Llamas, Aymara and Puno, Peru

The drive from Arequipa was awesome. I could have taken a bus, but I decided to call an Uber. It was much more expensive, sure, but it’s so nice being able to leave on your own schedule. The driver picks you up where you want to be picked up and he/she drops you off where you want to be dropped off.

Plus, the drive was over five hours long and if you want to stop for a photo or a toilet break, no problem. A private car is the only way to go.

Altiplano, Perú

We drove into the Andes Mountains and it was AMAZING! I highly recommend a drive through the Altiplano (Spanish for high-plain). You climb and climb through spectacular scenery and then you enter an open plain devoid of trees and the views are just something else. There are dozens of signs warning of the presence of llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and guanacos (as a group; camelids).

These two were the only ones who didn’t mind my presence. This was at a toilet stop on the road to Puno. I came out after washing my hands and they kept staring at me 🙂

No, I can’t tell the difference between the different camelids. But, I saw thousands of them as we drove to Puno. Sometimes they crowd the road and you have to slow way down. It was brilliant.

We stopped once so I could try to get close to them for a photo. They were having none of it. They won’t let you get close at all.

My Airbnb is in the orange building. Not auspicious, but not as bad as it looks. Puno, Perú

As you get higher into the Andes you also notice the people have a very distinct look to them. These are the descendants of the Inca and other native nations of the region. During the three days I’ve been in Puno I’ve asked if I could take someone’s photo and they have always said no. Rats! Sure, I could walk around town photographing the Aymara people without their permission, but that’s not right. I’ll just keep asking and maybe I’ll get lucky.

I really like Puno. It’s a great change of pace after hectic, crowded, polluted Lima and Arequipa. Puno is chill. The population is only about 140,000 people living on Lake Titicaca. The air here is super-thin. Puno sits at 12,556 feet or 3,827 meters. High altitudes don’t normally bother me, but this city is built on some very steep and tall hills. Just walking from my Airbnb into town (15 minutes) and back (another 15) really kicks my butt. You have to stop once or twice to get your wind back.

Palacio de Justicia, Puno, Perú

As a matter of fact, today I walked down hill all the way to the city center to my favorite coffee shop. I got to my table and realized I had left my laptop in the flat. Nooooooo!!!! I’ve never done that before.

I had to walk back up the hill to get it – without coffee. Ouch.

The place in Puno I love is called, Ricos Pan. It’s a great little coffee shop, bakery, and eatery. They open at 6:30 in the morning which is perfect for me. I love to get up very early to have my coffee. At the top of the stairs, the first table on your immediate right is perfect for one person and it has an electrical outlet and wifi. Sublime. You should visit Puno.

I like Ricos Pan so much, I go back for lunch.

Basilica Catedral de Puno

Early tomorrow morning I’ll get up, pack and go to Ricos Pan. I’ll scarf down some coffee (actually a latte), get some food to go and my driver will meet me at 7:00 out front. Yep, time for the next leg of my trip; a seven-hour drive to La Paz, Bolivia.

La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. As a matter of fact, here are the three highest capital cities on the planet:

1 – La Paz, Bolivia (2.7 million) 3,640 meters or 11,942 ft.

2 – Quito, Ecuador (1.6 million) 2,850 meters or 9,350 ft.

3 – Bogotá, Colombia (8 million) 2,625 meters or 8,612 ft.

Yep, I’ve been to each one on this trip.

My home city of Denver, Colorado comes in at only 1,609 meters or 5,280 ft.

Like I said, here in Puno we’re at 3,827 meters or 12,556 ft., so it’s all down hill from here 🙂

Lighthouse on Lake Titicaca, Puno, Perú

You can’t take an Uber across a national border. My driver will take me to the border, say goodbye, and a buddy of his will be waiting on the other side to take me to La Paz. One other nice thing about having a private car is that I avoid the pandemonium of border crossings on a bus. It’s particularly bad at the normal bus crossing here called, Desaguadero. Everything I’ve read makes this place out to be a real armpit of a town.

Having a private car allows me to go to another crossing near Copacabana. It’s a nice, lazy, quiet border town that the buses can’t use. The reason (I think) is because on this route you have to take a ferry across a part of Lake Titicaca. You mean I get to avoid the crowds, long lines AND I get a ferry trip on Lake Titicaca? Sold!

