Friday, April 29, 2011

Semana Santa in Cusco

Semana Santa kept us two atheists real busy. The elaborate rituals fascinated us. Their deep faith confounded us. Nevertheless, there were various processions to gawk at, church open houses to circulate through, a market to wander about, and special foods to try.

Sunday: we did not arrive early enough to catch enough action.

Monday highlight of the entire week: 2pm procession of Senor de Los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes) from the Cathedral, 7pm return.
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Tuesday rest day

Wednesday
7pm procession of Virgin Dolorosa and Señor de la Justicia from Santo Domingo
7:30pm procession of Señor de la Justicia from Santa Catalina

Holy Week - Cusco, Peru

Holy Week - Cusco, Peru

Holy Week - Cusco, Peru

Thursday
Around 5pm procession of Santísimo Sacramento inside the Cathedral
From 7-8pm on, open house at all major churches.

Good Friday - Cusco, Peru

Holy Week - Cusco, Peru

Friday
All day: special herb market around San Pedro Market
5pm procession of Señor del Santo Sepulcro from La Merced.
From 7-8pm on, procession of Señor del Santo Sepulcro from various churches.

Good Friday - Cusco, Peru

Mercado - Good Friday - Cusco, Peru

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Saturday
We left for Cusco for Ollantaytambo right after lunch. In Cuzco there was supposed to be a 6pm process of Virgen Dolorosa from San Fransisco.
In Ollantaytambo, there was a procession in the evening.

Sunday
In Ollantaytambo there was a 8am procession of the resurrected Jesus.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Surprising Cusco

Cusco should not be a surprise, except I had very low expectations. I imagined the city brimming with tourists with every local plying the tourist trade. Here we are in Cusco during Semena Santa (Holy Week), an obvious busy time, and I am liking it every much. Granted, there are many roaming souvenir/services peddlers, but by no means aggressive. I find the city very atmospheric. The many churches, orange tiled roofs, colonial buildings, and surrounding hills are reminiscent of Florence, Italy, except Florence had a lot more tourists and paintings, but none of the Incan walls.

The Incan walls are some engineering feat. Stones big and small were cut to fit tightly without mortar. The interlocking mechanism allowed the walls to withstand earthquakes over the centuries. The Incas did not have wheels and the largest domestic animal was the llama! Today all over the city the walls are seen supporting colonial buildings. We have toured through all over the empire, and finally arrived at the capital. All the best stuff is here!!

The old, smooth stone walls of the Inca's Temple of the Sun, support the Spaniard's Templo Santo Domingo in these two photos.
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More Inca walls.
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Undecided on Isla del Sol

From Copacabana we made the obligatory trip to Isla del Sol. We agonized over our itinerary and finally decided to stay over one night on the north (less touristic) end of the end and walk to the south end of the island the second day before catching the boat back.

The north end of the island was very scenic, where the island is shaped like an amoeba. The views from hilltops are amazing. But the tourist infrastructure is very limited in the north. We were lucky to find a clean, and cozy room, probably the nicest in the the village, but not much a view, while a 2-liter bottle of water cost 10% of the room. Not all the restaurants were open; only two were ready to serve gringo-priced food, one of which was not always open. There were several overpriced sandwich stands. The south had a lot more options.

While we enjoyed hiking around the island, we were turned off by the road tolls. It was complicated too, 10-5-5 north to south, but 10-15 from south to north. On our walk we even ran into a guy trying to overcharge us on the road toll, as well as two kids who asked for candy.

Would we come back to spend more time on the island? While the landscape is very alluring, I am unsure about the Aymara people on the island. They seem to be only interested in making easy money on tolls, water, and sandwiches, instead of providing real hospitality. The south is more developed and seemed different. But the core of the people should be the same? or should they change? how much?

South End of Isla del Sol with a view up Lake Titicaca .
Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Challapampa Village on the North End of Isla del Sol. We spent a night here.
Challapampa Village - Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Sun-Ling walking south on the ridge trail of Isla del Sol at almost 14000 ft above sea level.
Isla del Sol, Bolivia

One of the many beaches on the North End of Isla del Sol.
Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Just after sunset on Isla del Sol.
Sunset - Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mixed Copacabana

Copacabana is a tourist town on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3821 meters.

There are lots of hotels, none that friendly. There are lots of restaurants, none that tasty. We could not quite decide whether tourists outnumber locals or the other ways around. As scenic as the lake was, what made Copacabana authentic for us was the activities generated by the Cathedral.

The Cathedral itself is a very impressive Moorish complex. What makes it special is the fact that it houses the powerful and popular patron saint of Bolivia, Our Lady of Copacabana. We read that on weekends that cars line up to be blessed. Nevertheless I was surprised to see, on a Wednesday afternoon, a family came all the way from Cochabamba, a whole day's drive away, to have their truck blessed. Such faith never fails to amaze me!

Then on the Friday evening before Palm Sunday, we noticed a man carrying a cross going by outside of our restaurant. By the time we finished dinner, the streets were being transformed into mosaics of flower petals. We were told there was to be a procession. When the procession started, we realized that it was a reenactment of the 14 Stations of the Cross. What I had failed to report earlier was that many a time when we walked to a mirador, it was following the path of 14 stations of the cross. Now a live version!

