Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cultural shock part II - Peru and Bolivia

The Death Road downhill biking. I will tell you more about this crazy experience soon :)

Oh Bolivia. We have been in Bolivia for a while now and if in the very beggining I felt like packing all my stuff and get the first flight back to Portugal, now that we are leaving soon, I don't want to. I wanna stay longer, exploring the corners of this incredible country.

In this whole South America trip, I was super excited about Peru and Bolivia, I don't really have a reason for this, I guess all the pretty places and indigenous people I used to read and watch in National Geographic caught my heart.

These are not easy countries at all. When we were volunteering in Cuzco, we'd have serious troubles ordering dinner. As a good portuguese (common portuguese people out there, you gotta admit this), mostly of the time I wanted to change something in the dish from the menu "No rice, salad instead" or "Insert bacon in my vegetarian pizza", easy requests right? Nop, not really. Peruvian minds can be narrow and any change is just the end of the World. Me and Bruno had hard time in the beggining and we simply couldn't understand how hard would be to just change a freaking ingredient or pay extra money for more ingredients. "No, if it's not in the menu, you gotta order what we have". A double dose of patience makes everything better, if we started leaving the restaurants super frustrated, in the end we were negotiating with the restaurant owner. The trick was a deep breathe and ask for the owner, instead of talking with the waiter/waitress, they were usually confused and didn't help at all.

First day in Bolivia we couldn't believe how closed mind bolivians could be. This time we were prepared, I read in few blogs and travelers who were doing the opposite way trip in South America (from South to North) that bolivians were mean, narrow minded, didn't like tourists. We know we can't make this a general concept of an entire population so we thought they just had few not-so-good-experiences. Not really.

So first, me and Bruno went to take a shower together to save time and water. Do you believe 10 minutes exactly during our shower the hostel owner went to knock the door and said "You only have 5 minutes!! I'm going to cut off the hot water", hmmm? During evening we were walking in the market and we found olives (We are crazy about any kind of olives) and Bruno was mixing them with the spoon provided in order to get the ones in the button (the olives in the top were dried full of pollution from the cars) and the old lady started screaming he couldn't touch and even hit Bruno with a stick. What??
The next day we went to get some breakfast, and again, we wanted two eggs instead of only one and we said we would pay extra, no problem. Do you know what the restaurant owner said? "If you complain you have worse service". He said this. We weren't complaining at all just ordering our breakfast with an extra egg because one is not enough. We left really disappointed and thought "What the hell is wrong with this people?" You see, in touristic places like Copacabana you survive because of tourism so you gotta be nice with tourists so they will come back the next day. Sometimes bolivians have a pround attitude that makes me feel not welcome. The usual expression is: "No, we don't have, go next door."

We all know this is culture and we are the ones traveling in their country so we have to adapt. It's ok with me, I respect that. But doesn't mean I'm happy about it. When you spend more days in the country you will learn mechanisms on how to deal with the people and being extra patient (and not touching their products) helps a lot. Now that we traveled a bit Bolivia and visited stunning places I think the country deserves a second chance. And hey! I met so friendly and caring bolivians as well. It also depends in your attitude, if you ask something and think already "Grrrr I gotta talk with a bolivian", you won't go any far. If you go positive with a smile and call women "Mamazita" or "Mami", you get better chances of a good response.

Have you been in Peru or Bolivia before? How did you feel about the culture and people? Any other advices to make Bolivian and Peruvian experience even better?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Shanti Favorites #10

You want to change your hair to a vivid color but don't want to spend a bunch of money? Kaylah has great hair tips, she is bleaching her hair for many years so you can trust her advices. I followed some tips about how to maintain the color and they are working very well. 

I have been in the hunt for an handmade brown hat, but all I find here in Peru are ethnic multi colored ones. Not that I don't love them and want to bring all with me but I need something simple with only nature colors. The portuguese designer Ines Silva has exactly what I'm looking for, so guess what's the second thing I'm doing to do when I arrive Portugal? :)) The first is obviouly meeting my friends and family and eat tons of portuguese traditional food! 