Arequipa, Peru

Arequipa is pretty nice – in the old city center. Outside the center, not so much.

Historic city center, Arequipa, Peru

Overall the city isn’t bad, but like Lima, it suffers from drivers who don’t give a crap about pedestrians. At least in Lima drivers roughly obeyed traffic lights and the crosswalks were clearly defined with walk signals. Arequipa has none of that. The vast majority of intersections have no traffic lights and pedestrians have to wait for a rare opening to cross a street. Even if there happens to be a painted crosswalk, drivers approaching the crosswalk speed towards it and honk their horns letting people on foot know the car isn’t going to stop. Pedestrians scuttle briskly out of the painted crosswalk so they don’t end up in a hospital, or worse.

Historic city center, Arequipa, Peru

So, even though Arequipa is much, much smaller than Lima, the traffic makes it feel just as hectic and uncomfortable.

In the end I’d say the city is worth a short visit, but I think three or four days is plenty and make sure you stay in the very heart of the historic center so you can avoid crossing too many streets to see the sights.

Historic city center, Arequipa, Peru
Historic city center, Arequipa, Peru

I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine

A woman in Lima came up to me as I was sitting in a Lima café. She offered to give me Spanish lessons, I was about to say, thank you no, when she said if I didn’t want Spanish lessons, maybe I was looking for sex?

Umm, no thank you. That’s not really what I’m here for 🙂 🙂 🙂

I wanted to use a line from a great song, “I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine.” But, I didn’t think she’d understand what I was getting at.

Miraflores neighborhood, Lima, Peru

Could I live in Lima?

Lima isn’t bad, it’s just too crowded. 10 million people is overkill. Miraflores is the nicest neighborhood in Lima and it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that great either. Mostly I just didn’t like the feeling that I couldn’t go for a walk without facing throngs of people on the sidewalk. Plus, trying to cross streets is not easy. Drivers here have no respect for pedestrians. Crosswalks mean nothing to them.

Jockey Plaza Mall, Lima, Peru

I go for walks early in the morning before most people are awake. It’s nice not to have to battle the masses. Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings are the most interesting. There’s no shortage of people who’ve been out all night. They’re staggering along trying to make their way…I’m not sure they know where. There are lots of empty beer bottles, public urination, people asking you for a cigarette or spare change, people using other people in order to keep standing upright, crying on each other’s shoulders, you know, the normal stuff you’ll find in any city.  One morning I saw a motorcycle with two guys on it go right through a red light and continue straight ahead. Unfortunately, straight ahead wasn’t a good option since the road made a sharp turn to the left. The driver hit the brakes which made a horrible noise, “Screeeeeech…BAM!” Lucky for them they only crashed into a street curb and flipped over into a grassy park.

But hey, I have not yet met the business end of a sharp knife, so it ain’t all bad, right? 😉

This is something you see a lot of all throughout Latin America. People sleeping in cars. It can be disconcerting. You’ll be walking down a quiet, empty street thinking you’re all alone and then realize you aren’t alone at all.

No, I could not live here. I’ll keep moving on.

Arequipa, Peru is next up. It’s a city of 800,000. I think maybe something smaller is more appealing? We’ll see…

I was walking in a park and saw two clams resting on a bench. Were they lost? I didn’t ask.
Another day in another park I saw a driver go right through a barrier, snap it in two and keep on going down into the tunnel. The cop on the left called it in and is taking a photo 🙂
Town Hall, historic center, Lima, Peru
Jirón Callao, historic center, Lima, Peru
Catedral de Lima, historic center, Lima, Peru

Perú, a baby stroller, and no guinea pigs

Before arriving in Perú, I did research on the airport, where to find a taxi, how much it should be, etcetera. The articles I read said the area around the airport is dangerous.

Parque Antonio Raimondi and Faro la Marina, Lima, Perú.

After I flew into the Lima airport, I knew exactly where to go. I found a driver, we got in the taxi and off we went en route to my Airbnb. It was about 10:00 p.m. and well after sunset. Less than five minutes into my taxi ride, we stopped at a red light. I was in the right-side passenger seat and I looked to my right. There was a dead man right in front of my eyes. I was stunned. There were about 5-6 people standing around him looking mournful. They covered him in a brown tarp. The police arrived just as we were sitting there waiting for the green light. It was a sad first impression of Lima.

