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Cusco, Pto Maldonado, Titicaca and Trujillo!

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Heading for lovely Peru in April and looking for suggestions for the confusing Cusco area. Not so much places to eat or stay but ways to sort out all the things to do. I'm a dedicated rider, advanced intermediate, so would love to hear anyone's recommendations. Some of places nearby charge $500 for a solo rider so that's way out of reach. Alternatives would be welcomed.
How have been your trips around Pto Maldonado? Your adventures around Cusco? What did you love there? What stood out from all the options?

Trujillo for me is all about the Pasos, a friend has a family member in the business. Any recommendations for great adventures in the Cusco neighborhood would be great. Also in the Lake Titicaca area, if anyone has done alternative trips to the less touristed areas, that would be great to hear about.

Thanks to all the experts and expats on here with super ideas!

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    can't really help with the horses. i didn't cover myself with glory on my last outing!! however, i do recall that there was a place in Ollantaytambo that was highly rated by people that new. you could try KB Tambo (hostaland tour operators) or maybe Apu lodge.

    Cusco is full of stuff to see. you could stay a week and not see it all, especially if you are into Inca Antiquities. for me just wandering the markets soaking up the atmosphere and trying the food stalls is a grey way to while away a day or two, especially some of the non touristy markets. worth spending a few days in the sacred valley to acclimatise.

    Anice hike is to get the bus to Tambo Machay and hike back down along the old inca paths through Puka Pukara, q'enko, Sacsayhuaman etc. into San Blas.

    a longer trek of 3 days i would recommend considering is from Lares to Ollantaytambo. fantastic scenery an not too many visitors.

    if you are heading up to Trujillo, a great city BTW, there is a lot to see, Chan Chan etc. ( well worth a couple of days) but you could also carry on up to Chachapoyas, a place mlgb suggested to me for our last trip and is now one of my favourite places in Peru and certainly doesn't see many tourists.

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    Crellston, as always, you are a gem. I'm going to put this into the pipe as they say and smoke it. I hope your Spanish is coming along. After coming back from Vietnam I've been impressing my local Vietnamese restaurant when I order Pho in complete sentences, and when they fire back at me too fast I can also say I don't understand in Vietnamese, which makes them laugh.

    If anything, there's going to be SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much for the senses, I daresay, that I'm likely to be overwhelmed. What a lovely problem to have!

    I very much appreciate your recommendation of the trek where there are fewer visitors. Thanks ever so much.

    Trujillo is for me about 8-9 days of total horse immersion. A friend has a cousin who married into the Paso breeding dynasty, I met him in Tanzania (talk about a small world indeed) and we are organizing day trips and longer around that whole area. I show up with my wallet and riding boots, hat, chaps, and sunscreen. Pure heaven.

    BTW heading back to ARG to annoy AVRooster and go visit Patagonia, and ride and ride and ride some more.

    Lonely Planet has much to say on this area around Trujillo which I am studying right now. I like that it's along way from tourist central, and has rich archeological values of its own. Travel well!

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    "Total horse immersion" - an expression not often heard! LOL . oh how I wish I could ride...sadly I doubt I will ever master horse riding much as I would love to. I think I will stick to motorbikes..

    sadly, I have allowed my Spanish practice to lapse a little since returning home but have started anew as we are returning to. Andalucia for a few weeks next month. Have also started reviewing my Thai language skills in preparation for a possible visit to Laos and Cambodia later in the year ( although I am also looking at. Columbia??) . I studied Thai at evening classes for a couple of years and got reasonably proficient and fortunately it is very similar to Lao so will come in useful. I am going to have to choose as there only seems to be room for one language plus English in my brain at a time!!

    ATMs are the way to go in Peru BNP and. Scotiabank seemed the most efficient and the cheapest in terms of withdrawal fees. You will also find money changers outside of the banks. They offered pretty good rates for USD and Euros. We used them a couple of times in Arequipa and. Lima without any problems.

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    Hi Jhubbel,

    Looking forward to your planning and insights. South America is on my radar for 2015.
    I'm also a horse lover, and horse rider, I think its a fine way to travel, beats elephants or camels any day. Not so sure if I can get husband to agree, he seems to be an anti-magnet to large animals.

    Greetings from Myanmar, and thanks so much for your entertaining Viet nam post.

    Cheers
    Caroline

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    Dear friends,

    Caroline you are so welcome. I've had so much to think about since Vietnam and believe me much was absorbed. Not talking about the pho. Crellston, I loved learning Thai, sawadee ka from Denver, and while I dare not try to type it out here I still recall how to say nice to meet you and the Thai people are beautiful. I love pulling those out when I meet someone on the road who happens to be Thai, it's an eye opener indeed. What I've learned. Crellston, is that once I've used that language in country and move on to the next, the same thing happens. Slow drainage. It's like I'm finding those words and phrases in puddles on the floor and it's very difficult to suction them back up again. However, once learned, they do come back fast.

    A question I wish to put out the community of Peru experts is about an NGO in Puno called Cedesos. I like what I've read but multiple attempts to contact have born no fruit whatsoever. I even had a Peruvian friend call, write, and he also got nothing in return. I don't even know after that if they're still operating. So two things- they give no pricing guidelines on their website (which is all in Spanish) and nobody talks about their pricing that I can find other than it's pricey. What is pricey? Hundreds? Thousands? I am determined not to do the Lake Titicaca tourist loop, so this is such an attractive, slow, excellent option. If anyone, anyone knows about these folks and can help with their vitality and their pricing I'd be so very grateful.

    Otherwise I am riding in Urubamba, and spending about 9 days riding near the breeding stables in Pacasmayo north of Trujillo. That pretty much defines heaven for me, and other than that, being immersed in the Amazon for five days and wandering around such a lovely country, using Crellston's suggestions for my extra two days in Cusco, are sounding pretty yummy right now.

    BTW Caroline, summer of 2015 I have on my horizon a three week riding trip in Iceland. That's if I can get my house sold and myself relocated, something I don't suggest to anyone who is leaving town for two of the next three months. As for your husband, if he is allergic to large animals, he'd not be comfy around Delilah, the ginormous Shire who lives next to the corral where I get my training mounts. Black, white socks, feet the size of dinner plates, she is as gentle as a puppy, but when she leans into when you scratch her ears, you better have something to lean into. That's about 2200 lbs right there.

    A different definition of Big and Beautiful.

    Thanks to you both. The trip is evolving and I leave in two weeks.

    Again thanks to the community for any help on Cedesos.

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    mlgb, thanks so much, just fired off an inquiry to them this morning. Their only limitation is their requirement for two people and I'm just one traveler. I'm happy to join a group- or sometimes they let you pay double- but this always depends on how many support folks they have to have to make an adventure happen. We'll see what they say!

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    To all, thanks to a delayed flight in Houston, I landed in Lima at 1:38 am. However, since miles give me a free flight and bad seats on the bulkhead in the back, it also means nobody else sits back there- so you almost always get two side by side. That means you can lie down and snooze! And you're also first in line to the loo, so it's not all bad news. Houston's delay also turned a potential OMG I only have 20 minutes to make this connection into a whew, I can get dinner, a snack, and relax for a couple of hours and recharge all the devices. Delays can be such a gift. Where we were on concourse E the shops served up some really healthy and yummy food offerings which were a darn sight better than what United served up for dinner, which was far too spicy to be edible. Everything worked out perfectly. And so did the weather, which was a touch overcast and soft.The sleepy guy at Enjoy Hostels in Miraflores kindly let me in and led me to a double bed next to the kitchen. Honestly I didn't hear a thing when everyone else was up and at 'em for breakfast, but I did hear the water guys hammering away.

    When I pulled myself out of bed at 10:30 to take a shower I was reminded that I'm not in Kansas any more when the trickle I got was not hot, nor warm, nor consistent. Back on the road again....So an amble to the front desk explained that hot water was indeed the issue of the pounding from above, and perhaps there might be some available in a few hours. No worries. I did the pits/face/you know where fast wash with the chilled water and dressed for the walk through this very nice neighborhood to get cash, get my bearings, get some papaya, breathe some Peruvian air and buy a really warm hat for the Inca Trail.

    The neighborhood is so clean it doesn't compute. Clearly this is a Lima showcase, as many of its pricey shops indicate. I've already fallen for a few unique wall hangings of alpaca (one of a kinds for a mere s/3600). It's easy to cross the street, I'm not dodging traffic fearing for my life. I soak in the beauty of the features of these lovely long haired women, their strong noses and the architecture of the cheekbones and the accented eyes, the strides of the handsome men, the humor of the young men on the streets. The bright red bike paths. The very solicitous girl at the Claro store works hard to get my little brick of a phone working and soon we're in business.

    Around a corner there's a supermarket and the moment you walk in you're greeted by a mound of papaya a mile high, which I want to embrace after a long Rockies winter, and the first thing I do is grab a basket and a papaya big enough to fill the whole thing. And pull my arm out of its socket. Then it's off to the yogurt counter where the fun starts, to inspect the flavors and options of a new country's interpretation of one of my favorite foods. Among other choices I pick a big bottle of passion fruit yogurt drink. The counters offer every kind of meat and cake, pastry and pre-prepared food. This is one fine neighborhood and this store caters to their tastes, and I take photos of all of it for a chef friend of mine to drool over. One counter features forty different kinds of sausage, which will send her over the moon.

    It's a touch chilly outside, the sun is behind the light fog, and while we are close to the ocean there isn't much for the sun bathers to enjoy today. As I walk down the broad avenue there is security everywhere: at the banks, in the nice stores, the moneychangers in their blue vests sitting outside ready to do business. In no time I've found an adapter, food for one night, things I want but won't buy, and am back at Enjoy for a critical meeting with a friend I met back in November in Tanzania.

    Jorge Cockburn was at Moshi when I was climbing Kilimanjaro, and he and I made swift friends. He promised at that time, since his family had married into the Paso horse breeding business, that he would do his best to help me find a way to do some riding in that world. He had done just that. We were meeting to finalise those details. We grabbed coffee and sat overlooking the foggy ocean as loads of skydivers lazily circled overhead. We talked about the upcoming trip, the details of the rides, and where to go for the best kinds of art to bring home. Jorge is a compact, energetic man who has just scored a job in America through his cousin, and my time with him tonight is the last I will see him in Peru if all goes well for him in San Jose were he is headed on April 8th. He has kindly put in hours organizing with local breeders in Pacasmayo, his hometown, where I get to meet his family, spend time with this magnificent breed, ride six hours a day (instead of the controlled two to four on tourist horses) and immerse myself in the Paso world. None of this is inexpensive- but it is an honor to be allowed into this unique world and have this extended experience this close to the very heart of the breed.

    It has always amazed me, the kindness of others who will do such things for people they me as we did. There is of course work on my part to be done, too, for the breeders hope that I will write very good things about them, and help bring them business. That is highly likely. But without Jorge none of this would have happened.

    I leave for Cusco tomorrow early am, and from there to Urubamba, where Jorge also arranged for several rides on Pasos to get me started. The good news, as we are moving into cooler weather now, is that I didn't make the same mistake I made in Vietnam this past January. I packed for the cold, and as the sun headed low this afternoon, it already cooled down fast. In the higher elevations of Cusco and on the Inca Trail it will be considerably chillier. Only on the Amazon will the fast wicking light stuff be useful. For those of you already familiar with this amazing country you are familiar with the challenges of packing for multiple climates!

    For anyone looking for a very well placed, friendly and nicely staffed hostel in Miraflores, I recommend Enjoy Hostels. I stayed in both a double room and a single room, both were fine, the double is next to the kitchen and the single is next to the street. Either way there's a bit of noise, but it's private, and the small intimate kitchen can get very friendly at times. But you cannot beat the price or location, you are close to everything here, and it's just a gorgeous neighborhood. I've had several of those wonderful, only-in-a-hostel conversations here already. Staff is uber helpful.

    For those of you who like to sit on my shoulder periodically as I pen these, welcome back. For newcomers, this is a month long thread, and we'll be going through a number of lovely areas. I don't review restaurants or food. I do tell stories. I take myself to task a lot and there is a very large part of my back pack set aside for a sense of humor. My Spanish is pretty bad but I try.

    Welcome along.

    BTW mglb, I did go with AllWays Travel, they sent me an itinerary that works. Thanks for the suggestion.

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    Happy to comply. Sitting on a sun splashed balcony in Cusco after eating a big fat tangerine, having speed walked the town streets (on purpose, just for training's sake). I leave for Urubamba at 5:30 am and ride Pasos tomorrow and the next day. Heaven. This is such a lovely town, and the altitude is not a big bother, even hefting big bags up steps. I do respect the Inca Trail, however, and the poles will come in handy on the long long downward steps. At least no vines this time.

    I'm continually surprised at how clean everything is kept. Again I am in the showpiece areas and that's probably maintained that way but it sure is a feast for the eyes. Flying into Cusco this morning was also green eye candy. The clouds parted and the green valleys and clay colored houses appeared, climbing up the sides of the mountains; lovely. I shot over to my trek provider and paid up for the Inca Trail trip, then found a taxi to find my hostel for the Cusco part of my stay. The rest of the time I've been walking all day, partly to see the churches and the architecture and the markets but mostly to get intentionally winded, if need be, to get used to the thin air. Didn't happen until I started really speed walking and at that point I was also thirsty and hungry.

    Back when Argentina, and most specifically Salta, was in my camera's sights, I had fallen in love with doorways. Entrances. This country has the same love affair with entrances. As you walk along a thin slice of walkway (one person only, you step off for elders), suddenly a space opens up next to you into...air. Or a restaurant. Or a courtyard. And almost always there is some kind of arch or welcoming door that invites you in, some treatment that makes it inviting. Sometimes there are several that open into each other, like going into a maze. It reminds me of looking down a forest lane with the trees making a delicate arch overhead, inviting you to take a walk. Go explore. I love towns that feature nooks and crannies that invite pedestrian exploration like that and Cusco is no exception.

    Today was a touch cool but the sun cleared off the clouds early enough to make my hoodie unnecessary by noon. The plaza had a big demonstration with the requisite showing of riot police. That lasted about half an hour and all dispersed peacefully.

    I cut a deal with one of the costumed girls who was carrying a baby lamb- they ask if you want a photo, you pay a sole, so I offered to pay her five to let me take several and I hold the lamb. She was a pretty child, and it's a tough life, but if it pays something to her family I feel better. As in Vietnam, however, I fell in love with their skirts, and made a point out of finding a few of these ethnic treaures at the artesan market down on El Sol, a nice walk down from the main plaza. The particular cubicle that features las faldas was not inhabited, so I waited until 2 pm which was the time she was expected back from lunch. No mujer. So it was up to her neighbors, who didn't want their neighbor to lose a potentially substantial sale, to haul down the various skirts and help me try them on, in the main hall, on top of my pants, with everyone holding court, including all the restaurant patrons, tourists and security guards.

    So there we are, the skirts are huge, black, full, wildly decoreated, they are big and they have ties on either side of the waist so that they can expand as you do (or not) and even through baby time. So there are long ties on both sides of this skirt. My waist is about 24". I step inside skirt #1 and one women wraps the ties from one side so that it sits on my hips. I can feel it slide. Then she does the same on the other side. Not good. She sneaks into the lady's booth and comes out with a makeup mirror. Well first of all I feel like a belly dancer and second, I can't see this thing at all, and third, it's not tied around my waist. We make adjustments, it's better, but not quite right. We try the next one. They inform me it's too small. It is, in fact, just right. It hits right at the knee, perfect size, tight on the waist, but it's kinda cheap. So is the price. I feel like Goldilocks as I eyeball falda #3. It's way up there, almost out of reach, but the other gal gets her reacher bar and snags it. This time it takes both of them to tie it properly. We now have an interactive audience. For some reason this little show has drawn a crowd that has decided to comment on the proceedings. The hiking boots take away from the flowers (you think?) The orange top doesn't go with the skirt (It's for camping meathead) What's that huge thing under her bra? (that'd be my WALLET and who asked you to look there anyway Sherlock?) I wiggle around like a Hawaiian girl at the Maui Sheraton and everyone giggles, and it strikes me that this skirt is really beautiful. The careful embroidery, the rich handwork. This is it. And they take Visa. Yes. Only....they can't do it for the shopkeeper. So I have to say what they don't want to hear. "I'll be back." When? Well, after I do the Inca Trail. That's going to be in about six days. Dark clouds over faces. All this and you're gonna walk? It needs to wait til I can do Visa. You sure you can't do this for her? Ah, no. Well. Sigh.

    Skirt goes back up. I walk out into the sun with many sets of eyes burning into my back. I walk fast. They know I might find a better one up the road. So do I. That's what happens when you take a four hour lunch.

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    This is just a great walking town, Cusco. After I left the artesan market feeling guilty I made my way through the winding streets and cobblestones back to my hostel where I was directed to the little market to get food. Now this isn't a supermarket like the very very fancy one I shopped in back in Miraflores. This is the local Peruvian market- where Peruvians shop. Local women in bowler hats and old men lying in heaps off to the side, a few dogs here and there. Great produce for the taking and this is my element. You're not going to find yogurt here but oh my, the produce. So a little wandering and I find this one stall where fresh fruit is piled high. I settle in and I start pointing and pretty soon this woman and I are having great fun- she's got herself a hungry customer and I want a load of fruit both for tonight and for my horseback rides tomorrow. For only 14 soles I walk away so loaded down with tangerines and a massive papaya and a big fat ripe mango, and she's got herself a big sale. There's great satisfaction in seeing the money go directly to these women, whose artristocratic faces crease into such wonderful smiles when we help each other climb and reach for the ripest fruit on the piles.

    I am in this country only a few days and already I am madly in love with Peru. It didn't take long. I'm swept away by the unbelievable beauty of the land I've seen so far, the beauty of the people, the brilliant native costumes, and everyone's graciousness. Of course I have far to go, but sometimes it takes a bit to warm to a country. Not here. This was love at first sight and I have many days to go. Today in a few minutes I take a taxi to Urubamaba to go riding, and I cannot wait. My hosts here at the hostel were kind enough to organize my ride with trusted providers and I have fruit for the hour long trip. Two more days before the Inca Trail!

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    If you haven't had one, pepino dulce is one of my favorite bits of produce to buy in Peru, since it's so expensive in the US. Taste wise a bit of a cross between a melon and cucumber. Very refreshing.

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    Well more on this a bit later, as I have some work to do first, but I just got in from my second four hour ride on Peruvian Pasos. I was given two horses con fuego, someone really listened to my request- but also when I walked up to the pair yesterday the fiery one chose me. The calm one didn't like me AT ALL. And they choose you. So up I went on Largo, who instantly gave me a taste of what it was going to be like- high action, a tossing head, and we would leave the guide behind. The guide was kind enough to periodically call out which way to turn so Largo wouldn't go paso-ing off in the wrong direction.

