Back   Home April 2002 June 2002 Maren & Kirk

May 2002 Daily Diary

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(Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia)



After the tent was packed and Kirk downloaded the photos onto the laptop we went out onto the main highway and got a ride with a taxi for 2 US$ to the border with Guatemala. At the border we were surprised that they now have a 10 US $ departure tax along with the 3.75 per person Protected Areas Conservation Trust Fee.  What is ridiculous is that one has to pay for these fees at different windows. It was not worth making the quick stop through Belize for us at all. On the Guatemalan side we exchanged 40 US$ with a money changer and waited for the bus to Tikal.  The border town is called Melchor by the way.  There we had to wait around a while. Before the bus left the bus driver drove around town a while picking up passengers. We also somehow lost our suntan lotion which was really stupid.  The first bus took us to El Cruce where the waited 2 hours before the next bus took us to Tikal. Both were local buses that took forever stopping along the way every 100 meters.  The entrance fee was a very reasonable 50 Q person which is around 6.5 US$ per day.  In Tikal we pitched our tent at the Jaguar Inn and then walked around and to the ruins entrance.  We had not eaten stupidly for over 25 hours so we decided to go back to the campsite and cook a spaghetti meal. It was plain but tasted great.  Skipping so many meals is really stupid. Kirk was so exhausted that he went to bed before Maren.   Maren was also exhausted but was a great sport and still washed some of our cloths before she too went to bed.


We got up fairly early and went to the Tikal Ruins. They are situated in the jungle which gave it that extra touch. They were very impressive and one of our highlights on our trip.  The pyramids tower above the tree lines and are cleared and restored at some temples.  Restoration is still going on. The jungle also has an abundance of wildlife such as monkeys and birds.  This a must see in Guatemala.  We spent around 4.5 hours walking around, through and on these amazing structures from the past.  When we were done we visited the Tikal Museum at the visitor center as we were waiting for our minivan driver to fill up his van.  The museum in itself is not much but they had cool pictures of how they found the temples and how they look now after restoration.  The minivan ride took only 1 hour to Flores.  There we got some money out on our visa card and then booked a bus ticket on the 10:30 pm bus to Guatemala City.  The bus company manager or owner was really nice and actually recommended that we take the 10:30 pm bus instead of the 9:30 pm bust to Guatemala City because the other one arrived to early on the morning and it was not safe in Guatemala City at that time. What makes it actually nice was that the bus at 10:30 pm was considerably cheaper than the other bus. So he was not looking at the dollar with this recommendation.  In Flores we walked around the half island a little and watch the sunset over the lake. We also checked the internet and had a cold soda.  The bus ride was hard, because the seats are so close together and Kirk kept on getting dead legs so he could not sleep.


We arrived before 7:00 am in Guatemala City.  The ride had taken about 8 hours. We then walked to the bus station that had buses to Panajachel.  The ride took 3.5 hours, mainly because it stopped everywhere along the way.  Here in Guatemala they also make fine use out of American School Buses. Often painting them in bright colors.  In Panajachel we found a campsite. We actually bargained down the price because it was nothing near what our guide book said again. The owner was actually an American living here for the last 16 years. He was a little nutty.  After eating lunch, tortillas, beans and cheese we had bought in town we took a 4 km walk to Santa Catarina.  A nice town also situated along the Lago de Atitlan .  Later we went to the market and bought a Papaya and Pineapple for our dinner.  We also walked though town a little and also looked at all the souvenirs they have to sell here. Back at the campsite we ate dinner, talked to the crazy owner for a while and worked on our website. It actually gets a little chilly at night here compared to the heat during the day.


Today the we took another crazy ride on the Chicken Bus (Old American School Bus as they call it here we learned today). We took 3 different buses to get to Antigua. One of the bus drivers drove on these winding mountain roads as though he was a Formula I driver. It was a little scary. One of the ticket guys on the bus we think overcharged us, but we got there alive with all our stuff so it was ok.  In Antigua we found a hotel and did some sightseeing. We were overly pleasantly surprised how nice the city was.  It is a beautiful city with a lot of charm.  One of our most favorite cities we have visited.  The streets and churches all fit nicely together.  It is quiet understandable that it is a major tourist attraction.   Later on we went to the market and bought some food.  We also bought some new Sun Tan Lotion.  In the late afternoon, we made some updates on our sites and did a little reading.  Later in the evening we walked around town a while before hitting the sack.


