Monday, July 12, 2010
Of course there were none on the Millenium, except the large Continental children who don't all know how to behave, either. But at least their parents aren't there to run interference for them.
As to the American children, there were two boys misbehaving in the hall of the hotel our last night in Quito, and we took turns opening the door and asking them if we should call management, since they were screaming for help and there was no adult in sight. I don't think anyone had ever challenged their out-of-control antics in their lives. They ran in their room and slammed the door. They were at it the next morning again at 6 AM. We were already up, so we took the trouble to explain to them they were not in the USA and this is not civilized. So they ran away again. At that point, we didn't know for sure there were no children on our boat, and we were concerned they'd show up, but we never saw them again, thank God.
The next one was at El Monasterio in Cusco, This was the screamer I referred to early in the trip blog. He was maybe two and screamed so long and so loud that Joyce finally told his parents to shut him up. Remember, she is large and sounds larger. So they took him out. What the hell was he doing in the restaurant anyway? Why was he even there?
The last ones were two delightful kids with their parents and grandparents on that hellish ride back from the train up Machu Picchu, back to Cusco. You couldn't even tell they were on the bus. We complimented their parents and learned these kids had been in travel training from infancy. Their mother had herself been schlepped to India and Turkey when she was eight and eleven, so she knew how to do it. Now if she, and her family, could do it, why can't other American parents do it? Huh?
This is why, American travel industry, we will be leaving the country AGAIN on our next trip, in a lesbian cruise (On a ship we've sailed on before. With elevators!) of the Mediterranean, where no children are allowed. And then probably on to Kracow and Budapest, where we hope American parents will not venture with American children. If you can't shut the buggers up, leave them home until they figure out how to escape. We'll take it from there.
See you next summer!
The kind of lessons I'm sick of is that boats in the Galapagos don't carry marine toilet paper, and you apparently can't fix a damaged railroad track in four months, and you get charged out the ass for every airport you fly through. Or that catamarans are not more stable after all, or that there are no benches in any museum in South America. I could go on, but if you've been reading, you have learned these lessons, too. I hope they help.
We don't have any immediate plans to return to South America. We would like to try an Amazon cruise, but we wonder what lessons we might learn there that we couldn't discern while still at home, sometime before making a down payment.
Here's a big, important lesson: get a good in-country travel agent with a private guide. I can't say too much about Galasam. http://www.galasam.com/index.html
From now on, I will be a lot more aware of and prepared for airport departure taxes. We want to leave, so we pay. Like luggage fees on US domestic carriers.
From now on, if a boat is involved, I will ask how high all the steps are, and if they use marine toilet paper. In my own defense, I DID ask if they had laundry, and they said yes, but they didn't. Likewise computer facilities. So sometimes knowing what to ask, and actually asking, don't help at all. For one thing, actual lying may be going on, and by that I mean, the Millenium people TO the Galasam people. The Galasam people did their level best, but they can't go out and ride every boat every year. Sometimes they may be hoping, but they don't know. Sometimes they are telling the truth, and the truth changes. The washing machine breaks. The engine quits. They don't have what they once did. Or they have something new: silverfish and waterbugs.
From now on, I will ask how many animals we can expect to see, and how hard or easy it is to see them. As we learned in Africa, seeing a white rhinoceros doesn't mean up close, or frequently, or even "white."
I did know to ask what kind of people go on a given kind of trip. But there is no control over which people go on YOUR trip. We knew we'd be on a small boat with 14 total strangers for eight days and no means of escape. That's the chance you take. Again, adult Eurotrash beats kids hands down. It could have been so much worse. It could also have been better.
We did pack right. We didn't starve, although there were times we didn't eat very well. We didn't get very sick. We didn't sustain permanent injuries. It didn't kill us. If the steps on an Amazon river boat aren't too high, I might go. But not if there's no marine toilet paper. That's too much even for me.
Some final thoughts next time.
The last week or so of the trip, I had been wanting a sandwich. I know it sounds strange, but we were always eating such formal meals, even on airplanes. All hot, all the food groups. So as we left the airport, we ate breakfast in Burger King, our first fast food since we ate in McDonalds' on our way down. And we haven't had any since, either.
Off to Hertz, canary yellow Aveo this time, and much better directions through town to I-75. Did you know cars can fly? Well, this one did, except for those fancy coffees they sell at McDonalds. We didn't even eat lunch. They weren't quiiiiiiiiite ready for us to turn in our car, so to save time, we zipped home and got the van so we could go straight to Dora's and get the kids.
That's when we discovered the AC had died. And we thought "Fuck." And we said it, too. Joyce immediately called for emergency service, but no one could come until the next day. We had no time to fool with it, so we dumped off the rental, got the dogs, brought them home and tried again. And I did all the trouble-shooting steps, too. It didn't work, but Joyce said, "Well, leave the house-fan on, and at sundown we'll open everything up."