    For those of you who have done this and who are also riders you can understand the sheer bliss I've been in the last two days. My fine little gelding gave me a sweet ride, and as soon as I found where my seat needed to be for the paso and got my back nice and straight, the my upper body was totally still. This is classic. If you're disciplined about your posture (and you damned well should be or you insult this fine animal) you can balance a champagne glass on your palm at a good speed. It's simply an honor to ride such a horse. More on our two days together a bit later, I have been immersed in the valley, horse sweat, steep trails, heavenly views and perfect, perfect weather.

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    I landed at Llama Pack Backpackers in Urubamba which is a little outside town- not far- this was two days ago, and Katie from Virgina was there to meet me, grab my gear and send me on my way with the driver from Hacienda Huayoccari (sp?) where Pablo Lambarri had two horses and a guide waiting for us. The sun was bright, the clouds were light, the air was gorgeous and the valley, which had revealed itself to my eager and hungry eyes as we made our winding way down the mountain roads, was as bountiful as expected. Green muscular striated mountains circled this small town with toothy and snow dabbed sharp peaks just beyond. A light wind promised a lovely day, and I strode to the car in my riding gear, well used chaps (thanks, Tanzania) ready to go. We headed out of town and wound our way up some very narrow cobblestone and dirt roads into a grand hacienda( not the restaurant) which was protected by massive trees surrounded by the most emerald grasses I'd ever seen. Waters flowed nearby as we passed slowly, then stopped where the animals were tied to a wood fence. There Pablo waited with my guide.

    The first Paso, a chestnut, smelled my proffered hand, laid his ears back and lurched backwards. Well, that's a howdy do. I gave him a wide berth and approached the grey gelding right behind him, of the long mane and fine legs. Largo smelled my hand and put his nose toward mine and we breathed each other in. He let me work my hands on his muscular neck, find those wonderful OOOHH I love it spots near the ears and under the chin, and he nuzzled my side. Now that's more like it.

    Pablo then came out and informed me that the chestnut would be mine for the day, and I explained that the choice had actually been made by the horse, if that was all right, and he kindly allowed that to proceed. Largo danced sideways a bit as I swung aboard, and found my seat in the unfamiliar tack. Instantly he came alive and his energy shot up through me, and I got those lovely chillbumps you get when you know you have a live one. And I had a LIVE one. I was about to get a first taste of the paso gait, right away, and as soon as we directed our animals down the grassy trail Largo introduced me to the sweet cream of riding heaven.

    My tushie never left the saddle- not for four hours- no matter what speed, what altitude, going up or down, even when he occasionally shied, this animal was what I've heard others call a fine warm liquor. His mane flowed, his head was regal, and I periodically looked down to watch his foot action. There it was. I would follow the guide across bridges for safety but Llargo would have none of following. The moment we were past an obstacle he would bull ahead and lead, and my kind guide would call out left or right when we hit a fork.

    Largo had huge liquid eyes that missed nothing, sharp curved ears that swiveled everywhere, so active and alive. It was a great practice ride to maintain perfect position, the upper body so still you could balance a champagne glass on an open palm. Hell I can't but a real Paso rider could.

    We rode up and down around the town, through groves and past irrigated organic farms, past vantage points which begged photos, and we periodically got hailed by old men whom I suspect had a Paso or two in their long lifetimes. The women here wore their unique black hats slightly to the side on their heads, their skirts plain, their shawls brilliantly colored, often holding a tiny child with an equally colored cap on its head. Lunch came at 12, and we rode the horses up to the real Hacienda, where Pablo met us again.

    This time he escorted me into the Hacienda's fine small pre-Inca and Inca museum of pottery and fine art, which I wandered to the sound of choral music. The art led you eventually into the large eating area, which that day was empty, so I was alone for the lunch hour. The table was on the window which looked out over an effusive garden full of the last of the summer flowers. The view was lovely and it was about to change to a shower, as my attentive waiter brought a big plate of fresh cut fruit as an appetizer.

    A big salad came after that, and at that point I was done. However the kitchen wasn't going to let their only guest slip out after two courses. There was corn soup, a main of an omelette and a huge mound of fresh veggies, and omg dessert, which was chocolate mousse. Oy. I ordered the barn to bring a wheelbarrow to carry me back out to the horses, and Pablo was kind enough to supply a bright blue poncho to deal with the cool rain.

    We switched to new animals for the 2-4 pm ride, and I climbed aboard a new chestnut whose name I don't recall. This one also had a good bit of fire ( I guess the word got back to the stable, which is very kind of them) And so off we went. This new horse had a more nervous nature and he didn't like anything tin, or concrete, or standing. He would walk close, eye it carefully, then suddenly plant his feet hard or shy sideways which gave me a start the first time, then I got with the program. His constantly swiveling ears gave him away, and I got to the point where I could see what was coming about 10 feet away. He also really didn't like any gestures on my part- so nothing dramatic from the back of the horse. I tried to point ahead to ask where we were going at one point and nearly got myself tossed in the irrigation ditch. Having learned my lesson, I kept my movements very close to the heart after that.

    We got our share of light sprinkle, but it didn't at all ruin the day, if anything it lent the experience character and sweetness. The kangaroo chaps did precisely what they were advertised- they shed the water, and it wasn't appreciably cooler for the rain.

    The taxi picked me up right at four with a promise to get me again at 9:30 for another epic ride the next day. Katie was gone for the night. And with a tip of the hat to Avrooster, I did it again. When I got in the dorm room, which I had all to myself, in fact I had the entire hostel to myself, I couldn't find the key to my backpack. Nowhere to be found. Now given my prelediction for this kind of thing you'd think I'd search every single pocket. I have lots of them. Nah. I didn't. Well I cant't take a shower without getting into the backpack and I really needed one. So. Now. How to break the little lock.

    Search the house, which is cold and there's not much light. No tools. No hammer. I look everywhere. No neighbors. No one to call. No phone calls to be made. (My cell phone did indeed get lifted this time, it isn't lost.)

    I find a big rock. Ummmm, I don't want to break the zippers,too. Well, I take the backpack out on the outside step and balance it to get to the zipper. BANG. the bag slips. Crap. BANG! the lock gets bruised. Nothing happens. BANG! Nada. I give up. Drag the bag inside. Rock is just too big.

    I wander. Wandering gets me another rock. I look through the kitchen drawers again and find a wine bottle opener. An idea forms. I drag the bag back outside, place the bottle opener just so to force the hinges open, with the smaller rock go
    BANG and instantly it opens.

    Um.Good news, bad news. On one hand I'm glad it was easy to open, on the other hand I'm really not glad it's so easy to open.

    Tonight is hairwash night, after eight days, so a shower really is important, and after fiddling with the recalcitrant and fussy controls (flip the switch up (wear shoes) turn the knob just this far, if it goes cold turn it off and start again, keep the pressure low, more heat the less pressure yadayadayadayada). Hot hair very cold house. I raid another bed for a second comforter. Heaven.

    Oh, and the key to the backpack lock?

    In my down vest pocket. Classic. Say what you want, Avrooster. It wouldn't be my trip if I didn't do this at least four or five times.

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    Tonight I am recovering from the Inca Trail. Somehow the calendar had it there were two days of R&R, silly me, there was one, and I sure would have loved another day to take a turn around town. There were chores to do, and more sunglasses (really good ones) to lose. I am on tear, Avrooster, I managed to lose two pairs of very expensive ones, and one while shopping for a pair that had just been stolen at the San Pedro Mercado. Ah well. Whaddya do. Whaddya do is watch where the hell you put your stuff, that’s what you.
    I am well behind, and the plan is that during the nights I am supposed to have to myself in the Amazon, and depending on the power availability, catching up is on the agenda. Tomorrow at about 9 am the taxi takes me to the airport for Pto Maldonado for five days in a hot place, and I am definitely looking forward to the difference in the climate to where I’ve just been. Urubamaba (get back to that in a minute) was as sweet a place as can be in April, and the Inca Trail is just what it should be at 14k feet, although I could easily have taken my 0 degree bag which was a pound instead of renting that 5 lb monstrosity that put me so far over the weight limit it cost me another $150 porter. Hey, live and learn. It did, however, do the job, and that’s all that matters. Oh, those cosy nights.
    I left off with my second day with Largo, when Pablo was kind enough to allow me to ride him all day for the trip to the Moray Ruins and the salt mines, and all around the mountains which meant coming down some very steep trails. The reason this is so fine doing this on a Paso is again, you get to see why this animal is so versatile. In Mendoza, Argentina, I had the chance to ride a very agile criollo horse which is another fine animal for mountain work. They are tough, hard workers and very able in high country. So are Pasos, but we’ll come to that.
    Today the pleasure was in the fine weather which Pachamama was kind enough to give us all that day. Pure blue skies, and as we climbed the road, the Sacred Valley below stretched out to reveal its beauty in astounding panoramas. The Urubamba River wound through like a great vein, and the green muscular hills surrounded the valley like a band of brothers protecting a treasure. Beyond the great peaks glistened with the snow and light clouds moving fast, and a light breeze blew the sweet clean air across the face. After we fixed a bad horseshoe on Largo, he paced beautifully up the hill with skill and speed, and I pushed my sleeves up my arm to enjoy the sun. Which El Sol promptly turned into bacon, because I had used SPF on my face and not my arms. Ahem. Like a novice sitting in the Florida sun. Here’s the rub- I had a tube right in my shirt pocket.
    The Moray ruins at the top of the hills were in sight by about midday, where we rested our horses and ate lunch. Largo didn’t much care for the green apple I snagged for him, and spat it out promptly. I took a walk around: the typical tourist offerings, a bano (always bring TP!!!) and a ticket office. For 15 soles you walk down into what looks for all the world like a massive ant eater crater, bright green with grass, with rock outcroppings at various spots- but not all the way around the circle. It’s quite big and quite impressive. Busses arrive regularly, and while this is one of those few places where there are no handicapped facilities, Peru has made most of its heavily touristed sites available for wheelchairs. I should say I didn’t see access, as it might be out of sight.
    Afterwards we rode off onto different and attractive hills, new territories, sometimes on the road and sometimes off. The afternoon took us to the ancient Inca towns, with the high mountains in the background, where the clop of our hooves were loud against the very old clay. We shared the road with all kinds of vehicles giving way up or down, and always had to allow for potential agitation from our animals with big construction trucks.
    When you are so high, looking out onto the valley from the perch of the hill, there is a fleeting conceit that you are alone, you are the first, you are the conqueror. Here you are on this amazing animal and the first to see this awesome sight. Trust me it doesn’t last long. But Largo had a way of making me feel uplifted even if it did get blown away with the next pretty breeze or the next “Scuse me, mind if I take a shot here?” Reality has a way of taking the air out any egotistical balloon. But it’s the reason why it’s just such a wonderful way to see the area- the Paso adds this little extra oomph to the experience that is a great deal more than poking your head out of a tourist bus.
    The Incan Salt Mines were also an amazing site. It was a work of art that we approached from on high. The salt was in pools, the pools were of clay, many of them stretch down the valley, and they were many different colors. It made for quite a sight. For a small fee of perhaps 7 soles, we rode along the top and were able to get an excellent view of the size and scope of the mines, as people walked alongside them well below. As we descended, we came quite close and I was able to take excellent photos of the pools and make out salt crystals in the water.
    From here, it got very exciting. The trail became quite steep, and in many places washed down to rocks by many rains. I figured Largo would slow down and take his time, but I was wrong. He actually sped up. I gave him his head thinking he knew precisely what he was doing, and leaned back for balance. The trail was exceedingly narrow and repeatedly turned back on itself, always heading straight down. Largo’s ears were pricked straight forward, and I just relaxed. The turns were hairpin, some so tight I couldn’t see around them at all. This went on for about forty minutes, until we came out at a bit of a wash and could see more of the valley. The downhill trip had been a heart stopper but again, the Paso is as surefooted as any criollo I ever rode in the Andes and there was never a slip or a slide or misplaced hoof. He was such a joy to ride.
    Where we came out the mountains almost had a blue color, and it was getting later in the day. Many of the trees here are eucalyptus, all from Australia if I hear it correctly. There are 800 different kinds, from what I saw I recognized strip bark and ghost eucalyptus. They are remarkably hardy and also produce valuable products. There’s a lot of Aussie folklore around the tree, I’ve seen them all over South America. Here and there I’ve noticed the beginning of the changing for fall as well.
    We finally made it back to a small parking lot where I had to say goodbye to Largo, pay for my time with him and tip my guide for his willingness to let me ride in front and not feel like a tourista for two days. Those things mean a lot. We took a few more photos and I headed back with my driver to the hostel, a solid night’s sleep and a return the next day to Cusco.

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    On April 6th, Katie from the hostel had organized a driver to stop by Chinchero, where he drove right up to the market and found a spot on the crowded street. Now I don't know which day is market day but this day was pretty lively, and I had to walk sideways pretty often to move around. That told me that I probably hit on a good day, and since there were more locals than tourists it really felt lucky.

    The mercado was laid out simply. In the center were produce, foods and places to eat, and on the outskirts were the textiles. My primary interest was to find a particular textile that caught my eye, and not a blanket. I use down comforters, and a blanket is just too heavy to hoist around for another three weeks. The choices were remarkable in their variety, although there was a recognizable pattern after a while. Some were wall hangings and others were purely functional. I found a white alpaca sweater which I tried on, light as air. Forty five soles. Really? The girl saw my surprise and misread it, and dropped it five soles in a heartbeat and I grabbed my wallet. Almost too good to be true. Wool is impossible for me to wear without a turtle neck- it's far too itchy and that means alpaca, all of it- but a cotton T and this is a find. For nearly nothing. I slung the bag over my shoulder and realized I could be in serious trouble if I looked for too long.

    I spotted a man sporting a load of what looked like what I wanted over his right shoulder, then he disappeared into the crowd. I walked around a bit, then I had another problem. As I walked, somehow I had lost my driver. I kept walking, looking, walking, looking, I bought some tangerines, looked some more. Couldn't see him anywhere. I was stumped. I thought maybe he had gotten something to eat. Then I turned around and ran right into him, nearly knocking him over. Poor guy. Never occurred that I was leading him on a wild goose chase! So I handed him a tangerine and told him what I was trying to find, then we both spotted the man with the textiles. He was near the gate, and we headed that way.

    The textiles were a simple rectangle but a set of the most colorful stripes. I have come to see Peru as a hugely colorful nation, in the art and the colors of the skirts and the clothing. So this was part of what I was looking for. The piece wasn't cheap, $100, but I was happy with it. The man's wife instantly wanted to sell me more (the Peruvian "want fries with that?") but I know when I'm done. Maybe not with sunglasses but at least with this.

    We packed away my goodies and headed off for Cusco.

    The driver left me off for my second stay at Hospedaje Turistico Ricoleta, a place that I chose as my home hostel in Cusco. I have come to love it here for the wonderful staff and the only sour note so far is the fact that the laundry company that was supposed to deliver some 12 kgs of laundry (including my foul camping gear from the Inca Trail) is now nearly two hours later. They aren't answering phone calls and this is making me a bit nervous as I want to go to bed very early and finish packing. It's not the hostel's fault. They have no idea what is going on.

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    Ok so here's the fun update. The laundry- or I should say everyone else's laundry arrived. Mine continued to drive off around Cusco in the laundry delivery bus. So I pad downstairs at a little after 9, and there are the bags. I think GREAT. Until I go through them and recognize nada. Hm. Not good. I mention this to the guy on duty (who also sent me on my way to the Inca Trail at 4 am with a smile) so he makes a few kind, but strong phone calls about making complete deliveries, and says the guy will be back in five. And this time he will bring the bag up.
    And he did. I love this place.

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    Ok the final word on the laundry. I'm now down to one bra for the whole trip. Now women will appreciate this. That may be light traveling but damn. :-)
    Those of you (and this is all of you) who have to move from one climate change to another in country will also appreciate this conundrum. It's chilly outside at altitude right now, necessitating a layer or two and a jacket and I am heading off top steamy jungle where blessedly none of that is necessary. So the classic what the hell do I do with all these layers comes up, so this morning I'm writing in bed all bundled up under these colorful blankets (about to sprint for that lovely heavy duty shower which gets the bum rush starting at six) and the finalizing the packing job before their lovely breakfast. Yesterday the tiny girl laid into me with a big bowl of papaya and banana and a few other fruits covered with yogurt and a coffee that could have been confused with high performance motor oil. I poured three mini carafes of cream down into that black morass to absolutely no effect. Impressive. So was the effect on the heartbeat. Jeez.

    The only regret, and it is a significant one,is that I didn't plan enough time in Cusco.I had gotten the mistaken impression- and yes it is tourist central- the mistake I made was that while it may be tourist central this lovely place does not behave, smell, taste or largely feel that way, and in that way simply is a beautiful and engaging city with its own perfectly gorgeous personality without all the unfortunate side effects that a big touristy city usually has. That is saying a great deal. That's not to say that there are not tourist agencies and backpacker shops in every nook and cranny because there are. What I am saying is that where I rather thought that the flavor of Cusco might have been ruined because it is so important to so much of what goes on in Peru, I was dead wrong and very happy to be so. It simply acts as a most active hub. I didn't find the panhandlers and bad actors here that I have in other cities- and yeah well I did lose a few pairs of sunglasses, and so who doesn't on the road. Cusco seems to have maintained its elegance, its beauty and personality while still being a humming central location for pretty much all that is tourist for Peru. I admire that very much. I could easily spend a week or more here and explore just the city and do more day trips, because not only does this hostel provide such a wonderful home, there is so much to see within just a day's drive and the Manu Amazon is so close by. The Sacred Valley deserves much more than just two days and I would love to see Pablo's horses again. So while I have much more to explore, it's with real sadness that I say goodbye to lovely, charming, eminently walkable Cusco this morning. It makes me think so of many places in Argentina, where you could walk for hours and stick your nose into so many doorways because of the smells of flowers or cooking, and never ever be bored. I used Cusco more as a stop off point. It deserves so much more;

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    The Inca Trail - and I went some good guys, Peru Treks, which I do recommend as a tour provider- was one of those ya gotta do this experiences. We all know you can get to Macchu Picchu the easy way, and tramp around, and take pictures, blahdey blah. That is great if you can't climb or hike or have time. However if you can do these things and have the time, the Trail really is requisite, and not to be missed. During high season, I can see where it might feel like a bit of a cattle drive. During the shoulder season and because the Peruvian government has made an effort to limit the number of people on the trail (and the trash etc) the experience has improved for all those making this trip. So it turns out to be most worthwhile. It is not for people who can't deal with altitude or for whom a goodly mountain hike is beyond the pale.
    We're talking 14k and and some challenging up and down hills. While it's a wonderful trek, And millions have done it, it's a good idea to do a bit of preparation, like for any other climb.
    I had done Kili back in November and a brutal training period of about six plus months up to that point, and then some hiking in Vietnam as well. I sustained an injury or two and found myself recovering from a pretty fun fall off a running horse but still managed to get in substantial stair work at altitude in preparation for this trek. What is always challenging, and we all have our preferences, is climbing conditions. I'm a climber and will always prefer uphill.
    Others prefer downhill, and I really dislike downhill, with the challenges of loose stones or scree. As a long distance runner for years I've turned my skinny little ankles so often they don't do the job they used to be able to do so they give up the ghost every so often. Which brings me to my point. Sometimes we have to make some allowances, and for the Trail, it's good to know in advance that there is, on one day in particular (Day Three) a full three hours of downhill, which for me was not a lot of fun. But the downhillers among us were thrilled. They were the ones struggling going up Dead Woman's pass while I was enjoying myself immensely heading up, vive la difference.

