The following is an account of 3 1/2 weeks of travel in Peru during our vacation. The experiences are many and varied as you will see. Click on each of the pictures for more.
I was born in Lima, Peru, son of linguist missionaries who spent more than 50 years in Latin America, dedicated to providing the foundation for alphabetism and bilingual education for the Quechua people of the highlands of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina. To me, Peru is home, yet after moving to the US to begin college and a life as a North American, I had not returned for 22 years to the land of my origin. The only connection I had with my latin american roots was the occasional story, pictures and a pursuit of spanish speaking circles to maintain currency with the language and culture.
For the 22 years that I had been in the US, I had not had either the money, the time, or the circumstances to visit Peru despite the acute longing to return there. Each time that I planned a trip there was always something that stood in the way. When I began to work at Silicon Graphics in 1996, I was informed that one of the benefits to the employees of this wildly successful Silicon Valley company was a six week sabbatical every four years of service. From that moment on , I knew exactly how I wanted to spend my sabbatical. I chose American Airlines whenever I traveled on business for the next four years, saving up the miles for the Peru trip.
Now, in the year 2000, and eligible for my sabbatical to Peru, there were also some other factors that would accompany me on the trip. One, my love for flying hang gliders. In my mind, the Peru trip was to be, several weeks of hang gliding the Andes mountains. As a kid, I remember seeing skies full of those puffy clouds you can lay back and imagine elephants and pirate ships in. I also remember "remolinos" (dust devils) in great abundance. As an adult hang glider pilot, I realize that these are evidence of superb lift.
Second, I take with me my wife of one year, Denise. Denise and I met about four years ago when I taught a hang gliding class and she was a student. The story is a long one, but a year ago we surprised my two kids with an unannounced wedding in Hawaii. You can read that story here. Denise also continues to fly, so we planned to take two gliders to Peru.
I contacted several people during the planning stages. Arrangements had to be made for introduction to flying sites, hotels in Lima, transportation around the country, etc., etc. A friend of mine, David Wroughton, who also was raised as a son of missionaries in Peru, and who I share many childhood memories with had taken up the hotel business some years back. So, we made arrangements to stay in his hotel, named Antigua Miraflores during our first days in Lima. I had heard many good things about his hotel and was looking forward to seeing the fruits of David's entrepreneur endeavors.
We also contacted Jose Rosas of Perufly, a shop dedicated to free flight in Peru (Paragliders and Hang Gliders). Jose also does some other interesting things with balloon based bungee jumping, etc. Check his site out. We tried to pin Jose down to a plan for our hang gliding adventure, asking about rental vehicles, persons willing to take the road trip we were planning, or something that would ease our minds that it was indeed a good idea to go to the trouble of getting gliders down to Peru. Jose response by phone was something to the tone of "Don't worry about a thing, we'll work out all the details when you get here." Having adopted the American security blanket of a working plan, I proceeded with intrepidation. In retrospect, Jose and all his gang at Perufly far exceeded our expectations and helped make our trip a total success.
For taking the gliders down on the airlines, I got some great advice from Kari Castle, via email, outlining the best way to prepare a glider for taking on board as baggage. As she predicted, there's almost always a problem with this, but it is possible. I prepared two shipping tubes, cut to 14 feet (gliders will generally break down to 12 feet, but we wanted some spare room for stuffing harnesses and other stuff), doubled on the ends and attached webbing handles. Gliders and paraphernalia stuffed into the tubes. The resulting weight was about 130 lb. for Denise's 140 Falcon and 155 lb. for my Fusion 150. I called American Airlines to confirm our tickets and request ed of the agent that a note be made on our reservations that we would be showing up with some baggage that would need special handling, with specific measurements and weights. I was told by the agent that there was, indeed, a special category for sports equipment that would allow us to bring our hang gliders on the aircraft as oversized baggage.
Skeptical me, I planned to be at the airport 3 hours in advance, instead of the normal 2 hours for international flights, anticipating problems. This turned out to be a good idea as the American Airlines counter personnel refused flatly to take our gliders on the aircraft, informing us that we needed to take them to cargo. The next hour consisted of visits from cargo personnel that informed us that they had an embargo on Peru and had absolutely no way to get the gliders there, and anyway if they did, they would probably be in customs for three weeks, getting out just in time for us to return to the US, flight line managers standing around asking questions and scratching their head, and me appealing (kicking, screaming and telling heart wrenching stories of my four years of anticipation of this trip) to American to honor their word. Finally, 45 minutes before boarding the aircraft, some stickers were slapped on the shipping tubes, we were asked to leave and go get the rest of ourselves checked in and the tubes magically disappeared into a secret passage way (one the counter personnel swore did not exist) out to the airplane.
In Miami where we were to change planes for Lima, we remained glued to the window, watching to make sure that the gliders got from one airplane to the other. Lesson learned: We got the name of one of the managers that work the flight line, who happens to also be a hang glider pilot. For future reference, we will call this person directly and make arrangements for glider transport. Contact us if you need this info.
Peru is overly anxious to have tourists as this has become an important part of the Peruvian economy. To this end, we were treated as royalty with large, 14 foot long, 150 lb scepters, and whisked through customs. Outside we met the taxi driver that David had sent to pick us up, in his small toyota pickup truck. We got the gliders tied on and were off to David's hotel.
Whomever it was that told me that Peru had changed so much in 22 years must be seeing something very different than I. Other than the fact that Lima is 3X the size I left it last time I past through in 1978, the sights, sounds, the smells and the general ambiance are exactly the same. Sure, the dimly lit and dust covered signs by the side of the road now have Internet Cafe sprinkled in with the Pollos a la Brasa, and there is the occasional McDonalds (advertising the new McHuevo), Burger King, KFC, and even Dunkin' Donuts. But the old corner store Bodega (el Chino) and the road-side sandwich, anticucho and papa, newspaper and knickknack vendors haven't been replaced. I did note the large presence of privately contracted armed guards in front of both businesses and private homes of the people that could afford them. This was left over evidence of a more tumultuous time in very recent history.
The first thing we did after a good night's sleep and a satisfying peruvian breakfast of cafe con leche and the best morning bread baked on the planet, was take the four block walk from our hotel to the only hang gliding dealer in lima. Two blocks into the walk we were surprised, by guess what.... the clinic where I was born!!!
The Perufly hospitality is of the highest quality imagined. The business is run by Jose Rosas with associates Jorge, and Alejandro (flaco). They received us with open arms and got to work securing us a vehicle for our trek into the andes, as well as putting us in touch with other hang gliding pilots to go flying with our first days in Lima. We assembled our gliders in the driveway of David's hotel, as they graciously allowed us to, and tried not to clutter up the elegant presentation of the front of the hotel too much.
Our second day, we waited for the rental car agency to deliver the vehicle. We had arranged 11:00 Am, which I expected to be 11:30, by hora peruana, but turned out to be more like 1:00 PM, peak soaring hours. What was delivered was unacceptable for a two week trip in the Andes, with bald tires and missing lug nuts. Other than that it did have a roll cage which would serve as good starting point for building a makeshift rack to carry the Fusion and the Denise's falcon.
Rafael Miroquesada, local hang glider and paraglider pilot, turned out to be a God-send. First, he became our hang gliding host and graciously offered to take our gliders to the nearby launch preferred by hang gliders. He read the rental car delivery guy the riot act, then got him to return the truck and get it truly ready for two weeks in the Andes. It was to return at 4 PM with brand new tires.
.The rental car delay got us to launch late. By the time we were ready the wind had crossed and lift was now not really usable. I made a short flight with about 8 passes over Ghandi park (which we renamed doggy poop ridge as a result of the lack of any type of leash laws here), and landed in the big flat area at the bottom of the ridge. While not that impressive, it was my first flight in Peru... in the past 22 years, anyway
The coast of Miraflores, a district of Lima where the upper crust seem to hang, sits on a 200 ft. cliff and during this time of the year (Aug. and Septa), the wind blows consistently, making it soarable every day. Several paraglider pilots make an extra buck by taking people tandem right from the take-off point (no paperwork, waivers, memberships, or other lawyer hoops to jump through). The interesting thing is that, due to the topology of the flying area, the paragliders can fly right up to people standing in the park and ask them if they want a tandem! We were very impressed by the skills of the pilots here.
Friends : New and Old
Our first few days in Lima also allowed us to make some contacts, visit some long lost close friends, and get prepared for our road trip into the Andes mountains. First we met Rich Dalrymple, a good friend of George Pornaras (good friend of ours). We spent an evening walking around downtown Miraflores, eating typical peruvian dishes and telling stories on George. Rich told us of some of the antiquities he likes to collect and we did a little "window shopping" of art and crafts being sold in the open air in the Miraflores park area. We ended up the evening eating Lucuma and Maracuya ice cream.