Parque Antonio Raimondi which is on top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean

Despite that first impression, I like Lima more than Quito. In Lima they don’t spit so much on the sidewalks. They smoke much less here as well. Quito is one big spitting, smoking party. Yuck.

But, Lima isn’t perfect. Vehicular traffic is very heavy here. It’s a city of 10 million. There are policemen at the busiest intersections trying to get drivers to obey traffic lights. Once, I was waiting at a crosswalk for my green signal. The police officer waved his baton trying to get the traffic to stop. A car whizzed by him ignoring his shouts. The cop aggressively blew his whistle and pointed his baton at the next car; no effect, the car also blew past him. The cop was getting angry and started pounding his baton at the third car. No effect, the car went right through the red light. Finally, the fourth car stopped and pedestrians were permitted to cross. FFS.

This displays a, “me first, I don’t care about anyone but myself” attitude. I hate cars.

Miraflores area of Lima. It’s a beautiful location.

Another day in Lima I was waiting at a zebra-style crossing with about 30 other people. Once we had our green walk signal and all the cars cleared the crosswalk, people gushed from both sides of the street towards each other in order to cross. I was in the group. Suddenly, a motorcycle came out of nowhere charging us and blaring his horn. I was the first pedestrian he would have crashed into and I was inside the crosswalk and had a green walk signal. He just kept coming as if it was his right to plow through a bunch of pedestrians. Finally, he saw I wasn’t going to yield to his rude behavior and he slammed on his brakes, but it was too late to avoid a collision. We collided head on and it was powerful. My anger was boiling over and I was pissed off. My right hand ended up slamming against one of his side view mirrors in my effort to keep from falling. It went askew, but didn’t fall off.

As I walked away I thought, “Go fix your mirror, idiot.” Don’t charge me on your motorcycle. I won’t yield if I have right-of-way. Grrrrrrr.

Parque Kennedy, Lima, Perú

But, the driving here is not as bad as Panama. Panama was the worst. Well, actually the absolute worst was in Cairo, Egypt. Go ahead and try to cross a street there. Good luck and have your will in order.

The people in Lima are nice, if they’re not behind a steering wheel. Twice in a week people have chatted me up on the street. I thought at first maybe they were going to try to sell me something, but no, they were just curious about the gringo. “Where are you from? How do you like, Peru?” That kind of stuff. A few times people have greeted me in English. They’re relieved when I reply in Spanish 😉

This is Larcomar Mall which is on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Lots of restaurants where you can sit and enjoy the view. Lovely.

I’m so accustomed to visiting countries without needing a visa that I forgot to check Bolivia’s policy. I had already made bus ticket and Airbnb reservations when I thought, “I should check Bolivia’s entry requirements.”

Damn! U.S. citizens need a visa! Damn, damn, damn! It’s not a “visa on arrival” either. You need to pre-apply through a Bolivian embassy, provide a financial statement (bank records), copy of your passport, Airbnb reservation, bus ticket entering Bolivia, plane ticket exiting, a signed sworn statement, and a brief itinerary – plus $160.00 in cash.

If I had known that, I probably would have skipped Bolivia. I abhor red tape.

So, two days ago I uploaded everything they need onto the website. I waited two days so they could digest the info and today I went to the embassy.

Anytime you deal with a government agency, it’s best to assume your first two attempts will get you absolutely nothing. That way you aren’t disappointed and irritable after wasting your precious time.

Parque Barnechea, Lima, Perú

I resigned myself to blowing my entire day spinning my wheels going nowhere. I started walking to the embassy. It’s 13 kilometers from my flat, but I don’t mind walking. Traffic was horrible. I almost got hit three times by cars who thought I was in their way.