In the morning we decided to get one last look of Antigua by taking another short tour of the city.  The city was fairly empty early in the morning which made it really nice. After picking up our bags, we did a little food shopping and went to the bus station to catch a Chicken Run Bus to Guatemala City. These bus drivers drive like maniacs. It scares the hell out of us once in a while.  It took about an hour to get to Guatemala City.  There we got a local bus to the main square where the Cathedral is.  There we walked around with our all of our stuff.  After having something to eat, we took another local bus to the other side of town to get a bus to El Salvador.  On the local and longer distance buses there are always people trying to sell things, getting on and off the bus.  There are also a lot of the times people preaching the word of something and lots of the passengers give these guys money. We are always astonished.  The bus ride for a change was not on an old American School Bus, but this time on an old Greyhound Bus.  The ride went ok, the bus driver and the ticket guy were not the friendliest or the most helpful of guys though.  What really depresses us is the amount of garbage the people throw out of the windows.  The roads are littered with garbage and more is added every time a car or bus goes by. It is disgusting and looks awful.  At the border Kirk, as an American had to pay 10 US$ for a tourist visiting card.  Maren did not have to as a German.  The bus arrived in Santa Ana in about 3.5 hours.  There we decided it would be best for us to go today to Cerro Verde National Park.  Cerro Verde is only 37 km away, but the bus trip takes 2 hours.  The bus stops and picks up people and lets them off every 100 meters.  It takes forever.  At Cerro Verde we were not to sure what to do actually.  The Park was officially closed when we arrived. We knew we were allowed to camp somewhere free there but where we did not know.  There were no signs anywhere and some locals also did not know for sure.  We ended up pitching our tent near a grass park area near some picnic tables. For dinner we had some tortillas and avocado.  We were a little nervous at night since we were not sure how safe everything was in this area.




The Park opened at around 8:00 am.  The guy collecting the Cerro Verde Park fees let us put our stuff in the ranger hut while we walked around.  We had thought about walking up the volcanoes,  but he really discouraged it unless we found the police and had them escort us.  According to him people often got robbed when they climbed alone without an escort.  That gave us something to think about.  So we decided we would go on a little walk down towards a small resort with cabins that has a beautiful view of a volcano which has a perfect black cone.  What got us a little nervous again, when we saw police walking around with weapons guarding the area.  It could not be too safe.  The area is really beautiful, and when they are able to organize everything  a little better, it would be a great place to hike and visit.  After hiking around a little we picked up our stuff and got the next bus out to El Congo.  From there we got a bus to San Salvador.   For a few Km the buses here take forever, stopping constantly.  In San Salvador we visited the Cathedral and the square around it.  There is not much else to see there, so we decided to move on.  In the afternoon we got a bus to El Poy on the Honduran border.  At the border we exchanged 20 US$ and then got a bus to Nueva Ocotepeque where we spent the night.




We got the 6:00 am bus which took us to La Entrada.  From there we took another bus to Copan Ruinas.  In Copan Ruinas we first went to the bank and exchanged some money.  Got a little better exchange rate than at the border.  After looking at a few different hotels we finally took one that was ok priced and had electricity.  It was then off to the Copan Ruins which is about a 1 Km walk out of town.  The Copan Ruins are the most expensive Mayan ruins we visited so far in Central America, charging 10 US$ per person.  They also charge 5 US$ for the museum and another 12 US$ if one wants to go down into a tunnel underneath the ruin.  The ruins are not as spectacular as the other Mayan ruins we have seen on this trip.  They are interesting, but they do not overwhelm you like Tikal did.  The ruins were also not as well restored.  They were though well worth seeing.  In the late afternoon we did some food shopping and worked on our website.  We also took much needed showers!