Several months ago (over a year perhaps?), two fellows from the Peruvian air force attended a class at Multigen in San Jose, which I also attended. We became good friends of the two, email and staying in touch after they returned to Peru, promising to visit with them when we came to peru. Finally in Peru, we contacted Luis La Torre (Lucho), who had since left the FAP and was now working for a private company, but was able to set us up to visit the Las Palmas air force base in Lima, where we were able to see the simulation facility. I met the Colonel Miguel Tamayo, director of simulation projects on base, answered a few questions and took some mental notes regarding their facility. I promised myself to look after some of the short comings for them, promised them to set up a time for them to visit SGI and come up to date with the latest product line, and basically established a relationship I hope to keep current through time.
Sunday, Septa 10, we drove out to a town on the outskirts of Lima named Huaycan. Here we met with Walter and Fortunita Parado, and their family: Efrain, Dany, Nadine, Anita. Fortunita was brought to my mother in an open market in Ayacucho 39 years ago by her own mother and offered as a slave. Mama Candelaria (as we got to know her later as), Fortunita's mother, could no longer feed her children and in desperation, hoped that at least in exchange for a life of servitude, our family could keep her alive. Fortunita was only 12 years old at the time.
My mother, of course, told her that in no way would she enslave her daughter, but would be happy to help her by taking her in. Fortu would be clothed, fed, educated and paid for helping my mom clean and cook, and her family would always be welcome in our house. This was to be the beginning of a great legacy that lives on today, and Fortunita was to experience a miracle that is told to this day. That story some other time. Fortunita helped raise me and likes to tell people in her own words, "I made him grow!". I assure her today, that my portly size is evidence that she did a good job (and could she please stop now).
Fortunita married Walter and they began a family together before I had left home They lived with my parents for some time as Walter studied in the seminary and became a pastor. Today, he pastors a small church in the city of Huaycan, which is lead by himself and his very talented family. Their children Dany and Nadine are named after me ('Dany' is the spanish spelling of the english pronunciation of 'Donny', which is what I was called to distinguish me from my father, also named Don) and my mother, whose name is also Nadine.
Huaycan was only a small military base until the terrorist years of the 70's, 80s and early 90's. People from the mountains fled the terrorism and moved to live near the military base, searching for protection against violence and murder of the bloody reign of the so-called "Shining Path" group. A large portion of the population of Huaycan come from the Ayacucho area. There is one paved road that runs through part of the city, but the rest is made up of very poor housing, adobe in most cases, narrow dirt roads and lots of dust. It does not rain in this part of the world, and water must be purchased from a delivery truck which fills up a holding tank that is shared by several houses. The population is around 100,000.
Our reunion with Fortunita caused much emotion and memories. Fortunita cooked foods I hadn't tasted since my childhood and humitas, as per my request. Denise was also very touched by moment. They took us to see the building where they were building their church. It was made of brick and very simple. We were to learn on our return to Lima how precious that building was to the community.
To the Andes!!
Tuesday, Sept. 12, equipped with a double cab, diesel Toyota 4X4 pickup, with makeshift PVC racks, a rented cell phone and a sense of adventure we headed for Ayacucho. First, however, on our way we needed to deliver a letter that my parents had sent to Dr. Martha Hildebrandt, who holds a fairly high position in the Peruvian government. She lived only a few blocks from the hotel, so we swung by on our way out to hand deliver the mail. Now picture this, it is 7 AM, a 4x4 truck laden with curious armament and long tubular devices rushes in to park in front of one of the house of a peruvian diplomat, and several heavily armed guards. A large American man in jeans, ruffled clothes and unkempt hair jumps from the car and rushes toward the door carrying in his hand a suspicious looking envelope and is faced with a barrage of security personnel that are eyeing him with a look that says, "Boy, you are moving just a tad bit too fast."
I collected myself, slowed down, addressed the security gentleman in a suit and tie and explained that my parents were friends of Dr. Hildebrandt, and that I, their son, was hand delivering a personal envelope for her. The gentleman took the letter, forcibly smiled, and I quickly got in the truck and we were on our way. My folks had really hoped that we would have had a chance to meet her in person, and hopefully somewhere like the presidential palace in Lima, but instead the scene unfolded like this. Maybe next time.
The drive to Ayacucho is not the same as 30 years ago. Back then it would have taken us the better part of two days on dusty, bouncy roads, averaging 25 km/hr (Oh... plenty of that later) to get there. Today, in an effort to improve transportation around the country, the government has built a new road, paved with beautifully painted lines, signs and guardrails in the curves. The hardest part of the trip, Pisco (on the coast) to Ayacucho took 5 hours, something that used to take 16 - 20 hours, depending on whether there were landslides or not. The road's largest hazard today is the fact that over a third of it is above 14,000 feet. We learned later that such a trip should always be prefaced with a breakfast that includes Mate de Coca. No such preparation on this leg of the trip, so Denise fell fast asleep as I fought the urge to curl up in the fetal position and do the same while driving 60 km/hr down the windy, smooth road in the middle of the afternoon. We kept coming across guardrails in curves, busted through right at about where they should be had the driver succumbed to said urge.
A few kilometers before Ayacucho, we came across a town name Arizona. We laughed and took a picture. I turns out that the town was named after the U.S. state of Arizona by one of the first bilingual education teachers my parents trained for the bilingual education program. Fernando Quicana, together with collegue Lucio Bonilla and my father, toured the US in the 60's speaking in churches and organizations interested in hearing about the work my folks were doing. In fact, they appeared on Johnny Carson, where Lucio was asked to demonstrate the use of his Inca sling, which, loaded with a large stone, is swung around and released by releasing one end of the swing. Lucio hit the target within two inches, which caused my father to sigh a sigh or relief that none of the expensive camera, lights or studio equipment was not damaged. During their travels, Fernando fell in love with Arizona and when he returned, he built a house near Ayacucho, in a place where the ground was red, like he had seen there. He named the place Arizona, and the name has legally stood to this day.
You approach Ayacucho from several hundred feet above the city, so we stopped at a curve in the road and took it all in. I pointed things out to Denise as I could recognize and remember them. Again, little had changed of the core part of the city, yet it now sprawled well beyond what I remember the city limits being. While Lima had grown 3 times its size in 30 years, Ayacucho had grown 10 times in population. It did not seem, however, that it had grown proportionately in size. Once in the city, this was clearly evident as it felt highly congested, noisy and crowded. In fact, this was to be the most congested city we were to visit in Peru. We spent the first night in a hotel just off the main plaza, but quickly moved the next night to the outskirts of town where it was considerably quieter.
Upon first arrival, Ayacucho did not feel like the town I grew up in. Over the next few days I was to experience a love-hate relationship with the town. At times the memories were good, and others they were uncomfortable, even frightening. Ayacucho is the name that was given to the town as a mistake, when after the bloody battle of December 9, 1824 in nearby "Pampa de Quinua", in which Peru won its independence from Spain, Simon Bolivar asked the place of the battle to be named "The corner of the dead - Ayacucho". The name stuck instead to the city of Huamanga, whose Quechua meaning is "Look a Falcon!", or "Home of the Falcon", so named because of the large number of falcons the fill the skies there.
As though the name were prophetic of its personality, Ayacucho, the corner of the dead, has been a bloody and violent territory. In the 60s, and during the time that my father held the "chair of Quechua" at the Universidad de Huamanga, the dean, a devout Communist, but with a heart for the people, staffed the university with professors of high quality, trained in Russia and China (exception given to my father's training which was in the US and Lima). Among these, Abimael Guzman, a philosophy professor, became the founder of the Shining Path movement, going underground in the 70's and spending the next 25 years, killing more than 25,000 people and forcing 100s of thousands into exile. The stories in post terrorist Ayacucho are hair-raising, and yet the people had become calloused to killings and violence. A child-hood friend told me that he had become accustomed to hearing of 10 to 15 deaths / week of his classmates while he was attending the university. I wanted to stay and explore so much of my memories as well as seek out childhood friends, and at the same time, I wanted to leave.
