see Macchu Pichu and experience Lima was wonderful. Thanks to Doug and Connie for making it such a great trip!


Cali said...

Your wife looks like a crazy lady.

Supercords said...

Awesome post Joey. LOVED that picture of Cali. I laughed really hard.

duke of earl said...

surprised the picture is still up...i never heard about the train bathroom experience...

duke of earl said...

surprised the picture is still up...i never heard about the train bathroom experience...

Scott said...

What is this "Bullysports" you wear on your shirt?

Douglas and Connie Jones Earl said...

Love you writing style. Wish I could do it.

Captain Emus said...

I was just re-reading my last Peru post and I noticed that I said that the Inca were advanced at "astrology and math". Surely I meant to type "astronomy" at the time. I could change it now, but as I reflect on it I actually like the idea of the Inca sitting around the fire at night, issuing horoscopes to one another and debating about whether or not they were living in the age of Aquarius.

I learned on this trip that the Inca had no written language, rendering it impossible to tell whether certain heiroglyphs at the main watering hole of Macchu Pichu really translate as, "Hey baby, what's your sign?".

I guess we'll never know.