We were sitting on the patio drinking ice water under the fan when we heard a funny noise. Circuit breaker? House breaker? Went in and felt cool air coming out a vent! Couldn't believe it! Temperature stared dropping a degree an hour. Yippee!
We'll never know what it was. We watched it like hawks and nothing happened, so we cancelled the service call, left loads of crap in the living room, didn't unpack or clean anything, just made sandwiches and went to bed.
Tomorrow I'll deal a little with lessons learned and reveal the location of our next trip!
First flight: Cusco to Lima. We hiked all through all the stations and when we got to the gate, we had to go outside and climb up the steps to the plane with our carry-ons. That did it. Joyce finally cried, and that was about my lowest point, too. So we sat there and cried together. I think it honestly helped, because somehow it never got that bad again.
Then along came a smelly little man. I have so sense of smell, but Joyce does, and he was on the aisle and turned toward us constantly trying to see out the window. His first flight ever, I think. So we rearranged ourselves and he sat at the window with me in the middle. So what? It's just an hour.
At Lima we had a LOT of time so we spent our last Peruvian Soles on some keychains and just waitied anxiously, wanting so bad to get on a plane and go home. You know it's bad when we want to get on a plane. This happened right on time, as usual, and we flew to San Jose, same as when we flew down.
And this is where we had a small adventure. It seems, perhaps, for some reason (they tell you nothing) there was some sort of security problem in San Jose. They had the whole airport blocked off into sections and a cop of some sort every few feet. We had to empty all our luggage onto tables while they picked through it. They were very nice, really, and we had to laugh at how they reacted to some of our stuff and then they would laugh, too. The had an incredible pile of contraband on the floor and Joyce whispered she thought she would lose all her medications and liquids, and she had even forgotten to check her toenail scissors. So we waited anxiously (again. A lot of anxiety on this leg) to see if she'd be hauled off or something, but they took nothing from her. Meanwhile, the guy going through my bags confiscated four rechargeable AA batteries from my underarm bag, which was not a big problem, because I hadn't been able to recharge them and they were probably dead. So I said, sure, take them, and we went from there to a body search, (they had a very attractive young officer for us) and onto the plane, which was being held because of the security delay.
So as soon as all the passengers had transferred, we took off for Miami, and again, got a meal and arrived on time. We had reservations for the airport hotel, because we knew damn good and well we'd be going nowhere fast after such a long day and a late arrival.
There was a tremendously long check-in line, a surly porter and a crazy person in the lobby, but we blew all that off and just had a drink and went to bed. The end. Almost.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
This is the center of town with a statue of an Inca king and a couple of those figures of ancient Inca to pose with. We chose this one because she could hold the kids. Click to see how clever this is.
This is the flag of Cusco City and Province. We like it a lot. Guess why.
The market here is gigantic and you can get lost easily in it. Because they want you to, because you will buy more stuff while trying to get out. But we did get some neat, cheap stuff, so we're really not complaining. In the train station waiting room, we met one of the backpackers from the Millenium. He had broken off from them to get up to MachuPICCHu alone. He was more pleasant by himself. They all were, to give them credit. In a pack, they are a huge nuisance. Individually, they are just people.
Now, we have to backtrack a little bit. After our harrowing ride and climb the previous day, I told the people up at the Sanctuary, who are also in charge of the train (it's all Orient Express, and so is El Monasterio), that there was no way Joyce was going to climb all that way up that horrible hill, and I wanted someone to meet us with a wheelchair or a dolly or an alpaca or whatever. I expected porters to meet us as well, because they showed up before and helped us down. We reviewed this with train personnel at the station. Someone would be there to help us.
Well, they weren't. They lied again! Not only was there no one there to meet us, there were no porters at all! Not even for luggage. Joyce got out her stick and I took both bags and started up the hill. We were a third of the way up before one poor clown in a train uniform offered to help with the bags. Not with Joyce, just the bags. I was livid, or as they say in Great Britain, incandescent. Furious. I rose hell and hollered bloody goddamn murder all the way up the hill. Meanwhile, porters came out and physically carried a severely disabled woman up. But no one helped Joyce. She had to do it herself, and God bless her, she did. I asked her after how she could possibly and she said, "It was a ramp. If it had been steps, I never could have. Period."
Well, Elson got an earful after that insane bus ride back in the dark through herds of cattle. Luckily on this bus was an American family, three generations, including kids, who had obviously travelled together a lot, and they made us laugh all the way back with their commentary on the godawful aspects of everything that was happening. Pretty soon we were joining in and laughing, too. Anyway Elson raised hell at El Monasterio and we got some discounts off our bill to sort of appease us, but that was just fucking inexcusable. So screw Orient Express. We are done with them forever.
We totally repacked everything, making sure we carried all souvenirs, checking all other baggage. Elson had arranged a later flight for us because we had a lot of time between stopovers. Too bad the sleep machine batteries chose that night to die, and as much as I recharged them, it never worked right again until I charged them at home. So not a lot of sleep again. But onward! Only two days to do, and only one required flying. Yay!