Our first day in Ayacucho we got in touch with Josue Saune. Josue's father Enrique had been the caretaker of the property we had established for the training facilities of the bilingual education teachers, as well as for our home, and Josue and I had played together as childhood buddies, getting into the usual mischief 10 year olds do. Today, several years after the murder of Josue's brother, Rolando, by Shining Path members, Josue has returned to Ayacucho, determined to carry on some of the effort of his older brother. Josue has established a school, named after his brother, in Quinuapata, overlooking the city of Ayacucho. The children, mostly orphans, are healthy and happy and being educated well. Josue is also trying to reclaim the property of Quicapata, that was taken over "temporarily" by the peruvian army during the state of emergency of the terrorist years. I took a personal interest in the effort that Josue is making to educate the children in computer technology. This being the bag of tricks I've learned in the past 12 years as a computer engineer, I felt a strong desire to help Josue get a good computer training curriculum started there. We took inventory of the computers they had and the ways in which they were using them.
I was anxious to fly. Josue's good buddy, Carlos Trissolini, suggested that we get a permit to hanged in and around Ayacucho. What?!!?? A permit!? in darkest Peru?!? Carlos reminded me of the strong arm of the peruvian army here and that having a permit might well deter an otherwise uncomfortable outcome from having landed in a questionable area. Ok.. sure, sounds like a good idea. We went to the army, who then asked us to see the Director of Tourism in the heart of Ayacucho, whose name was Ulises Larrea. Wow! I had gone to school in the second grade with Ulises! So, when we met, I let him try and guess who I was for a while before finally telling him. He nearly fell over! He pointed across the street from his office at a ravine (now covered over, mostly) and reminded me of the time that he and I, riding a bicycle (he riding on the back, me driving, of course), had fallen into it. I believe it was trip to the hospital for me at the time, but today it was fodder for some good, heartfelt laughter. I was granted permission to fly in Ayacucho.
First flight in the Andes : Pampa de Quinua
That afternoon, Josue, Carlos, Denise and I made our way up to the Pampa de Quinua (the one that should have had the name "Corner of the dead"), and searched for a launch site. Now... the pampa de quinua is a wide open field, probably the best (if not the only) landing field in the entire valley surrounding Ayacucho. It is, however, at 11,000 feet, which is higher than most hang glider pilots have climbed in thermals. We found a launch at 14,500 feet above the "Pampa", but deep in the mountains. It was 5:30 PM in a part of the world where the sun always goes down at 6:00 PM. I decided to get in a sled run.
My hang gliding friends, who know me as fastest set-up in the west, would have been pleased to see the speed at which I set up a glider at 14,500 feet. To say that I ran at 1/2 speed would be generous and by the time I was done, I was ready for a nap. Nonetheless, the sun was saying good-bye and I had to get off this mountain before I couldn't find the landing area anymore. The launch was steep, with a long way to run, and at sea level would have been hard to blow. However, the wind was gusting to 2... KILOMETERS per hour. I only ran down to a point where my legs were moving as fast as they possibly could, the rest of the launch would be better described as falling off the side of a mountain. I had to push out slightly to miss some rocks to which I was approaching at 40 MILES per hour (or so it seemed), which put me dangling in space partially stalled but recovering nicely. As I flew away from the mountain, I decided to make it policy for the remainder of this trip to always have wind I could measure in MPH on a wind speed indicator for any launches above 11,000 feet.
The air was smooth, and had evidence of having been a good thermal day. The Andean sunset looked awesome as I circled my way around the large monument erected in honor of the 1824 war at the place. I set up for landing with a nice long approach and plenty of time to think about the fact that I had never landed this high before. Wings level, plenty of speed, look for flare timing (yes, ignore the fact that you are still at freeway speed over the ground) and flare HARD. I had to run it out, but the landing was perfect... and once I had stopped running I realized that it was also slightly downwind. Ahhh... go ahead, bring on the Andean altitude landings, I'm ready.
The next day we returned the Pampa de Quinua, with high hopes of getting that long thermal flight along the range of mountains just above the landing site, and having already scouted out the launches, roads and LZ. We found the wind HOWLING in the wrong direction. Sure enough, the locals selling their wares all set up on one side of the monument: the leeward side, as though this was common practice. We asked, they confirmed, the wind was always like this. Later we learned that this site has potential in the mornings, but the afternoons are always howling down. It surprised us, since the "down" wind was a north easterly wind. I was beginning to learn what had not been explained to me well up until this point, the wind in the Peruvian Andes is generally from the North. Further, at this time of year, over development of the sky starts around noon. We learned too late to fly in Ayacucho, that flights must take place in the morning. Oh, well.
So.... we turned into tourists, buying some of the local "artesania" and having lunch. I ordered cuy... er... ah... yes... Guinea Pig.
More Old Friends
That night we visited Ulises and family for dinner. It turns out
that Ulises lives in what was, I think, our first house in Ayacucho: La
residencia de los catedraticos. This is an old spanish style
building that was used to house some of the professors of the Universidad
de Huamanga, thus we were given one of the apartments where we stayed for
several years. I have vivid memories of the place and even recall
being bitten by a rabid dog and getting the series of about 30 shots
in the stomach. At five or six years old it was a bit of a traumatic
experience. Today, Ulises lives in one of the apartments and has
turned the rest of the building into a museum, containing many relics of
Ayacucho history, and many old paintings, mostly with catholic themes.
It was a pleasure to meet Ulises' wife Ruth and three bright kids, Luis
Eduardo, Daniela, and Adriana. Ulises says that our childhood memories
contributed to the choosing of Daniela's name, recalling the good times
that he had had with his friend Dany.
The next day at the suggestion of Dario, a good friend of (and probably somehow related to) Josue, we headed off to Chaqueqpampa (Chah kech pahm pah - the 'ch' in kech must sound as if you have something caught in your throat. Denise enjoyed saying this just to go through the motions of clearing her throat). Chaqueq (for short) is the site of one of the first bilingual schools established by my parents. When I was a kid, it took a three hour, bumpy car ride to get to the town of Vinchos, where we were met by members of the community of Chaqueq with horses. The next 6 hours were spent climbing up the side of one mountain and down the other side, crossing a river (I remember being on the back of a horse as it swam across the river), and up the side of the next mountain. Today, there is a road. The first half is paved, the second is rough, but the whole trip only takes about two hours. Dario spoke to us of his plans to put in a hotel and open tourism up in Chaqueq and wanted us to evaluate the place for hang gliding.
Now, Chaqueq is not your traditional town, per se. The surrounding community are mostly farmers who raise crops and animals, so the houses are spread out. The center of "town" is the school and a few buildings surrounding a large field. This field had once been cleared to allow a Helio Courier (like a Cessna, but with lower stall speed and better capability for short landing fields) to land there. 30 some years after that landing, the town still speaks of it as though it happened last week. My father was in that plane with a JAARSpilot, and a story to follow accompanies that experience.
Of course, Chaqueq had changed little in size from 30 years ago. Acutally, it has nearly been wiped out during the terrorist years and was now being rebuilt. The school that had been established during my parents time was torn down by the terrorists, but is now rebuilt. Josue is also building a church there. 30 years ago when I first visited Chaqueq with my parents, we were met by a poor and malnutritioned community. The nights are cold at 10,500 feet, but very few of the children had shoes. Those that did had only sandals, and all wore rags. The children had chronic colds, runny noses and malnutritioned, swollen bellies. No one could read or write and in fact, the community in general had accepted their position as an inferior people because of lack of education. Nearly all chewed Coca and life expectancy for adults was about 45 years. Couples had many children because only about half of them lived. Poverty, disease and death were far too familiar.
Today we were met by a large group of shining young children from the school. They were all dressed well, looked healthy, well nourished and happy. They sat in groups and read, IN QUECHUA, with pride. They approached us confidently yet humbly, the appreciation for the dedication of the work of my parents implied in nearly everything they said.
We greeted Alejandrina, who had also lived with us and learned to read and write through my folks, many many years ago. She was happy to see me and soon began telling embarrassing stories about me in Quechua to everyone standing around. My Quechua was improving with every day I spent in Ayacucho, so I picked up on some of it and had to smile as everyone else seemed to roll on the ground in laughter at my expense.
Josue's mother, Mama Zoila, invited us to "breakfast" which consisted of Cafe con leche, fried chicken (which had probably just been walking around before breakfast) and chapla (Ayacucho specialty bread). We accepted with gratitude, then afterwards, Denise asked Mama Zoila for a lesson on how to carry a wawa (baby) in a manta. Manta's are used by all Quechua women to carry things on their back, in particular, babies. I was raised being carried in a manta and turned out ok, I guess, so Denise, being "of child", decided to get the skinny on how this was done. Mama Zoila was delighted and followed by telling everyone (Mama Zoila likes to talk incessantly) of Denise's "Iskay Quilla" (Two moons or two months pregnancy).
