29 Jun

Inti Raymi: Festival of the Sun God

Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru

Inti Raymi is celebrated near the winter solstice on June 24th every year. It is an Incan ceremony that is performed in the native Quechuan language rather than Spanish.

We arrived in Cusco 2 days prior to the actual ceremony and the city square was already abuzz with people and bands and general merriment being made. Apparently the festival has expanded over the years to include the weeks leading up to June 24th also.

The following morning we left the hostel at around 9am to see what was going on. The plaza near our hostel was filled with costumed Peruvians staging to start the parade. Moving on to the main Plaza de Armas, the parading had already started and the plaza was filled with locals, other Peruvians and a smattering of tourists (at least it seemed like a smattering given the number of locals there were). A large stage area had been set up and was filled with dignitaries dressed in their finest – they would be marshalling the parade.

Each group in the parade was costumed in traditional gear. Most, if not all, had their own band to accompany them – they all played the exact same tune – I don’t know if it is some kind of national tune or what, but we were very familiar with it by the end of the day. They marched from the staging square down and around the Plaza de Armas, exiting on the far side of the square. From there they proceeded to the next square where each group set up their own fiesta of sorts, with beer and food, with their band continuing to play.

Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru

This continued all day. I mean all day and into the night. We returned to our hostel at 11pm and they were not finished!! I awoke at 1am and they were still at it. That’s at least 17 hours that I know of!! I’ve never known a parade to go on that long. Those dignitaries sat through the whole thing as far as I could tell! Can you imagine?

The city center literally filled up with people. Paraders continued to fill town squares to party the night away and spectators continued to enter the city core to watch and hawk their wares or set up their portable grills to feed the hungry crowd. There was no empty space to be had anywhere…10’s of 1000’s of people filled every corner. It was absolutely unbelievable! They partied all night long and what surprised me was that they all kept their costumes on the whole time. They continued to play the same tune and danced and drank the night away. There seemed to be a sense of pride and camaraderie that filled every square.

Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru

The actual ceremony was to occur the following morning. I have no idea how any of those people dragged themselves out of bed to perform the ceremony.

The Inti Raymi festival starts at the Plaza de Armas in town and then parades to an Incan site called Sacsayhuaman located about 2km from town up the hillside. We had heard that tourist tickets to the event were costing upwards of $30 so we decided we would climb the hill with the locals and watch from above the bleachers.

The ceremony had already started in the Plaza de Armas when we started trekking up the hill to get a seat on the rocky face. The place was pretty packed when we got there but we found a perch and set about waiting the next 3 hours for the festival to get to us.

The waiting was easy as there was nothing to do but people watch, and there were plenty of people to watch. As the ceremony started below us, the crowd stood to it’s feet and everyone rushed forward to get a better view. We’re on a rocky cliff people!! It got a little too close for us (see photo of postcard below – we were in a crowd just like that) We were squished, couldn’t see where the edge was and could no longer see any of the action…we decided to leave and head back into town for a little peace and quiet.

Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru

 

It was a great couple of days. We’re glad we came early to see it.

Here are some more pictures and you can see even more here.

Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru

Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru

Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru
Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru

Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru
Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru

Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru
Inti Raymi Festival, Cusco, Peru

 

26 Jun

Getting High in Cusco

Cusco Flag, Cusco, Peru

The plan was to take our time getting to Cusco from Lima. We were going to spend a few days, stopping along the way at Nasca and Arequipa to split up the journey.

Then we learned that the Inti Raymi festival was happening in Cusco on June 24th so we thought we would head straight to Cusco instead and visit Nasca and Arequipa after that.

We checked into flights and buses and decided that, at 1/3 the cost, the bus it would be. Sure it was going to be a 22 hour bus ride but I had heard that South American buses were ‘da bomb’ and so thought that 22 hours wouldn’t be so bad.

Boy, was I wrong. After the first few hours of the trip (in the dark because it gets dark here early) we turned inland and started heading over the Andes. We spent the next 9 hours swerving and swaying as we switchbacked our way cresting and descending mountain after mountain…in the pitch black. I didn’t sleep one wink.

It was worth it once dawn broke. As the sun rose and light filtered onto the landscape, it revealed that were high in the Andes on the altiplano. It was stunning. I peered out the window to see nothing but miles and miles of scrubland punctuated with huts and stone fences penning in llama herds. The smoke from the villagers hearths filled the crisp cold air and the sun glinted off the frost and frozen waterways. It was amazing.

Dawn broke at around 6AM. That still meant that we had about 9 hours ahead of us. We descended a long way from the plateau, swithbacking the whole way. This was not tolerated well by more than a few on the bus as they awoke and soon a well worn path was created to the bathroom that, unfortunately, was right by our seats. This did not add to the experience for me.

We spent the rest of the trip cresting and descending various mountains and following river valleys before we dropped into a large, flat valley right before Cusco. One more intense climb and descent saw us entering into the city finally.

