Finally Home

What a thing that was, but, first, Lima.

The Marinas returned from their Machu Picchu trip pretty exhausted.  They’d had a hell of a day. While I was traipsing around Cusco spending money and avoiding huge parades, they were stuck on a train for four hours. Their train broke down on the way to Aguas Calientes.  How much does that suck? That was four hours they could’ve used at Machu Picchu, especially since they were only able to work in six hours to begin with because of all the tourists and the trains being full. (I finally figured out why there were so many people at Machu Picchu; turns out, and how I could’ve overlooked this is beyond me, it was the 100th anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of Machu Picchu. So, maybe, if you go, it won’t be as overrun with tourists as it was for me in this particular year.) (Oh, also, if you ever go, make sure you get your tickets for the day you want to go in advance. They are now beginning to limit the number of tickets sold per day to cut down on the damage done by tourists, which is good, but it will make it more difficult to get tickets for a lot of folks. In fact, they just started to enforce this rule and when the Marinas were there, they either witnessed (or heard about?) an entire tour group who had gone all the way to Aguas Calientes only to find out their tour company hadn’t bothered to purchase the tickets ahead of time. A riot ensued. Had tar and feathers been available, I’m sure there woud’ve been a very ‘decorated’ tour guide.)(Oh, and wear lots of bug spray. The noseeums are nasty.)

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To Puno and Back

Since my last missive, we’ve been to Puno and back. I finally have some time to write. The Marinas are off on their adventure to Machu Picchu. I could’ve gone a second time, but I figured it’s such a huge hassle to go and it’s so expensive, I decided to stay here and pack up the room, get some gifts (free from Peter’s condemning eye) and watch Galaxy Quest for the umpteenth time. Besides, it’ll be fun for them to do it as a family, like in the old days when they would all go to Pensacola in an RV.

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Machu Picchu

Every morning since we got into this (extremely clean) hostel on Plaza de San Blas, at about 7 am, we’ve been awakened by the sound of exploding sticks of dynamite followed by very bad marching band music. There’s always something going on in this little square here and it seems that these particular explosions as well as the bad music is a tribute to Santa Carmen. I’ve never heard of Santa Carmen and being Italian, you’d think I would’ve heard of Santa Carmen since Italians say novenas to every saint under the sun—Pray to Saint Ann if you want a man, Saint Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, etc. and so forth—but Santa Carmen? I’ve never heard of her, but it seems like she’s an iteration of the Virgin. Anyway they totally dig her and have been celebrating her birthday. (I think it’s all about her birthday since I keep hearing an awful horn player playing Happy Birthday.) (Being a Saint and all, one might assume she should at least have a better horn section.) Yesterday, they built these huge and rickety looking structures out of what looked like bamboo, and they did something with them, I don’t know what though. We were at dinner when whatever was supposed to happen happened. (While we were waiting for our table, we spoke with this delightful French woman. She lives in Sante Fe but has a business where she conducts shaman and spiritual tours for French people down here in South America. She’s carved out quite an impressive niche for herself. Her website is We told her about the structures and she high-tailed up to San Blas to see what it was. I hope we bump into her again so I can ask her what happened.) Anyway, after a truly fabulous meal, and I mean wow, it was good (I had some sort of native potato gnocchi with a creamy pumpkin sauce) we headed back up to the hostel at about 10 pm and found a ton of people singing and dancing in the street outside of the church that is practically next door to our hostel. There was, however, no trace of the big rickety things.

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We are now in Peru!

What a journey. We left Cuenca early in the morning, but not before I had to talk to a family that we’d seen in a restaurant in Otavalo, our Hostel in Baños and then, our hostel in Cuenca. It was like they were following us. I get the whole Lonely Planet People thing, but that was extreme. He was traveling with his wife and daughter. He is a professor of Geology and she is a cartographer. Like Peter, the whole professor thing has enabled their predilection for travel. Though, I’m jealous of the fact that they got to hike to Machu Pichu 24 years ago. THAT was the time to do it. They were such seasoned travelers that I’m sort of impressed that they chose the same stuff we did. Maybe we’re doing this traveling thing mostly right after all.

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We made it to Cuenca… but it wasn’t easy.