The alarm went off at 5:00 am in the morning.  Maren quickly filtered some water as Kirk packed.  The bus this time was not an old American School Bus, but rather just an old bus.  The ride to San Pedro Sula took only 2.5 hours and went quickly. The 5:30 am bus costs 100 LPS while the 6:00 am bus on which we traveled only costs 60 LPS each.  We could not figure out why there was such a major difference in price.  In San Pedro Sula  we were lucky that the bus dropped us off at the right bus station. The bus ride to Tegucigalpa was a little long as the bus had trouble with its motor along the way. In Tegucigalpa we finally settled in a hotel we thought was the best deal and had electricity.  The San Pedro Hotel where we wanted to stay did not have electricity so we found a room at the Hotel Colonial.  It was then off on a quick sightseeing tour of the city. We visited a few of the churches and walked around for a while. The city is nice but nothing spectacular.  We also bought a little to eat and a cantaloupe for dinner.  In the evening we read and did a little computer work and tried to plan out the next week of our trip.





We are again in the habit of waking up early in the morning and catching the first available bus out of town.  We were lucky that we arrived at the bus station just as the bus to Guasaule (Border town with Nicaragua) was leaving.  The bus ride took 4 hours.  At the border we had to again pay a tourist card entry fee 5 U$ each plus 2 US$ each for something else they thought of.  The bus to Leon left at 12:30 pm, so we had to wait around for over an hour.  It was really hot and dusty today.  We just sweated out the water we drank.  At around 3:30 pm we arrived in Leon. The walk to the center of town is about 1.5 km. The first hotel we looked at we did not like and the next one was full. However the owner (we think the owner) drove us to another hotel which was actually cheaper.  So that was nice.   We have a feeling though that he owns or has interest in both of them.  It was then off to do some sightseeing.  The town is quiet cute with many nice old churches. It is not like Antigua because it is not that touristy and has not been heavily renovated.   For dinner we had Comida Corriente at a local restaurant.  It costs about a dollar a head for a big plate full of food. It was pretty good.  The bill came to 2.33 US$ with a half liter Fanta.  Later on in the evening we walked around town a little, visiting the main square again before doing some food shopping and going back to the hotel for a much need shower. It was so hot today. 


It was up and early again to catch a bus to Managua and then onto Granada. Being the experienced travelers as we are now we took the slow bus to Managua.  It took over 2.25 hours and stopped every 100 meters.  We should have taken a faster one for just a few cents more. We were not thinking.  I know it has been mentioned before, but the people just liter the road sides to death.  There are plastic bags and things lining the road the whole way.  It is really disgusting.  It also covers peoples property and they do not clean it up.  It just ruins the landscape.  They just must not know better or actually see what they are doing.  In Managua we had to take a local bus to the bus station across town.  An English speaking guy helped us finding the right bus to Granada.  When Maren was trying to get out of the bus,  a lot of people rudely cut in front of her. The guy actually apologized for it.  He was kind of mean about the people, say that "they were just not educated".  The bus ride to Granada went quick.  The bus station is on the other side of town and it was a long hot walk to find  our hotel.  The sun is just really too hot. After looking at three hotels we finally took one we thought was the best deal.  We then toured the town.  It is a very nice town with a very beautiful town square. Also in the background one has a view of a volcano.  During the day we drank so much water, but we never really had to go to the bathroom. We also risked it a little and had a delicious fruit juice. Hopefully the runs do not come tonight.  After using the internet for an hour we walked back to our hotel and rested a little before we went out in the evening.  We split a Vigoron, which is Yuccon top with dried pork skin. It actually tasted alright. We then walked around a little before retiring.