    Well let's go back to the beginning. At the start, you are given a chance to hire a half porter. This brings up thoughts of a half person carting your bag up the mountain, but what it means is that someone carries about 6 kg of your gear. You go over that, you pay more. What isn't obvious is that is you rent one of their monstrosities of a sleeping bag (I did) that adds five pounds to this total, and then they add the mattress, so all of a sudden your puny 6 kg isn't very much any more. Since I'm on a special diet and I bring supplements, that added up, so bang I was up there at 15 kg right away. I ended up paying for a whole additional porter at $150 for the trip- and no matter, I used every single thing I brought. What I did find out was that the one pound zero degree bag I'd just bought would have been perfect. And saved a lot of weight and trouble too. Lesson learned, and a good one. This is all just good information.

    Donkeys and horses all leave with us at the same time, and you learn very fast to hug the mountain side. People have taken ravine dives not respecting these rules. The fast moving porters have right of way and they take the outside path. The animals don't go all the way but they do go part of the way up, I recall them up to the first campground but not afterwards.

    There are water and supplies (including cigarettes!) all along the way. This is a market economy. Certain things you use and must have like water (which you guzzle if you're smart. I use Octane which has electrolytes and many other excellent properties- google this- and it tastes superb- in my Platypus. Water starts out at about one sole and goes way up the higher you get to about 2 soles, and it has everything to do with how much it costs to transport it that high. AND how badly you need it up there. Same with toilet paper.
    and baby you WANT toilet paper. Trust me on this. At most rest stops there are smiling people hawking Gator Ade, and coca leaves and some kind of tar you mix in with it. And yes indeed you will.

    For those you take Diamox and I do, the altitude just does not bother me, partly 'cause I live and train in Denver and partly because it just doesn't seem to be a problem. For others, coca leaves curled into a cigarette form and placed like a wet tobacco chew between the gum and cheek and sucked on provides relief from all kinds of symptoms. I did it like everyone else. There was no cocaine high. Nothing at all. It did seem to help with tiredness, achiness, and energy levels. This is not something you do for drug value.

    As for speed. I had two lovely guides on Mt Kilimanjaro who were with me the whole time on the Inca Trail; August and Ignas talked me every single step. The saying in Swahili is "Pole pole," slow slow, and it goes for any high altitude hike. Unlike Kili, here you start high and continue high. The demand is considerable. Baby steps, slow and steady. We had one man, a really handsome 48 yo guy named Eric from Canada who timed himself going up Dead Woman's pass. Now I'm sure this is important for some people, and on the first day I did push myself on one leg to see what I could do with a heavy pack. I beat the entire crew and gave myself a whole extra ten minutes with a sweet natured dog at the check point.
    For what? Bragging rights? Because I proved what?
    And this is my point.
    There are something like 400 different species of orchids here- and Eric pretty much missed all of them, which I'm sure he didn't mind. 'Sokay, orchids matter to me. And so does hearing the roaring Urubamba, and listening to the birds, and hearing the frogs, and the conversations of the porters as they whisk by. Man, life is fast enough. You pay a lot to be on this tour. Why rush it? To prove you're not getting older?
    Crap, I'm 61, doing it fast won't change a thing.
    I heard so many kids arguing, parents bickering, people talking about everything BUT what was all around them- some of the most breathtaking country God has ever created. Enough to make you weep. Come on man, wake up.

    Our tents were roomy, two to the tent. I was lucky enough to inherit a budding author, a journalist Brit who has quit her job and was adventuring for a while. She was most patient with my habit ( I admit, I cannot help it) of waking up at least half an hour to an hour earlier than wake up time to write, prepare a supplement drink, and generally develop that ridiculously disgusting good nature that early morning people have that night people deeply resent. I don't blame them one bit. More later, taxi is here for the airport.

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    Inca Trail Trip

    Friends: I'm adding this as a later report as details on the Inca Trail trip now that I can refer to the notes taken on the trial. This was from April 7-10.

    One of the things our group of 17 got lucky with on our trip was weather. The sun was just perfect every day for the most part, and while on occasion it did rain at night, the thunderbumpers were regulated to dreamtime. I have to admit though, sometimes at our various campsites the placement of the loo, or whatever you want to call those appalling places we had to utilize, was just a wee bit too far away. On one occasion I was simply not going to make it that far so I turned off my headlamp and found a bush not far from my tent. I was taking care of business just fine thankyouverymuch when one of the porters decided to shine a flashlight in my direction. Instead of flicking the damned thing off right away, which would be the courteous thing to do, he decided to shine it on me for a moment. I of course acted like I had just found something intensely interesting in the dirt- god what a fascinating rock here…amazing how I found this in the black of night! - in order to avoid giving him the one finger salute. Finally he turned the damned thing off and left me to complete my business. Come ON man, sometimes the path to the pot was so steep and rocky and long that you needed to hire an extra guide just to get there. And you didn’t want to go there in the first place!
    So Day Two, Edwin told us was going to be SO hard and SO difficult, and it got SO much billing as the hardest day. Oh it was this and that and the other. There is a point past which you get your patootie on the trail and just start walking. You have your water and your snacks and your sticks and you Just. Do. It. The truth is that it’s just plain breathtakingly gorgeous. There are many climbs in Colorado much harder than that one. It is challenging if you’re not in shape, and it is high, but there are steps, which there aren’t on most mountains I’m aware of, and plenty of very pretty places to take photos and heroic shots. It’s also very fun to turn around and photograph the path. With the backdrop of those valleys and mountain peaks and glorious green, oh what a National Geographic shot.
    When you get to the pass you get a really cool shot of the mountains on both sides, there is a signpost and it tends to be windy. It may also rain or snow on your punkin head. I had shared the walk up with a very nice Argentinean man from Patagonia who was kind enough to give me lots of tips since I’m heading there next November. This was very cool because my iPod died, and this was the only reason I’d brought it, for this days’ climb. Didn’t matter, I had my friend from Argentina which was far more fun anyway.

    The other thing that I took up this long mountain were my beloved guides Ignas and August from Tanzania, whose sage advice, Pole pole, stuck in my head every single step.

    Well I bade my buddy goodbye and started down. And did precisely what I knew I shouldn’t do. Being a climber, my confidence is finding my feet going up and using the strength in my legs and lungs to take me to the clouds. What sometimes doesn’t do well for me is to look around when I am descending. On this trek it is nearly impossible not to. Going down into this new valley was magnificent. The trouble is that the descent is very long, and it’s on steps that are varied in shape and size, and that means you must look at each of them when you come down. So you either stop and look around, or you look where you are walking. I tried to look and walk. Not wise. So my right ankle found itself between two well shaped rocks and that was the end of it for several key ligaments and I felt ‘em rip as I went down.
    Now there’s someone on Fodor’s who took me to severe task about this in January and accused me of not being an athlete because a) I fell and b) I had to slow down because I had walloped my knee on a rock. Well, according to her twisted logic then the guy who walked up to me to help and who did precisely the same thing and landed hard on his ass would also have been no athlete, and he was in excellent shape. This is what I find hilarious. We both were, according this this gal, “danger to the guides and everyone on the tour.” Hell’s bells. People fall. We both got up, dusted off, and kept going. I had hours to go, so did he, I spent the rest of that day – like he did- watching where I put my feet. When I wanted to look, I stopped and looked. Now I dunno about you but to me that’s just a fine reminder about being present and do what you’re doing while you’re doing it. Sure I damaged my ankle, sure it slowed me down. What I had on this trip that I didn’t have on the last was professional strapping tape, the right meds and everything else I needed to keep right on going. Stuff happens, you keep going. Most who goes on such a trip takes the materials along to handle contingencies like this.

    Day Two ends in a valley, after a goodly bit more downhill, and we put to bed ( I skip dinner for the sake of a longer sleep) and we all sleep the sleep of the dead.

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    The second night was also the coldest of the series, and we had all been right glad for our monster bags. I’d also slept in four layers given my propensity for being chilly. By this time, my poor tent mate, a sweet Brit and fellow journalist who aspired to be a writer had discovered her roommate’s tendency to automatically wake up at least a half hour to an hour earlier to mix a supplement drink and take pills and start packing for the day. Now Kate made it clear she was not a morning person, “more of an afternoon girl “ as she put it, so I did my level best to put my headlamp on low and move with the least amount of noise. Anyone who has ever camped knows how loud zippers can be in the early morning and smells wake people up. She was most patient with me and I’m fortunate she didn’t clobber me with the back of her boot. We did have very early calls, however, and that extra half hour was priceless in getting a head start on getting things packed up and prepared for the porters. If you do take extra drinks and supplements they do take extra time and that requires you to get up earlier, like it or not. The mornings are black, and they are cold, and most often where you are does not have potable water, so you have to find a way to pack along the water required to mix your personal potion and do with minimal noise and and interruption. And while I still recommend Vitargo for those of you looking for a very high value drink, its tendency to clump when you can’t produce ice water (okay like I’m going to have that on the Inca Trail) as required and its mucousy consistency both sometimes leave me a little wanting. But it goes down fast and it definitely does the job. I took a tea bottle- glass, because of the wider mouth, easier to mix AND to clean, the weight is minimal- and it worked just fine.
    Camp sites – and this is something you adapt to- were crowded, you are sharing them with multiple teams. The loo is overwhelmed. There is usually running water which is icy. At the Day Two camp there were also icy showers, which I skipped in preference for the ever handy bathwipes that I used nightly to clean up the sweat and everything else that gathers on the body during an epic hike. I love them, two do a fine job of sweetening you right up without freezing you like a shower does at altitude, and you can tweak your toes and scrub your nose with them and end up smelling right nicely while your roommate is out doing whatever. Two packages of eight each came along and I had more than enough. I had face wipes too for sanitary use but hardly used them.
    What was utterly priceless was the Black Diamond Headlamp I’d bought specifically for high altitude use. This one has a battery pack that you strap to your body to keep the batteries warm, this prevents them from freezing. Now you may not ever need that, but I found it comforting knowing that I’d ALWAYS have light no matter them temp. There is one down side. Unless you are a hell of a lot more adept at these things than I am, when you take this mass of wires and straps out of the mesh bag that you carry it in, it will have somehow gotten itself hopelessly tangled. You have to untangle it. If you attempt to do this without light, and there is something pressing upon you ( a necessary urge if you get my meaning) this could lead to unhappy circumstances. Here are your options: Put the damn thing on before it gets dark. Bring a Mag lite so that you can untangle the unholy mess and get it on in the dark and get it all set up (which is what I do). Always, always, put it where it is very close in reach when you get to camp, because of Murphy’s Law, by the time you get there it might be so dark you can’t figure out the tangle, so see the options again and consider what works for you. I like having a Mag for a backup anyway.
    I took loads of chocolate, chocolate bars and snacks. I didn’t eat them. I ended up eating my apricots and my almonds. Instead, I visited the porters and handed out handfuls of my best chocolate to these guys who bust their butts, and this additional little courtesy was really appreciated. In one case, whoever was carrying my extra bag somehow angled the chocolate almonds towards the sun. What came out was a mass of fused chocolate and almonds and the bag had burst, leaving not only quite the mess but also the challenge of how to suck chocolate and almonds out of the sack before the chocolate hardened in the cooling air. It was fun. Tasted the same but different challenge.
    Our cook, Jesus, did a fabulous job of varying our diet each day, providing us with an excellent array of foods and soups which kept everyone interested in eating. I’d brought a good bit of my own food, but to his credit Jesus keep me loaded up with fruits and veges and eggs and chicken, so I snuck him a big fat Cadbury’s.
    The second day involved a full three hours of downhill travel. This is significant only to those who have questionable knees, a funky back or some other limitation. You have to keep in mind that along the way are multiple, amazing, gorgeous sites which Edwin, our guide, always would stop, talk about, draw an explanation about and let us explore. We’d find a lookout point, OOOOH and AAAAAAH, and take ma y many photos. The day would reward us with crisp breezes that would whisk away our sweat, and we’d look down into the valley at some great set of stone outlines of a city, or clamber over the remains of a lookout with military uses. At all times there were plenty of opportunities to take a moment and take photos, be swept away by the history, the grandeur, the experience. What Edwin repeatedly emphasized- and this was his real message- was that MP was going to be very busy with tourists. The point was the journey, to take notice of the trail, to see how the geography and land changed, to notice the small things, and to see all you could along the way.
    Edwin did a great job of reminding us of this each night, and before we headed for bed we had an agenda for the next day, reminders to drink lots of water. Because Day Two tends to challenge most people, Day Three can be harder if for no other reason than the downhill portion. Many of us bought big waters (3 L size) to stuff into our backpacks. This for me meant that I had 6L in my pack along with my gear, and that meant for a hefty load, but we had no more water available until MP. This also gives you a little empathy for the guy who is hefting the huge water bottle up the Trail for your meals!
    The forest had changed at this point and we had begun to see moss and lichens. The moss on the stones was bright red, and Jimmy, who had taken up residence behind me on the trail, made a point of helping me find them. I have a dear botanist friend who grows orchids in Boulder so I take photos of them for her everywhere I travel. There were some so small you almost need a microscope, some so glorious you want to poke it behind your ear and do a hula dance.
    The elongated downhill hike was on stones that were uneven and also often on steps. This was probably the hardest part of the Trail for most of us, although like I mentioned there were some, like the porters and some folks who love speedy descents, for whom this was heaven. Still, because the trail is narrow and dangerous, it requires respect for other trekkers and the variety of skill level is considerable. Going down we found ourselves stripping off a layer here and there but the wind blew up from the valley. It seemed that every turn revealed another great spectacle. Here the trees were more lush, there was far more evidence of rain, and bright green moss grew on everything.
    The camp on the third day was on a variety of steps, featuring many rocks, and the tents were set up close to the stair cases. The loo in our case was a long way away from where we were. Knowing this took some planning, so about the time that you started to think that maybe you might soon need to go it was time to start the hike.
    Our particular set up was four levels. The porters’ tents were on the highest ground, the cook tent and all the guys. Each tent had guy wires that stretched out far to keep things taut. The next level down (about three and a half feet) was the big mess dinner tent and then two more levels of the trekkers. Katie and I were down on the very lowest level, which made for a lot of climbing, on a day when my ankle was probably at its peak size.
    I was climbing up to the cook tent with a handful of chocolate for the guys and my Cadbury’s for Jesus. To accomplish this you have to walk to the end of your row, and climb up the big stone steps, which is the main walkway through the camp. These are not small delicate steps but big honkers, so you’re striding. So up I went to the fourth level where I delivered handfuls of chocolate to the guys who were eating lunch, and I mustered Jesus out to hand him his Cadbury’s bar. Jesus is not overly friendly. In fact he is incapable of smiling. He does grunt, however, which I take as an acknowledgement of my offering, so he disappears back into his tent, and I head back towards the steps.
    Now anyone who’s ever been in a crowded tent area where there are lots of guy wires knows what’s coming. I’m headed towards this big rock staircase and there’s a tent right on the end. That means there’s a thin brown guy wire holding this tent nice and tight right there. And I cannot see it. I don’t have my glasses on. I make a bit of a left hand short cut to get onto the big stone steps and sure enough, the guy wire snatches the toe of my boot and I go airborne.
    Now it’s an interesting thing to be airborne over big rocks. You consider a lot of things in short order. How it’s going to feel when you smash your face. How many teeth you’re going to have left. How they’re going to pay off your mortgage. Oh all sorts of things. In the meantime your arms are cartwheeling and your legs are spinning and you’re slapping the stairs going downhill at speeds that are better suited for a NASCAR race. People get the hell out of the way then stand back to watch with a kind of sick curiosity. I vaguely remember one guy saying “holy sh-t” then stepping aside. My sentiments exactly.
    However the other thing about being airborne is that I’ve spent a lot of time as a skydiver and somehow, someway, I didn’t do a face plant in an Incan Rock and leave my sacrificial blood and brains there forever. I came to a sudden stop hugging a big mossy rock, quite upright, disappointing a great many spectators who were hoping for something a great deal more thrilling. They were possibly hoping for 1) a broken bone at the least, 2) splattered sacrificial brains at the best. Neither happened, to my great and heartpounding relief.
    The third day we got some rain in the afternoon. Here is where I pulled out the six sole poncho that I had bought right at the start of the trip. It kinda sorta did the job, by protecting the pack, but ultimately I changed at the next rest stop into the proper rain jack and pants I had brought which were far more efficient. The poncho has a habit of directing the rain in rivulets right onto your knees your pins get soaked, and that’s why this purple Thai concoction is only six soles. I gave it to a ten year old American girl wearing a cotton sweatshirt and cotton sweatpants ( oh please don’t get me started) and then pulled the very sweet little rain cover that is designed right into the backpack at the base right over the top of my backpack. That way nothing essential got wet, and on we went, and no more wet pegs.
    There is an oh by the way here too, about packs. I changed backpacks for this trip and this time used a Sierra Designs Discovery 30 toploader which had far fewer little pockets and a lot more capacity. The pocket problem was solved using lots little mesh bags, and there’s a zippered compartment in the top, but this bag also held a platypus. And the good news is that this time the damned thing didn’t freeze, and liquids were available the whole trip. I also used an Oregon Research hat, the kind that you can use magnets to keep the sides up, and the brim is great for the brilliant sun. Uber good glasses at this altitude are not negotiable, the sun is blinding. The colors are more vivid, the greens greener, blues bluer, and the sun will do you in. So do bring not only your best SPF, not your TJ Maxx $9.95 UV protector glasses, but invest in something off the Clymb that is intended for high altitude. I might be determined to keep donating them but your eyes are, well, hey. Do them a favor.
    The Inca Trail refers to many aspects of the trip as “level” when I really means that it is a series of ups and downs, which can be pretty challenging. What “flat” or “level” means to the trekker is that it’s neither an elongated uphill or downhill, but primarily an elongated flattened with a few moderated ups and downs, some of which can be pretty challenging in their own right. So wording can be pretty misleading. We had in our group people of all ages and types and all of them were using hiking sticks or poles by Day Three. There were small caves we would thread through where the combination of deep darkness, dampness and the sharp angle of the steps made it imperative to have an additional “leg”or two help, there are no handholds here. It has everything to do with respecting the conditions of the mountain. What I found, with pleasure was that the pace I took, the pole pole that Ignas and August had burned into my brain last November, allowed me to see things and enjoy things along the way that were smaller details. It all went back to Edwin’s point about enjoying the journey of the trail which was simply gorgeous.
    I intentionally slowed down to take photos of lichen, the fire engine red lichen that colored the rocks, the orchids, and the flowers we walked by. The valleys that stretched forever and the dramatic line of steps that we had just walked wandering off into the distance, the green swallowing them up far below. We had just been there, not long before. And turn upwards, and there the steps led far head. Here around us, lovely trees, moss, ferns, flowers. Ancient rocks and trees. As I did this, groups of people came by me at varying speeds, some faster than others. What I heard were arguments about hotels arrangements, relationships, kids getting mad at each other, if it was worth getting mad about I heard it. People talking but not seeing. Not stopping to look.
    Now granted this is just one person’s opinion but it takes me back to my time on the Ho Chi MinhTrail. Along with a guide and two porters we’d found ourselves stranded and forced to hike. And take it slowly. The gift was seeing wildlife. And really seeing the countryside. And noticing what you can’t see in a van with the music blaring. This was Edwin’s point- to BE on the Trail, to actually see it, absorb it, take in the journey. He confessed he didn’t much care for MP himself, he loved being high in the mountains and taking in the clean air, the winds, the cold water, the walking.
    If Eric wants to do Dead Woman’s Pass in an hour and 49 minutes that’s Eric. But for my adventure dollar, the idea is to learn from the Edwins of the world who live here and know the Trail and find out its secrets. They love to share them if they think you really want to know. The gift of going slower was that they both spent more with me at the back of the group and I got to hear their thoughts on Macchu Picchu, Pachamama and the mountains. They pointed out places of interest and views and photo shots. And it was like having private guides who, when I wanted to walk alone, I could- and did- so that for all the world I had the entire Trail to myself. This a total conceit but it felt that way, until another group would come by. The truth is my pace was just behind the main group but by doing it this way I had the illusion of being by myself. The guides love it when you show interest in them, and their world, their place. And I don’t know squat, so I’m happy to ask. Jimmy helped me diminish my chocolate supply in return for finding me plenty of orchids and his favorite view points, and it was a good trade.

