Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid Redux
“He who does not travel does not know the value of men.-Therefore wander”
Sundance Kid (Jacobo)
Butch (El Lobo)
Los Angeles, Panama City, Lima, Cuzco, Pisac, Aqua Caliente, Copacabana
La Paz, Arequipa-
From the world's highest lake and capital city down the deepest Canyon in the world.
Peru and Bolivia on $20 a day. Three weeks of living the life of adventure we all wanted when we were kids.
Highlights of this trip include:
-Hanging out at the Plaza de Armas in Cuzco, the Katmandu of South America. Soaking up the culture, tradition and history of this beautiful colonial city.
-Eating roast guinea pig (cuy) on a stick, washing it down with Cuzquena cerveza
-Taking a local bus filled with pigs and chickens through the sacred valley to Pisac. Hiking to an Inca fortress on the mountain above.
-Taking a train to Aqua Caliente/Machu Pichu-South America's best known and most spectacular archeological site. Hiking a portion of the Inca Trail.
-Climbing steep Huayna Pichu to take in a stunning view of Machu Pichu’s natural setting
-Exploring pleasant Copacabana. The small city looks down on the deep blue waters of Lake Titicaca. Copacabana is also a major pilgrimage center to the Virgen de Candelaria shrine.
-Taking a boat ride to gorgeous Isla de Sol, the spiritual center of the Andean world, which was dotted by ancient ruins and traditional Aymura communities.
-Shopping at the Witches Market in La Paz for “oddities.” Negotiating with armed guards for a tour of the legendary San Pedro prison.
-Visiting with our wonderful friend Jorge Alercon in La Paz. Jorge is a (distinguished classy) Bolivian gentleman. He took us for a fabulous roast duck dinner at a country restaurant outside La Paz.
-Hiking in the Valle De Luna outside of La Paz.
-Touring the fascinating block long complex of the Santa Catalina Monesterio (actually a convent.) in Arequipa.
-Backpacking into the bottom of Canon del Colca. At 3400 m deep, it is reportedly the world's deepest canyon.
“Kid, the next time I say, "Let's go someplace like Bolivia," let's GO someplace like Bolivia,”
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-1969
Our adventure started in Lima after an all night flight. Lima is not the garden spot of South America. It is overcrowded, polluted and noisy but could not be avoided as we could not book a flight to Cuzco until the next day. We did spend some pleasant time in the Mira Flores section of town.
We checked into a nice hostel in Cuzco and immediately drank a pitcher of mate de coca (coca tea) in order to try to prevent acute mountain sickness. We spent a couple of days exploring Cuzco and acclimating to the altitude. Massive Inca-built stone walls line many of the city's central streets and form the foundations of colonial and modern buildings. The streets are often stepped and narrow. There are hundreds of taxis that simply do not stop for anyone. Pizza was served at most restaurants and more often than not was our meal of choice.
The “kid” and I took long scenic train ride to Aqua Caliente at the base of Machu Pichu and entered the lost city of the Incas, shrouded in mist and mystery. The grandeur of Machu Pichu blew our socks off. The site has exceptionally high quality stonework and ornamentation.
We trekked up the Inca Trail to the Puerta de Sol (Gate of the Sun). Early the next morning we climbed to the top of Huayna Pichu and took in a condor's view of the ruins. (Discovered in 1911)
Rumor has it that another site in Peru, even more spectacular, has been discovered, buried in the thickly overgrown jungle.
Back in Cuzco we took a bus to the small port of Puno (3820 m) on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. Generations of school children have been taught that Titicaca is the largest lake in the world above 2000 m. Some schoolchildren including a wee lad by the name of Lobito giggled hysterically during their study lesson and were appropriately reprimanded by their fifth grade teacher.
I always knew that someday I would go to the magical Titicaca and see the limitless horizons and floating reed islands. The islands are built using many layers of the buoyant totora reeds that grow abundantly in the shallows.
“Butch and me have been talking it all over. Wherever the hell Bolivia is, that's where we're off to.”
On toLa Paz
We crossed the border the following day and made a stopover at enchanting Copacabana on Lake Titicaca’s southern shore. We sailed to Isla Del Sol and back that afternoon. This island of the sun is the birthplace of creation in Inca mythology.
Getting to La Paz was interesting. At one point the road ended on the shore of the lake and required floating the bus on a tenuous old wood barge across a ½ mile of Lake Titicaca.
Passengers were transported on another old boat. We watched in amusement and a little horror as the bus swung wildly from side to side. There goes the luggage!
"Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe."
Setting our eyes on the world's highest capital was memorable. We entered La Paz from above and caught panoramic views nestled in a deep valley, with the magnificent peak of Illimani rising behind in the distance.
The City and its markets are incredibly busy, the Hong Kong of South America.
At an altitude of 3500 m, the kid and I were both sucking air, and Jake suffered with debilitating headaches and nausea. Heavy blankets were an additional weight on our chests and caused us to continuously gasp for air during the night.
We spent hours wandering the alleys and markets, visiting museums and watching Bolivian life unfold in the plazas.
Life inside San Pedro Prison
On the bus we met a young woman of Peruvian descent whom told us about San Pedro penitentiary, which is situated in the heart of downtown La Paz.
She was reading the book “Marching Powder’ a true story about friendship, cocaine, and corruption in South America's strangest prison. San Pedro was described as a place where the inmates must engage in various activities to survive. Cells with 5 star conveniences are purchased from”Realtors” by the wealthiest of the drug dealers while those without money live in retched conditions. San Pedro has its own set of rules and regulations, with its own economy, equipped with a cocaine lab. Even the prison cat is addicted. Some prisoners have family members living with them inside. San Pedro was described as perhaps a surreal microcosm of Bolivian society.
Our curiosity was aroused.
Apparently, at one time, English speaking inmates made money by giving tourists prison tours along with armed guards. After the Black February uprisings the prison was declared off limits……but we were told that there was a way to get in…. and back out.
We showed up at 9:00 A.M., the time that was given for the best opportunity. I approached one of the guards with a request to interview a friend. The time was not right. He gave me a shove and directed my attention to a crude sign that was posted, prohibiting foreign visitors.
Another guard told us to wait across the street. Here, we talked with an Israelite whom had been trying to get in for the past few days. He said that he had been told that the guards were new and we needed to be patient and wait for the right time.
Dialogue was conducted through the gate with a young American prisoner who had been in there for quite a while, accused of possessing cocaine. His ticket to freedom was to pay his way out and he did not have the means.
Not being interested in burning all our time waiting, we left, disappointed but slightly relieved that we would not have to deal with making it back out.
On the road again---- back to Puno and then to Arequipa
The beautiful colonial city Arequipa is nestled in a fertile valley under the perfect cone –shaped volcano of El Misti (5822 m) which rises majestically behind the cathedral from the Plaza, flanked by the ragged Chuachuani (6075 m) and to the right by Pichu Pichu (5571 m) The Plaza de Armas is graced with distinctive stonework and we spent a day exploring the city.
Jake felt much better after dropping in elevation. The plan was to do a three day backpack into Canon del Colca but a time miscalculation necessitated a revision to two days and an all night bone jarring bus ride. We arrived in Cabanaconde, sleepless. Cabanaconde is reminiscent of something out of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. We had breakfast at a really cool café, then descended into the arid confines of the deepest canyon on earth.
"El Condor Pasa"
My burning eyes picked up on tremendous shadows crossing our path. I looked skyward to see two magnificent Andean Condors soaring.
We reached the Rio Colca and crossed over on a rickety old wood suspension bridge. We had lunch in a small village and then headed across the canyon. There was considerable loss & gain of altitude before we reached another small village where tiny school children and dogs accompanied us to an oasis. One ninito demanded that Jake carry him. Jake carried him. When it started to rain he demanded a raincoat. We gave him a raincoat. Manuel had more personality packed into his small frame than any kid that I have ever met.
We relaxed at an oasis, got a little sleep and then started the long steep climb out with flashlights at 2:00 in the morning. We arrived at the rim around 7 A.M. and again had breakfast at the old café. From here we took a bus to a National Preserve to view more condors.
The bus ride back was lengthy and jarring but we didn't mind. It was worth it.
Getting back to Phoenix was a 24 hour ordeal involving spending the night at the LA airport where we attempted, unsuccessfully, to sleep on the floor.
Gerry and Cody, two of the prettiest girls in the world, picked us up in Phoenix. Gerry was smiling and Cody‘s tail was a wagging. Both were anticipating jewelry and treats. They were not disappointed.
There is no place like home.
This was an adventure traveler's dream trip. Much thanks to Jake for putting it together and being such a good partner. We would have liked to have spent more time in Bolivia at Sucre as well as the mining village of San Vicente where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid played their final scene.
I will end with this thought.
Marking at the portal of a cemetery in Puno---
“Yo hoy, manana tu” (I today, tomorrow you)