Today was just not our day.  We got the buses to the border ok, but that is when it started. Yes we are stupid and our traveling pride was hurt.  We got scammed for a dollar each. We paid a municipal exit fee which one does not have to. We knew we had to pay an exit fee so we were not thinking at all when we paid, but then realized that what we had paid was not the exit fee, but some scam at the border. They set up this booth, looked halfway official, but it was just there to make you think it was legit and to see how many idiots like us would pay something, not knowing exactly what it is.  We have always watched out for such scams, but today we were just half asleep and not paying attention. Kirk tried arguing a while with them later, but it was for nothing, they sort of just laughed.  We then went over the border into Costa Rica.  It is just sad that one incident like this leaves a really bad taste in your mouth about a country.  On the Costa Rican side we went through immigration without any problem before we got a bus to Canas, about halfway to San José. Again we were asleep, this time literally.  We missed getting off in Canas and had to back track to be able to get a bus to Tileran.  Another intelligent move on our part. Cost us about 2 US$ extra again to get to Tileran.  Actually this guy, his  name is Tony, from England made the same mistake.  So we all then took a bus to Tileran. There we found a hotel not in the guide book. They were all to expensive.  This hotel is really the pits though. We shared a room with Tony and saved some money.  We went to a supermarket for some food. We had tortillas with beans, cheese and crackers.  Kirk also worked on the website.



In the morning it was off to La Fortuna to hopefully see the volcano.  Well the weather did not seem to want us to see the volcano.  It was cloudy and misty.  The scenery was quiet nice though along the way.  The bus ride took 2.5 hours.  In La Fortuna well all realized that it would be impossible to see the volcano today.  People we met said they were waiting around for days and the weather did not get any better.  So we decided we would go to San José.  While waiting for the bus we used the internet.  The bus ride seemed to take forever and somehow was really unpleasant.  It was hard to say why, but it was just awful.  We arrived in the early evening in San José and we got a room again with Tony.  The place was ok, the rooms were only cubicles without electricity plugs, but it did the job for one night.  Later the both of us walked to a supermarket and got some food.  San José is really like a small run down a little bit American City.  It did not seem to have much to offer. Later on we sat out on the balcony overlooking the street. Some hookers were working near the hotel on the street.  The hotel was not in the best area of town.  Costa Rica seems to have some nice places to visit if you have your own car and like to outdoors.  For us to get to these places would have just taken up too much time.




In the morning after breakfast, a peanut butter and jelly baguette, we bought direct bus tickets to Panama City.  We were happy to get on our way. The bus was leaving at 1:00 pm, so it meant we had some tome to waste.  So we first used the internet and then just hung out  at the hotel.  The bus ride was ok to Panama.  They played some movies, but the sound system was broken, so it was hard to hear.  At the Panama border we should have exchanged the old Costa Rican money.  We thought that on the Panama side there would also be some money changers.  However we were wrong. So we are stuck with a 13 US$ of Costa Rican money for a while.   Coming into Panama one had to by a weird stamp for 1 US$ per person.  If this is correct or not, who knows.  But they would not let us in otherwise.  Kirk had to pay in addition a 5 US$ tourist card fee.  These borders have some strange things going on.  The problem is that one can not argue with them or really question them because they hold all the power to let you in or not.  They also wanted to see a ticket out of Panama.  We of course did not have one yet, we wanted to buy one in Panama City. He eventually asked us how much money we had on us.  Kirk was not sure if he wanted a bribe or wanted to see if we had enough money to support us.  Kirk said 500 US$ each, and he let us in.  These border immigration officers almost always have to show you how powerful they are.  One just has to suck up ones pride once in awhile. 