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    Inca Trail Day Four
    At dinner the night before Edwin brought all the porters in around our group to introduce them to us. I love this practice for it provides us with the faces of those who work so hard: their names, ages, birthplaces, sometimes more information. This makes the true muscle behind how we get all that good food and the comfort of our tents possible. Everyone was applauded and acknowledged and the ages ranged from 19 t early 60s. I met a taxi driver who told me that a few years ago the porters were made to carry far more over the mountains and that conditions had improved greatly. His father had also been a porter. It seems to be a rite of passage for many. I hit the sack about 6:30 pm as we were getting up at about 4:30, and sure if I didn’t miss the big tip party, when Jesus made a big cake and everyone put money in the communal tip bank.
    True to form I woke up at 3:30 am and the whole camp was like Grand Central Station.The porters had to pack up and be on their way by 5:30 to catch the train back to Cusco. I dressed and got up and happily ran right into the head porter, and asked him about the tips. I was able to pay him for my part plus plus, and found out later from one of our Aussie guys that the others paid extra too which made me feel really good. We’d had just a superb bunch. I did my best to move as silently as possible but Kate work up- grumpy- there’d been quite the party last night despite the early morning wake up call. Things were moving very swiftly as we all put our packs and gear for pick up by the porters and our backpacks for us to carry into MP, which now was almost in striking distance. We could feel the rain in the air, and all the ponchos were out.
    Our trek on the last day involved deep and moody mists, a rather nice framing of our entry into the magnificent MP. Most of the day would be down hill again, and deeper into the beginning of the tropical forest that MP marks. The trees are denser, the clouds closer, the air as we descend more oxygenated.
    There were still plenty of stairs and uphills on our eventual downhill climb, and stone lookouts. But now as we descended we could hear the train, and the mists occasionally parted so that we could see the mightly Urubamba River, and the valley below. Some people cheered a bit, and the sun periodically broke through. I was watching the decline and the stones so carefully it reminded me of the time when I walked right into a downed tree in Vietnam last January, and there were multiple opportunities to do the same thing here. In these aging forests great trees fall at just the right height for my coconut and so I’m minding both.
    As we finally made our way into the MP area the crowds began to gather, and we hit some of the first true viewing points. Here was the Gate of the Sun. Here we stopped for our first bird’s eye view of this incredible site, and took photos when the misty clouds parted enough for us to get a shot. The mountains promised us a better day, as we could see the rain clouds beginning to disperse and the blue beginning to peek through. We stayed here to watch the miracle of the sunrise into the valley, the gold onto the green,
    On we went, energized and very happy, although honestly a big part of me was already missing the deep silence of the mountains, the roar of the big streams through our campsite, the welcoming women with their Gatorade and candy bars at every rest stop. Where we were going would be busloads and trainloads and airplane loads of people who had not done the walk. As anyone who’s ever done this knows, there’s a camaraderie among those who dun it and who ain’t dun it, and there’s this cool pride coming down the mountain kinda stinky, and tired, and full of a sense of accomplishment, and a wee bit of pride, and looking at MP like dammit you’re MINE now, I’ve earned it! With equal feelings of awe and wonder and appreciation and a great deal more all mixed in. This site really is quite amazing.
    As we descend we can also make out how many touristas are already here and there are a great many of them, so you kind of resign yourself- and Edwin was good to warn us over and over again about it- to the experience. There is a passport check and a 3 sole bag check and a proper flush toilet that is 1 sole but by then you’d pay 10 to sit on something that flushes and allows you to wash your hands. There are places to buy hinky stuff and places to sit down and rub friendly dogs and places to sit quietly despite the hubbub and think about what you just did. Which I did while scrubbing the belly of a calico colored and very happy boy dog who didn’t expect that much attention but was happy to get it. After getting our faces washed off and some coffee inside us and our packs put away and cameras out, Edwin and Jimmy took us up into the MP ruins and on our final tour, the culmination of our walk.
    Considering how long we’d been on the trail, this part was relatively brief. I sat against a rock in the warm sun while Edwin spoke, and promptly fell asleep. I didn’t meant to be rude, but the combination of the comfortable position, the sweet temperature and that delicious sunshine was far too much. Edwin spoke for a long time and I suspect it was about a great many important things. I’m glad he did. I’m also glad somebody kicked my boot to get my butt going when the tour started again.
    MP stretches across and around the mountain, and deserves at least a day of exploring. Some of our group was staying another day in the local hotel. Most of us weren’t so we clambered up and around and listened to Edwin explain about the different kinds of rocks to build different buildings, the temples, the history, the sacrifices (everyone’s favorite part) and what basics he could present to us in the time we had before we were bussed off to the little tourist town of Aguas Caliente. Here the valley stretched up and away, the mountains protected her jewel, the lookout towers could see for miles in all directions. This was a massive achievement in architecture, in art, it was monumentally beautiful. Below us, llamas grazed peacefully in what was once a town square. We marveled over the precision of the cut stone, the still working water works. The ongoing stories that Edwin had told us all about Hiram Bingham ( worth reading about before you get here) and the simple fact that for the most part, we simply don’t know more than we do know. Most of our knowledge is recent, and most of what is written are theories. There are great mysteries.
    I supposed many people come here looking for some kind of great religious experience. Maybe they find it. However, I found a greater value in the journey along the trail, the demand that the walk places upon us, the patience to deal with the little lumps and bumps we get, the funny things that invariably happen, the great team that works so hard to get us there. Your body gets you there. But not without a good community of men and women and the nifty friends along the way.
    We grabbed our tickets and stood in line near the banos for the bus to Aguas Caliente, a short ride from MP, and headed off. We were told to meet Edwin in a small restaurant where we would take the 6 pm train to Cusco, which I changed to an earlier departure (you pay a penalty but the extra hours are worth it. ) Aguas is all about tourist stores and restaurants, most pizza places, and while there are hot springs, I had yet another trip to get ready for and that meant sorting clothing and gear and I had some to purchase.
    The heavens had decided to open up on us here, and so with the rain pouring down on us Jimmy and I hiked up to the train station and I got the new ticket. Here in the market was a bonanza for me, plenty of sweet-natured dogs to pet, and enough time to have a big fruit salad and enjoy everyone’s company one last time before parting. Our group made it to the restaurant one by one, and we all got our achievement certificates while most people got pizzas.
    Here too I got the chance to raid my ATM and get enough cash to say the right kind of thank you to Jimmy and Edwin, which was separate from the porters’ tips, because these two men truly added their personal touch to my experience to the trip. Their thoughts, stories, insights on the Pachamama religion , their personal beliefs and their kind attention to details throughout the trip had made it very special for me. We’d had a big group with 21 porters, and Edwin as 7 years in this business so this isn’t his first rodeo. They work hard for their experience and while I’ve no idea what their salaries are they sure deserve good tips.
    On the train, there was another bonus. I had a single seat, which a couple negotiated me out of so that they could sit together. That put me with Alonzo, who was a guide with a group of people just finishing a trip. Between conversations with his group, Alonzo and I got to talking about his outfit, and it turned out that what he does is perfect for what I want to do next time I come back to Peru (no doubt, that is happening! Can you say river raft, Arequipa, kayak, more riding, omg) I plan to research him when I get home but this is often how I meet my next guide, go to my next country, find my next adventure. It’s all about relationships. The good news is that if it all checks out, the prices points are a great deal less than what I typically find on the web. But that’s what due diligence is for.
    Alvaro found me Carmelo for the taxi ride back to Cusco, so by early evening I was back in that lovely town to sleep and sleep and sleep, reclaim my luggage and be tumbled into a big room with TWO beds, and skip dinner and put my face in a bit fat pillow. Nothing ever felt better.

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    April 11:The wake up – sans alarm- might have been at about 9 am. I had taken the time to take one very long, very hot shower so that I didn’t insult such nice clean sheets the night before so it was time to capture the rest of breakfast before they closed the kitchen. Touristico Recoleta varies its offerings and this morning it was a big bowl of fruit with yogurt, and I had left behind a big box of unopened mango nectar and a huge roasted chicken breast which was in fine shape. Based on my planning the calendar it said I had two days of R&R. I had one. Crap. No lazing around. Today was the day I had to buy batteries, and the skirt, and a whole host of other small but important things in a city most likely to have them.
    I tore open all my bags and sorted through the laundry, some of which had the bad manners to jump out the window and get run over by the Coke truck before I could bring them back in and add them to the bag. A good sized bag, ripe and ready for soap. Off it went, back by 7 pm says the girl. I grab my sunglasses and money and head out the door, with a map marked by the owner to help me buy readers ( I broke mine the first night by sitting on them, that will do the trick) the lovely skirt (San Pedro market) an alarm clock battery ( like an earphone battery) and a slew more of that kind of annoying but essential chore.
    By the time I got home that night I’d found a magnificent Peruvian skirt- and I mean an eye popper=- but someone else at that market had found my $200 high altitude glasses. When I took off my jacket, someone rifled my gear while I was distracted. There they went. So out into the sun I go, and uh-oh. Well poop. So I accept my losses, make a few more purchases, track down the readers ( a very long trip) and eventually get back to the hostel. Find my back up glasses ($100 Oakleys) and wear them around. Now these aren’t Polarized so I have to replace the really good ones. Now I’m finishing my shopping and as I do I get distracted again and some else gets my Oakleys. I’m not making this up. In the span of a few hours I’ve managed to lose $300 worth of high end sunglasses, and howzat for a howdy do? Means I am NOT PAYING ATTENTION to my stuff.

    Ah well. This happens. So you move on. I now head into the backpackers shops to try to find replacements. They don’t have them. At about 4 pm I’ve gone into fifteen shops for batteries and no one has the batteries but I did find the glasses, and nobody has those croakies. Well I guess I’ll just have to be really damned careful. But I try one more shop and they have the alarm clock battery.
    It astounds me how pleased you can be about finding something so simple when you have been searching for it for hours. But there it is. The alarm works, and that’s huge.
    So Av Rooster say what you will, I am pouring sunglasses into the local economy, but not money, although in this case it might as well be the same thing.

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    12April

    You guys already know what happened with the laundry but suffice it to say that working with one bra on one girl for four weeks is challenging. Especially in a very sweaty place like the Amazon. Wow. But we will make it work. One of the laughs at the EcoAmazona Lodge is that you ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY MAY NOT DO LAUNDRY IN THE BUNGALOWS. Well pfooey. Everyone does. I mean come on. Sometimes you have very little with you, you come in smelling like a wart hog in the war zone, and you head for the sink. Rules or no rules. One bra? Bring me the soap and water baby.
    Pto Maldonado- what can you say about this place? I’ll make it brief: nothing. The shiny brochures from EcoAmazonia promised a “tour of the city”. There is no city. There is nothing here, or if there is, or was, it has deteriorated badly, and sadly, and it is poorly everywhere. To that end a group of us tourist busses had to be escorted by police who periodically stopped and cleared away large pieces of concrete from the main road and left the other detritus, garbage and crap for us to roll over. If there was a city tour, it must have been a long time ago. Nobody stood at the front of the bus and explained grand things about the place. There were whispers about strikes and having to leave hours early to make your plane out to Cusco. So I have little to report about Pto Maldonado except that the EcoAmazonia people were right there as promised to meet us and took us to the bus. This is a place that looks like it once had a great deal of commerce and, along with the precise copy of the San Francisco Bay Bridge that stands as a single monument to someone’s dream, there once was a ideal here.
    We left it behind in our boats and headed upriver, eventually landing for lunch at EcoAmazonia Lodge.
    Now there are several things to understand about lodges in the Amazon and if you’ve not been it’s good to know these things. This is my third, and there are some rules they follow, which are important. Your devices don’t work here- no wi-fi. You have power at a given time, usually at night, to recharge. I write until my batteries die then recharge, here from 5:30 TO 10 PM. That’s when the overhead lights and fans come on. No hot water and you don’t need it anyway. You will need a light jacket. If you get wet, and there’s a likely chance you will, and it’s windy, you will get cold. Cold means a chance of hypothermia. People die of hypothermia in the tropics too. Take a rain jacket. A poncho is a good idea here. You will be changing into rubber boots so bring high good socks. This is the one thing I goobered on, I had brought athletic socks, not my high wool hiking socks, and those were what I actually needed. I had one pair with me and BOY were they ripe by the time I left the Amazon! Don’t go barefoot, barefoot means blisters. Sandals are fine around the lodge. The mud is deep, you won’t be in you hikers most of the time. Don’t drink the room water. I brought a Steripen which makes it potable. It doesn’t taste very good but it’s potable. Big difference. Don’t put food in your room. Animals, ants, anything gets into it. Bad move.
    This is not a five star restaurant. Now I always have issues around dietary requests. I sent several emails to this outfit before I reserved my space back in early February with explicit directions around what I ate (mostly fruit, so you think tropics, no worries, right?) Cintya in reservations writes me back both times that I write this to confirm it that we’re good; I get here, we’re not good. Someone keeps trying to serve me beef and rice and stuff I don’t eat, and when I ask for more fruit the guy snaps at me to eat the bananas that are in the middle of the room. Since I’ve already scarfed some forty of them I’m tired of lady finger bananas. He also tells me, in a tone that smacks of condescension, to eat the vegetables that are soaked in butter on the dinner line.
    So I speak to one of the waiters and then to the manager who says he’s heard nothing of this so then I go to my room and pull out the emails. I show them to the manager and explain and say with all due respect I did my best to inform the company that there were dietary restrictions, and this was two months ago, so there was plenty of time to communicate this to you before I got here. And I don’t need wait staff taking off my head and asking me to eat more bananas. Manuel is very nice about it and we get this all fixed up and now we’re good- so what I’m saying here is Cintya is nice but she’s not necessarily either competent or thorough. I actually met her in Cusco. I made the trip to their office, paid the balance, asked if all was in order, she said it was, including the diet, and it wasn’t. So best plans of mice and men. Part of the message of this was that it helped that I had the emails with me so that I didn‘t look like some herky jerky complaining tourist who didn’t like the food.
    When I get to my bungalow – and this is the very last bungalow at the very end of a long long walk and we are nearly in the jungle here (which is absolutely perfect for me- more jungle noise at night), I walk into a gorgeous brown wood room with a big fat tub, a nice big shower, a nice little sitting area, a great big bed, and more than enough room to stretch out and put things. There is a nice fan and lights – remember, 5:30 to 10 pm and nice wash facilities. Bright clean towels, soaps, the whole deal. The fact that I’m at the end of the line makes me so happy I could dance. Right here I can walk straight out into the forest on one of the regular trails to the lagoon and I sometimes do, which allows me to briefly escape the resort and imagine I’m Jane (does anyone remember Tarzan?) and loll from a vine for a while. Which, if I had a machete, I could open up for water. Unfortunately the best I had was the Swiss Army knife I donated to some TSA guy’s kid’s collection so my jungle adventure ends there.
    Right now I have about 9% battery left so the rest of this may have to wait until 5:30 pm tonight. Lunch is served- for me that’s fruit. No bananas.