At one point I was walking down a street. I needed to eventually cross to the other side, but traffic was heavy and I didn’t need to cross over immediately, so I just kept walking straight ahead. Then I noticed directly in front of me a woman with a baby stroller waiting to cross the same street. She was at a clearly well-painted crosswalk, but four lanes of traffic one way and four lanes of traffic the other way refused to stop to let her cross. I just sighed. I didn’t want to cross here, it was too busy. I’d rather continue straight ahead, but she needed help. So, there was nothing for it. I just looked at her and gave her a look and a nod indicating I was crossing now, come what may, and she could follow or not. She followed. I just walked right into the traffic daring anyone to hit me in the crosswalk. I wasn’t going to yield to anyone. The lady and stroller were hot on my heels. Cars hate to stop, but when an apparent small family is crossing, they have no real option. Everybody stopped; no complaints. ha ha 🙂

El Parquetito – a sweet little restaurant in a park. This is a traditional restaurant that serves guinea pig and alpaca – if you’re so inclined. I decided to pass 😉

I got to the embassy at 9:30 this morning (I think they open at 8:30, but I wasn’t in a hurry to waste my day). I timed the length of my visit. I walked up to the guard shack. The guard took my passport and logged my details in. He buzzed me into the embassy and I proceeded to a small reception area. A lady came out. I handed over copies of everything I had already handed over online (why it’s necessary to hand them hard copies of everything they already have on their portal is beyond my understanding). They asked for $160.00, I paid them, handed over my passport and they said come back in two hours and the Bolivian visa would be in my passport.

What??????

I was in and out of the embassy in a grand total of seven minutes!

Is this the Twilight Zone? How is this possible?

I went to a local Starbucks, killed a couple of hours, went back to the embassy and they handed me my passport complete with a new Bolivian visa good for ten years.

Wow!

I had just read a blog from a U.S. couple who did this in 2018. They spent hours over six days of visits before they got visas. I did it in a total of two hours, most of which was spent in a coffee shop. I was resigned to making many visits for a week to get this done. I’m gobsmacked. Happy day! 🙂

Quito and locro de papas

Now that I’ve been in Quito for a week, I have a pretty good feel for the place. Overall, it’s very nice. The people are friendly. The food is excellent, but I don’t think I could live in Quito.

Old city center, Quito, Ecuador

Trying to walk in this town is difficult. Cars are everywhere and it’s a very car-centric society. Pedestrian crosswalks are not always respected by drivers and if they are, it’s a grudging respect. Most pedestrians have to wait until the coast is clear to cross the street and I’ve seen many run. I don’t do that. If I have the green pedestrian signal, I walk at a normal pace. If a car approaches with the intent to get me to move faster, I slow down. Go ahead, I dare you to hit me 🙂

Parque Carolina, Quito, Ecuador

Also, there’s far too much smoking here. It’s gross. Don’t people realize they’re killing themselves? Whatever.

Cafés and restaurants are smoke-free, but often there’s an outdoor seating area where smoking is permitted and the smoke goes directly into the restaurant. To me, that’s not a smoke-free environment. Breathing in cigarette smoke while trying to eat is not my idea of a pleasant experience.

Old city center, Quito, Ecuador

Did you know Uber is outlawed in most of the countries I’ve been to on this trip? Despite that, you can easily get an Uber in most of these countries. The drivers have to be very careful. As a customer, it’s best to walk to a more secluded street to schedule a pick up. Always get in the passenger side door, never the back door and always make it look like the driver is your buddy, not a paid driver. As Uber drivers approach airports or anywhere police might be watching, the drivers hide their phones so it doesn’t look like they’re following routing directions.

Old city center, Quito, Ecuador

The city center of Quito is brilliant. It’s very much worthy of a visit. It’s got everything; beautiful old buildings, pedestrian-only streets, great old architecture, shopping, and food. This was where I discovered a great Ecuadoran national dish – locro. It’s a potato soup with cheese and guacamole on the side. Delicious!

Old city center, Quito, Ecuador
Old city center, Quito, Ecuador
Old city center, Quito, Ecuador
Locro de papas. Delicious!

Ecuador

In Ecuador, the days and nights are split exactly into 12 hours each – and it’s like this all year round. Ecuadorans check the times for sunrise and sunset – never in their lives. It never changes 🙂

Downtown Quito, Ecuador

And yes, Ecuador is Spanish for “equator”.

So far, I like it here. The Spanish spoken on the streets is really quite good and understandable.

This traveling gig is great!

Ecuador – nation number 85!