The bus arrived in Panama City around 4:00 am in the morning.  We eventually decided to share a taxi with this other German girl to an hostel in the center of town. The hostel was more expensive than some hotels, but it was in a much better area of town.  The hostel owner let us in and we waited in the lounge area until a dorm room was made up for us a few hours later.  The hostel also served a free toast and coffee breakfast. At 8:00 am we decided to look straight away for flight tickets.  We were happy to find  a really cheap one we thought to Quito Ecuador at a Student travel agency.  We went back a few hours later to pay and book the flights.  Of course they wanted to see our student cards.  That is when they got really arrogant  and started to be really unfriendly and aggressive.  They claimed they were fake and said they would have to confiscate them.  Kirk quickly grabbed the cards back and wanted to leave.  They locked the doors so one could not get out.  They said they wanted the cards or they would call the police.  This was a little unbelievable at first and Maren did not quiet realize what the hell they wanted at first.  We were not sure then if they had something with the police or not and thought it would be best if we did not get them involved.  The only way they would let us out is if we turned over our cards. Kirk eventually saw no way out so he gave them the cards but took our pictures out and made sure the names were punctured out of the cards.  This was a major shock to us.  On the way out Kirk yelled some nicely chosen words at the one of the guys who was being really aggressive to us, and he started yelling things back.  We just left and later on booked another flight via Bogotá Columbia to Quito for the 15th of May.  It is only a two hour stopover in Bogotá.  We spoke to some people later, and no one could believe what had happened, and though it was the weirdest thing.  In the afternoon we took a bus to the Panama Canal.  The first bus took us to the wrong bus terminal even though we asked him 2 or 3 times if it was the right bus terminal. He spoke English, so that was not the problem, he just ignored our questions. We eventually were able to get to the Miraflores Locks.  When we were there two big container ships came through.  It was very interesting, and made the trip worth it to Panama.  We were able to catch a ride back with some guy to the city, so it saved us the dollar bus fair.  We then  walked along the ocean back to the hostel.  In the evening the both of us took a much need shower, Kirk also had a much needed shave.  Maren then cooked a great pasta dinner before we worked on our site.  What is good about Panama is that the currency is US $, so one is able to stock up on US$ easily.  Kirk watched the NBA playoffs while Maren sorted out the pictures for our website in the evening.


Happy Birthday Nina!  This morning we got up early and had breakfast and Maren wrote some emails.  Later on we got some more America Dollars from the ATM and then went to an Internet Cafe to upload our web pages.  It was nice, the web connection speed was great and everything was uploaded quickly. We then got something to eat at McDonalds. The Hamburgers there are the cheapest meal in town, 39 cents a piece.  Afterwards it was off to our hotel to get our bags and catch a local bus to the airport. It took about an hour to get there, but it was cheap at 25 cents a person.  At the airport we read a little before taking the flight to Columbia.  There we had a two hour wait for our connection flight to Ecuador. We would have liked to visit Bogotá, but we thought it would be best to move on.  It was nice taking two different flights because we received two dinners.  The flight was ok and we arrived in Quito Ecuador after 11:00 pm.  There we organized a taxi and a hotel from the airport, not wanted to risk looking for a place so late at night. We got a prepaid taxi for 4 US$. They had different taxi booths there ranging in prices. 



We arrived at the hotel we had called from the airport at around 12:30 pm.  The hotel was kind of weird and we did not feel that comfortable there from the start. We decided to stay the night anyway, not wanting to walk the streets that late at night with all or stuff.  The hotel prices are much higher than what the guide book had written, almost double in price.  In the morning we woke up early and went looking for a hotel. We eventually found one we liked even though it was not cheaper than the one we were staying at. Afterwards we took a bus to the old city.  There we walked around for a while checking out the sites.  It is a very interesting city with it's own personality. We also went and got information on buses leaving to Cuenca.  We then did a little more sightseeing.  The main sights we visited were the Plaza de la Independencia, the Plaza de San Francisco and the Plaza de Sant Domingo all with cathedralsand churches around.  We then walked back to the newer part of town.  There we took a little rest in the hotel before Maren cooked a pasta and tomato sauce meal.  We then took a small walk again, checked the internet (very cheap in Quito) and then had a great hotdog on the street.  The hotdogs are big and they have lots of toppings that one piles on like guacamole, salad, coleslaw, potato salad and more.  It was then off to the hotel.


We left to go to the bus station around 7:30 am. We first walked in the wrong direction to get the bus, but we eventually found our way there. Once there, we got a bus right away to Cuenca. They told us it would take about 9 hours. It ended up taking over 11.5 hours. So we arrived after dark.  The bus ride was ok, it made a lot of stops along the way, picking up and dropping off people. Though it did not make any real long stops.  The scenery and landscape along the way were beautiful.  It was all very green with a lot of farms a long the way.  However it was very misty and cloudy, which gave everything a dreary feel to it.  In Cuenca we found a hotel. The prices here also are not what one expects to find when reading the guide book beforehand. They are at least 50% more expensive. After finding a reasonable priced room, we bought some rolls and had bean sandwiches for dinner. Otherwise as usual we updated some web pages and went to bed.