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    13April
    EcoAmazonia is probably best described as a great place for groups and families. There is a great place for that. For this you can expect institutional food (much of it pretty okay) institutional group tours and institutional experiences. There had been a very bad flood here back in February, the water line is clear up to a foot into the bungalows and they are up on stilts. It was very bad, lots of farmers lost their living, animals, pets, to say nothing of the devastation in the forest. My guess, based on what I’ve seen, is that the jungle animals are only just now beginning to come back. The other thing that greets you here is a great deal of very noisy construction. Chain saws and hammering and everything you’d expect from a construction site. Now again, I dunno about you, but usually when I’ve come to a place like this, that’s not what I come for: chain saws. Every living thing of any size is going to run like hell from that kind of noise and stay gone until it’s over with. So one of the things a resort can do, and in my opinion should do for the sake of good will ( and I’ve certainly seen this offered in lots of places) is a construction special because hey, we know this isn’t what you signed up for but we’d like to make it up to, kindly come back. Fifteen percent off. Or a free something. I don’t know. But some acknowledgement that your lunch and day is punctuated by sounds you don’t normally get in the middle of Eden and that the tours you take are marked by mud up the trees. High up the trees.
    Nature is vicious, she takes out her own. It’s an education to see her in all her forms and she will show you what she likes, which may or may not include any animals in that long list of offerings that the brochure titillates you with when you send your money along. It’s foolish to expect to see all those animals just because they’re listed because so many of them are nocturnal. But I do think that when certain conditions exist on their end- such as very noisy construction, for example, that changes the nature of those conditions, it’s kind of a nifty courtesy to get folks to say hey cool, we need to come back there when this is all done.
    The truth also is that they may have lost too much money in that destruction to be able to do that, too. I’ve no idea. I don’t know what I don’t know. This place, like others, is coming back, and it can’t offer what it says on the brochures. Not right now anyway. I do know they need new comforters because the ones they have are badly stained and they stink, and not just of humidity and mildew. What you will see are plenty of spiders and insects and a variety of gorgeous trees which are absolutely positively worth seeing, and the guides know their stuff, and most of the cats are incredibly hard to spot anyway unless you are stupendously lucky. The first night I was here we went for a short walk out to a lagoon where big fat daddy caiman came lazily over to the shore and hauled his big ass self out of the water where we all got perfect shots. And for my money, since I spent a month in Ecuador and never saw more than bright red baby caiman eyes on the river, that was worth it. Being here in the jungle is an experience in and of itself.
    If you stay here long enough, that also increases your chances of seeing animals, the best one being monkeys. If you are a fan of howler monkeys you may fall in love with Miguel, the pet howler who has taken up residence in the two tall palms right to the left of the big common area where we all eat. One morning someone made a comment to this effect I took a side trip, and within minutes Miguel, who is dark red, had taken up residence on my shoulder.
    Well, I am very fond of animals, and I like to rub them, and monkeys kind of like to be groomed and scratched, and pretty soon Miguel is in seventh heaven. I am rubbing his little belly and behind his ears and he’s rolling around all over my shoulders and in my arms for more. So this one chick walks up to me and tries to take him away and he screams and climbs back on my shoulder and wraps himself around my neck. I apologize (I did not plan this). He is now attached to my neck for all the world like that 1970s Alien offspring and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve just created a monster. I signal to somebody to bring over a banana. He does, Miguel grabs it, the guy tries to hold him, Miguel screams and wraps himself around my neck again, holding on for dear life. Poop. Everyone gives me an evil look and walks away. I stand there with Miguel the Monster attached like a boa constrictor to my neck. Now I have to pee. Houston, we have a problem.
    So I reach up and start scratching him again and he starts to coo and make all kinds of what appear to be happy howler monkey noises, and he releases his stranglehold on my neck and climbs into my arms. Now he grabs my hand, where I am holding him very lightly, and proceeds to lick between my thumb and forefinger, much like thankyouthank you, like a cat does. I can’t otherwise explain the behavior. I kept scratching him gently, he kept licking my hand, and a German kid comes along. I ask him to retrieve my camera, and bless him if he doesn’t get a slew of shots. Little red face, eyes closed, off in monkey reverie. Thus untangled, I took out a peeled banana, put it on his tree, gently placed Miguel where he could get it and high stepped it to the ladies’ room. I’ve not seen him since.

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    There have been different adventures here, most of them involving walks. They are terribly concerned about your ability to walk between 2 and 5 km, which is what I mean when I say this is a place that is more suitable to a very particular clientele, which you can see during the food breaks. It’s perfect for that too. The walks are short, there is little real exertion. My problem is that you walk walk walk walk walk walk, you don’t really stop and LOOK until the guide says so. What if you see something nobody else does? What if you see a (puma tapir fill in the blank here)? You can’t walk and look at the same time for the same reason as on the Inca Trail: mud, vines, creepers, low trees (bonk) and just awareness.
    As I am here alone I end up being inserted into different small groups and occasionally, and not successfully, into very large ones involving children. Those attempts were met with significant pushback. If I want to be with munchkins I’ll go to DisneyWorld. Kind but firm. For two days I found myself in the excellent company of a family of three from Cairns, northern Australia, a place I got to know well some thirty years ago and of which I have very fond memories. As I spent some four years in that wonderful place- all of it decades ago- it’s always fun to catch up. Mum and Dad were my age and they had a sweet 25 ish. daughter. They lived near the city which of course had changed a great deal, and they were simply wonderful. Dad was that classic, one word rather taciturn company but he had the occasional excellent story when it was time to let one loose, and Mum was 65 and readying to take on an alternate route to Macchu Picchu. They appreciated the chance to pepper me with questions about what to take (Mum hadn’t thought about a lot of things like the challenges of going downhill with a bum knee) and they made my first two days here so enjoyable with their company and humor. They have a lot of respect for the jungle and what I mean by that is that they understand is that if you talk loudly nothing is going to show itself. A message that seemed not to penetrate to other members of our initial group despite repeated requests for quiet. That family also smoked, which makes for a most unhappy experience. But then, touristas.
    There are set walks that take you to high lookouts or lagoons, to Monkey Island where the guide puts out pieces of banana. You are told to hide your water bottle for the monkeys will come after them. I did hide mine in my lower cargo pocket and tied my jacket to hide it, but the walking moved the jacket. The pretty hefty female spider monkey –and she is wild mind you, this is not Miguel- climbed on one young man’s shoulders and they were readying for a shot. She climbed over to me suddenly which made me persona non grata but my water bottle was hanging out in the open, my jacket had been pushed aside. OOOOH bad tourist. Well we fixed the problem, the other family got its shot, and the spider monkey climbed back on me. Probably at least 50 pounds of very strong animal. Not to be fooled with. We got the shot and I was happy to have her move on. She shot back up the tree because the boys were coming, but not after she raided most of the remaining banana. You go, girl.
    Here, tourists are controlled, and told where to sit. I don’t have a group and when I sat down alone one of the waiters became very unhappy. “ You sit with your group,” he said, agitated. And he wasn’t pleased that I didn’t have one. People like rules. When you break rules, then you are a problem. When you are alone and don’t have a group, you are a problem to the staff, apparently. So my take on EcoAmazonia is that they are a bit inflexible, they like a certain kind of tourista, and that isn’t me. This reminds me so much of Dollywood, near Knoxville, USA, where I would go to train in their vertical skydiving tower. In the mornings I’d go to the local breakfast buffet and just watch people feed. It was like cattle call. People ate until they couldn’t move. Big huge groups of them waddling to the tables with their name tags that said “Bill, Maryland” or “Mary, Texas.” Someone in New Zealand said to me once it would make such a difference if the sign said “Eat all you need, not all you want.” Something to think about.
    Here, one waiter angrily directed me to go eat when I was just sitting quietly, minding my own business. Apparently that’s not all right either. The manager himself tries hard to please and for that I am grateful, but I think that like a lot of outfits, this one is one of those grinders that puts people through a system and spits them out the other end. The brochures promise adventures and when you get here it’s entirely different- simply because the word “adventure” can be so loosely interpreted. I am going to contact the man I met on the train-Eco Peru Adventures, I think- because for my investment, I’d rather sleep in a tent, get dirty, go with a guide, and tell better stories than have an anxious waiter bark at me for not sitting with a group. When Alvaro said Class V Rapids, that got my attention. That’s adventure. And It is just not for everyone, which is the whole point.
    So here’s the good side, and what made today, the 14th such a good experience. When Alex, a guide, tried to sell me on going out with a huge group with kids last night, I suggested that I take the day off today and write all day. Everyone relaxed, problem solved. I slept twelve hours, it was heaven, I ended up barely making breakfast. And so one of the waiters I’d met earlier comes over and starts up a conversation. He’s nice as you can be, he’s on a two month rotation. He loves it here. Adores the jungle. Takes time to go out and sit on the lagoon and watch the animals on his day off. He’s deeply moved by his time here. We talked until my eggs got cold and we got the beady eye from the cleanup guy. This man made my whole day. He was interesting and interested and fun and funny and engaging and an absolute gem. No big ego trying to tell me where to eat or what to eat. Just a genuinely nice guy with a story worth hearing. He appreciated where he was and what he had.
    And I worked my batteries until they cried uncle today. The day was cool enough to sit under a blanket until 10 am. I took two cold showers. Wrote about Africa and Peru and rested the pins and loved every lazy minute of it. Because David is taking me on a nice long hike tomorrow and it’s going to be a gas. A good long day after a good long rest day. I’m still filling in details on my Kili summit. The Aussies left today and I miss them. I love meeting wonderful people like that who add to the string of pearls on a trip. The power is back on, dinner is in twenty minutes and we’re charging again. The trip is nearly half over, again it’s flying by because it’s so full of wonder. The chef is going to get a really nice tip but not the nasty waiter. All I really want are big plates of fresh fruit and a chicken leg. How hard is that?
    Sometimes, as the waiter and I discussed today as he was describing his time by the lagoon, you have to just take a moment to say “gracias.” We spoke of why it’s so important to stop and look around and see where you are- this jungle, this land, this mountain, this place, this life, and be amazed. Whoever or whatever you pray to makes no difference. Something got you here. And here is pretty special. So it behooves to step into the forest for a moment and be absolutely positively humbled. I can’t believe I get to see this hear this smell this experience this. That’s what I appreciated the waiter so much for today. The reminder to say thank you.

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    16 April
    Sometimes it’s just good to take a break so I took a day off Monday if for no other reason than to catch up on my writing. What a perfectly gorgeous day dawned, too, and I slept in just long enough to almost miss the breakfast (there are no lazy breakfasts here, remember it’s a cattle call). So I ran over to catch the last of the fruit and juice and load up on papaya for the day. There is a huge contingent of Norwegians here that takes up a whole long table, I am now relegated to my own “group” of one spot at the end of a lonely table where I have my own placemat. They like me to sit where I belong, it’s easier to remember where to bring the platters of fruit.
    Once finished and the main body of adventurers are off for the day I wander through the pool room and down the long path and back to my bungalow, which now is dark and cool. Blessedly cool. Dark and cool enough to require a blanket, and my headlamp. So I set up both and the writing begins. The night before I’d re-read material from my previous trip to Tanzania back in November and realized that I’d left off just as we’d started our ascent, and there was a great deal to catch up on. That was how I spent my day- delightfully reliving those moments and hours of climbing Kilimanjaro, the time with the guides, and all the funny events of trying to get down the mountain in one piece. The day passed with the sun warming the room, the lizards making scratching noises on the roof and the only real indication of time passage was the urge to eat. By day’s end when the lights came back on I’d done a full day’s work and was nearly caught up, time that I’d simply not had for months, and so precious for the ability to concentrate and go back to Africa and relive that adventure. And also to catch up on my blog and so many other writing chores. Soon it was time for dinner, and the third cold shower of the day (they are inevitable) and a nice long walk down the lit pathway to a see man about fruit. By this time the moon was full so we were treated to the sight of our full friend lighting up the Madre de Dios, the shining pathway across her waves wide and strong. It was a lovely night, cool and easy, and perfect for mosquitoes, so river reverie didn’t last long especially because of the smokers.
    As usual the manager made sure I was geared up with oodles of fruit and my flat chicken breast, and enough veges, and I also remembered to fill the water bottle for the next day’s long trip.

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    There is a particularly long day where you have to get up early, and this was the day that I joined the Norwegians. I honestly don't know what it is about Swedes and Norwegians and Finns, and they themselves will tell you this, but they can come off as a little stand offish, but the moment you are in the group they work so hard to make you feel welcomed and included. This happened back in November when I had the exceptional good luck to be with a big group of Swedes on a six day horse safari and again with this very large group of Norwegians.

    To explain: this particular group was so big it had to be split in two.This was a Lutheran choir that traveled the world and sang with other choirs of many other cultures. I was to learn a great deal more from their choir leader later but many surprises were in store. We were all up by 5 and in the cafeteria at 5:30, and on the landing to see the sunrise by 6 am. Once they realized they had a ringer in their group they smiled at me warmly and that was that. Several of them had noticed me writing in a big notebook the night before and expressed curiosity about what I had been doing. Almost all were near my age. One large woman sporting walking sticks came on board, sat near me and in seconds this proud woman, Shasti, had revealed that she'd spent time in Kenya in the seventies where she'd met her Danish husband and we were deeply engaged in a fascinating discussion. This was just the beginning of the morning.

    Victor, our guide, explained the need for jungle silence, which this very big group respected utterly, and we were soon off to our landing spot. Because the group was so quiet the guide was able to point out the early morning bird calls as we walked through the jungle as it awoke. The sun splashed butter through the thick canopy, and we trundled through the undergrowth with nary a sound. When I coughed a couple of times, a hand shot back from the woman in front of me with a cough drop and a whispered warning, "it's strong!" just a sweet gesture.

    Victor led us to enormous trees, where we all took pictures, and people immediately offered to take mine without my having to ask. We saw tapir tracks but nothing living, although we got plenty of education about lichens and mushrooms and iron trees. Our walk was 5km that morning and all were brisk with the exertion, and when we reached the lookout tower (four steep floors of steps leading straight up to see over the canopy) most sat at the base.

    Four of us took to the stairs, and as we did, the group broke into song. Glorious, wonderful song. I had no idea what I was listening to, but the music was utterly magnificent. As I climbed the steep steps the tune lifted me up and up and up, the lovely harmonies of these talented singers offering a moment of pure grace right smack in the middle of the Amazon forest. You cannot imagine such a moment. It was unearthy. Here some thirty trained voices were taking me right into the clouds over millions of acres of palm trees- and frankly, you can be ornery about the food, and be frustrated that it's not the adventure that you might have preferred, but you cannot possibly have a moment like that without being with a group like this. And I would not have been anywhere else right then. What a gift. I was supremely moved, and in that moment (as with others) very grateful to have been put with this group.

    I found out later that I was listening to Happy Birthday but you know what, it could have been a Norwegian beer drinking song and it still would have been a sacred moment for me.

    At the top of the tower, we could see the spikey tops of palms for miles in all directions. I was able to have a conversation with several of the men, who did their best to teach me how to say "my pleasure" in Norwegian. I got down the ten thousand thanks but more than that was challenging. I was beginning to learn more about the individuals- journalists, historians, more-and their personalities as we walked, but only when we stopped.

    The trek that day involved walking over a 700 meter elevated "bridge" which was over a swamp. We had to separate ourselves by 30 meters due to the delicate shape the bridge was in. The word bridge is a joke, it was a couple of moss eaten planks and occasionally something to hang onto. I thought of Shasti and her walking sticks, she was leading our whole group and doing a fantastic job of it. Below us were caiman, nasty looking water, millions of baby fish, and plenty of things we didn't want to fall into.

    The jungle stayed mainly cool as we walked, and we ended up in a big long boat which Victor paddled for us with the utmost quiet as we studied the forest for signs of life. We ended up seeing- because of Victor's sharp eyes- a number of Black Caiman whose eyes were visible above the water line. The water was oily and rather putrid looking. We did see a few birds, and a lot of small items like snail eggs. But never anything larger, which I put to the flood more than anything else.

    Our trip ended with Victor putting us into a big boat and we took up paddles. One of the big men- who sported a classic white fisherman;s beard sans mustache- and I picked up the paddles at the back of the boat and heaved to ( mostly because I absolutely must practice this for all the kayaking I am doing this year and also I love to paddle) and then for the next hour, he and I helped Victor move our group through a lagoon. This actually was great fun because it allowed us to be out of the jungle, in the sun, to feel some breezes and see birds, more caimans and watch the shore go by.

    This took us to another walk, and by now we're all starting to feel some tummy pangs if we hadn't brought some supplies along. The sun is high, it's gotten a lot hotter, and we've put in some kms and everyone is feeling like a little food would be a good thing right about now. Shasti's good a good film of sweat on her forehead and many are showing sunburn on their very white Norwegian skin.

    No one's energy has flagged, however, and we are all still good to go, as we continue to work our way over the muddy trails and peer into the forest for signs of life. By now, however the monkeys are asleep and most of the animals have retreated. We have seen and gotten terrific photos of many caimans, big ones, too, and we're happy with what we have.

    We finally break out of the jungle to the shore of the Madre de Dios, and that means a 10 minute trip back to the Lodge where we shower up and head to the food line again.

    What strikes me later, and I am treated to multiple, rich conversations with a number of these good people, is how many go back to the education that Victor provided about the medicines that the indigenous people gained from the forest. Britt commented that she began to really understand the role of the jungle, and from it, the role of the earth and our relationship to it. She said that she and her husband have a house on the ocean in Norway, they have a happy life, they swim, they sail. It's all good. They are content. But her trip in the jungle and what she had learned from Victor had made her see how essential it was that we do a far better job environmentally, be more responsible in our decisions around the globe. To that end I'd say Victor did a terrific job- and this of course is the whole point.

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    Now somehow I have managed to lose my readers on our morning trip- ok AvRooster here we go again- and my extra pair is in my big back back in Pto Maldonado. I cannot see squat without readers, and this is where getting older just plain stinks. The kind waiter goes down and checks the boat but I know good and well that this particular pair left my possession in the woods and some short sighted peccary is now sporting his first pair of glasses and walking around the woods going DAMN! I can SEE! Well, glad to be of help. So now the waiter is telling me that the boss is in Pto Maldonado, and I offer to pay him if he can buy me another pair. No, he's on the boat. Did anyone lose a pair in lost and found? (you'd think with all my fellow oldsters SOMEONE would lose a pair of readers) Nope. Nary a pair. AUGH! I am facing eight hours of potential work time without glasses. Or being able to see anything much at all.

    Boy if you've ever had this happen and you're blind as a bat without yours you can sympathize. So the waiter and I are considering the conundrum and he has a flash of inspiration and he makes a call. Meanwhile I am stuffing myself with my papaya and watermelon and watermelon and papaya. At some point the manager, a tall man with lovely curly greying hair, approaches the table and says he understands I'm blind without readers, and gives me his. Now that is a gift. I make sure he can manage without and very very gratefully take them and make use of this opportunity to write and rest and write and rest the rest of this day, as my ankle has requested a little air time.

    In the evening I make my way down to the landing again (because I can see the stones where I put my dogs) and enjoy that fantastic moon over the Madre de Dios. My last night on the river, and it is a silvery gorgeous splash in the night, with just a few light clouds to surround her. No one else is on the landing but for a few bugs. Time to pack everything up, make sure it's all ready for a quick early take off in the morning. Wake up comes at 5 am.