We left Baños early with what we thought was without a hitch. To get to Cuenca, we had to go north to Ambato about an hour and then head south. It was supposed to be a seven-hour bus ride. And we were smart this time; we actually brought some food with us. So, we got to Ambato and this woman comes running up to us to sell us tickets to Cuenca. We ask her when the bus was going to leave and she said “10 minutes.” One thing I’ve learned since we’ve been down here is that to a South American, time is relative. One person’s 10 minutes is another person’s 30 minutes. We stood around waiting for the bus for at least a half an hour. Every time we asked where it was, it was always “10 minutes.” Meanwhile, we were both beginning to smell like roasting chicken. There was a little restaurant next to the bus place that had a grill going. No matter where we stood, the smoke from the cooker would follow us.

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I think we were lucky to not have been mugged in Quito. Peter’s friend got mugged in broad daylight. They cut the bag he was carrying and got away with his two phones — his blackberry and his international phone. (Insert sharp intake of air here for all the Blackberry owners who are reading this.) He was lucky he wasn’t carrying his computer at the time. He was pretty shaken up. This is a guy who has been all over the world; a seasoned traveler and he got nailed. Peter met up with him and they had a few drinks to try and calm him down. On their way home, somebody was following them so Peter turned to confront the guy and the guy just slithered off down another street and left them alone. They are REALLY predatory in Quito. According to my teacher, the thieves (or delinquentes as they call them) station themselves at points around the square and when they lift something, they use the streets that run parallel and outside of the square to drop stuff off to each other so that in the event of their capture, they won’t have any of the goods on them. Clever monkeys.

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Our last days in Quito

Things are wrapping up here. I actually completed the whole first book in my Spanish lessons! OK, so I don’t remember everything I learned, but for the most part, I do. (Peter actually started on the second book. He’s been way more diligent about remembering what he’s learned.) The thing I’ll never forget about my teacher is whenever I mispronounce something, which is A LOT, (those damn G and J sounds) he says, “No, no, no, no, no {tsk tsk tsk tsk} Mira, ahora…” The same bunch of sounds each and every time. I must hear that like 50 times in a two-hour lesson. I could make him stop by just slowing down and pronouncing things correctly, but I don’t do that because, well, I’m a stubborn and I insist on barreling through it. You should’ve heard me argue with him over a particular use of the verbs ser and estar. Both are forms of the verb “to be”, but one (ser) is for permanent stuff like, “I am a teacher” and the other (estar) is for more transient stuff like “I am tired.” I think it was “The tickets are here” and he was telling me to use the estar form. I was like “But they’re printed! They’re real things!” He explained that you don’t keep the tickets, you give them up when you enter whatever, that they’re transient. But I was like “Noooo, they’re printed.” “No, no, no, no, no {tsk tsk tsk tsk} Mira, ahora…” Peter had a similar argument with his teacher only way more intellectual. It was about “He is dead.” While you might think death is permanent, to them, it’s about not knowing what happens after you die, death is a state of being. It could very well be transient so they use the estar form. Seriously, why does any language need two versions of the verb “to be”? One seems like plenty to me.

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A Twisted Ankle

The most useful things we packed: swiss army knife with a wine bottle opener and a can opener, small flashlight, a reusable grocery bag that stuffs down into a tiny pouch (thanks mom), Farscape, small pocket mirror, large flash drive, small flash drive, duct tape, silk long underwear

The most useless things we packed:  Linen skirt, summer print skirt with matching top, too many books to read, Bolognese recipe, drain plug (for some reason, the Lonely Planet book recommended a universal drain plug so I packed one.)

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The Bolognese Debacle

This was the week of food experiences, some good, some not so good and some outright hilarious.

Here’s one that was very bad:

Never assume that if the package shows a picture of tomatoes on it, that it’s tomato sauce. I tried to make a Bolognese and even though I was lacking porcini mushrooms and pancetta, I thought it wouldn’t be all that bad. However, turns out that what I thought was tomato sauce was actually catsup.

Mmmmmmm, deeeelicious.

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Things I’ve Observed

Not much interesting happened because we are both miserable studying tenses. We were both feeling so positive about learning Spanish; learning new vocabulary and conjugating verbs and then… duh duh duhnnnnnn… enter the tenses—past tense, future tense past perfect, future perfect, plu-f-ckn perfect. There are 15 of the damn things. Hrmph. There’s a reason I always gave up on learning all the languages I’ve ever studied over the years. The reason can be summed up in one word: tenses. It probably doesn’t help that I’m woefully ignorant of grammar.

So, here are just some random things I’ve noticed:

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