Saturday, February 26, 2011


Well here I am in Peru!  I didn’t really know what to expect coming into this portion of the trip, but was excited that I was going to be able to communicate at least a little bit by resurrecting me high school Spanish skills!  When I arrived in Peru at 5:30am a week ago I was exhausted, but was quickly perked up by my, shall we say, invigorating, taxi ride to my hotel.  If only the world of Ninetndo were real I swear I was in a game of Mario Kart, and was waiting for us to spin out on a banana peel!  After a nap to rejuvenate myself I took a bike ride tour throughout the Miraflores and Barraco parts of Lima, which are on the coast and so scenic.  I also took a two hour walk through the city, arriving home to learn that the pre-moistened suntan lotion applying towelettes don’t work very well as I had a splotchy burn all over my arms and neck!  They were right when they said the sun in Peru is intense! 
I met up with my Gap Adventures tour group that afternoon and we took off to Puno, Peru the next morning.  As we tried to land in Cusco on our way to Puno we learned that the airport was closed due to visibility and had to fly around in circles for another hour or so (given that I only just recently overcame my fear of flying, I was not surprised that I started to revert back to it and envisioned us as the top story on the news as the airplane that couldn’t land, was running out of fuel from circling the airport, and was going to have to make an emergency landing without landing gear, and the airport had hundreds of police, ambulances and fire engines on site, etc.).  Ugh!  But we made it safe and sound!  
Once we finally got to Puno, altitude 3820m (12,530 feet), I started feeling tingly and dizzy so I started drinking water after water to do away with altitude sickness.  That didn’t work however and after dinner I went straight to bed and became sick enough that we had to call a doctor in the middle of the night!  Things continued to go south from there and I had a miserable few days filled with shortness of breath, vomiting, chest pressure and tightness and rapid heartbeat.  I missed out on a few days of the trip - a homestay on the island of Taquile in Lake Titicaca and hiking the Lares Trek (the alternative to the Inca Trail which is closed in February for routine maintenance).  While I was disappointed, I still got to see some amazing things and got to go hiking at lower altitudes!  We toured the Uros Islands which are floating islands in Lake Titicaca.  Each island is made out of layer upon layer upon layer of reeds, which are also used to create beds and houses.  I was amazed to learn that because of solar panels, many of them now have electricity, TV and radio!  Each island houses about 5 or 6 families and an animal or two, mainly chickens and cows.  It’s a much different way of life which is so normal to these people.  It was fascinating!  For the sales pitch portion of the trip we were taken in pairs to their homes, dressed up in traditional clothes and were sold their woven tapestries.  I couldn’t help but give in when Gabriella the woman selling them kept pleading to me, “But Katy, but Katy,” but I negotiated well, so all is good! 

We travelled through the mountains from village to village, stopping at areas of importance.  We had an incredible guide named Manuel who really made you feel like you were getting the inside view of the Peruvian culture.  He had such an amazing perspective on life and said something that will stay with me – “If you’re having a bad day and nothing’s going your way, remember that somewhere there is land so beautiful that will take that all away.  Try in your mind to transport yourself to another place.”  I went to two Incan ruins sights, one in Pisac and one in Ollantaytambo.  They are very well preserved as they were so well built.  What these people knew about architecture and masonry was astounding.  These structures are going to stand forever!  And they’re flawless!  Unfortunately many of them were unfinished, mainly due to the fact that they took sometimes up to 200 years or more to build.  For Pisac specifically the Incas had to bring the massive stones from a quarry 6km away by pushing, pulling and rolling them through the valley, then they had to get them up a ramp along the side of the hill on which they were going to go.  Once there the rocks had to be formed into a square, carved until they fit just perfectly, hoisted onto the wall (without any machines or pulleys), positioned just so, polished, etc.  Incredible! 

We travelled on to the Sacred Valley which is some of the most fruitful land where they grow corn with kernels as big as marbles.  Nearby in the village of Caccaccollo, Gap Adventues supports a spinning and weaving cooperative.  It is occupied by woman whose husbands are away much of the time working as porters on The Inca Trail.  They showed us how they turn wool into yarn, dye it and weave with it.  They each have a hut where they sell their goods which are made of alpaca wool. 