    Tomorrow many of us leave, and the manager will get his glasses back on the landing.

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    If I am keeping count properly, that makes it THREE pairs of glasses lost? In how many days, jhubbel?

    Is the manager really expecting to get his glasses back?

    Poor innocent guy! My heart goes out to him. LOL!!!

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    The wake up call does indeed come at 5, as the strikes are still on in Pto Maldonado, so there is real concern about getting us all to the airport in time. The lights are turned on for us who are leaving and we scurry about packing up to the sounds of a forest still very much awake in the dark. Breakfast for us is at 5:30 am and I am most happy to greet my Norwegian friends in the near dark as the sunrise is still just a promise over the river. This time I get hugs instead of smiles, which is just a joy, and now I've also got cards from Britta the journalist, and her husband the historian who want to stay in touch. Their great long table doesn't have a single empty chair so even if I want to break the iron rule and go sit with my friendly neighbors there's nowhere to put me so we wave at each other. Besides, we have the boat and bus ride. And that is the best part.

    There is a great large man with a flowing Santa beard which comes halfway down over his generous belly. He has ice blue eyes and a full mouth, he always wears a hat to cover his balding head and he strides with great energy. I am told he is the conductor of the choir and that he also does seminars on leadership. He was part of the other group that split off from us, so when he came to our boat for the lengthy trip to Pto Maldonado and sat alone at the front of the boat I was delighted for the chance to speak with him.

    His name was Bruts, and he was in every single was a man of the world. He has been running this choir for a number of years and has found a way to take this growing group to countries far and wide, to sing with Indians and Serbians and Mexicans and Americans and just about anyone who asks. His story is remarkable and inspirational and it was an honor to spend the time with him, and hear how his travels have made him such an open heart and so accepting of all religions. We spoke of how music creates a way to the heart and how the hard work of learning to create harmony results in such happiness among the singers in the end product. And how traveling so far and being in so many cultures has fundamentally changed the lives of the choir members. This man, through his good work, has shifted the perspective of a great many people, and to his credit he is deeply humbled by the opportunity to do the word he's doing.

    Again, Bruts was a gem, someone I'd never meet on an adventure- and someone who touched me deeply with his story, a wonderful example of how to make a difference in the world.

    We all picked up our baggage at the EcoAmazonia HQ and as we drove through Pto Maldonado, noticed the piles and piles of concrete that again blocked the streets. Apparently the strikes were still full on but we got to the airport in plenty of time. That meant some long waits for us. In the meantime most of us opened up our luggage on the steps of the airport and commenced to completely repack, sort out and reorganize ourselves in the bright sunshine. It's my impression that this is what everyone does after time in the Amazon. After that the luggage gets put in line, everyone finds a seat, and waits for the restaurant and then the airlines to open up. Now you have to keep in mind that this is a very small airport and only a few airlines fly in and out of here, and a lot of folks fly those flights, so that means that the steps are full of people, the seats inside go fast, and the place looks like a miniature Grand Central Station with masses and masses of lined up baggage and people standing protecting their place in line and eyeing you fiercely when you walk up to your baggage. They almost ask for ID to make sure that this is actually your backpack to make sure they didn't just lose one place in line. Rough place, that airport.

    Most of us are headed for Cusco and then either Lima or other destinations abroad. I am heading for Juliaca, then Puno, where I plan to spend time on Lake Titicaca. I've got a trip planned tomorrow morning at 7 am so there's little time to get ready.

    The flights go off without a hitch, everyone bids a find goodby in Cusco as we get off and head in our various directions, and I find my way to the Juliaca flight. And when I land in Juliaca I find a sweet natured taxi driver to get me to Puno for 80 soles. As we drive through Juliaca I realize that this is not a town I'd want to spend time in for much of any reason, if impressions are any indication. Based on where we drove, and it's all a matter of the roads we were on, this was a uniquely unattractive town in a lovely country. I'm quite sure others have gone there and found something I haven't but suffice it to say that the roads my driver took were through areas that were most unattractive and uninviting. I was happy to be on the highway to Puno.

    When we get to Puno it is starting to get dark,and he is having a hard time finding my hostel, which I know to be down an alleyway. I can't help with this, and my Spanish isn't good enough to be of much assistance, so I watch as we drive around and around. At one point I lean forward and ask in my limited Spanish if he still has the directions I gave him. He turns to me and thinks I'm asking him to move the passenger seat forward. In doing so he takes his foot off the brake and promptly slams the car in front of us. Whoops. Well now there are two unhappy campers, my driver and the guy he just walloped. We now have to drive to another street, check the bumpers and make sure a big fee isn't going to be involved. So while this is going on I sit and wait, and periodically I turn and watch the conversation and his body language, and he points at me and makes gestures which clearly indicate that he has a tourista muy stupido in his car and there's nothing to be done about it and you know what I mean and the other guy laughs and I figure hey, whatever it takes to get out of a bad situation. This takes about 15 minutes and my guy gets back and at least at this point- the other guy drives a taxi too- he knows where he's going and so we head right there.

    Seconds later we're at the door of Inka's Rest and I'm unloading all my gear, I give my 80 soles to my driver who is quite happy to be rid of me, and I land in Gilda's lap. And am very happy to be there.

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    Inka's Rest is a little hostel that I found on Hostel Bookers, and the manager is really who makes the place. It's an oddly organized hostel, but there is huge common room with dorms and the big single room she upgraded me to (which I have now come back to twice). That was the best in the house. Surprisingly although this room is long the noisy hallway I have had little trouble getting a solid night's sleep.

    I landed a bit tired after the long day of travel, threw my baggage in the room and promptly headed out to get food for my trip. Gilda provided me with excellent directions and down the street I headed for the big supermarket. Without thinking much about it I added Ritz crackers and cheese like product sandwiches to the supply thinking this would be a good item for the island stayover along with boxes of yogurt. And then while packing that that night I indulged in a few for dinner as there was so little time to prepare for the next morning's pick up at 7 am. Yeah well. And the last time I ate processed food was what year?

    At about 2 am the 17th I woke up so ill with a mega migraine and a very unhappy tummy, treated it as best I could, then stumbled out of bed at 6 am to greet Gilda who was already at the desk. She kindly took care of my travel plans (no way today!) and I crawled back in bed to sleep a total of 11 hours. When I got up she plied me with coca tea and her excellent kind company for a few hours while the tea did its fine work. The upshot of all this was that I was able to replan my trip to the islands and utilize Gilda's contacts which were both far less expensive and a great deal less touristy, and for my part in many ways a better experience than had I gone through an agency. Which I shall share, along with contact information for anyone wanting to do a home stay.

    Puno does not have a great deal to recommend it other than it is the central step off point for all the great areas that surround it, there is so very much to do, and you can largely take care of business in town to the extent that you need to refurbish. I was able to replace reading glasses (at a much greater cost here) but not at all able to find a saco or jacket which I'd been hoping to find at a local mercado. I was sent on quite the walking tour for about three hours as I described what I sought, was sent to Bellevista market,. down to a major street area, back to Bellevista, then to the touristy artesanal market where I knew it would not exist. Ultimately I never did track it down so my chances were better in other areas. However walking the city was a fun process, as was walking the main markets, and the main streets with their street vendors, so while I didn't find my jacket the interactions were fun and it was a great way to explore Puno. I loved the local traditional clothing and the warm greetings, people were open and friendly, the street police were quick to help, which I can't say about the Vea folks who weren't big on customer service. I found better produce on the street than in that big store but yogurt was only available in Vea.

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    Inka's Rest is a little hostel that I found on Hostel Bookers, and the manager is really who makes the place. It's an oddly organized hostel, but there is huge common room with dorms and the big single room she upgraded me to (which I have now come back to twice). That was the best in the house. Surprisingly although this room is long the noisy hallway I have had little trouble getting a solid night's sleep.

    I landed a bit tired after the long day of travel, threw my baggage in the room and promptly headed out to get food for my trip. Gilda provided me with excellent directions and down the street I headed for the big supermarket. Without thinking much about it I added Ritz crackers and cheese like product sandwiches to the supply thinking this would be a good item for the island stayover along with boxes of yogurt. And then while packing that that night I indulged in a few for dinner as there was so little time to prepare for the next morning's pick up at 7 am. Yeah well. And the last time I ate processed food was what year?

    At about 2 am the 17th I woke up so ill with a mega migraine and a very unhappy tummy, treated it as best I could, then stumbled out of bed at 6 am to greet Gilda who was already at the desk. She kindly took care of my travel plans (no way today!) and I crawled back in bed to sleep a total of 11 hours. When I got up she plied me with coca tea and her excellent kind company for a few hours while the tea did its fine work. The upshot of all this was that I was able to replan my trip to the islands and utilize Gilda's contacts which were both far less expensive and a great deal less touristy, and for my part in many ways a better experience than had I gone through an agency. Which I shall share, along with contact information for anyone wanting to do a home stay.

    Puno does not have a great deal to recommend it other than it is the central step off point for all the great areas that surround it, there is so very much to do, and you can largely take care of business in town to the extent that you need to refurbish. I was able to replace reading glasses (at a much greater cost here) but not at all able to find a saco or jacket which I'd been hoping to find at a local mercado. I was sent on quite the walking tour for about three hours as I described what I sought, was sent to Bellevista market,. down to a major street area, back to Bellevista, then to the touristy artesanal market where I knew it would not exist. Ultimately I never did track it down so my chances were better in other areas. However walking the city was a fun process, as was walking the main markets, and the main streets with their street vendors, so while I didn't find my jacket the interactions were fun and it was a great way to explore Puno. I loved the local traditional clothing and the warm greetings, people were open and friendly, the street police were quick to help, which I can't say about the Vea folks who weren't big on customer service. I found better produce on the street than in that big store but yogurt was only available in Vea.

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    Sorry about the double entry, don't know what happened there.

    The 18th dawned, and Gilda sent me off into the waiting arms of Abad, who was to make sure I got connected to my family on Taquile Island. Abad was very busy. Abad was very very busy. Abad had a lot on his mind. We had a very full bus, and I had to move over multiple times to accommodate "just one more" (memories of Thai buses here) and we careened off to the piers. We get out and Abad puts his hand in the air to make sure we can see him. We follow like a group sheep watching a staff. There are many, many people, it is Easter weekend, it is insane. Abad is preoccupied with phone calls and a great deal more. I check in with him and he says "no worries, no worries!" Ok fine. We march down on the pier and he starts to separate us. There are four of us from Inka's Rest and for some reason he separates me from the other three. I ask him again. Cheerily he says "No worries no worries!" He points me down a long line of boats with the rest of the group and begins to walk off. I ask him one more time and I get the same answer. No worries. Now I am worried. Because this doesn't feel right and my gut is a really good indicator.
    Suddenly we're all moved down about six boats to sit in a big one, some guy sits us down and another guy starts playing pipes. However I won't sit down and I find the guy who seems to be in charge and ask him what the hell is going on. He makes a phone call, looks at me, and says Abad has just made a mistake. Oh. Well. Geez. His boat has already taken off for Taquile Island and they are long gone. So we are on the tourist boat tour for one day, and No Worries Abad is hurtling along at full speed with three of his four charges in tow. Hey, well, my instincts were right but now I'm on the wrong boat.

    Well, whaddya do. So I go sit down in my seat and we head off for the floating islands, which, BTW, wasn't on my agenda. Hey, this is a bonus so why not? After a sleepy ride over, we come into sight of the floating reed islands, which is pretty intriguing. This is a highly controlled visit. You land and stay in a staging area where people with some extremely friendly kids greet you. The President of that particular island and your guide do a nice job of presenting information about the islands, the way the culture works, the life around the reeds, all of it. In the meantime, these very cute chubby cheeked kids run rampant in and out of the reed seats we're all in and either fight, climb on us, take part, show us fish or otherwise charm the hell out of everybody. They do a very nice job of it. We take a quick catamaran ride in the - and the only way you can describe this is that their boat reminds me of something designed in Asia or otherwise in the mind of a Disney Imagineer- the catamaran takes us in a big circle, and then we are to take off again but only after the women ply us with their trades. Lovely all, but things to hang or stand or put on top of shelves. The kids of course help with this, they are expert salespeople. I get a killer shot of one of the little girls pointing a finger at my face and that's my souvenir.

    Soon we're back in the boat and off to Taquile Island, another long haul and this time my seatmate and I are in a long conversation about how she's from Portugal (she has a Russian accent which stumps me completely until she reveals she has a Russian roommate and it's been rubbing off on her and we both laugh). Since Portugal is on the travel list we have a great chance to discuss this lovely country and the time passes sweetly.

    When we arrive, we unload and grab our stuff and start heading up the long stony ramp that leads to the market square. Apparently up there is where people split into groups where some families pick people for overnight stays and others do their thing for the rest of the day and then make the long trek to the other harbor. My adopted guide who has really been kind and has done a nice job of trying to track downwhere I'm supposed to be has by now identified my family and they are going to meet me in the market square. We climb up and up, the island increasingly revealing its terracing tracing back to pre-Incan days for agriculture, and its homes dotted here and there, marked with eucalyptus trees from Australia in the 1950s.

    Soon we've all make the hike up the hill and the bright Cerulean blue of the lake, now so like the ocean, so vast, and the sky dotted with just a few clouds, is laid out before us. The island is charming. There are no dogs here so little sound. Cows, sheep, no donkeys or horses. Very pastoral, and on the way, our guide has done a nice job of explaining the traditional clothing so that we know who is single, who is married, and what hats signify a person of authority. By doing this we instantly know what we are seeing right away. I later learn about skirt colors and other key identifiers as it comes to the community.

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    After the groups split up my new guide points to a pleasant faced man approaching us in traditional clothing and introduces him as Celso, who is the head of the family that will be hosting me for the night. Celso speaks virtually no English but he does speak Spanish, and I am going to find out how well I can understand and speak it over the next two days. He's kind enough to speak it slowly for me to discern the words and I'm able to follow along well enough to comprehend him perfectly.

    Cedeso is thirty one, has a young son and a very pretty wife, Juana. Here, the men have to prove they can weave, which they demonstrate by weaving these perfect hats for themselves. This is of great interest to the women. The hats are white at the top when the men are single and there is intricate stitching around the head area, and the colors against the maroon bottom can be quite bright. The women are identified when wearing the traditional black shawls by the size of the flower like and brilliantly colored pom poms by the size of these pom poms. Great large ones for single and more tame ones for married women. As Juana would explain later, each woman wears a series of multiple layered gathered skirts. Depending on age or marital status, the skirts could be yellow, pink or red for kids, or teal, green, black or purple for married women.
    Celso picked up the bags of fruit and yogurt I'd brought with me (mostly to share with the family) and we began our trek up the pathway towards his house. The house passes though the father's side down as the sons get married, and his house looked over the valley from a perfectly ideal position. It took just minutes, some with a little puffing while climbing, to make the way to his clay colored and blue-accented house with a guest room to the side. There was a garden of maize and lima beans and lovely views of the ocean and the houses and valley below.

    Celso shows me to my comfy little guest room- a twin and a double, both loaded with great layers of heavy hand made blankets, and Juana comes out to say hello accompanied by their very active son Wilfredo who is about 7 or 8. He is a very engaging kid, loves marbles, totally engaged with human beings and not devices and as such, great fun to be around.

    In short order I learn the flow of things- how to utilize the toilet (you pour water in to make it flush) how to lock my door, other basics. The table has been set for lunch and some charming little girls are joining us. Meanwhile Celso has already shown me some local bushes that are used for medicine and tea, and pretty soon he has a cup of coca tea brewing for me.

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    In no time we are sitting in their cheery dining area, the windows looking out over the valley and the stone wall lined trails that lead in all directions, the bright flowers of summer and the bright sunshine. We have a big soup that is redolent of spices and mine is full of quinoa, everyone else's full of potatoes, the main staple of their diet. We get a second course too, chicken and rice and quinoa, and I have brought big oranges for the family.

    That afternoon Celso and Juana invite me to dress up in local clothing and join Celso for a walk. I don't quite yet know what I'm in for but I'm game. Juana brings down three brilliantly colored skirts in marigold, red and purple, a white decorated top and a black scarf with big pom poms. I also have a huge belt which she will assist with, and I head off to my room to give it all a try. A try is a good word. In seconds I'm calling Juana for help and she comes down and helps me with these enormous skirts and soon I'm feeling like a Peruvian Barbie doll. Juana shows me how to arrange the scarf for warmth, and Celso takes our photos. I tower over petite Juana but she sure looks more at ease in this clothing than I do. And off Celso and I head, over some rocks and down a path, and we begin to explore the island.

    Along the way he coaches me in the local greetings which I sometimes remember and sometimes don't. I do my best to listen to him and emulate. We walk into agricultural areas that are still being developed that date back thousands of years. The rock walls were built by the Incas, yet there were civilizations here before them. Up and down the path goes, sometimes newly built, often not. As we cross over the island the lake stretches outward to the west where we see huge dark clouds and the lake has gone steely in color, a sure sign of rain tonight. It's still warm as we walk but the rain is marching for us, as the wind is heading our way. We're walking a steep descent as we point towards the lake, which is still hard to think of as a lake, considering how vast the water is in the distance.

    Every so often I catch and hold my shawl clumsily to keep it out of my way when I have to hoof it up some tough spots, and it gets in my face in the wind. Celso limps a bit, and he explains that while playing soccer he twisted his knee badly. We are both gimping a bit but it doesn't slow down our pace. At one point we sit to watch fishing boats far below, and the clear waters in the light wind. The clouds loom large now, and the sun is just atop them. The bellies of the clouds are black and they are rising high. Celso gets up and continues to head south to the end of the island where the path is rocky, slippery and the view is breathtakingly gorgeous. Here from the outcropping we can see both sides, and the sheep graze lazily nearby. The beach is just hidden to our left and Brazil holds forth not far away. His hat has begun to fly in his face and the only part of me that is consistently warm now is the part protected by heavy layers of the three skirts, so we begin our journey back along the way we came.

    By now the wind is seriously blowing and since I'm about the size of a gnat fart and these clothes are like sails I'm having visions of being lifted up off this island and whirled away to Buenos Aires to land in AvRooster's back yard, which would startle both of us, but save me a plane trip, but then I really would have lost a lot of stuff. Celso is walking double fast and the wind is buffering me to and fro and that big black scarf is acting like a World Cup racing boat but at the same time I am now MUCHO FRIO, so I do my best to reel it in and tuck it where it's supposed to be so that I get the most warmth possible. I am a hopeless idiot in this regard and am losing ground to Celso who doesn't care for the cold wind any more than I do and is quickly disappearing in the face of this impending storm.