Just in case you aren’t following the news, today Venezuela broke diplomatic relations with the United States. Venezuelan President Maduro has given members of the U.S. Embassy 72 hours to get out of Venezuela. Protests against Maduro are growing and inflation is approaching 1,000,000 percent. I can’t see how Maduro stays in power much longer. If he gets kicked out (hopefully), then I might be able to get into Venezuela for a visit. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Bombing in Bogotá, Colombia

Yesterday at least 21 people were reportedly killed in a terror-related bombing here in Bogotá. At the time of the bombing I was relaxing with a stroll around an upscale neighborhood park (Parque de la 93). I was in the same city as the bombing, but it’s a big city and I don’t remember hearing a thing.

The bombing location (red star) and my location (green star), 9:30 a.m. local time.

These bombings had seemed to be part of the past in Colombia. Hopefully, they won’t be part of the future.

I checked the time stamp on this photo and it was taken 21 minutes after the bombing. Parque de la 93, Bogotá.

Speaking of Parque de la 93, I love this part of the city. I had not heard of it, I just happened to come across it and it’s sweet. Again, lots of restaurants, cafés and shops, trees, grass and a very chill atmosphere. After seeing more of South America, I plan to come back and live in this area for a bit.

Strange name for a park? Yeah, it is. It’s named after Calle 93, or 93rd Street. I live on Calle 66. I wake up at 4:45 in the morning, shower, dress, and hit the road. It takes me about 40-45 minutes to get to the park on foot. I arrive right at 6:00 a.m. when the Starbucks opens. Coffee! Yay!

Hmm, I guess this means you’d better watch out. Looks like the sign itself had a bit of a fender bender 🙂
This is my favorite diner next to Parque de la 93. The name of the place is, “Diner”. It’s not too empty, not too crowded. Nice open air gig. I had a huge breakfast and two carafes of fresh-squeezed mandarin juice. Cost? $6.00 USD and that includes the tip. Amazing when you consider these are the ritzy neighborhood prices. Sweet!

La Candelaria, Colombia

Colombia has taken in more than one million Venezuelan refugees. Venezuela is a disaster. The Venezuelan inflation rate in October of 2018 was 833,997%. Venezuela’s president Maduro has just increased the minimum wage by 300%. What good will that do when the inflation rate is at almost a million percent?

Guards outside the Colombian Presidential Palace. I was 100% certain they wouldn’t let me take a photo. I greeted them with a nice, “Good morning” in Spanish and then asked, “Se puede sacar una foto?” They said, “sí”. I said “de veras?” – really? They said, “Sí, no problema”. Awesome! I thanked them very much afterward.

I saw some Venezuelan refugees on the streets of Bogotá. They seemed no different from Colombian locals except they had signs requesting money and assistance. I feel bad for them. I’d love to visit Venezuela on this trip, but getting in is almost impossible for a U.S. tourist. The paperwork they require is ridiculous. I’ll probably have to wait for a regime change.

Graffiti in La Candelaria neighborhood, Bogotá.

I got a haircut here a few days ago and my barber offered to drive me into Venezuela for a day – no visa, no problem. I declined 🙂

Alternatively, I see Brazil is going to drop its tourist visa requirements for U.S. citizens. For now the process is honorous and expensive. I look forward to the change in policy.

Graffiti in La Candelaria neighborhood, Bogotá.

In Latin American restaurants, when I ask for something, I normally make the request by saying, “Quisiera, por favor…”, meaning, “I would like, please…”

In Colombia, they say it in a way I’ve never heard before. They say, “Por favor, me regala…” This translates as, “Will you give me (as a gift)…”. I’m familiar with “me regala”, but this is used mostly by beggars looking for a handout. For example, “Por favor, ¿me regala unas monedas?” – Will you please give me (gift me) some coins? Or, you could say, “¿Qué me vas a regalar por el cumpleaños?” – What are you going to give me (gift me) for my birthday?

Graffiti in La Candelaria neighborhood, Bogotá.

Today, I used the phrase for the first time. I asked María, my waitress, if she would regale me with a dish of, “calentado paisa”. She said she would 🙂

Calentado paisa is the same dish I’ve mentioned on this blog a few times before; rice and beans. It always comes with one egg on top. I think most people here prefer it sunny side up. I prefer scrambled – “revuelto”.