Friday, July 9, 2010
Here's one of my favorite things, the reflecting telescope.
It may look like two dog dishes, but the concept is you use it at night to look at the stars and chart their movement. Only works when it's clear, but I guess it worked often enough since their calendar and star charts are flawless.
The top one of these three is the Temple of the Moon, the bottom is the Temple of the Sun, and the middle is a pretty picture of the landscaping originated by the Incas. They had beautiful little gardens all over.
Following my exploration, we had lunch and then a very long nap, after which we were scheduled for the spa. When we made that reservation we had no idea how high we'd have to climb to reach it, but guess what. When we got up there, we had the same view of the postcard I mentioned above! A little further back, a little higher and not as bright, but Joyce got to see the Park after all. And the hot tub was stone, and we had it all to ourselves with fuzzy robes and slippers. We only got out when the mosquitoes came to supper.
That night we had a fantastically elegant dinner including music by local Inca musicians. I bought their CD and have actually been playing it since we got back. You can see them here:
Joyce ate alpaca and swears it tastes like veal. I had alpaca burger in Cusco, and I thought it tasted like beef. Very rich. For Joyce, the evening was the highlight of Machu Picchu so I'm glad we stayed up there, and that she enjoyed it so much. At this point, I was feeling terribly guilty about the difficulty of the trip, and both of us pretty much wanted nothing more than to go home. Knowing the next couple of days were very likely to be pure hell, we went to bed about nine and slept twelve hours. Damn good thing we did.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Both of the above are the main square right around sunset.
You can't take pictures inside the cathedral, but it houses the famous Cusco Last Supper. Here's a link for the cathedral:
And here's a link to the painting. You have to scroll down. It's hilarious.
Look carefully. In addition to the cui on a platter, there's a bottle of chicha (Andean Viagara [the local rotgut]) on the table, and the face of Judas (lower right, looking out) is Juan Pizarro.
Next morning at the butt-crack of dawn, we were scheduled to take the train to MachuPICCHu. So as soon as we got back to the Monasterio, we ordered room service, re-packed (you can only take one bag each on the train) and collapsed. Getting to be a habit.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
We had heard about the eruption earlier, while at sea, but what the hell can you do? So we didn't worry. Franklin told us we would be met by a Galasam representative in Guayaquil.
That morning, we went to another sort of museum. No animals this time, just story boards and a few relics of early colonization attempts, and the World War II installation, and so on. We also wandered around downtown eating ice cream until it was time to drive to the airport. All the Americans got off, leaving the Brits and Israelis to finish their trip.
The flight was pleasant and uneventful as we had come to expect in South America. And when we got off in Guayaquil, there was our representative with a letter. He helped us get to our next flight, which was first to Quito and then to Lima. Everything had to be re-routed around the volcano, and the airlines did their very best to accommodate everyone. They escorted us through the airports and held the planes for us. You would never see the in the US. Never. Even when Joyce was struggling in the Quito airport with the altitude, they all slowed down to help her. And somehow we still took 0ff on time. And the flight wasn't full and the entertainment was free and they fed us and you know the drill.
In Lima, the hotel I chose was straight across the street from the baggage claim and there was a representative again to meet us and help us with our luggage. It was very late and we went right to bed because we had to get up at the butt-crack of dawn again to fly to Cusco. It was the worst of all the days except the day we flew back to Miami. Fortunately, due to just plain dumb luck, every hotel I got us into was the best, so we were able to rest between bouts of tourism.
More details on those coming soon!
The Plazas are two teeny weenie islets, one of which (South island) supports both marine and land iguanas. Unfortunately neither island supports average foot traffic, but the lizards hang around the tiny landing, so I went.
And here are some pictures of an iguana. According to the sites I saw, hybrids are darker than this, but I have no explanation for a land iguana OR a marine iguana with these markings.
The white stuff is all petrified guano. Very slippery, which is what makes walking so difficult. So right after I took this picture, I went back to the boat.
Our final stop was Santa Fe, which is just overrun with sea lions. And while I was there, and the others were hiking, I filmed an attempted sea lion rape by a juvenile male of a still infertile young female. No one likes to see or hear about this sort of thing, but it happens. I have tried to upload some videos but Blogger won't allow it. There have been a lot of recent incidents, according to the log, so we'll see. I'll keep trying.
But here's a still anyway.
Our plan was to pack before bed that night and put the luggage out. It's less formal and hectic than on a big ship. You can see where your stuff is all the time. They can't lose it. Unfortunately Millenium, or the ocean, or the Captain, had a different idea. and so began the night from hell. We couldn't stand up or walk in the cabin, so we had to set the alarm for 5 AM to pack. It wasn't Drake Passage rough, but there was no sleeping and no moving except to try to keep from being thrown out of bed. Luckily, we just don't have that much stuff with a rule about no more than we can carry. But it was godawful, and we knew it would be a long day, flying all the way from San Cristobal to Lima. Unbeknownst to us, it was about to get longer.