    To hell with the shawl, I wrap it any way I can, and walk as fast as I can to keep up and once apace, stay apace. Celso is cold. I can definitely relate. His wonderful hat is also trying hard to take off for Bolivia and he's having the same problem I am keeping various things under control. So we are striding, and some of our striding is going straight uphill, which is winding us both, given the altitude, and when we get to the top of one wicked hill we have a wind break and take a bit of a breather. Then we see the clouds and get back to business. By now the sun has bid us good night and the temperatures have dipped considerably, and with that, the wind gets downright nasty. Any notion of trying to look like a local with this shawl is over and done and I'm struggling to find a way to wean as much warmth as possible out of its length.

    Taquilian women pass us going the other way, clearly chilled, and they have their scarves fixed in place, which makes a mockery of the slip sliding mine is doing. Celso is now taking me on what would normally be a charming roundabout walk through the town square, and there are two advantages to this. He gets to see the soccer game, and at least now we are down in the protected valley, the winds are less invasive.However the temperatures are plummeting even more now and my fingers are frozen in place. Rather claw-like. He stops to watch the soccer game, and when I see him make that slip the hip gesture that says he's settling in for a while, I put my frozen finger to his cheek with the words "Soy frio, por favor." After I helped him climb back down from the branch he landed in after I touched him he seemed to get the general point and we continued our journey back to the house. A tour of the square? NO. The winds were whipping about the square and by now, up the skirts. A view of the lake from here? Nah. Want me to put my hand on your cheek again? Let's keep walking. It was right chilly when we made it back and Celso immediately made me some very hot coca tea, which didn't last five minutes, and he announced that dinner would be ready at 7:30. That gave them some time and me some time, so I climbed under the several happy tons of blankets in the twin bed and fell instantly asleep. Good thing I set the alarm for 7:10.

    Juana served up another big bowl of lovely spiced quinoa and chicken soup and a big omelet for me for dinner and joined us for the main meal. Outside the storm blew in, and hit just after we got to bed shortly after eight. Because of the cold, Celso explained, breakfast wouldn't be until 8 am, at which point the sun would be hitting the doors of the house, the grey cat would be sunning itself and the food would be good and hot. We all said good night and I crawled happily back under the sweet weight of those great wool blankets, and slept deeply until 5:30 am.

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    Yesterday I woke up at 5:30 to lots of grey clouds and made the requisite trip. It wasn't as cold as it could have been, but it was enough to encourage muy rapido, and I went back to bed until about 7. By then the sun was cheery and outside was looking promising. Lights were on in the dining room and the cat was indeed licking its paws in the bright sunshine of the opposite walls. I put on all the layers and walked outside to take photos, especially of the flowers in all that brillant high altitude sunshine. There is no pollution here, the air is so sweet and good.

    At about 7:55 Celso knocked quietly at my door, and I joined them in the dining room. There, Wilfredo, there son, engaged me with several games of cards (some pretty obvious, some not so obvious) and he whacked me at all of them.

    At one point there were several oranges on the table, Celso was sitting next to me and Juana was in the kitchen. Now first you have to understand I'm a little busty or this story has no meaning at all. Wilfredo grabs the oranges, sticks them into his shirt so that poke out in very obvious places and prances around the room. I look up and see this, and poor Celso is doing his best to control his son when I start giggling, because I can't help it, so Wilfredo heads out the door still wearing his D cups, and I've got my face in my hands and Celso is so very concerned and when he looks at me I've got tears streaming out of my eyes and I can't keep the laughter under control any more. My mother's horse laugh comes tumbling out, and he realizes that not only am I okay, I am finding this damned funny, so he allows himself to crack a smile, and soon he's finding this pretty funny too. We sit and have ourselves a good howdy do chuckle at his son who finally peeks around the corner to see if a spanking is in order and when he sees us laughing he realizes that things aren't so bad but he's also smart enough not to parade the oranges in again. They make their way back to the table quietly by sleight of hand.

    I had brought yogurt for the family and Wilfredo was downing his first of three cartons by the time our breakfast was served: big warm fluffy pancakes with jam, and a few more oranges from yesterday with several kinds of tea. One of the neighbor's sons came by and we took photos.

    Because I had expressed an interest, and perhaps because they do this for all their home stay guests, Celso brought in a selection of weavings for me to choose from should I want to purchase anything. It happens I did- and Juana was particularly talented in her loom work so the manta he presented at $400 soles was mine the moment it landed on the table. I also had fallen in love with the bolsa that Celso was wearing for our entire day the day before, and this way I didn't have to ask him where to buy one. He handed Juana the bolsa to finish it for me before I left and I later scored a charming photo of her smiling at me as she finished the edges.The only problem that we ran into was that among the charge for the night, and the charges for all my purchases, I ran out of money $65 soles short. They couldn't take credit cards and there was no bank on the island. Celso offered to let me pay Gilda the remainder, to which I said of course, since they are so close with her at Inka's Rest. Problem solved. We wrapped up the goodies, I crammed them into my backback, and handed over the rest of the yogurt to Juana for Wilfredo. It didn't last long.

    Celso walked to the market square to ensure I had a proper ride with a group secured back and a time for departure. The rest of the time, Juana and I spoke quietly of things that matter, enjoyed the sun, I watched her work, stole photos of her and her interactions with her son, and enjoyed the birdsong and gentle movement of time at her casa. Ten minutes before we had to leave. We took formal group photographs, which hardly expressed how I felt, and then we hugged, which did. Juana's gentle and lovely face, her warmth and kindess, the sweet humor Celso used in all his dealings, and the patience he expressed. He asked me to recommend him and I do, for in all ways this was off the beaten tourist path and a quiet, easy, gentle experiece that I could happily have extended two or three more days which they would have accommodated. That is all arranged through Inka's Rest or directly through Celso Huatta Marca and Juana Machaca Huatta, and Celso's phone number is 051 970928993. Remember he does not speak English, Gilda does speak workable English, and if you book through Inka's Rest she can handle all the rides to the island and the stay with Celso. They are very close friends. The cost per night is $50 soles, all meals included, and Gilda was very good about helping them understand what I eat and it was all fine. Inka's Rest has won many awards on Hostelbookers and I love being here, am writing from here now.

    Celso walked me down to the square, and made sure I was in good hands with a new guide. There I found a kind travel writer who warned Celso that 1)we were going to take a photo and 2) I was about to give him a great big old hug. This time I got the photo I really wanted. He stayed with me until the guide sent me down the long path to the depature harbor, and we wished each other very well, and I was most sorry to end what was feeling like the beginning of a lovely connection. If any readers get the chance to go to Ta

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    whooops Taquile and spend the night, I most heartily recommend this family's home stay. This will work if you eschew the tourist tour mill, and you just want to be quiet, be present, feel the world turn as it turns, see the island, eat the food, and learn about it. In Spanish. You will find that if you have any knowledge of Spanish you will be able to do this. Celso is careful not to speak too fast, and you can always bring a dictionary. It's well worth it.

    The final walk is a nice sunny hike north to the last harbor, about forty minute's worth. It's a cheerful walk, with a few ups and downs, and it's a well kept up walkway. Pee before you go. The next bano is one sole at the harbor.There you wait for your boat, and it can be a long wait. But then the boat is fast and you're back in Puno around 4:30 or 5 and ready to hit the local market for food again.

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    Good morning and Sar very glad to know you're there.AvRooster was kind enough to gently admonish me for the size of my entries and I bow my head to his wisdom, although I have other reasons for writing so much.

    Right now it's about five thirty am in the charming surfing town of Pacasmayo and I am seated by the open window of my third floor great big room, where I was upgraded to due to my friendship with Jorge Cockburn. Jorge is the friend I met back in Tanzania, because of him- and his lovely hyperactive mother whom I met yesterday- I have already had two lovely rids on Pasos in two different towns, and am off again to ride in Jetepeque.

    The long and short of two days ago was that I was in Trujillo at Residential Munay Wasi, a little hotel which I won't spend any time on because I'm not going to recommend it. It's a little pricey for what it offers given where I've already been in Peru,and while the owner is quite nice I think you can find better deals. A driver swept me up early in the morning and drove me to the crumbling little town of Paijan which surrounds a perfect gem- and I mean a real gem- of a breeding operation owned by Lucy Vasquez. My guess is that Lucy is in her sixties, perhaps seventies, hard to tell.

    When I got there Lucy wasn't feeling well and was being attended to by her doctor. I was let in to her simply magnficent house through a huge gate by her staff, and left t look in awe at her house. Huge beams, the colors ranging from green to purple to green to marigold. Each room sported a rainbow color, and massive antique furniture. The huge house was built around a central open tiled area warmed by the sunshine. In the shade were many many tables and chairs, horse tack, the hundreds of championships her horses had won, photographs, old sidesaddles and the pellon, the heavy braided saddle pad unique to the Paso. Various rooms ranging from the lovely tiled kitchen, a formal dining room, a big bedroom and office, a bar, guest rooms all surrounded this warm tiled square. Staff bustled about, and off to the west, two men rode a couple of Pasos who were showing their gait to perfection. There was much to look at, for the porch that overlooked the big grassy area itself had tables and chairs for at least forty more people, and overlooked the stables, where a magnificent breeding stallion held sway.

    Lucy was finally able to join me for a few minutes and in no time she had me up on one of her Pasos along with Javier and another young man, and we were off and riding along the many many roads that surround the Paijan area.I was looking forward to more time with Lucy!

    Almost always the first time out the guide you are with is going to keep a careful eye on you to make sure you're not going to abuse the horse, fall off or do something foolish, so a goodly bit of time is spent just walking. That is until you get a little frustrated with the pace, especially since Lucy made it clear that galloping was perfectly all right with her Pasos (and that is NOT okay with all owners as it tends to affect their paso llano gait). So at one point I asked Javier if we could please speed it up. Not without trepidation, he agreed. Well his speed it up and my speed it up were a little different, and happily my horse got the message. He willingly gave me a nice swift paso llano, and we were moving right along, and as soon as we turned onto a nice soft dirt road I asked for and got a lovely canter. Javier was riding a pretty grey Andalusian and it was his job to make sure that I didn't end up in a bush somewhere so he joined me, and that was that- once he was comfortable we went for long canters, and again these animals are smooth as silk.

    At one point Javier sent the boy and me forward where there was a house and two very loud and aggressive dogs. I didn't know this until the dogs came out and sent my horse sideways. Javier was behind us. Now, was this a setup? I don't know- he knows this area perfectly well. The point is that it's been my experience that sometimes guides will test you to see if you come off your horse when it shies, or rears, or runs, to see if you really can keep your seat. This isn't a problem- it's a good way to earn regard from male horsemen-it's just annoying to have to do it over and over every time you ride with a new guide. The assumption, as Lucy explained, is that the men assume that women cannot ride. Augh. Even though her own daughter has been riding since she was tiny. Those prejudices run so very deeply.

    There are a myriad of roads, and they run past asparagus fields, the mountains rise in the near distance, and the weather in this area is in stark contrast to the rest of Peru. The morning might have been in the high 60s and with a light fresh breeze off the ocean which was about 8 km away. And so much oxygen! We came back the main road which was lined with great overhanging trees, and Javier left me off at the main house with her staff.

    Then came a comedy of errors. Her staff spoke Spanish so quickly that I couldn't understanding and Sra Lucy was sleeping. I was hungry, and needed something to eat, and was perfectly happy to walk to the town market to get it. Multiple questions about food were met with a barrage of rapid fire Spanish and shrugged shoulders and pointing and great confusion and trips to the kitchen to spaak with the cook. In my simple Spanish I explained I wanted to go buy fruit at the market (which was farther away than I realized) and that seemed to cause upset, but Sra Lucy was sleeping because of her medicine, and oh what do we do? What do we do?

    I was pretty much headed out the front gate by that time when Lucy appeared, looking a little worse for wear, and we sorted out quickly that I would indeed go to market with one of her staff. Easily done. She apologized for the state of the market but it's like any other town mercado, dogs eating chicken skin, kids running around, that sort of thing. I loaded up on fruit and brought back bags full of tangerines.

    Cook and her staff busied themselves trying to make formal what is informal: cutting a papaya in half and scraping out the seeds, and scooping the meat out to eat it. I was placed in the formal green dining room, given place mats (two), perfect china, lots of utensils but no spoon, and three staff members all trying to figure out how to formalize this process and make it appropriate for the setting. There is no way to do that with a big fat papaya. I finally got my spoon and did my thing, the seeds were summarily removed and the staff removed themselves from the dining room to allow me to destroy the papaya.

    Lucy was up and moving around again when I was done and we had some time to speak about her family and the horse business. She built this house herself and it is her dream, and she also bought the land across the street to make a quite lovely hotel. She's asked me to stay there when I come back through on the 28th (you BET) and this will allow us much more time to speak. :Lucy is one of those remarkable women of stature and story that you don't just meet once and run. If you get a chance you sit down and talk for hours- she is true friendship material. If I am truly fortunate, this is a woman I will continue to know for a very long time. She is smart and engaging and she has lived an amazing life. Like so many others especially in the horse business she has a spine of steel and that makes her especially interesting.

    In the afternoon Javier showed up again with the same horse and his son, who rides a donkey. Cutest thing in the world, the kid's saddle was nearly bigger than the animal. And he was a terrific rider, too. We filed out of the ranch and took off down the road, and immediately the kid and the donkey took off in front of us. Bounce bounce bounce. Kid has no problem with trotting for nearly three hours (I sure as heck would have) so off we go. The only thing the donkey can't do is keep up with the canter, which we periodically do again. By about four pm I am starting to feel the effects of nearly six hours in the saddle and my knees are singing hello there, and so I so some stretching exercises and also share some of my tangerines with my riding partners. Javier has no English at all and his accent is tough to understand, so I have to take what I can get from our limited exchanges. Most of this six hour day is spent in the magnificent experience of riding an animal whose paso llano gait is unmatched for its comfort and ease.

    The one thing that is my flat forehead slap. I own, and almost brought, a sheepskin saddle pad for endurance riding. In lieu of that I brought my chaps. Due to the perfect weather and the local conditions, the chaps are superfluous. I need the sheepskin badly. The chaps are useless. By the end of six hours, oh. my. god. I slid off my saddle and thought, where the hell is a hot bath. Nowhere close to here, that's for sure. I do have menthol cream which comes in a close second, but a hot bath sure would be welcome. My butt is so skinny the bones ride right on the hard leather. It's actually quite funny. And for those who are curious about such things, the Pa

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    sorry Paso saddle holds your body in a unique position so that your legs are a bit more forward and you are sitting a little more back in the saddle, and I found this put a bit more pressure on the knees. Nothing that the occasional stretch didn't help. But six hours? Oy. Part of this is, is the pure joy of learning new gear, tack and horses, and how much this sack of meat can take in a day. Entertaining at the least.

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    Thanks for posting all of this, jhubbel. Although there is a lot here that doesn't interest me, and I'm not into reading it at the moment, I'm sure I will be able to mine some gems for future travel.

    I have to say I feel sympathy for the poor tent-mate on the IT. Would love to read HER blog!

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    No worries. She and I had a lot of connections around the writing piece,since she's just starting out and I'm a wee bit more established. I think that might have helped. It's the luck of the draw for me too- I don't know who I'm going to end up with, either.

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    Okay so if you're uber conservative, a prude, or you don't like bawdy humor, kindly skip this post. I don't want anyone reading this and getting all huffy because I didn't warn them. There. That's your spoiler.

    So yesterday morning (now keep in mind I'm riding six hours a DAY) I am up at four a.m. and I leap out of bed such as a 61 year old can do after repeated six hour a day rides, and I take a nice long hot shower. I then grab my jar of EFAC cream- those of you who accompanied me to Tanania will remember its uber healing super menthol properties for athletes- and commenced to grab fingerfuls of it to apply to challenged areas on inner thighs and legs and calves. With great energy. Ahem.

    Well any man who has ever been in a sports locker room who has done what I did will tell you that the application of a menthol substance to Certain Areas will produce Sudden and Extreme Reaction, which in my case was the one legged naked Masai Rain Dance, which also involved pained facial expressions, considerable energetic cursing and a run for the loo where I grabbed sanitary wipes and a wet washcloth. Very stupid move. All that did was spread the agony around, and the millions of very angry nerve ends are now billions, and I am hurtling around this (happily very large) hotel room to try to get some soothing wind Down There.

    Now I will report that I did find this extremely funny despite the extreme discomfort, once I was able to control the distortions of my face as I did laps around the beds, especially when I reread the jar which admonished me that the EFAC was "long lasting" and that my morning exercise routine might take a while.

    The good news, which any many will tell you, is that no, nothing falls off or shrivels, it all recovers, but one is then in the future rightly cowed by the power of mighty menthol, and takes great pains to apply the damned stuff where it belongs and NOT where it doesn't.

    I will continue to tall anyone who is in the slightest bit intersted that EFAC cream is the best stuff on the market for MUSCLES. If you're idiot enough to put it where it doesn't belong then you deserve what you get.

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    My dear AvRooster, I hardly need to do it for a living, by god given the habit I have of bodily injury to myself it seems that I provide adequate entertainment as it is. I accept all responsibilities for typos for anything I write prior to 6 am, if I am so determined to get up before God does, but I will say that the view of the surf coming in so early out my third floor window is quite lovely. Even the motos aren't out this early in the morning which is good given my habit of turning the light on and forgetting that clothing was optional.

    We are riding to San Jose today, and after writing a lengthy blog just now and managing to erase it (notwithstanding another friend's suggestion that I do it on Word first and then cut and paste, and she's right, I should, not the first time that's happened since I type so fast) I am just now organizing for the long day. It rains at night, we often have sprinkles in the morning and it clears for sweet days. What a gorgeous climate.

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    Well, I wish I could do the Masai Rain Dance for a living, but, among other non-qualifications, I have a bad knee! LOL!!

    BTW, I second your friend's suggestion you write anything lengthy (well, ANYTHING, LOL) on Word and then cut and paste it.

    After all, we certainly wouldn't want to miss any of it, would we, jhubbel??? LOL!!!

    Have a wonderful ride in San José and be sure to tell us ALL about it no later than tomorrow at dawn!

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    I promise, I promise. There's not much left anyway after this trip. I have three more days of riding so the jar has to last at least that long.
    I will have to rewrite this morning's 5 am entry on Word tonight or in the wee hours tomorrow. Now off to meet another new mount!