Between Caccoccollo and the Pisac Market, I couldn’t help but buy some beautiful things.  But I had to talk some sense into myself and force myself to stop buying.  Although all the stuff you see below (blanket, gloves, purse, 2 hats (do I really need two???)) only cost me the equivalent of $35 USD!

Next we moved onto Cusco, which is a sprawling city, bringing together the history and traditions and the present.  There are beautiful plazas everywhere you look with a beautiful church as the anchor for each.  The majority of the people in Cusco, and all over Peru, make their living by selling goods they’ve made.  Some have shops, but most sell their goods on the streets.  They approach you multiple times a day to sell paintings, jewelry, woven dolls, cards, massages, manicures, etc.  I must have said “No gracias” about 70 times today.  There are little girls selling woven bracelets who stare up at you with their big brown eyes pleading with you to buy something. 
“Bracelet senorita?”
“No gracias”
“Only 10 soles (Peruvian money)”
“No gracias”
“Por favor senorita…5 soles”
“No gracias”
“Senorita, por favor,muy bonita” 
Then she pulls a little cloth doll out of her bag and it starts again.  It really tugs at your heart strings.  That is until a little boy came up to me asking to shine my shoes (which are cloth by the way) and I said, “No gracias” and he said, “F*** You!”  What?!?!  I was shocked!  This kid was like 10 years old!
Peru is a whole other world than from the United States.  The country has a way of pulling you in and making you fall in love with the culture, the beauty of the land and the people.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New Zealand - Part II

Traveling throughout New Zealand (and Australia) is so easy compared to the United States.  Their airlines are super-efficient; they load you onto the plane and you’re off in a minute.  Security is much more lax than in the US.  We were able to accidentally take scissors and a 12oz bottle of water through security and aboard in our carry-ons without anyone batting an eye.  The lovely thing about airports in both Australia and New Zealand is you don’t have to remove your shoes, belts and multiple layers of clothing.  And they never ID you for anything, they just take your word that you are who you say you are.  Although this could potentially cause more harm than good… 

Before we get into the good stuff I have to share a few computer mishaps, which always seems to happen to me, which added some stress to this last week in New Zealand.  The first was when my computer wouldn’t turn on, eventually did and said my system could not be recovered and my data may or may not be recoverable.  What?!!?  I had 17GB worth of pics and video (a bit extreme, I KNOW) and 60 pages worth of travel journals that I had been keeping.  I was having a mini-breakdown.  My computer felt so hot that I was sure it was about to burst into flames.  I closed my computer giving it and myself a little time to collect ourselves, and when I turned it back on later all was recovered.  Yay!  The second mishap was after I spent 2 ½ hours in an internet café trying to upload pics to Facebook and I was very frustrated because it kept freezing and being slow and then the upload stopped and I would have to restart it.  Then it was finally working and it said that I had one minute remaining to complete my upload and the girl running the internet café accidentally logged me off.  I sat there watching everything close out in front of me while there was nothing I could do and I promptly burst into tears from frustration.  It was a rough time!
PLEASE NOTE: The following photo is a DRAMATIZATION

But other than that the week that Mom and I spent in New Zealand on the North Island was pretty great!  The time that we already spent in New Zealand was on the South Island and we made one last stop on that island in Kaikoura before heading north.  We chose Kaikoura primarily because it’s a hotspot for marine wildlife and we were going to take a whale watching cruise.  Unfortunately high winds and a “severe sea sickness warning” thwarted our plans, so instead we spent the day playing mini golf, walking through creeks and strolling along a beautiful beach that was covered with smooth dark gray stones.

We crossed onto the North Island via ferry that was big enough and nearly nice enough to be a cruise ship, and settled into our home for the next couple of days, Wellington.  We arrived on the day of the Sevens parade, a huge deal in Wellington.  There is a huge international rugby tournament in town on the weekend and it is kicked off with a lunchtime parade down Lambton Quay.  People dress up in extravagant costumes and paint their faces.  The teams come through on floats with some aspect of their country preceding them – bagpipers for Scotland, a cross dresser impersonating Queen Elizabeth for the UK, Air New Zealand flight attendants for New Zealand, and Colonel Sanders for the United States.  By the way, did anyone know that the United States even has a rugby team??  I feel ashamed to admit that I didn’t!  That night we met up with my cousin Ryan who has been living in New Zealand for the last 7 months!  I think something about world travel runs in my family!  It was so fun to hear about his experiences since he’s lived as a kiwi and to hear all the New Zealand sayings that he has now added to his vocabulary.  Read about his adventures at