I suggest you don’t use this phrase in restaurants outside Colombia. Your waiter or waitress will probably not want to give you free food and drink 😉

Translation: “Here the magic starts with you”. La Candelaria neighborhood, Bogotá.
Iglesia del Carmen, La Candelaria, Bogotá.

Bogotá

The Chapinero neighborhood of Bogotá is brilliant. There’s no end to the cafés, shops and restaurants. There’s row upon row upon row of them.

Two chic restaurants waiting to be explored. The use of red brick and red tile is ubiquitous here.

The photos here are from a walk I took on a Sunday. My Airbnb is on Calle 66, just off Carrera 7. I walked to Calle 94 and back; about 12 kilometers in total.

Starbucks in a beautiful old building. The interior is equally beautiful. Calle 69A and Carrera 5, Bogotá.
On the right, another restaurant in a beautiful old brick building.
Another on the left
Another hidden inside all that green. The red brick and lush vegetation make for a great contrast.
and another…
Another inside this corner building. Note the parasols on the patio.
Here is the entrance to a lovely little park.
Another park. I think I could feel very comfortable in Bogotá if I were to live here for a while.
A very green city.
Santa María De Los Angeles, Calle 79B.
Too many eateries to choose from.
On Sundays, great lengths of city streets are closed to vehicles.
Another park
Entrance to Museo del Chicó
Huge number of residential buildings in this area. Again, the red brick surrounded by trees, grass, parks and pedestrian paths; Calle 94.
Another park – of course.
A park down the center of a divided street; Calle 94.
Calle 94
More residential buildings
More park. Can’t get enough park.
There are paseos here lined with shops and restaurants.
More residential
La Zona Rosa is packed with entertainment, food and shopping. I need to spend more time here.

Colombia

There were six of us on a tour of coffee farms in the Andes Mountains hosted by Andes Ecotours Colombia. Our party consisted of one Colombian man (our driver), one South African woman (our tour guide), a woman from Poland, a couple from France and myself. Aside from the tour itself, it’s interesting hearing the political opinions of world travelers about politics in the United States.

Colombian national flag, Chapinero, Bogotá, Colombia

People who are multi-lingual and who travel off the beaten path seem unanimously opposed to “(insert your country’s name here)-first” politics. Nationalistic, inward-looking, selfish, chest-beating politics are anathema to these people. Bravo. The “America First” path my country has taken in recent years truly saddens me and makes me doubt I could ever live there again. But, hey, I can’t change the world. I’m not able to change minds. I’ll turn my back on it and follow my own path.

Coffee bean buyer/seller warehouse, Sylvania, Colombia

There, done with politics 😉

The drive from Bogotá to the farms was long. The drive back seemed longer. But, it was an awesome trip and very eye-opening. When I booked the trip ($85 USD plus a $5 “service charge”) I pictured us visiting vast acres of neatly-groomed fields tended by large multi-wheeled machines.

Nope; nothing close to that.

Stopover in Sylvania, Colombia on the way to the coffee bean farms

We first stopped in Sylvania where we visited a coffee bean buyer/seller’s warehouse. This is not high season, so the depot was a bit empty, but not completely.

Freshly-squeezed “jugo de mora”; berry juice. Only 3,500 pesos or $1.11 USD, Sylvania, Colombia. Delicious.

We visited two farms. Both were one-man operations. These guys strap small buckets around their waists with the bucket placed right under their belly. They pick the coffee beans by hand, one at a time. The beans are green when they are unripe, but as they ripen they turn yellow and then red. The coffee plants aren’t arranged in neat rows on flat terrain. The plants seem to grow wild and haphazardly on the side of a mountain. This must be very hard work.

Road hazard. We had to dodge an amazing number of dogs, chickens and livestock on the trip.
Good advice on the trail to a coffee farm near “El Cerro de Quininí”, Colombia

 

The first farmer’s home we visited. I think the farmer’s name was Fernando, but I’m not sure.
Unripe coffee beans
Ripe coffee beans
The Average Nomad and Fernando.
Aguacates – Avocados

Some of these plants don’t seem real
The second farm we visited, Cundinamarca, Tibacuy, Colombia