I'm on the plane to Sydney. My connection from Buenos Aires to Sydney was delayed two hours due to a storm, which translated into a four hour wait for me. The Buenos Aires airport was full of big fat crickets the size of your thumb. They were chirping all over the place and you could spot them scurrying around on the floor. I was walking around killing time trying to find one that I could hear but couldn't see, stooping low towards the floor. When “WHOOMP!” one fell from the ceiling right past my ear with a big whooshing noise and landed on my collar. Freaked me out.
I have fallen way behind in these entries, so I've got to go all the way back to Peru. Alix's visit was amazing. I met her at the airport and we stayed in Lima for a few days, eating at delicious restaurants. Peru is famous for ceviche, a dish of raw fish prepared by putting it in lemon juice. I think the acidity of the juice is supposed to cook it some. Peruvian cuisine has apparently been gaining some notoriety internationally, and Lima is considered the “gastronomical capital of the continent.” Lots of seafood, good organic grocery stores, good pasta, all sorts of things.
Before Alix got there I was craving some more normal food, so I got a Pizza Hut stuffed crust pizza. They called it Hut Cheese, and the crust was stuffed with both cheese and ham, which was weird. It was summer vacation for Peru, and the maid at the hostel had brought her little son to work. Poor kid had been sitting watching TV all day, and I could only eat two slices of pizza that night, so I told him to help himself and told his mom it was ok. The next day I came back for dinner, opened up the fridge to eat the rest of it, and found that they'd taken the whole thing home and it was gone. Probably for the best, since I don't need all that ham and cheese and I bet the kid didn't get to savor the hammy joy of Hut Cheese that often.
From Lima Alix and I caught a bus to Nazca. There we stayed in a SUPER swanky hotel, only for a night. On the rather extensive grounds they had ostriches, horses, a mule, rabbits, little deer in pens, and guinea pigs in pens for eating. Also an awesome pool with a bar that you could sit at in the pool. It was the low season and the place wasn't full enough for the bar to be open, but it was still a pretty awesome pool. In Spanish guinea pigs are called cuy (pronounced “kwee”), because of the squeaking sound they make, that sounds just like “cuy.” Almost too cute to eat.
In the morning we got in a tiny three passenger plane and they flew us up to see the lines from the air. The plane was pretty rocky, and by the end I could only glance at the lines and then stare out the window focusing on the horizon, breathing deeply and trying not to vomit. Some of the designs they made really do look a lot like astronauts/aliens, which was cool. Even nauseous I was impressed.
From there we went on south to Cabanaconde. It is a little town on the edge of Colca Canyon, second deepest in the world. The actual deepest is nearby and is only deeper by a few meters. The ride there was long and bumpy on a crappy bus, but we saw condors soaring over the canyon and they showed Rome the miniseries on TV, which made it a little better. The bus kept breaking down on the side of the road. The driver would get out, tinker for a while, get back in, rev the engine futilely, get out again, get it started right when you were collecting your things to start walking, and continue bouncing down the road. Each time it broke it would take a little bit longer to get started back up, so by the last time it puttered to a stop all hope had pretty much died. The canyon itself was pretty impressive. It was so big that it was hard to get a feel for the scale you were looking at. On the other side was a swath of white chalky looking stone that cut through the green of the canyon. If you looked closer, that swath of stone was actually a fair-sized town clinging to the opposite wall. Then you could start to get a feel for how big it was, and how far you would fall if you slipped.
At this point in the trip we were going to go on to Machu Picchu. We had bought our bus tickets and were all set to go. But, we had spent more time in Lima than we had planned to, were behind schedule, and would have less than 24 hours to find a place to stay, see the ruins, and catch a bus back to Lima. Plus, we both would prefer to hike the Inca Trail, a four day approach to the ruins that puts you there at sunrise. There was no way we could have done that in our timeframe, even if we'd stuck the the schedule, so (at Alix's suggestion) we decided not to rush it and to just do it another properly on another trip. At the bus station we changed our tickets from Machu Picchu to Lima and caught an overnight bus. When we got back to our hostel we saw that the newspaper headlines all said “Death at Machu Picchu!” and it turned out that there had been terrible flooding and landslides and the ruins were closed. So if we had gone, assuming we didn't get stalled on a road somewhere or caught up in the mayhem, we wouldn't have been able to see the ruins anyways. And if we'd stuck to our original schedule rather than taken our time in Lima, we could have been there right when it started to hit the fan. Pretty lucky.