Dario was anxious to see a hang glider fly in Chaqueq. I looked at the 1000 foot mountain he kept saying we could quickly run up and fly off of, checked my pulse and looked at him doubtingly. Still, he talked me into it. Three of them grabbed my 80 lb Fusion 150 and 30 some lb. of harness and gear and ran up the side of this mountain. Denise and I followed and would have made better time had it not been for the increased resistance of our tongues dragging along the ground. We got to what looked like a good launch about 600 feet above the large field at the center of town. With a sky full of cummies, I thought sure I would be able to get up and give 'em a good show. However, right after launch it felt as if I was being hammered by a rotor and ended up doing a short sled run to the field.
They didn't care that it was just a sled run. The guys who had helped me carry the glider up the mountain were elated over seeing a hang glider fly at their town. As I approached landing, the whole school came running out to where I was. Luckily I left enough space so that I wouldn't run into any of them on touch down. I broke down the Fusion and set up Denise's Falcon, which we let some of the older guys run with, then gave rides to the younger kids running them along in the wind as they hung on to the control bar. Maybe thirty years from now they'll still be talking about the hang glider at Chaqueqpampa.
We ended our time at Chaqueq at Mama Teofila's. Mama Teofila is Mama Zoila's mother, and therefore Josue's grandmother. At 96 (Isjun chunka sojtayoq), she is spry, healthy and looks the role of an old indian woman. We ducked under the small narrow door and sat in a dark adobe hut to eat. They supplied Denise and I with an animal skin to sit on so we wouldn't be uncomfortable on the wooden bench, then fed us something.... we're not sure what, but when generosity is offered by humble people one accepts gratefully. Mama Zoila prayed before our meal in Quechua, then we ate. It took me nearly the whole meal to become accustomed to the darkness of the room we were in, but Denise explained to me later that there were interesting things that could have contributed to our current or their future meals hanging from the walls and laying on the dirt floor.
We had originally planned to hit the road the following day, but wanted to spend a day with Ulises, who was anxious to see hang gliding up close, so he met us at our hotel with his family and we set off to Tojto about an hour of rough road outside of Ayacucho. Ulises chose Tojto because he had once heard of paragliders flying there. Though high, Tojto did not lend itself well to flying a hang glider. The glide out of the small valley one flew into was long and the wind was blowing hard. The alternative was to try and ridge soar the top of the hill, grab a thermal and get high. From this vantage point I could easily see flying all the way back to Ayacucho. However, we got to launch at 2 PM or so and we still hadn't gotten the idea that afternoon flying is a no no this time of year. We waited out huge cumulonimbus clouds, lighting storms and rain and I launched later into air that was starting to calm for a short extended sled run. I would have tried again, but once again we were over 13,000 feet of altitude and the one flight, followed by breakdown of the glider pretty much wiped me out. In retrospect we should have gone to Campanayoj, a mountain overlooking the city as we would have gotten there earlier, had a shorter drive and at least a more spectacular sled run if not a soaring flight. Campanayoj has a good road to the top of it and is probably 2000 feet directly over the city of Ayacucho. There are two possible landing areas: a large field at the North end of town and the airport.... yes, the airport.
Ulises had gotten permission for us to land at the airport in the afternoons. Ayacucho's airport receives one to three flights a day (Jets, 727, etc.), which all occur in the morning, due to the fact that the airlines will not fly into the Andes in the afternoon because of the turbulence. Denise laughed at me because I considered this a great opportunity for using the commercial airport's runway for towing. "Do you hear yourself talking?"
The Amoebae Diet
Once again, we planned to hit the road early in the morning. However, the morning met us each with maladies. Denise had gotten a bit of flu from having lowered resistance and standing in a cold wind in the altitude the day before. I had decided to enter the more intense stages of the Amoebae Diet. Anxious to loose weight, I had discovered this ancient Inca method involving absolutely no requirement for discipline of any kind. On this diet you may eat whatever you like (and indeed I had a wonderful cebiche the evening before) and drink freely from the tap in any third world country. Results are fast, such that "before" and "after" pictures may be taken from one day to the next. All that is required is that you be willing to spend the occasional day in bed remaining no further than 15 feet from a toilet.
I had mixed emotions about the fact that our hotel in Ayacucho had cable TV with a channel that played 24 hours of sit-coms in english, but this particular day it was welcome. From here on out we always asked of our hotel, "Do you have private baths, hot water mornings and evenings, .... and Drew Carey?".
One of the mornings in Ayacucho (I don't remember which) we were awakened by the hotel personnel telling us that someone was looking for us at the front door. When I got there, a man introduced himself as Lazaro and also introduced his wife. I had heard of Lazaro from my parents, so I invited them to have coffee with us and we sat and talked. Lazaro was a young boy 30 some years ago, who lived in Chaqueqpampa and suffered from osteomyelitis. His parents took him to the "curanderos" (witch doctors) and whatever healing processes they superstitiously believed in, but with no results. They had given up hope and were in the stages in which they were just waiting for him to die. It was at this time that my father and the JAARs pilot landed the Helio at Chaqueq. Lazaro's mother spoke to my father in desperation about her dying son, and my father made arrangements to add him and his mother as passengers on the return flight to Ayacucho (probably much to the chagrin of the pilot who had to take off from this small place with a heavier load), where he was admitted to the hospital and received treatment.
tells the story with tears in his eyes, grateful to my dad for having saved
his life. Lazaro dedicated his life to be a pastor among the Quechua
people and took the rest of the time at breakfast to tell us story after
story of ways in which his and members of his community and church had
been harassed and tortured by the Shining Path. He also tells stories
of deliverance, in which miracles took place protecting him and others
from harm. There were stories of courage, times when he had to put
his life on the line for his faith in the face of the atheistic fanaticism
of the maoist terrorists, stories of martyrdom and victory. These
are not your everyday arm-chair theologians squabbling over ambivalent
interpretations, or country club church attendees we so often witness in
the risk free environment of the US church today. I'll make a personal
effort to get back to Lazaro and take down some of these stories that need
to be told to the world.
On the road again...
Finally, Monday, Sept. 18 and a bit behind schedule, and after a good breakfast including Mate de Coca, we hit the road. We pass the flying site of Tojto where we had been a couple of days before and realize that indeed, morning is the better time of the day to be attempting a flight from here. At 9 AM it looked like it was nearly soarable. But we pushed on. We are now traveling on dirt road, with no signs and often misleading tracks as to where the road to our destination goes. One of the first full sentences that Denise learned in spanish as she heard me say it over and over:
"Disculpeme, una preguntita, por favor, es esta la carretera a __________?" (Translation : "Excuse me... quick question please, is the road to __________?").
This is indeed the way to get around Peru if you are driving yourself, as I remember my father doing many times. It is also a good way to meet people, be more approachable to the local people, .... and become a useful tourists to those in trouble. We stopped at least three times to help those in trouble, twice to lend the use of our jack and once to siphon diesel from our tank to help a truck that had run out in the middle of nowhere. During our time in Peru there was a "paro" or strike of all transportation. This was good and bad for us. Good because it meant that the traffic was minimal. Bad because 1) we sometimes had to search a bit for fuel, and 2) every where we stopped we were mobbed by people wanting to ride in the back of the truck. I didn't mind when we traveled on roads whose self enforced speed limit was 25 Km/hr, but offered no rides when we were on "pista" (paved, high velocity roads).
The diesel siphoning event happened this day about two hours outside of Ayacucho.
"Disculpeme, una preguntita por favor, es esta la
carretera a Andahuaylas?"
(Excuse me, is this the road to Andahuaylas?)
"Si! De frente .... " (Big hand gesture. We learned that ALL directions given to ALL locations in Peru used the term "De frente" or "straight ahead". The more enthusiastic the tone of voice and hand gesture, the further away the destination was)
"... por favor, senorsito, vendanos petroleo".
(Please, little mister - hmm looses something in the translation - sell us some diesel".
I looked and tried to think of excuses why we couldn't do this, but I realized that we had a full tank, these people were stuck in the middle of nowhere where it gets cold at night and we might be the only vehicle passing this way today. The only hose we had was one that was covering the chain that held one of the spare tires in the bed of the pickup. We unlocked it and they tried siphoning the fuel through the chain. Ok.. again, we are at 13,000 feet and there is this Quechua man, desperate for my diesel, using his huge Andean lungs to suck fuel from my tank through a hose that has a chain running through it. Get the picture? We ended up removing the chain from the hose, which ended up having lots of holes in it and slowly siphoning out about two gallons into some spare containers. They assured me that this wo uld be sufficient to get them to Ayacucho so we reassembled the hose chain, locked the spare tire back up and got ready to leave.