The scenery was amazing and it was an adventure but I think, in the future, we will break our bus trips up a bit.

Sitting at 3300 meters, we have certainly noticed the altitude here in Cusco. At first I wasn’t sure if our headaches and nausea were from the bus ride or the altitude, but by the next morning we knew it was the altitude for sure. I seemed okay, a little winded for sure but not too badly, but J was feeling nauseous and took a little more time to adjust. I went and got some sorojchi pills from the pharmacy and they were like a miracle – within about 30 minutes he was feeling much better and could come out to play. We’re both still taking them to keep the headaches at bay, and we both feel winded at times, but overall I think we have it licked.

23 Jun

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

We had heard plenty about Lima, Peru before arriving, most of it negative. People told us that it was dirty, and big, and dangerous and menacing – that we should spend as little time as possible there.

We ended up staying 5 and a half days…and we quite liked it.

Sure it’s big (>10 million!) and somewhat dirty, but there are plenty of parks and squares to explore and with the current ‘recuperacion’ of the city occurring, there is renewal everywhere. It is much cleaner than I expected. In both Miraflores (the tourist district) and Barranco (it’s more bohemian neighbor) there are roving bands of cleaners, street sweepers and gardeners, all in uniform, generally spiffing the place up.

As for dangerous and menacing, I’m sure there are areas that one should not visit and I know  we stayed in well populated, popular places (Miraflores, Barranco, and the downtown) but we never felt unsafe or uncomfortable even.

The traffic is crazy!! I have never seen anything like it. The roads are filled to capacity with cars, truck, buses, motorcycles…anything that can move. And,  although there may be  lane markings, they are never used. Drivers must know every inch of their vehicle because the cars next to them are within inches whether moving or stopped at a light. And yet I did not see even one  accident, not even a bumper touch – the taxis we took amazed us at their ability – we always felt we would arrive safely.

Lima, Peru

Another thing we notices was the level of security. Armed guards and National Police were everywhere and, during the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace downtown, there were  police in riot gear even. Buildings all have secure entrances, usually they are walled (complete with barbed wire and electric fencing) and have a gate with a guard behind.

Security in Lima, Peru

I wondered if this level of security  was needed for historical reasons or if it really was that dangerous here. We had been feeling completely safe and had not seen any roving bands of hooligans and such. Was it a case of ‘we’ve always done it this way’ and so this level of security was just the norm?

Our visit to the National Museum provided a few clues. There was a photography exhibit there showing the extent and brutality of the attempted cultural revolution by the Shining Path guerrilla group in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This group was extremely violent and wide spread, extending themselves from the villages in the highlands to the city of Lima itself. Although the main activity was curtailed by 2000, there have been incidences as recently as 2004 in Lima.

Historically, too, security has been paramount and so the gates, and locks, and barbed  wire and guards didn’t seem so extreme. Our homes in Canada may have looked the same had we been subject to such terrorism.

There was plenty to see and do in Lima….

We walked a lot to see the neighborhoods of Miraflores and Barranco.

Miraflores, Lima, Peru

We visited the San Francisco Cathedral and saw the catacombs with all the bones.

San Francisco Cathedral, Lima, Peru

We went to the Parque de Reserva and saw all the waterfountains there.

Parque de Reserva, Lima, Peru

After 5 days though I was ready to go, and so we set out to our next destination…Cusco.

18 Jun

Riding My Way Through It

Mt. Tzouhalem Mountain Biking

I have a confession to make. I hate flying. Yep…I, know…around the world…gonna have to fly.

The idea of this trip was to do something unusual. To experience new cultures, hear new languages, see new things…step out out of our comfort zone. ‘One Giant Step’ refers to that leap of faith required to step out and make ourselves uncomfortable. Flying makes me uncomfortable so mark one check mark in that box.

I have thought a lot about how I am going to handle it. I know it’s all in my head. I know all about the statistics and how ‘safe’ flying is. I know about the physics and how planes stay in the air. Intellectually, I have it all covered. Emotionally, I’m usually a mess.

I tried hypnosis. Nope…didn’t work. I had high hopes for it and still think that it could work – the subconscious is a powerful place, but apparently my conscious being is more powerful and would not let it happen.

I had a back up plan…pharmaceuticals.

We were flying from Toronto to New York then onward to Lima on an overnight flight. Having some time to kill at the airport, we did what comes naturally and headed to the bar for a drink – that always helps smooth things out.  We boarded the flight in Toronto and I popped an ativan to relieve the anxiety. We then proceeded to wait on the tarmac for 4 hours (damn, wasted an ativan!). It wasn’t too bad though – the plane was new, they turned on the entertainment system and the very nice staff served us free beer. I’m in a plane, but it’s not in the air, so I’m happy. The residual effects of the ativan and the beer easily get me through the barely one hour flight to New York.