The ride back to Lima was pleasantly uneventful, except for the fact that we bought two alpaca saltenas from an old lady that got onto the bus at a stop to sell things. (Saltenas are kind of like hotpockets; alpacas are kind of like llamas.) The next day we were both sick. It might not be totally fair to blame the saltenas, as we were also eating raw fish, shellfish, and other potential culprits. But if you'd seen these things she was selling, or the cloth bag she had over her shoulder that she pulled them from, not to mention the way they were just keeping raw meat out on shelves in some of these small towns, you would ask yourself “why the hell are you touching those things, let alone eating them?!” We were pretty hungry.
Thankfully we were back in our hostel and had a private bathroom. It struck Alix first, in the morning. I felt fine. I bought her some gatorade, and in a few hours it had passed. I thought my stomach had toughened up from three months of South American food and wasn't having any problems. Instead, it just took my stomach longer to admit that it was in over its head. By then it was far, far too late. I didn't start to feel anything until the evening, but once it got started it was terrible. I don't know if I've ever felt so sick. First one end, then the other, then both. Then I went deaf for a few minutes and then I passed out. To give you the complete picture, it must be mentioned that you can't flush toilet paper in a lot of places in South America. To solve this problem, they provide you with a little trash can next to the toilet. The poor little guy was pretty severely burdened already, as it'd been a long day, but now I was also throwing up into it. And when you pass out, you naturally have to rest your face on something, and in this case it was a disgusting poopy pukey little trashcan. It was gross. My ears were ringing, I coudn't hear, I was boiling hot, and all I could focus on was the drain in the shower. Each time I rinsed myself off with cold water and returned to rest my head on the filthy can, wishing death would come, I would look past the traschcan at the drain and notice how with each rinse more of my hair had fallen out of my head and was plastered there in a soapy grime against the metal. Far from my finest hour. In spite of all this, Alix pulled a chair over to the bathroom door and read to me out of The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Wow.
The timing was doubly bad, because we had reservations at the nicest restaurant in Lima, Astrid y Gaston. The hostel manager had asked them to give us the best table and had made it sound like a big deal. Of course, we couldn't use the reservations because I was slowly dying, slipping in and out of consciousness, so we gave them to an elderly couple downstairs. They were thrilled. When they came back they said it was the highlight of their trip. The waiters were calling the man Sam, they had thought it was a special dinner and the cook came out to recommend things to them, they got free dessert, it really sounded amazing.
The next day I could walk again without wanting to fall down. Alix was leaving at midnight, and we were determined to try that restaurant. I walked very gingerly to a cab, we got a table, drank nothing but water, ordered guinea pig and some icecream. It was delicious, but I would have liked to do it at 100% healthy when I could have gotten some wine or something. It was definitely a fancy restaurant, which became obvious when the waiter brought us our breadbasket and said “allow me to introduce the bread,” all of which had some special significance to Peru and were delicious. That night Alix caught a plane back to Seattle.
I stayed in Lima for a few more days and saw some of the things we hadn't had time to. One was a church that had giant catacombs with more than 40 thousand people buried there. The skulls and skeletons had been arranged in fancy designs by the archeologists that had counted them. Sadly, pictures weren't allowed in any part of the church. I also went to the bar were the pisco sour had been invented. It was good, but tasted similar to a lot of the other good ones I had had around Peru and Chile. I spent a few more days going to see movies and not doing much of anything, and then caught a plane to Brazil and Rio de Janeiro.
More later. I've landed in Sydney, where it is like...19 hours ahead? So it is 11:21pm on the third right now in Seattle, and 6:21pm on the fourth. I'm not actually sure what time my body thinks it is. Maybe 4am? I will have more on Australia and another episode of South America soon. The next one will focus on Carnival. Titillating, no?