In the morning we were up early as usual. We then did a small sightseeing tour of the city, visiting the market and the main square.  It is a nice small laid out city.  Later we used the internet quickly to check our emails before going to the bus station to catch a bus to Machalla where we would change bused to get to Haquillas, the border town between Ecuador and Peru. The scenery is spectacular along the way, beatiful green countryside.  The bus attendant on the bus from Machalla to Haquillas was a women who was really nice.  She made sure we got our exit stamps at the immigration office before we reached Haquillas.  The immigration office is around 3 km before town.  So that was really nice. She then explained to us how to get to the Peru immigration office which was also another 3 km away.  She also told us which streets not to take. Haquillas is absolutely a crazy town where one does not want to spend any time in. More time you spend there, the better chance you will either get robbed or ripped off.  We had guys constantly following and bugging us about different things.  One guy kept following us until Kirk started yelling at him.  Also watch out for the street changers. They come to you with much better exchange rates then possibly true.  There is so much commotion there and they are definitely trying to scam you.  We were soaking wet by the time we reached the Peru Immigration office.  The sun was shining very brightly. After getting our passports stamped we got a minibus to Tumbes Peru.  We agreed on a price for us, 1 US$.  However as usual when it was time to pay, he wanted more. We figured out we were already paying too much, so we told him forcibly to forget about it.  One guy told us we were correct and we should not pay more.  In Tumbes we were dropped off at a bus station where we were lucky to be able to catch a direct bus to Lima which was just about to leave. We got the back seats, which were the worst seats on the bus because one could not lean them back very far.   The landscape gets very dry and barren along the coast to Lima.  It is interesting to see, but there was not much to see.  On the bus they served dinner, rice with meat and for entertainment showed old bad movies constantly.



The bus arrived very early in Lima.  The first thing we did was check out a few bus companies for buses to Cusco. After we had finished comparing the bus companies we started to walk into the center of town. Then it happened. 3 kids started saying hello and grabbing Maren, before she new it one from behind ripped off her watch.  She started to scream that they took her watch.  Kirk in that moment heard something going on and turned towards Maren. He realized what had happened and gave Maren his small backpack and started after the guys. The guy with the watch saw Kirk coming after him and threw the watch at Kirk in the middle of the street.  Kirk picked up the watch, looked back to make sure that Maren had the small backpack with the laptop in it and when he saw that was ok, he went through the traffic after the kid.  The kid must have panicked, probably amazed that Kirk was coming after him.  Kirk chanced him through the traffic and caught him behind a bus.  During this time everyone on the streets was looking at what was happening.  Kirk grabbed him and probably was going to beat the living crap out of him, but then he saw a traffic police woman coming in his direction.  So he brought him in her direction.  Then a 4wd vehicle pulled up and 3 policemen got out and took the kid from Kirk.  The first policeman whacked the kid across the face before throwing him into the backseat of the 4wd vehicle. Another police got in with the kid and hit him a few times.  The police asked if everything was ok, and we said yes. We got the watch back, even though it was scratched a little.  The police then took off with the kid, so we do not know what happened.  He was probably hit a few more times and let go.  Who knows?  We then decided to walk back to the bus station and grab a taxi to the hotel, which we should have done in the first place.  Lima is actually known for the watch snatchers in the bus station area.  We were lucky that everything turned out ok. The kid who stole the watch, got scared and panicked when Kirk went after him which helped.  So our time in Lima did not start very well.  South America is living up to it's reputation of not being a very safe place and honest place to visit.  The taxi took us to the center of town to the Hotel Espana. We took a room right away, not wanting to look around with all our stuff after what had happed. When we arrived we met the German girl we met on the bus to Panama and which whom we stayed in a dorm together in Panama City.  Later on we did a sightseeing tour in town.  Lima actually is a really nice city with some nice old buildings and churches.  There was a festival of some sort going on, with a parade through the old city.  It was interesting to see the people dancing in the streets.  We also visited Miraflores, the newer section of town.  For our meals we had a mashed potato ball rolled up with filling in it. It is deep fried and it is served with onions and different types of sauces. It costs around 30 cents each and tastes great.  There is quiet a bit of street food in the city.  Internet is also quiet cheap, around 59 cents an hour.  In the late afternoon we visited the central market. There again we noticed that a guy was following us through the market. Maren actually noticed him first.  Kirk then started staring at the guy. The guy noticed that we knew he was following us and started to look uninterested and walked away.  Kirk kept on looking at him and he finally looked back and started telling us basically to F off.  Lima is not a safe place.  In the evening we did not go out,  we had no mood to be adventurous.