Now, during this whole procedure, a young man had approached me and asked me if I wouldn't mind giving him (notice the singular term) a ride to Socros, which was "aquicito nomas" (real close). "Aquicito nomas" was the term that is used when you want someone to think that a distance is really short. I agreed, so after the siphoning adventure was over I looked for him to head out. He was about 100 yards down the road gesturing for me to pick him up. When I approached him, I realized that he was they : Three adult humans, three adult sheep and four baby sheep. When I questioned whether they would all fit in the small truck bed, which already had two spare tires in it, they assured me that, "Of course!, why not?". I had to take a couple of pictures.
We dropped them off at Socros (two hours later) and asked how far Andahuaylas was. Now, we were beginning to learn the formula for the time that it takes to drive to any destination: Ask a sample of people, average the results (which, by the way, can have a significantly large standard deviation, so ask as many people as possible), then add two hours. That'll get it pretty close. Anyway, we were in for another 5 hours of driving or so.
The road between Ayacucho and Andahuaylas was not the worst we drove on, but it was rough and dusty. The scenery, however is unparalleled. When Pizarro explored South America and specifically Peru, he was asked by the Portuguese queen upon his return, what Peru looked like. Pizarro took a piece of parchment or paper, crumpled it up in his hands and laid it before the queen. Its about as accurate as you can get. If you'd like to follow along on our trip, take a map of Peru, crumple it up into a ball, then follow the roads up and down the deep valleys and up steep walls. The changes in altitude during a day of traveling in Peru are not at all unlike a long flight in the Owen's valley in which altitudes can get down to 8000 feet, then back up to 16000 feet along the way. Had I prepped my Avocet watch, I would have had a record of "thermal" ascents for the day.
Now, the Incas are famous for their terracing and indeed, the countryside is filled with terraced landscape all along the way. Had I used my head a bit when I was imagining the wonderful world of soaring, filled with cloud streets stretching to the horizon and distance records ripe for the taking before heading on this trip, I would have realized why the Incas employed so much terracing: THERE IS NO FLAT GROUND IN THE ANDES MOUNTAINS.... and therefore, no LZs. Doh!
Oh well. We passed potential flying site after potential flying site. There are plenty of places to launch, lots of sky full of big puffy cummies, but very little places to land and roads that make for two to three hour turn-arounds between launches and possible LZs. The better stuff was to come in Cusco.
From Andahuaylas we headed (after a short visit to the main market to pick up a few things) out with Cusco as the final goal for the day. The road from Andahuaylas to Abancay got abysmal as we neared Abancay. We got to know this as the never ending, infinite stretch of road. At 60 Km away from Abancay we were traveling at about 40 Km/hr. I told Denise it would be about an hour and a half. At the 46 Km mark from Abancay we were traveling at 30 Km/hr. I told Denise we had about an hour and a half before making Abancay. At the 30 Km mark we were traveling 20 Km/hr. I told Denise that we'd be there in just one more hour and a half. Then, at 20 Km out we were traveling at 15 Km/hr. I encouraged Denise that this leg of the trip would only last for just under an hour and a half.
We did finally make it. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we have traveled the worst road on the planet. Little did I know that in a few short days we'd be back on that same stretch of miserable road. Somewhere in that final stretch to Abancay, we came across a pack of silly gringos, riding bicycles on these roads. This was a sign of more foreigner sightings the closer we got to Cusco.
In Abancay we approached a highway patrol (Policia de Carreteras) for directions out of town toward Cusco:
"Disculpeme, una preguntita por favor, ...."
The officer was a jovial type and engaged us in some conversation. He asked the ever-present curiosity, where were we from? When I told him of my origin and that I had spent most of my early childhood in Ayacucho, he began to talk to me in Quechua. Having had a few days to resurrect what I remembered, I carried on a simple but personable conversation with him. He laughed and truly enjoyed it. We found the highway patrol in Peru to be very helpful and considerate of the visiting tourist. While I heard stories to the contrary from local people, our experience was always positive, and in this case quite pleasant.
The officer asked us if we wouldn't mind taking his wife to Cusco with us. We agreed, and decided to get a bite to eat and rest for a while. He would then find us by 6:00 PM (about an hour from the current time) at the location where he told us to get food. We ate dinner and waited until 7 PM, but he did not show. Figuring we shouldn't just leave town rudely, we approached a police vehicle and told him our situation. Since he was not a highway patrol, he asked us to stop at Km 10 and tell the highway patrol there. We did. The highway patrol also checked our license and vehicle registration for good measure, taking down our license plate also. While this felt a bit like an interrogation, it turned out to be for our benefit. We were now driving at night, and I mean a dark, desolate, long-ways-from anywhere-if-you-need-help type of night, which we hadn't done to this point, and each time that we passed a highway patrol along the road, he would flash his lights at us as if to say, "I heard about you over the radio, glad to see your doing well, carry on". Or at least we interpreted it this way, which was comforting.
Just a few kilometers out of Abancay the road turns to big, beautiful, smooth pavement. It makes you want to stop the car, get out and kneel in the middle of the road to kiss the smoothness. However, my advice is to stick to the plan, stay in the car, keep moving. We made Cusco in 3 1/2 hours.
Cusco is a tourist trap. Prices are higher than anywhere we had been, except perhaps Lima, and the place is crawling with gringos. Americans, Europeans and even some Canadians. We even saw some Japanese tourists, which truly looked out of place. The good news is that these silly gringos all contribute nicely to the economy of Peru. The mayor of Cusco has gone to great lengths to make the city very accessible to tourists in the past several years. It has, therefore, a very european flavor to it. The streets are very clean, traffic around the tourist areas is kept to a minimum, and there are even no-honking rules that are strictly enforced in the main plaza. It didn't feel like the rest of Peru, but, we decided to enjoy the change.
Cusco is also known as the pick-pocket capital of the world. We devised several ways to protect our goods as we walked around the city. Denise's method worked the best, which involved having a very large gringo walk next to her at all times. Very intimidating.
We spent the first day in Cusco sight seeing, buying knick knacks, and getting in touch with and Leo Infantas, the local paragliding instructor, who runs one of the businesses off the main plaza, which relieves tourists of all the extra cash they bring into the country. Leo was a very likable fellow and the paragliding group were anxious to see 1) a hang glider and 2) especially a topless hang glider. Believe it or not, these guys had not seen a hang glider in decades, even though they were a full blown paragliding school. We made arrangements to meet them the next morning at 6 AM. See? They knew about morning launches in the Andes and getting into the air before it ODs. Denise, really looking for a day to relax and sleep in at this point, was not exactly proponent number 1 for the early hour.
Cusco is at 11,000 feet so we bypassed the hotel's suggestion to take a nice 10 minute ("aquicito nomas") hike up to Saqsaywaman, which was directly uphill from there, and instead hailed a taxi, which took us right to the entrance and proceeded to overcharge us, relieving us of some of that pesky cash that kept making it impossible to sit on my wallet. We had become accustomed to the very low prices that taxi's all over Peru charge, especially when I took the time to identify who we were and speak to the taxi driver in Quechua, so when an overcharge happened, it stuck out like a sore thumb. There is no regulation on taxi prices in Peru, it is basically up to the whims of the driver, but usually ends up being very reasonable.
Saqsaywaman is for me, some of the most impressive ruins of all of Peru. Sure, Macchu Picchu is what is famous, the goal of all pilgrims searching for that mystical experience in darkest Peru, and, of course, the most efficient vehicle for relieving you of more of that pesky cash cluttering up your person. But I stand in awe at the sheer size of some of the stones that make up this fortress protecting the city of Cusco. The stone work is fodder for long discussions about the mystery of how these stones were made, where did they come from, and how on earth did they get these huge stones weighing many tons, up to their current location? And they all fit together so tightly, you cannot slip the blade of a knife between them.
Saqsaywaman also has several other curiosities. Above the fortress, zig-zag walls, lies a structure of pools believed to be a calendar. I counted 12 reservoirs (not the expected 13 for the number of full moons in a year). When I questioned a guide, he corrected me and told me there were 14. I counted them for him... in Quechua... ending up with 12. He just moved on and I explained to Denise that I was glad we didn't have a guide relieve us of more of our pesky cash, since they seem to like to make things up as they go along. I much prefer speculation and coming up with our own outlandish theories. But at least we could count... and even in Quechua.