Looking back at Copacabana from across the bay.
View to - Copacabana, Bolivia

Sunset on Lake Titicaca as seen from our hotel room balcony.
Sunset - Copacabana, Bolivia

The family from Cochabamba and their truck just after the Blessing of the Vehicles ceremony.
Blessing of the Vehicles - Copacabana, Bolivia

The Cathedral with another vehicle-to-be-blessed in front.
Blessing of the Vehicles - Copacabana, Bolivia

A mosaic of flowers is created for each of the 14 Stations of the Cross.
Easter Procession - Copacabana, Bolivia

The procession is lead by the parish priest.

Easter Procession - Copacabana, Bolivia

The 3rd Station of the Cross - Jesus falls for the first time.
The 3rd Station of the Cross - Copacabana, Bolivia

Friday, April 15, 2011

Curious Sorata

From Chulumani we returned to La Paz to spend my birthday in luxury (internet), comfort (gas-heated hot water) and access to restaurant food (vegetarian). The next day we left for Sorata, another village set in green hills, this time to the northwest of La Paz.

Sorata is a curious place. While most places we have been in Bolivia seem to be prospering, Sorata seems to have declined from various peaks. The small village has many fine late 19th/early 20th century buildings that are in various stages in decay. The over half dozen expat-owned/run business have all disappeared. Yet the for-the-gringo restaurants around the square consistently produce very tasty veggie burgers and Mexican food?!

Since we had bad luck finding a satisfactory room, we spent only one day walking around, 26km round-trip with very awesome views.

A crumbling back street in Sorata.
Sorata, Bolivia

The Sorata Church.
Church - Sorata, Bolivia

Veggie Burger at Ristoronte Italiano on the plaza in Sorata.
Veggie Burger and Fries - Sorata, Bolivia

Near Sorata.
near Sorata, Bolivia

Looking back to Sorata in color and ala Ansel Adams.
Sorata, Bolivia

Sorata, Bolivia

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Chulumani

Chulumani is a village just over 100kms southeast of La Paz in the heart of the Yungas region which produces most of Bolivia's coca leaf crop. We spent 3 days there (without internet), enjoying the lower altitude of the Amazon Basin, the small town atmosphere and relaxing country rambles, but lamenting the loss of jungle habitat to coca farming. An added attraction is the bus ride in to Chulumani on nearly The World's Most Dangerous Road.

The landscape is very lush. It rained 50% of the short time we spent there, so we ended up not hiking as much as we had planned. At 6000ft, it has a very pleasant climate. No wonder the jungle flourished. However, on the hills, the jungle is giving way to sculpted coca terraces. Coca must be be very profitable; in fact, the area seem to grow hardly any fruits and vegetables. Being a small village we had trouble finding vegetarian food, so we ended up enjoying a tomato and avocado salad everyday. We could tell the cost of groceries is more than La Paz.

View down to Chulumani from above The Cross Mirador.
View from above The Cross to Chulumani, Bolivia

Another view back to Chulumani.
Chulumani, Bolivia

The sculpted terraces of a newly planted coca field. You can just see the small green plants.
Coca Field - Chulumani, Bolivia

And another view of some coca fields from across the valley.
Coca Field - Chulumani, Bolivia

Taking a break from a hike high up the mountain in a coca field.
Resting in a coca field - Chulumani, Bolivia

A finally, a shot from out the bus window on the Chulumani Road. I have to admit that on the most dangerous spots, my sweating hands were clutching the back of the seat in front of me, not the camera.
World's Most Dangerous Road - between Chulumani and  La Paz, Bolivia

Monday, April 04, 2011

Breathing in La Paz

La Paz is a very special place. It is the highest capital in the world. The city is like a gravy bowl that has overflowed the rim. Nowadays half of the city is at 4000m on the plane. We are staying at an older part of the city on the side of the bowl. Our room measures in at 3734m(12250ft). Every outing is an adventure in ascending and descending. The good thing is that there is MUCH street life to look at. John's conclusion is that whole city is one big market; at least in the atmospheric indigenous squares that we mostly move around in.

This is our third day in La Paz. I can just see myself going through the acclimatization process. Each day I breath easier and my head hurts less; each night sleep is less restless. My hypochondriac self no longer wonders that I may not wake up from my sleep on night.

La Paz - The Downtown - from Killi Killi Mirador.
La Paz, Bolivia from Killi-Killi

La Paz - The Stadium - from Killi Killi Mirador.
La Paz, Bolivia

Looking down the Graneros Street Mercado.
Graneros Mercado - La Paz, Bolivia

Calle Zolilo Flores becomes a market on Saturday with temporary shops as far as the eye can see.
Mercado on Zolilo Flores - La Paz, Bolivia

Setting up the shoe shop.
Mercado - La Paz, Bolivia

Sun-Ling bargaining at a market stall.
Shopping - La Paz, Bolivia

And a tasty lunch at Namaste vegetarian restaurant.
Lunch at Namaste Vegetarian Restaurant - La Paz, Bolivia

Carnival continues

South America is known for Carnival, the highlight of many itineraries. We, on the other hand, had planned to avoid the crowds all along. Yet we keep running into Carnival celebrations. Here we are, April 2nd, in La Paz -- it is Carnival?!

What happened was that a section of "the bowl" fell away earlier last month during the raining season. Several thousand people lost their homes. The Carnival celebration, Jisk’a Anata, was pushed out by four weeks until Saturday April 02.

We could not help ourselves but take in the festivities, gape at the awesome costumes, and marvel at the energy levels of dancers and musicians.

Musicians!
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Costumes!
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Exhausted dancers!
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