In the morning we went to the market again to buy some food. We then walked around town a little more, before using the internet quickly.  We then got a taxi to the bus station. We wanted to get the luxury bus to Cusco which took only 20 hours but that was full, so we had to take the slower bus that takes 22 hours.  This saved us 20 dollars, but we still wanted the better bus.  We thought it is probably safer and it had a toilette.  The slower one did not, so we were relying on the stops to go to the bathroom.  The bus stopped along the way in Nasca where we picked up more passengers and stopped for a while to get something to eat.  The scenery along the way was beautiful.  This bus was not very comfortable and since we were almost in the back, very bumpy, especially since the bus had no shock absorbers left.  One just could not sleep.  The bus had two TVs, but in the 22 hours they only showed one horrible film.


One could not sleep the whole night and it got much worse when the bus driver drove like a maniac on unsealed roads.  We hardly slept at all.  It was a hard long ride.  At around 11:30 am we arrived in Cusco. There we got a taxi to the middle of town.  There we checked out a few hotels, before deciding on the first one we saw.  We then did a little sightseeing in town before checking out the best way to do the Inca Trail.  What we found out sort of disgusted us.  The whole hike is now completely regulated. This means that one can not go alone and one has to go with a tour group.  This means one can not even get a single guide to show you the way.  Also the entrance fees are now 50 US$.  This is ridicules.  We were a little in shock.  The cheapest 4 day tours were 170 US$ each.  What made us unhappy more was that one has to be in such a big group.  We checked out a lot of tour companies and travel agents, trying to figure out the best way to do the tour for us.  The first 15 tour companies said that we had to take the tour as it is, this means, that we would have to pay the full 170 US$ or more.  The tours include meals, transportation, guide and porters to carry the food and tent.  No tour would really give us a discount, if we carried our own tent and food and only used the group as a way to do the Inca Trail.  We were getting very frustrated at this moment and were about to say forget it and take the train up to Machu Picchu.  We decided then to check one more tour company out.  Well they  agreed to let us just pay for the guide and entrance fee and a few miscellaneous things and not book the whole package tour. It would end up costing us 100 US$ each. We were very happy to hear this and were relieved. We were going to do the Inca Trail after all.  Later on Maren said we should check out one more travel agent to see what they could offer. Well this one also offered us the same deal and we bargained a 95 US$ price each out.  We later on wanted to give the other agent another chance, he agreed also on this price and gave us a better exchange rate for the Peruvian Sol.  We then copied our passports and gave it to the tour agent.  It was then off to bed. We were both very tired.