Across the field in front of the zig-zag walls, where they hold the Intiraymi, a re-enactment of an ancient Inca ritual held every July, there is a set of smooth stones that are shaped like slides. Beyond those are some carved areas that look like baths. In another area is a set of tunnels with very interesting legends. By this time we had picked up an american tourist, who we nicknamed Rupert, because we can't remember his real name, who ditched his spanish speaking tour guide in exchange for some english parlance. I was happy to take the lead as tour guide, making up outlandish theories about the Incas as we went along. What I had heard about the system of tunnels was the following. There was a short tunnel (about 60 feet long), which I remember crawling through in pitch darkness when I was a kid, being led through by other small kids. We found this tunnel, but chose not to go too far into it, lacking some of the naiveté of my 10 year old adventuresome spirit. There was also, however, a long tunnel, whose entrance was somewhere in this system of tunnels and exit was in a church down in the city of Cusco, 500 feet lower and about 3 or 4 miles away.
Legend had it (as told to me by guides 30 years ago) that two guys went into this tunnel: One was fat and the other skinny. The skinny guy died, but the fat guy made it to the center of town, and emerged skinny. Of course when Denise heard this, she kept asking me to walk through each of the tunnels to see if I would come out the other end skinny. The strange thing was that we last saw Rupert going into one of the tunnels. We kind of think he may have waved good bye to us from a distance after emerging, but we were never really sure about seeing him again. We know that he was anxious to get back to his hotel, but we are sure that he would have said good bye to us. Hm... a mystery... could he have gone into the long tunnel that led to the center of the city? Unfortunately, Rupert was already skinny.
Chincheros, Cerro Sacro
We awakened at 5 AM the next day to pack for checking out of the hotel and get ready to meet the paraglider guys at 6 AM. The plan was to fly two sites, then drive on to Ollantaytambo, which is on the way to Macchu Picchu (A must see for those who have never been to Peru, like Denise) and as far as you can go before you have to catch the train. After viewing the first site, Chincheros, we decided to pass. Launch was over 12,000 feet, there was very little wind and a terrace just below the lip of take-off that caused enough doubt in Denise to wait for the second site. I encouraged her to wait.
Leo and his crew of instructors were introducing three British students to this site today. The site had a nice launch (for paragliders), was about 2000 feet over the LZ which was not visible from launch. The students were on their 4th lesson! Go ahead and try to sell the USHGA pilot proficiency program here! With an instructor in the LZ on a radio, an instructor on launch with a radio, and lots of instruction, they did fine and came away very elated.
Denise and I headed for Cerro Sacro, about 7,8 miles from Chicheros and on the way to the valley where the students had landed. While the PG guys went to pick up their students, Denise and I went to launch to check it out and set up. Cerro Sacro means Sacred Mountain and is a beautiful flying site. Landing is about 2000 feet below launch, and the site overlooks the Sacred Valley, which stretches from almost Cusco to Macchu Picchu. The LZ is BIG and flat and friendly, and launch is a rounded off mountain top. Denise launched first and got about a 20 minute flight, working light thermals and looking like she really enjoyed the conditions. I launched a bit later, hoping conditions would build, but also got about a 20 minute flight in light thermals. Leo got the flight of the day, hooking one to a couple of thousand feet over launch. He headed for Cusco, but was forced down in the light conditions just behind the mountain.
Denise and I decided to head up the mountain and try again. I thought for sure the afternoon would lend itself to better conditions. When we got to the top, a huge black cloud had moved in over the mountain, wind was blowing in all different directions and it started to rain. Had you asked me to predict these conditions a couple of hours earlier when I was working 200 ft/min lift I would have described anything but what we saw. Welcome to Andean weather.
That afternoon we drove to Urubamba and had lunch, then on to Ollantaytambo, where we checked in to a hotel next to the train station and settled in. We then visited the ruins of Ollantaytambo, and in retrospect, now think they were some of the most impressive ruins we had seen in Peru. Ollantaytambo is a modern day town, which is built on top of ancient Inca structures. So, all buildings have a foundation of carved stone built up with adobe, with a straw or tiled roof, or sometimes a seconds story of adobe. The ruins visited by tourists stretch up the side of the deeply terraced mountain, and contain beautifully carved structures at the top. This site also has, what appears to be the quarry where the stones were taken from. In fact, many of the stones around the quarry area looked like they were being prepared for building. The mystery is that none of the stones are "half" made. They are either completely carved or still in the mountain, leaving the world with the eternal question about how the Incas were able to accomplish such a labor. It was fun to speculate and theorize.
The only way to get to Macchu Picchu is by train. From Cusco it is about a 3 1/2 or 4 hour ride. From Ollantaytambo it is 1 1/2 or 2 hours. We planned to get up in the morning and catch the 10 AM "local" train. There is a huge difference between the types of trains you take here. Some are meant for tourists carrying large wads of cash of which they are looking to be relieved of, and others are for the common people, carrying a very reasonable fare. We, of course, considering ourselves common folk, decided to get on the "local" train, and buy our tickets a good hour in advance. They ran out of tickets two people in line in front of me. Luckily, our hotel host, having seen this situation before, got us into the "special" office inside to by tickets for the 11:20 train (aka the "backpacker" train, and one we were told out front did not exist) where we were promptly relieved of some of our pesky cash. Ok.. we were on the train, but now we were short of cash. For the hour before the train go there we had to sit down, take inventory of exactly what we had to pay for when we go there, as well as pay for our hotel and stick to our budget. In Cusco they had told us that there would be ATM's on every corner of Ollantaytambo AND Macchu Picchu due to the huge influx of tourists there. Of course... ATM's... just follow the flying llamas.
A nice train ride there, an expensive bus ride to the entrance, and a bloody sacrifice of more US dollars at the entrance and we were in. Despite the tourist trap experience, one cannot help but be impressed by Macchu Picchu. We hiked the ruins, listened in on guides inventing all kinds of rhetoric to gullible tourists, speculated some of our own theories and tried to take it all in. 30 some years ago, I came with my parents to visit this magical place. We paid a reasonable rate for the train and bus and no entrance fee. There were just a handful of people at the ruins and we spent the night, camping in one of the Inca houses on which they had placed a straw roof. We shared the room with a group of hippies, who would sit around a small fire at night, hold hands and "meditate". This room still exists and I took a picture of it. Today, you cannot stay the night in the ruins... no, you cannot even touch the walls, and it is full of tourist visitors.
To me this was a magical place because it sparks one's imagination about the kind of people that lived here. To many, who visit here, this is literally a magical place, and we saw evidence of it when we would come across individuals sitting in the center of a ring with their arms extended, or placing their hands on a large stone and humming, as though something from the ancient past was speaking to their soul from the depths of it. Just plain weird. There is something about Peru that attracts the Shirley Maclaine types, who seem to always read much more into a special arrangement of old rocks than the common folk do. I guess they have their own series of speculative theories that helps feed the God sized craving they have in their souls. And the Peruvian tourist agencies are more than happy to relieve them of that pesky material burden shaped like US dollars in exchange for allowing them to do so.
At the end of the day we decided to save the $4.50 bus ride and hike down. For most, this is about a 1/2 hour walk. For us, taking it easy and being ever conscious of Denise's state, it took us about an hour. We had been told that there were no seats on the "local" train back, either, but that we could go on it "parado" (standing). I had promised Denise an adventure and this was just one more phase of it. At 5:00 (train was for 5:15), the sides of the track were mobbed. When the train showed, everyone holding a ticket took a mad dash to get on and the rest of us held until the ticketed passengers were on. I told Denise to "just get on", worry about not having a ticket once we were on the train. It worked and soon we were jam-packed in a human sardine can on wheels, rocking back and forth as it made its way down the tracks toward Ollantaytambo. People were not just "parado", they were hanging off the sides of the train outside, between cars and probably on top.
Entertainment for the train ride was provided by a group of British tourists, who had decided that this train ride was better taken drunk, and didn't speak a lick of spanish. One by one, the women (and one man, eventually, a result of all the beer, I'm sure), made their way up to the little compartment where we were standing to use the "bano, pour fabour". The interesting thing was that, due to limited areas to stand on the train, the "bano" was full of people. Physical need would outweigh modesty and each would add yet another story to their quiver of experiences in a third world country. Especially entertaining was the shrill shriek of one of the women who had discovered a chicken running around her feet.
More Cerro Sacro
The next day we checked out of the hotel and made our way back for another flying day at Cerro Sacro. I was supposed to meet Leo there, but he had made a weather call and decided not to come (we later found out). Actually, the day turned out to be superb and I was to have my best thermal soaring day of the trip. I had heard that Kari Castle had made a flight from here back to Saqsaywaman, the Inca fortress above the city of Cusco, about 40 km away, so I set my sights on duplicating that flight. I launched around noon into some good thermal activity and soon found myself at 15,500 feet (about 3000 feet over launch). Once Denise hit the paved road, I started making my way South. Just a few miles into it, I just ran out of thermals and ended up landing, about half way near the town of Chincheros. Wind was nearly calm on the ground as reported to me by my favorite driver, but I had this altitude landing down by now.