I'm so glad I re-watched this movie last week. Tropa de Elite 2 is a brazilian movie about a special police who fight extreme criminality but they found out the criminal was the system (read government). This movie shows the reality of system corruption and how hard is to break it. Many deaths of inocent people in the way. (image source)

OMG! This post about hostels is hilarious! I especial enjoyed the irony and dark humor of the authour. I'm backpacking for 8 years (not straight) and I gotta agree that is super sad when hostel's staff charge you for a book exchange (or ask 2 books for 1) or to storage luggage. Oh man gimme a break! Also make sure you read the Hostel Owner comment, he has a point and it's always important to hear both sides ;)

Are you a serious blog organizer? Check this Weekly Blog Planner! I didn't use it yet but I think is useful, especially to check all the social network without being confused which ones you updated already. I enjoy the simplicity of the design. Cheers Meg!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Entering Machu Picchu: Step by Step

Hello buddies directly from Cuzco, Peru!
I have been in Cuzco for 2 weeks now volunteering in an hostel, exploring the place and the Sacred Valley. You can't imagine how much I needed to settle down just for a while, backpacking and moving every 4 days is so tiring sometimes. Arriving a village at 6 am when you just been in a bus for 12 hours, barely sleeping. Sometimes it takes hours to find an hostel that fits in our budget. This is a backpacker's life and like anything in the World with the positive and negative sides.

Cuzco is the town that usually travelers stay to get to Machu Picchu. What a wonderful town! You should consider to take at least one week in this area, it's surreal. But in this post I want to tell you how you can get in Machu Picchu, since is not that easy.

A small introduction first: In 1911, Hiram Bingham was trekking the Sacred Valley and accidently found Machu Picchu. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It was build in 1450 by the Inca empire but 100 years later the city was abandoned because of the spanish invasion. Spanish never found this place otherwise they would probably destroy it. Stands 2430 above sea-level on the eastern slopes of the Andes.

How to get there?
You can buy a tour, the most famous tour is by a van for around 15 people and the prices are 100 dollars (low season) to 130 dollars (high season). Usually includes: lunch, dinner, breakfast in the hotel, one night accomodation, transportation and a guide.

We always try to avoid tours because is never a good deal for backpackers.
So if you want to go by yourself:
1- Get a bus from Santiago Bus Station to Quillabamba (5 dollars - 8 hours) but your stop is in Santa Maria.

2- From Santa Maria you need to get a taxi to the Hydro Electric, try to find 4 people to share taxi costs (20 dollars for the taxi - one hour and half).

3- Once you get in the hydro electric get ready, you have to walk 2 hours thru the railway to Aguas Calientes (the closest village to Machu Picchu). Another option is to go by train, it will take 30 minutes and you will pay 25 dollars (peruvian people pay 6 dollars).

4- You will arrive late so go directly to the Ministerio da Cultura and buy your Machu Picchu ticket for the next day. There's a limited daily amount of tickets so run get yours soon. You will probably will stay in a line for an hour.Tickets prices in american dollars (February 2015): Foreigners - $42; Foreigner Student - $21; Part of Andean Community (Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador) $21 and if student $10.

5- Find an hostel or you can go camping. I recommend to stay in an hostel in low season because usually rains and it's cold (from May to September is warm), if you can't afford an hostel make sure you bring warm clothes and Winter sleeping bag. Casa Machu Picchu Hostel (Address: Av. Imperio de los Incas 636) is a great place to stay, very clean, beautiful, with an awesome view. Costs around 8 dollars/night in a dorm, including hot showers, wi-fi and breakfast. Price might change for high season.

6- Now that you couldn't sleep because you are soooo excited, get out of bed at 4 am, eat a good breakfast and walk you way to the top of the mountain. Why so early? To watch the sunrise if it's not foggy. And because you want to spend as much time as possible in this place, believe me. To get in Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes you have 3 options: By bus (20 minutes - 12 dollars), exercice in the one thousands steps (what I did): it's beautiful and takes one to two hours - depends how fast you are, or walk the bus road. You will get in altitude so it's normal that you have an hard time breathing but hey don't panic, just go slow and if you feel an headache go down to lose altitude and stay for a while to climatize.

7 - Good job!!! You arrived Machu Picchu, get ready to take zillion pictures and to go up and down a lot. Have fun :D

Extra tips: 
- Bring all the food you can from Cuszo, Aguas Calientes is over priced (a meal that costs 6 soles in Cuzco, you will find for 20 soles). Buy water and snacks in Aguas Calientes (if you didn't in Cuzco), in Machu Picchu everything is very expensive (example: a twix chocolate is $3)

- There is only bathrooms outside Machu Picchu so make sure you do your peepee before you arrive.

- The Ruins of Machu Picchu are stunning but the sorroundings as well so make sure you walk to Inca bridge and Sun Temple to watch wonderful pachamama. 

- It's better to stay at least 3 days and 2 nights in Aguas Calientes, otherwise you have to rush and you want to take it easy and enjoy in a magical place like this.

- If possible bring fruits to feed the Lamas, they love bananas!

Have you been in Machu Picchu? Would you like to add any other tips? 
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