Auckland, New Zealand is a land made up of 48 volcanoes that have risen from beneath the sea at various times throughout time, some 60,000 years ago some only 600 years ago.  The lava flowing down the mountains and onto the land has since grown grass and trees out of it and was formed into a city.  Knowing that at any moment a volcano could blow and the city could be completely wiped out added a little unrest.  An exhibit at the museum showed a simulation of how such an event would rock the city.  It creeped me out and left me wondering if every footstep I took was really a tremor.  Luckily though today scientists track every movement of the earth and there would be a significant amount of warning before occurrence. 

Also in Auckland in a moment of desperation and in need of something American my Mom and I went to Denny’s for lunch.  Just the fact that there was a Denny’s in New Zealand made me want to go.  My mom’s favorite part was that they had ice in the water, something that most kiwi restaurants lack.  Speaking of ice, we went to an ice bar on the pier and enjoyed drinks in glasses made of ice along with everything else in the bar including tables, chairs, walls, the bar itself and numerous sculptures.  It was a nice relief when we stepped out from the 0 degree bar into the 70 degree temperatures outside.  I don’t think that we were the target audience for the bar though as the walls in the lobby were lined with pictures of drunk people posing butt naked on the various emu ice sculptures, in their underwear and flashing the camera, but it was an experience anyway! 
When we emerged from that we found ourselves in the middle of a celebration for the Chinese New Year, which felt strangely like a Chinese variety show that you see on TV.  We went to the Auckland Museum and went to our second Maori cultural performance.  This one was very authentic and I finally learned something about the Maori people who were the indigenous people of New Zealand who got screwed over by the British.  The treaty the Maoris signed to supposedly retain the rights to their land was an act of deception by the British who wrote one version for themselves and another version for the Maoris.
We took a ferry across the bay to Devonport along with a number of New Zealanders who were going to their vacation homes for the weekend on the little island.  We ate dinner at a great little Italian place near the water and enjoyed the ambiance.  We also took a trip to Waitomo to go to the Waitomo Caves.  We walked down into the sandstone caves and boarded a row boat which took us into the complete darkness to showcase the thousands of glowworms which were attached to the ceiling and lit it up even brighter than a starry sky on a clear night.  We trekked to Rotorua which had a strong smell of sulfur hovering over the town.  This type of sulfur is supposed to be good for your heart so we took plenty of deep breaths.  Rotorua is home to thermal geysers which reach 228 degrees and bubbling mud pools which reach 222 degrees.  It was so interesting to see such amazing natural phenomena.   

We also witnessed our third sheep shearing demonstration in Rotorua and got to walk among the llamas, alpacas, sheep and cows.  I tried to feed an ostrich, but as it pecked very hard at the food in my hand in a moment of panic I threw my food to the ground for the bird to get itself.  This brought me back to the moment when I was three and I caught a fish at the trout farm and as soon as it wiggled on my fishing pole I dropped the whole thing, screamed and ran away.  Ah, the memories.  I really enjoyed petting these animals which you don’t get the opportunity to interact with every day, although I still don’t know the difference between an alpaca and a llama.
I’ve been occupying my free time, of which there has been very little, with a book by Bill Bryson called In A Sunburned Country about my new favorite place to be, Australia!  My brother got it for me for Christmas and I wanted to wait until I had been there to really be able to enjoy it and I love it.  Thanks Ben!
I couldn’t have imagined a trip as wonderful as the one we’ve been on for the past month to the spectacular countries of Australia and New Zealand.  I truly feel so lucky to be able to have the opportunity to travel to these amazing places.  Only time will tell how long it will be before I go back to Australia for another long trip, but I’m hoping it’s much sooner rather than later!  :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Land of the Kiwi