Once on the ground, the kids came out of the woodwork and surrounded the glider. They crowded around and watched every move as I removed my instruments and broke down the glider. We had to snap some shots.
The Road back to the Coast
We called Leo, wondering if he was headed out, but the sky was getting darker and conditions were degrading. So we decided to quickly drive back into Cusco to pick up a couple of bags we had left at the hotel there, then hit the road in route to the coast. We'd drive to Abancay this evening (about 3 1/2 hours), spend the night and drive to Nazca the next day. We had inquired about several different routes to the coast, but in retrospect, we think this was the best choice for several reasons. There was a route that took us near lake Titicaca and Puno, which would have been very picturesque and beautifully paved the whole way, but long (about two days out of our way). Then there was the route through Arequipa, also a very picturesque city and worth seeing as as tourist. However, we got conflicting reports about the road to Arequipa, and as it turns out, there was a country wide transportation strike that was most active in Arequipa. Later we heard that there was no traffic leaving or arriving to Arequipa, so we could well have gotten stuck there. The route we chose through Abancay had about a 120 km stretch of bad road, but the rest was paved, and it was the shortest distance to the coast.
We decided to stay in the "best" hotel in Abancay, the Tourist Hotel. It was flea bitten with real fleas. And, sure enough, the stretch of road we heard about took us about 5 hours (that's an average of under 25 km/hr, or about 15 mph). We stopped to have lunch in Chalhuanca, where the rough road ended and the "pista" began. We were approached there by several people who wanted rides, due to the "paro" or nationwide strike of transportation. We ended up taking a woman as far as Puquio.
In Puquio, when unloading our passenger, a man who was feeling no pain, came out of a bar and, pleased to have a gringo with which to practice a version of English, which I'm sure sounded fluent to him, greeted us:
"Gggggggg oooooooooooooooooood Aaaaaaaaaf ternoon!", holding
his hands up as if his gestures made it all work.
"Gooood Aaaaafter noooooooooooon!", looking for a response. I hope this guy is a happy drunk, I thought to myself. Then, in an effort to demonstrate is vast vocabulary, he broke out, "Iiiiiiiindianapolis!".
By now, a small group of kids had gathered and were giggling and hoping to see something interesting happen between the drunk guy and the visiting gringo. So, I looked at him blankly and said, "Manam intindichu", which means, "I don't understand you" in Quechua. The kids busted out laughing. "Imaynaya Kanki?", I asked ("How are you?"). Again, the kids busted out laughing. To my relief the inebriated fellow, chuckled. As we drove away, I could hear him calling after us, "Iiiiindianapolis!".
We stayed at a nice hotel in Nazca. I should say at this point that we did bring along a copy of Lonely Planet's guide to Peru and it turned out to be very, very helpful. While the prices were about 2 years and 20 % off, all the information was right on. The hotel we stayed in at Nazca was just as recommended in Lonely Planet. Quite comfortable and very reasonably priced.
We awoke the next day at nearly SEA LEVEL! Denise swears she couldn't tell the difference, but I felt good, rested and ready to relax from the rough traveling. After breakfast, we were told that paragliding took place at "Cerro Blanco" just outside of town. When we went to check it out, "Cerro Blanco", which means "White Mountain", was a huge sand dune, which looked to be about 800 feet high. While we were at sea level, and my energy had about doubled, I was not about to carry my glider the 1/2 mile, or so to get to the bottom of the sand dune, then hike it up. We returned to town and explained to our guides who had graciously given us directions there, that the big long things on top of the car weighed about 35 kilos but thanks anyway.
also visited a museum on the Nazca and other cultures, who's ruins surrounded
the area. It was all very interesting. The famous Nazca lines
are about a half hour drive from town or so, so we headed out to see them.
There is a small hill you can climb to see part of the lines, then a tower,
about a mile further down the road that allows you to actually see some
of the drawings. The road was built before the Nazca lines were discovered,
so the Pan-American highway cuts right through the middle of some of these
remarkable drawings. While we were there we saw a great deal of very
powerful dust devils, and wondered at the possibility of getting airborne
here to see the famous Nazca lines from the air. When Kari Castle,
Mitch Macleer, and David Sharp visited here several years ago, the seemed
to have (according to the video) a very frustrating time getting the right
wind direction to tow up from the flat terrain. I understand that
David got a good thermal flight, then later Kari. We settled on watching
the lines from the observation tower.
That evening we made Paracas! Ahhh. Having a couple of hours before dark, we went to check out the flying site we had heard so much about. We caught sunset on this beautiful, nearly deserted coastline. As the sun went down, we enjoyed watching the native birds, who nested on the side of the cliff. One little fellow seemed to be learning this skill of cliff landing, since he kept making passes in the strong lift, diving in to a potential sleeping nook, but loosing his balance and relaunching to try again.
We decided to pamper ourselves with a couple of days at the Paracas Hotel. This is a resort for some of the more well-off peruvians, although the room rate about a motel 6 price for the rooms not facing the ocean and only slightly higher for the rooms right on the beach. We enjoyed breakfast on the verandah in front of our room and just lazed in the sun for a while before heading to the flying site. On the way, we took in the local museum. Paracas is a Nacional Reserve for several reasons. It has pre-Incan ruins everywhere, as was well told by the museum we visited, it is also a wild life preserve with sea lions and birds of many kinds, and it is also a park with beautiful beaches and recreation potential, including a great hang gliding site.
We got to the flying site and the wind was a smooth 20+ mph. Denise was a bit nervous about flying, but I took a quick spin to check out the air and the surrounding area, and found it to be easy, smooth and breathtaking as far as the scenery went. Denise was soon in the air and got her longest flight ever, of about an hour and a half. This place was magical, smooth, easy and just plain delightful. Near launch, there is a big wide beach to land on if you run out of lift, although there is plenty of rotorless landing on top. If you fly North, you fly over about a mile and a half of beachless sheer cliff, that falls right into surf pounding against rugged coastline. The coastline turns sharply east at this point and there is no way to go beyond it, but the lift gets better at the North end of the flyable area and I could usually return to launch with nearly 1000 feet over the beach. The cliff, the whole way is only about 200 feet high.
Flown out, we returned to the hotel to clean up for a nice dinner of
peruvian seafood and pisco sour.
Chincha and the Road Back to Lima
The next day, after taking our time in the morning, we checked out, said good bye to Paracas, promising to return in the not too distant future, and hit the road back to Lima. We had also heard about a flying site near Chincha, which consisted of a 400 foot cliff facing the ocean, but 35 Km. long. I decided it would be worth trying to make 35 Km of the trip back to Lima in the air. We found the place, but only found about 10 mph of wind. I set up anyway and hoped for better conditions.
At some point, I decided that that the worst thing to happen here would be a walk up from the beach so I launched. I seemed to be staying up as I headed North, so I decided to keep going, rather than turn back and soar the area I had launched from. Sure enough, about a mile North, the cliff changed shape and I found myself headed for the beach. Oh, well. I radioed Denise and told her to sit tight, that I was going to try and walk back up the cliff. She acknowledged and I started the hike. About half way up, my radio's battery got low enough that I could no longer transmit. Meanwhile, Denise started trying to get a visual on my from the top of the cliff and started driving along the highway, stopping to look over the edge every so often. She swears to have seen me relaunch, so she was imagining that I had pushed on to try and make the 35 Km. She even saw a bird, soaring the planned route, which assured her that indeed I could be doing the same thing.
I got to within 75 feet of the top of the cliff and realized that there was NO way I was going to get the glider up the last bit. I struggled just to get myself to the top, and waited for a while. At 5:35 (remember the sun goes down at 6 here), I decided that I had better get back down to my glider, disassemble it, hike it down to the beach and walk out from below. Most of this ended up happening in the dark. After a hike of about 2.5 miles, I came across a hotel and a couple of restaurants. The first two did not want anything to do with me, and I guess I can't blame them. Here I was, a gringo, covered in dirt from hiking up, then back down a dirty, sandy cliff, I had a radio in my hand, I was dressed in shorts, and I was babbling something about having to land on the beach because of a lack of wind, and my wife, who doesn't speak very fluent spanish was looking for me. The kind-hearted lady at the second restaurant actually listened and believed me. She changed my 100 soles (the only money I had on me) for change for the phone and I called Denise. That phone call was worth all the money we spent on having that cell phone.