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    So one of the very charming cultural aspects of the Paso horse is that before the animal is taken out it is “presented” to the owner, by this I mean it is ridden in a large circle by the challan so that the owner gets to see its condition, action, brio and generally appreciate the animal before he or anyone else takes it out. Yesterday morning Robert, the challan, had a particularly spectactular Paso ready for presentation- not for riding, purely for presentation,which he presented to Javier first and then allowed me to take around this great circle.
    There are times in your life when, if you are extremely fortunate, you get to climb into a Lamborghini, if you love cars. This for me was one of those times. This animal was so incredibly beautiful, so sensitive, so finely tuned that it almost seemed a sin to mount him. But I did, and he carried me around this big ring as though I were floating on a cloud. Marcella got some photos which expressed the beauty of his leg action, none of which I was really aware of. I was somewhere else entirely. I had him in my control for about ten, maybe twelve minutes until Robert stepped out and gave me the stop signal and my dream came abruptly to an end. I had to give this trembling, near perfect being back to his waiting hands, and bid him goodbye. I nearly cried. There are just those moments when you get to touch something that is so exquisite and extraordinary. Javier had him brought back out unsaddled so that we could both see his confirmation again, and again I was simply moved beyond words. Those of you who love horses can appreciate such a moment, and understand that while I loved every moment astride, those ten minutes were by far the ultimo. I’ve never been astride such an animal, and can only hope to do so again someday.
    The last two days I’ve been fortunate enough to have the excellent company of Johnny the other challan, a charming man of 26 who lives just down the road with his delightful father and whose primary value to Blanca and Javier is that his knows every single ruta in the area besides having extensive horse knowledge. He also possesses a charming and patient personality, which, given that I’m trying my best to learn the complex tack and this breed, is very useful. Johnny is cheerful and happy and talkative, Robert’s opposite, and while Robert angers quickly when I make a mistake with the reins or with tack, Johnny is willing to take the time to back me up and show me again and again. There is a great deal to learn, and it doesn’t come easily. I’m finding that the order of things is terribly important and that the architecture of the tack is key.
    If Johnny has a fault, he’s terrible with names. This led to a very funny episode yesterday. Both men know my habit of taking off at speed for a short while and then waiting for them at a corner, just to enjoy the horse’s gait. I never go too far, out of respect, and all I am doing is learning how to control the horse, and besides, I have no clue where we’re going anyway. So on one of these excursions, my horse knows we’re heading back to the house and he is quite happy speed up. He takes a sharp left along a main ruta- looks good to me, and off we go, pacapacapaca, pasoing away. The wind in the face, the lovely day. I get to the end of the road, turn around, Johnny is nowhere to be seen. In fact he’s right invisible. I’m thinking bano break? What? Huh? Then I realize the guy probably has no clue what my name is and is sitting way back there at the last corner feeling like a dunce waiting for me to figure it out. And that’s precisely what had happened. So I turn my mount around and we go pacapacapaca all the way back where Johnny is sitting quietly on his bay, at which point I say that my name is Julia, and next time I head around a corner the wrong way it’s a good thing to yell out my name and I will stop. This gets him laughing and by god if next time it’s about to happen he remembers so that he never gets left in the dust again. What is really funny is that he’s more sore that I am after six hours in the saddle and he’s less about a third my age, which I am happy to rib him about.
    The great thing about this whole experience is that if you want to, you’re allowed to help with every aspect including cooling the horse down at day’s end with hose water. Not all the horses like this and after a hot day riding the cold water is a big of a shock on those huge muscles. So they are tied up tightly and you go to work making soothing sounds while you work the water up the hocks and to the belly and the big curves of hind legs and back and withers, and up the neck.
    I rode a mare yesterday who was very nervous, not about cars, but about everything else. A sound from my camera, a story I’m telling, a gesture from the saddle would all lead to a big sideways move or a leap. I had to learn to be extremely sensitive to her movements and her nature. And when we got home and I heard her neigh with great emotion, and I heard a responsefrom inside, I got the answer to why mama was so intense all day. As we took off the saddle and bridle, handsome baby boy came hurtling out to poke his face into her belly and start nursing. As cute as can be, and she immediately calmed down. What a day.

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    Yah, and I had no idea! But yesterday was even better. I was moved to a new facility ( although hardly done with Blanca and Javier's hacienda), La Palmita, where my friends drove me out first thing in the morning. The mornings are always so cool and they evolve into perfect afternoons here, so lovely you get so spoiled. I had a new mount, a chestnut mare. I got on her and began to ride her around the ring and damned if she didn't start trying to buck me. Now the challan starts yelling at Blanca and my friend that I'm trying to gallop the horse and I'm doing so such thing- I've given this animal absolutely no instructions to move faster, no movement on my part whatsoever. This has happened twice along the same side of the ring and my spirited litte girl has gotten it into her head that she wants me the hell off her back. Well my Spanish just isn't good enough but Blanca pleads my case, and explains to the new challan that I do not run paso horses, and pretty soon we have my mare calmed down and we are off. My challan is taciturn, however, and I am stuck with riding behind his butt for most of the day at a walk.

    At one point, however, he does relent, we exchange horses, I guess at this point he trusts me enough to give me what turns out to be a feisty little stallion (the first time I have ever ridden a fully rigged little boy if you get my drift) and it's great fun. I actually hadn't checked the rigging when I got on and for the life of me for a while wasn't sure what was going on with this animal every time we got close to my mare, he whinnied and pranced and I started to get the message. There's a very specific kind of tail gear that is part of the Paso rigging which actually is a pretty good chastity belt so until I figured out that the animal I was riding was fully loaded I was probably okay. Ignorance is bliss. At one point I took bano break and took that time to check under the hood as it were and said holy crap, no wonder he's got so much enthusiasm riding behind this mare, and at that point I forced him to give her a wee bit more room.

    My challan, now with the understanding after three hours that I have no intention of doing anything foolish with his beloved Pasos, is allowing me at times to go ahead of him. He is so taciturn that when it comes to the left or right, I get no instructions until I am well into the wrong direction and get corrected. So at one point I stop. Give him an amused look, introduce myself with my name, point right and left and indicate that it would be a good thing for him to yell the directions at me in advance. This doesn't bring much of smile but he gets the message.

    So a couple of turns later he tries to do exactly that only I can't hear him because of the wind. He finally has to muster one hell of yell, I finally hear him, and break out laughing. This time I dismount, and find a rock. I hand the rock to my challan, and indicate to him to whack me on the head with it when he wants me to turn right. This actually made him laugh. Finally.

    We climb over sand dunes and along side lovely views, and the only bad mark that I have consistently experienced here is the basura. It is a fact of life here, and I've asked everyone about it. People toss it out the windows, they take it out a few miles and dump it, and the constant wind picks up the plastic bags and anything paper and whips it until it comes to rest on bushes and trees and thorns. The trash covers everything and it is a true eyesore. I've just spent nearly five days riding routes from the playa to the cliffs, from Jequetpeque to San Jose and trust me, there is basura on every side road, back road, high way, private property. It's appalling, and it is a huge statement about how people here treat their land.

    My challan gave me a simply gorgeous black mare for the afternoon ride, she had a charming disposition and great beauty and we rode to the ghost towns on the beaches. There is a cross (always with a vulture on it) and a tomb down there, and it strikes me that these are warnings to kite surfing hopefuls. The surf rolls in for miles and there are several ghost towns right on the water.

    When we finally came in that afternoon Blanca and Marcella and her husband were waiting, and they had a surprise waiting for me at the hacienda. As we drove into their place, this would be the last night I would be with them, (not my goodbye yet but close). Roberto stood off to the left with Presente, the magnificent animal I'd fallen in love with the morning before. He was decked out in full competition gear, including the pellon saddle pad, just for me to ride one last time. What a gift, what a gift of untold proportions. Marcella had also bought me a Panama sombrero, and I jammed that on my head as I approached my mount.

    Roberto held him as I ran my hands over his quivering neck, and touched his muzzle lightly. The pellon was huge and is worn over the saddle. I hopped on lightly and realized this wasn't just a photo op. They were going to let me "present" Presente around the ring, so on we went back to the big ring in back of the house. By this time I had so much emotion in my heart I had tears rolling down my cheeks.

    Roberto took me to the center of the ring and reminded me to go slowly, slowly, always with hand signals. I lightly directed Presente to the side of the ring, and he stepped forward, hesitantly to leave Roberto's direction, and off we went. His movement was like riding a river, his steps high and clean. We swept around the ring again and again, and all I can remember was that the tears were streaming freely down my cheeks as I rode this unearthly animal around, understanding what an honor it was, what a gift it was from Blanca and her husband, and that it was a memory of a lifetime. Six times around we went. I lost a stirrup, he danced sideways from the distraction, and we calmly stopped to fix the issue. Roberto, always attentive, watched carefully from the center to make sure Presente was calm. Off we went again, my body quivering as much as my horse's from the sheer electricity of the moment. Blanca and Marcella took photos, and we calmly dealt with a persistent puppy.

    Finally I drew up to Roberto and it was time. I only remember when he asked me "Bueno?" in his calm voice that I broke into tears, and did the best I could to answer his question without bawling. He looked away for me to have my moment, and when I got down, I hugged him, and said with all my heart, "Muchas gracias, Roberto,muchas gracias," and he knew how much I meant it.

    I was still crying when I walked up to the crowded formed by Blanca and Marcella and their husbands, and was wrapped up in their arms, these kind and generous people, who knew full well the gift they had just given me. We spent the next hour talking, drinking and laughing on the porch, telling horse stories and finalizing bills, and exchanging information and making promises.

    Horse people love other people who love horses as they do, they truly appreciate those of us who are moved by their great beauty and brio and energy, and if you are really lucky you are welcomed into their family with open arms as a rider and afficionado. While I have one more long day on la playa today where I can paso llano to my heart's content, most of my riding here in Jequetepeque is done. I most strongly recommend BSP (Caballos Peruanos de Paso, 044 310974) to anyone who seriously wishes to understand and experience this extraordinary breed. And beyond that meet simply lovely people, enjoy some entertaining challans and have some riding experiences you will never forget. If you have any inkling in this direction, book a room in Pacasmayo and get here and just do it. You will neither regret it nor forget it. It is an unbelievable experience.

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    Had time to read your last two entries, jhubbel. Lovely and touching.

    I have enjoyed my time in the north, both the weather and the people.
    Land of Eternal Spring.

    You are not far from the Lady of Cao (El Brujo) site. Maybe you are not into archaeology but she is believed to be a high ranking female leader of the Moche.

    I haven't figured out if your reports are in near real time but she is worth a quick stop on the way back to Trujillo.

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    Dawn indeed, AvRooster, and I wanted to add a final note as I was up at about 4 am today to watch the courtyard here at Hostel al Patio in Lima come to life.

    It was with real delight that I found out that word got around that I was so emotional about riding Presente, and so darned if the owner of El Palmito stables where I spent the weekend riding didn't put me on HIS best horse, and when I got back to Lucy Valdez' hacienda she put me on HER best horse, and that by golly is what happens when you share your heart. I was writing my beloved this morning about what happens when you granted your dreams. There is an old saw about being careful what you wish for because when God wants to punish you He grants you your dreams. Fifty years ago I read The Black Stallion by Walter Farley and had this supreme wish that someday I would ride such a horse. Now I've ridden three of them. What I've realized is that I wasn't ready until now to appreciate and value such an experience. And that was the lesson. I didn't need to ride them for hours. Just a few minutes on such supremely extraordinary animals, and my wish was quite happily granted. Lucy sent me out for three hours on one of her finest show horses and my feet didn't touch the ground the rest of the day. Now you can pay for such an honor, but you can't thank your Maker enough for such an experience. You can only be deeply humbled by it. All these wonderful people have asked me back and it's already on the schedule for 2016.

    Jorge's mother Marcella worked constantly to be my tour guide and happily she allowed me to pay her gas and time, and in all I have added something like twelve new friends to my circle. As in Argentina, what will bring me back are people and horses, it's all about relationships. I felt the same warm welcome in Argentina as I have here and it continues my love affair with South America.

    Lucy got up at 4:30 to see me off in a taxi to the airport in Trujillo, and while I missed what you suggested mlgb, I'm under strict orders to return. That trip will include Arequipa and Iquitos but at least ten days in the Pacasmayo area again. And one does fall in love with the weather there.

    The small boutique hostal where I am in Miraflores right now is a pure gem of a place. It's two blocks off the main drag, close to the mercado Indio and about a 25 minute walk to the beach. The place has a courtyard of colorful walls, a cornucopoia of flowers and plants and fountains, and benches which allow you sit and listen to the local soft noises which drown out the nearby traffic. As I write this morning the doves are cooing and the sun is picking up the colors of the flowers on the balcony over head. Breakfast is simply, fruit bread and juice, but options abound nearby. What I so appreciated was the same day laundry next door which allowed me to take care of all the filthy horse-sweaty breeches and tear gas socks that had taken up residence in my backpack. I can go home clean now.

    I don't know if this was mentioned but in Pacasmayo I stayed in El Mirador, a surfer's hostal, which was perfect. I got the best room on the top floor, which afforded grand views of the sunsets and had amenities like a great big fat cake of soap in the shower. Such things just aren't provided elsewhere and it was lovely to have it. One day I came up to my floor to find it festooned from one end to the other with black men's underwear. After all it is a surfer's hostal, you gotta dry your undies, it just tickled me silly.

    This hostal is perfectly located and the staff is highly attentive. Today, the daughter of one of the breeders is taking me out shopping at 2 pm, and tonight I head for the airport. I'm going to spend a good bit of time walking, writing and just enjoying the markets, but most of my buying is done. I even have my Peruvian sombrero. As AvRooster knows, it will be added to my collection of horse riding hats!

    I did peruse the mercado Indio yesterday, at length, and there were a few places that had things of interest. While it all depends on that mercurial thing called preference, the markets can provide for just about everyone. I am currently on a search for a Peruvian jacket, very specific, not for tourists. No luck so far. But it was fun to search for other things, and sometimes to find the occasional item for someone back home. Most of what I wanted I found out in country for far less than in Lima, where the rents are a lot higher. But this is where lots of folks wait to shop and the selection is pretty good. I saw many of the same textiles, just more expensive. Occasionally there was very good art. As with any other mercado, it takes some walking around and talking. I found that when I took the time to speak at length with the women especially, they would occasionally go in the back and find something that wasn't on display- but was well worth the effort to ask for.

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    One more story at my expense, and this happened before I left Pacasmayo. The day before I left I realized that my riding breeches were really in a nasty state- nearly six days straight of riding and they were an eyesore of dirt, mud, stains and horse sweat. My riding shirt, too. Since I had breezes and sun at my window the obvious occurred. But since I'm inventive, Bright Idea also occurred, but since Bright Idea occurred after getting up at 4 am and riding for six hours without a break, something was bound to happen.

    Bright Idea was wear the clothing into the hot shower and soap it all down, then rinse and hang in the window. No worries, right? Take out everything from watch to writing pad to pens and wallet and and and, then relieved of all this, climb in. Hot water hits, aaaaaaahhhhhhhh, scrub off all that nasty stuff. Get rid of the mud dirt sweat stains on the breeches, the shirt. Stand there with the hot water hitting the back. Reach around to scrub the back. What's that. HuH? AHHHHHHHHHH! My money belt!!!!!!! I've got a thousand US in there getting drenched in hot soapy water!

    Well I guess this is a fine time to find out if it's counterfeit so I jump out, hurl the belt into the sink and then quickly dry off. Since I have to pay everyone in a few hours now I have to lay out all those twenties and tens on the twin bed in the late afternoon sun to dry. None of the ink is running (good) but the money IS wet (not good) and the bed is covered with bills.

    Well the upshot of Bright Idea is that YES the clothing got clean AND dry and YES the money dried out in time (mostly) and no one will ever be able to accuse me of handling dirty money in Pacasmayo.

    Everyone loved the story. It made paying them even more fun.

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    I have no idea AvRooster. It seems to be a love hate relationship. But I am glad that this time it all dried out and stayed with me for once.

    There's another kind of fun story to report, a short one. I had gone to the mercado Indio to find that Peruvian jacket, and never did find one ( I did find versions but didn't care for them and they looked terrible on me) so kept up the search. On the 30th, the hotelier offered to do a search online for me and he found a woman who made these pieces for special occasions, rent, sale, all kinds of situations. It was in a funky part of town and he insisted the driver accompany me. Well long story short that's what happened. We were met at the big blank door by a wary pair of female eyeballs and asked what we wanted, explained that we were the ones who'd called, and then enthusiastically allowed in. A charming young woman came to the front and she then disappeared to find what I wanted. In the meantime I fell in love with the jacket on the mannequin, which is the one I ended up buying. Bright red, lots of decorations, and we were both happy. It was all of maybe $45. And authentic.

    The other wonderful find was the alpaca camel jacket that grabbed me by the credit card after a short walk down the main avenue in Miraflores. I don't know what came over me, I just walked in and here was this jacket and I put it on and the next thing I know I'm walking out the door with this huge bag. The time between seeing the jacket and walking out was a blur. I remember nothing. Women can relate, I'm sure. The same kind of jacket by Max Mara runs in the thousands, I love the brand dearly but that's a trip right there, here it was about $306 for the same look, and real Peruvian beauty. Then came the fun part. Where to put it in all the stuff.

    Any determined woman I know who travels can pack anything into anything, and after I got back to Hostel al Patio the kind manager left me to my doings in the back room and my three bags. Somehow I even got the delicate sombrero in my carryon bag without smashing it, and now that I am seated beneath a charging station in the airport in Newark I can attest that all made it home in fine shape. And nothing ripped, tore, exploded or otherwise needed a girdle to get here.

    So that's the other answer about the money, AvRooster. Spend it!

    As it goes sometimes with connections, I have to wait nearly six more hours before I am on the plane home. This actually is fine as it allows lots of writing. The trip elongates because of the connections here in Newark. So I'm attached to a charging station and already missing my Gloria yogurt and my mandarins which I would eat by the dozen at a time.

    This trip taught me a great deal about dreams coming true later in life, as we may be more able to appreciate them. That's often true for late bloomers, but it also speaks to how you also have to stay open to the possibility and keep the heart constantly searching and keen and curious. Peru clinched for me what has become an increasing passion for South America and pretty much decided that likely once a year I'm likely to be practicing my Spanish somewhere on this continent. I love being where people love horses, and are so full of love and life and energy. If Crellston is still reading I did take him up on a number of his suggestions and they did of course pay off. Especially on the exchange rate from the folks in blue jackets.

    It's off to Nepal in three weeks to do the Everest Base Camp hike, so as soon as I'm home it's back to the workout routine, but there will be a thousand sweet memories to run through as I run steps. Peru was a million myriad pleasures, a country of colors and characters, where dreams were realized and wonders abounded. I am finding much of South America to be so- the heart of its people to the beauty of the land. You simply have to return. And AvRooster knows he doesn't have to convince me to ensure that there is a date on the calendar!

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