Sheep!  That’s what I think of now when I think of New Zealand.  There are 4 million people living in New Zealand and there are 45 million sheep!  Talk about being outnumbered.  They were everywhere!  We spent the last week of our three week organized tour on the south island of New Zealand.  I have eaten more kiwi fruits this week (6) than I have in my whole life (1).  The Kiwis (the people) are so friendly and have a gorgeous country to call home.  It’s too bad that clouds and rain were present much of our time here.  We just missed a 4.0 aftershock in Christchurch by a few hours.  Darn!  I had kind of hoped to be in a mild earthquake or experience an aftershock.  
One of the things that I really enjoyed about Australia was that we flew everywhere, but in New Zealand we ended up taking the train or driving everywhere on a coach.  The day that we spent 13 hours on the coach to and from Milford Sound almost did me in.  Thank goodness we had a movie to watch for the last two hours to keep me occupied, although that may have contributed to the motion sickness.  But for what it’s worth, The World’s Fastest Indian is pretty good for getting you through a rough patch.
 When we arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand we went to the Jacob’s residence to experience a little bit of what life in New Zealand was really like.  They cooked a traditional Kiwi dinner for us - lamb and vegetables and pavlova for dessert.  Our tour manager, Mark, had told us the day before to be polite when we went to dinner.  “Eat all your vegetables.  Eat your dinner,” he had told us.  So when I didn’t take any cauliflower and Mrs. Jacob said, “Oh, you don’t like cauliflower?” all I could hear ringing through my head was Mark saying “Eat all your vegetables!” and I was horrified that I had been caught.
The next night in Queenstown we took a gondola up to the top of a mountain to the Skyline restaurant.  There were a handful of us that were not super comfortable with the whole gondola thing and spent the time with either our eyes closed, or averting our eyes by reading our little sightseeing brochure over and over again.  But once we got to the top the views were absolutely spectacular!  We were seated in the restaurant right by the window looking out on the town below which was surrounded by a fjord and the mountains.  A paraglider flew right by our window and we watched him twist and turn and glide all over the town.  The views were breathtaking!   
After dinner we went to a Haka show which was put on by the native Maori people.  I got pulled up on stage to use the poi, which is a ball on a string that they use in their ceremonies.  A number of men from our group went on stage after to demonstrate a Maori trying to intimidate other tribes.  They weren’t too successful in being intimidating, but it was entertaining!
Also in Queenstown we went on a 4WD Lord of the Rings safari ride that took us up into the highest of the mountains and down into the creeks.  There was very little Lord of the Rings stuff and lots of amazing sights.  We took this on the windiest and coldest day of our trip, and we were the only brave souls out of 32 to get out of our truck and take pictures.  There were beautiful rainbows forming over the town.  Our driver was “Crazy Fran” and we had the bumpiest, most fun ride.  She had us laughing from the time we boarded until she dropped us off back at our hotel.  A man we were traveling with almost tumbled out of the back of the truck not once, but twice because Crazy Fran kept taking off before checking if the doors were closed!  We splashed through the rocky creek, drove up and over rocks, took sharp turns and an overall wild ride.  We also got the chance to go gold mining in the creek and I found GOLD!  See below?!?!  Haha!

 I was getting somewhat tired of boat rides since we had taken a number of them since our trip began, so I wasn’t looking forward to another on the T.S.S. Earnslaw, but am I glad I went!  We went across a fjord that was 1,200 feet deep to a beautiful farm that was set on the water front completely isolated and surrounded by stunning mountains.  We ate a fabulous dinner in the farmhouse, took a walk through the manicured gardens and over to the farm itself.  The farmer had his dog herd the sheep and he demonstrated what the dog could make them do.  He had a very dry sense of humor but put on an entertaining show which included shearing a sheep which was really neat to see.  This amazing complex had a price tag of $4 million.  Just another reason why it would be nice to have won the lottery!  To have a vacation home in New Zealand on the water set amongst the mountains would be pretty wonderful!

 In Christchurch we went to the Antarctic Center which is where planes fly out of every day directly to Antarctica.  It’s only a 5 ½ hour plane ride!  Maybe that’ll be my next trip!  I rode in a hagglund which is the vehicle they use in Antarctica to get around.  This one however was more of a thrill ride and made me wish I had gone to the bathroom BEFORE the ride when we all of a sudden dropped at a steep angle and that happened again and again!  We also got to experience an Antarctic storm when the winds picked up and the temperature dropped drastically.  That was about all there was to do there, but it was fun nonetheless.

 I have now adopted the New Zealand way of saying “glacier” and now pronounce it glay-cee-er.  It sounds much more sophisticated!  :)
Goodbye to all my new friends from the Collette Vacations trip!  It was such a blast!  :)