In the meantime, Denise had had her own adventure, the details of which I won't go into here, but am happy to share with you in person. She was about 25 Km away and made it back as quickly as she could to pick me up. We headed on back to Lima, arriving late, exhausted, dirty and a bit shaken up.
Our Last Days in Peru
We arrived back in Lima late on Wed., Sept. 27. For the next few days we followed up on details we needed to take care of before leaving the country and did some flying in Lima. The flying was actually very good right in the city of Miraflores. On Thursday afternoon, while we still had the truck, we decided to check out the flying. This time, rather than going down to Ghandi park, where the local HG pilots were used to going, we went right to the PG launch. It was a bit of a paradox why the HG pilots never launched from here. There is no comfortable landing directly below launch, as the beach is narrow and made of pebbles, rather than sand, there is a main road with lots of traffic right along the base of the cliff and many obstacles like street lights and buildings. However, it was quite soarable in any steady wind over 12-14 mph, which allowed you to fly about 1 km to the South and land on a large sandy beach. Ghandi park, in San Isidro, 3 miles to the North, on the other hand, had a nice large landing area directly in front. However, the cliff is not as high there and faced slightly off the wind, requiring a higher wind to be able to get up and make it back to Miraflores. So, I traded the comfort of the LZ directly below launch to the more reliable soaring and launched from Miraflores. I was told later by the HG pilots that I was to start a new trend there.
The Fusion was consistently higher than the paragliders at any given time, which I kept pointing out to the HG pilots, hoping they would get the point: If the paragliders can soar, SO CAN YOU! They seem to all believe, though, that the PG could soar in much less wind than HG. Sigh.
The top of the cliff along Miraflores is populated with lots of high rise apartment buildings and hotels. This causes the lift band to be greatly magnified, and also makes for some interesting flying. It is a really strange sensation to be flying right next to the 20 story Marriott Hotel and see your reflection in the mirrored windows. The air is smooth as glass.
It also seems that pilots here are only used to seeing hang gliders right side up! So, every time I'd get a bit of altitude, I'd give 'em a bit of a show. I radioed Denise, who was at the PG launch and hangout, if there was any negative reactions to my aggressive style of flying. She radioed back that, to the contrary, I had a captive audience, and "Could you dive the cliff again? They've cleared it of people so you can." Jose, flying his PG, landed and complained to Denise that he couldn't fly with me in the air. Denise apologized and asked if she should tell me to stay out of the way of the PGs. "Oh, no!", replied Jose, "It's just that I want to watch him and can't fly at the same time!".
That night we had Mexican food. Ok... to all my friends who know how much I like Peruvian food, this seems like blasphemy. We had, however eaten Peruvian food for the past three weeks for breakfast, lunch and dinner and were missing California.
On Friday we turned our truck in, got some business done at the SIL house, then headed off to visit the Gold Museum. This is one impressive place and you must be prepared to far more than you can take in in one visit. The Gold Museum is a collection, not just of gold, but of many categories. There is much, much ancient Inca and Pre-Inca pottery and artifacts. Inca and Preinca mummies. There is a huge section of the museum dedicated to relics of war of all cultures, including Oriental and Western cultures. There is also a new textile collection. This is a must see for any tourist visiting Peru.
On Saturday we met up with all the hang glider pilots except Rafael, who had to work that day. The whole gang picked us up at our hotel and we drove about 45 minutes South of Lima to Pachacamac. Pachacamac is best know as the site of more pre-inca ruins, but by this point in the trip, all ruins were starting to look the same. We had flying on our minds. The flying site reminded us a lot of Ed Levin Park, back in California. Launch was at about 2300 feet ASL, landing was at 600 feet ASL, and the proximity to the coast made the air feel very similar to Ed Levin. Denise flew and got a nice extended sled run. I and Henry Prutski (local, very colorful character) got about an hour. The other pilots each got nice flights at something under that. It was just good fun.
I met Henry at Ghandi park when we had first arrived in Lima. He was very proud of the fact that he believed himself to have the only recumbent bike in all of Peru. He flies an old Duck 160 (which he calls an Attack Duck ... and I just let him), with a sail that looks like it has more patches on it than original cloth. When I first saw his glider, I noticed that his downtubes were straight. I congratulated him, since I know from experience that the Duck is probably the hardest glider to land in the history of all of hang gliding. When Rafael heard me say this to Henry, he slapped his forehead, "NO!!! I can't believe you told him that! He is going to be really hard to live with now". Evidently, Henry's landings still need some work, according to the rest of the pilots there. Nonetheless, I was impressed with Henry's flying (just don't tell him). I dropped some hints about replacing his old Duck with a newer Fusion, hoping to save myself the trouble of packing it back up to take it home, but with no results.
We returned from Pachacamac to Miraflores to hangout and watch the PG. The wind was marginal, but I went ahead and set up, just in case. Sure enough, at 5:30 PM, the wind came in at 14 mph and I launched. No one else had set up, so the HG pilots watched and cheered as I showed them the top of my sail and dove launch. I was in the air after the sun went down and watched as the city lights started to come on. What a view!
On Sunday we planned to spend the day with Rafael. Rafael (Rafo) had been our guardian angel for this entire trip. He took great initiative in helping us get set for our road trip when we first arrived in Lima, then called us on our cell phone every couple of days to check up on us and make sure we were ok. On our return to Lima, Rafo took a great deal of time and effort to help us with an issue that had arisen as a result of one of the legs of our trip (ask us personally). He is truly a class act and a new found friend. I look forward to the day he and his family visit the US and allow us to return the hospitality.
So, we flew Miraflores with Rafo. I got the impression that he had never launched a hang glider from the Miraflores launch, so he looked a bit tense in preparation, thinking about the fact that there was nowhere to land if he didn't stay up. Guess I can't blame him. Rafo is also a PG pilot, and has much more experience in PGs than HGs. Of course, he went right up after take-off and I quickly joined him in the air. We flew for 2 1/2 hours exploring the "Costa Verde". I got a bit more ambitious, having already flown this site twice and flew a bit further than I had before. I flew North to Ghandi park and came back, then explored the cliff to the South. The further South you go, the more the cliff curves toward the sea, making the wind a bit more cross and the lift not as consistent. There are plenty of landing beaches along the way, so on one of the trips to the South I let myself get pretty deep. Near the end of the cliff I found some "different air"... maybe thermals or some sort of convection, which I stayed oriented to by following some birds. By the time the birds disappeared into the cloud layer, I found myself at 1500 feet and a bit out to sea. Fun! I flew back to Miraflores and signaled to Rafo to follow me South so he could experience the same. He didn't, but my next trip to the South the "different air" seemed to have disappeared.
Sunday night, we visited Huaycan once again, this time on an invitation by Walter and Fortunita to attend their Sunday night church service. Fortu prepared olluquitos, another peruvian favorite, but prepared in Fortu's special way. Walter's ministry attracts mostly young people, so there is a great emphasis on music during the church service, with clapping and dancing and energetic enthusiasm that you can't help but participate in. All of Walter and Fortu's kids are talented musically or artistically. Efrain and Dany play guitars, bass, charango, andean flute and sampona (pan pipe). Nadine leads the congregation in choreography, and also plays the drum for some of the songs. It was a great experience and one essential to this trip.
Monday was spent following up on last details, buying some last minute items, and packing the gliders for return. Rafael sent his company van to pick us up and transport the gliders to the Airport at 3 AM, as well as setting up a person at the airport to facilitate our flight arrangements. He then called at 5 AM to make sure all was going smoothly. We anticipated another row with the AA counter people, but it turns out that they were much, MUCH easier to deal with than their american (ironically enough) counterparts. As it turns out, we had a long layover in Miami and the gliders ended up getting stuck there for two days in the rain. I suspected something was very wrong when the courier was trying to schedule the delivery of FOUR pieces when we had originally checked TWO. Sure enough, when I went to pick the gliders up, the cardboard tubes they had been packed in looked like deep fried egg rolls that had been left to sit for several days. They had broken, but at the ends of the gliders (not the middle), where we had stuffed helmets, parachutes and other stuff. A follow-up Saturday, spent pulling the sails off of both gliders to inspect for damage, resulted in two healthy gliders.
This was more than a sabbatical or long vacation from work. This was for me, a return to my roots. For Denise, I think this was an opportunity to get a close look at where I came from and what makes me who I am. We've made lifetime friends and added a great deal of memories to our experience. I now know that I want to got back to Peru with some frequency, to work on several new opportunities, including helping the Quechua children get an education in computers. We've also learned a great deal about hang gliding in Peru... mostly we learned that we don't know very much, and its going to take more time exploring to get better results. There is still so much of Peru that is unexplored for us. Thanks again for letting us share this with you.