The late take off meant that we no longer had any significant layover in New York so we had to scrap our plans for the fastest NYC tour and instead headed to the bar to have another beer. You’re not surprised…are you?

The New York/Lima flight was an overnight flight. My plan was to pop a sleeping pill and wake up as we landed in Lima. No such luck – although I’m exhausted I just can’t drop off to sleep as any little bump in the air has me waking up.

And so the final plan evolves…

Put my favorite song on eternal repeat on the iPod (currently ‘The Mission’ by Puscifer), get as comfy as I can, tap my foot and move my head in time with the music (this masks the movement of the plane) and imagine myself on my bike riding down CBC on the North Shore. It doesn’t get any better than this.

And that’s how I find myself riding my way through it all the way to Lima.

13 Jun

The Lawns of Brockville

Lawns of Brockville, ONVictoria may be the ‘City of Gardens’, but I think that Brockville’s tagline should be the ‘City of Lawns’.

Seriously, the lawns here are amazing! I can’t imagine the time that people must put into them, but I surely can imagine the pride that they take because every single lawn is beautifully cut and manicured with an equally beautiful garden to accompany it.

I haven’t seen any un-mown, weedy, gone-to-seed yards…I think they even mow the vacant lots! It certainly makes for a beautiful little town.

Here I am trying to do my part to keep up the standards. Although I have   to admit that the very last thing Don did before we left for the hospital was mow the lawn himself. He kindly explained that it was so that I wouldn’t have to do it again before the weekend but, really, I think he was trying to fix up the job I did. I’ll show him though as I am the designated-lawn-cutter while he is away….I’m definitely getting better.

Lawn Mowing in Brockville, ON

We  have been traveling a lot between Ottawa and Brockville. It’s a scenic drive even from the 4 lane highway – even more so when we take the back route. I love the country-side with the fields and barns and farm houses. The crops are just starting to push up and show themselves in neat little rows of that fresh green that only spring can bring.

The drive also shows the marshland that is prevalent in the area. Grasses and reeds dominate as the greenery, providing roosts and feeding area for birds, many of which I have never seen before. The birds here are certainly more colorful and melodic than the ones I’m used to back home. My favorite place in the house is the sunroom downstairs where I can look out to the backyard feeders and see all the birds.

We also managed to get some boating activity in while here. There was one last sail on the boat in blustery, but manageable, conditions – and J and I caught a bit of the hydroplane races this past weekend.

Sailing in Brockville, ON

Soon, our time here will be finished. Although we hadn’t planned to come here, it has all turned out okay – we’ve had a chance to see family and friends we wouldn’t have and we feel good setting out knowing that J’s dad is on the mend.

We have a flight booked for Monday to Lima. Time to get that Spanish book out and start getting excited again!

06 Jun

And Then There Were Three…

P1010927 Meet Roland.

He heard that we were about to embark on a journey around the world and contacted us to ask if he could join us.

He comes with great credentials, having traveled much of the world already. Iceland, India, Malaysia, Norway, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Japan, and Jordan just to name a few.

In fact he has already traveled to more countries than we plan on visiting on this trip. And, because he has already been to some of the countries we’ll be visiting, he’ll make an excellent tour guide.

It’s true, it can be difficult traveling with a third wheel but, even having met Roland only briefly, I think he will fit in just fine. He’s quiet, likes to read, doesn’t complain much and enjoys a good beer. All the things required of a good travel partner.

We hope he likes us too. He has traveled with many people so we definitely have to measure up. Luckily we’re quiet, like to read, don’t complain too much and we love a good beer.

I think we’re going to get along just fine.

01 Jun

OneGiantStep Packing List

Here’s a link to our packing list.

It tracks most of what we packed for our one year RTW trip and include some post trip notes about what worked and what didn’t. I also wrote a post when we returned about what we packed and how it worked out.

You can read here about the packs we used and why we chose them. In the end, I can tell you that we each loved the packs we chose and will keep them close for any future travel.

01 Jun

OneGiantStep Day By Day Budget

I struggled with the idea of making our budget public. The thought of making all of our spending open to scrutiny makes most of us squirm. However, while researching our RTW trip, I found it very difficult to get a real idea of what if might cost us and so I decided to be transparent.

It is what it is, and cost us what it cost us. Why shouldn’t I share that with others that are interested in doing the same thing. And to those of you that are just shamelessly interested in what it cost us I ask you what did you do with your salary last year?

Here’s a link to our daily budget while we are on the road. We will keep it up while we are away. Every dollar…tracked.

We have an average daily budget of $100 (Canadian) per day and will compare every day to this average.

The budget is broken up into 5 categories:

  • Food And Booze
  • Ground Transportation (Air transport is dealt with on the summary tab)
  • Lodging
  • Sightseeing
  • Miscellaneous
  • Update: You can read our post, OneGiantStep RTW Dollar By Dollar, to see the final numbers and to understand our level of travel and where all the money went.