In the morning it was off to the tour operator to pay for the Inca Trail. To our surprise it was closed until 9:30 am. So in the mean time we checked our email and had some cake for breakfast.  At around 9:00 am a lady from the tour operator stopped us on the street and said something about 120 US$.  This got us a little bit worried.  At 9:30 am we went to the travel agent. He at first just stood there calculating something with someone. He then started speaking in Spanish to us, even though he spoke very good English and knew that we did not speak Spanish.  He tried to tell us that he needed more money, but Kirk just said to him what everything costs and that we do not want to discuss it with him and we would like our copies of our passports back. Kirk did not let the guy finishing. Again these people here just try and bait and switch you.  No one seems to be honest in South America. We then went to the other tour operator and booked the Inca Trail for 95 US$.  So we were lucky that Maren suggested to look at other tour operators the night before.  Otherwise we would have just said forget it and would not have done the Inca Trail.  We then got a bus to Tambomachay, which is about 30 minutes away.  The ruins there were nothing special and there was not much to see.  We then got a bus to Pisaq.  There it was a nice but a little strenuous 1 hour hike up to the ruins, which were situated on a hill top above the town.  We met two guys that camped up there the night before.  That must have been really nice.  After climbing down we got another bus to Urubamba, where we changed buses to go to Chinchero.  A lady on the bus warned us not to go because it was dangerous this late in the day.  But we went anyway, because we did not want to go the next day again.   We just wanted to visit the Church built on some Inca Ruins.  The bus took forever to get there.  It just did not have any power to climb up the mountains.  The church was well worth visiting,  much different than most. Very old looking inside. We were actually lucky to get inside. Normally it is not open, but there was a big Peru tour group there at the time which got the church attendant to open it.   We wanted to catch the bus then back to Cusco, but a taxi driver said he would bring us there in a shared taxi.  We asked him then if he would bring us to the Plaza de Armas in the center of town.  He said yes.  So we said why not.  The ride was not much more than the bus would cost. Well when we arrived in Cusco, he dropped everyone else off where they wanted.  When the last person got out of taxi he said "finito".  We immediately said to him that he said he would bring us to the Plaza de Armas.  He then said that this would cost another 4 Sol.  (a taxi anywhere in the city does not usually cost more than 2 Sol).  We then said bring us to the Plaza or we are not paying. He said again he wanted more money.  So we just go out of the taxi and said "Adios".  He started following us, Kirk just turned around and started yelling at him to get loss.  Kirk scared him off a little, especially with the people watching.  He was not a registered taxi, so he could not afford to have the police come.  We did not know what part of town we were so this was BS.  It is not safe to walk around most areas at night here. Every time these people just try and screw you.  We then went to a store and asked how to get tot the Plaza.  It was  about 7 blocks away.  But the area we were in was not the best area.  There seems not to be an honest person here.  It makes one have such a bad feeling about South America.  The countries have beautiful sights and landscapes, but the people until know live up to their reputation.  To be halfway honest is just not in their cards.  We then went to the same restaurant as the day before and ordered one menu.  It is really a good deal for 75 cents.  Later we walked around town a little, bought some popcorn and then went back to the hotel to shower and do some work. We are just hoping that we get through South America without loosing all our stuff and getting too ripped off. 

We booked our tour with the travel agent:

Flamenco Travel

Plaza de Armas

Cusco Peru

Tel: 084 224176



This morning we think a couple must have waking up the whole hotel.  We thought we were dreaming, but it was real.  It seems like the walls are not very thick.  Kirk then did some more work on the computer and Maren wrote her diary.  We then went to clear some things up with the travel agent.  Later we walked around town checking out the historical sites and museums in Cusco.  The churches and museums are interesting, but they all seem to look a like after a while. One can buy a ticket for 10 US dollars to visit all the main sights in Cusco and some in the surrounding areas.  We also did some food shopping for our trek tomorrow. For lunch it was the menu again at a different restaurant. It tasted great. We also checked the internet and in the afternoon took a much needed nap.  Kirk also got a hair cut. In the evening we wrote some emails, then went to an internet cafe to upload some stuff. 


The tour was supposed to pick us up at 8:40 am, so we decided to check the internet before and buy some bread for our trip.  When we got back to hotel, they told us that they were already here to pick us up, 45 minutes earlier than they had told us.  However they did come back a second time to pick us up.  The first impression of the group we had was that we were lucky. They all seemed fairly nice and down to earth.  There were 3 Americans, 2 Germans, 3 Canadians, 1 New Zealander,  2 Brits and us, 13 all together.  There were also 8 porters, and 2 guides.  The bus first stopped in Urubamba where we had an  hour stop, which none of us could figure out except that they wanted us to use a restaurant there.  We just walked through town.  There was no reason why we did not stop only in Ollantaytambu where some ruins were.  Ollantaytambu was a hour away from Urubamba, where we stopped for lunch. Maren and I first had our lunch, avocado sandwiches and then checked out the impressive ruins there. The entrance fee was already included in the entrance fee we paid for the Cusco sights.  The lunch, which was included for everyone else, took forever and way past the 1:00pm time which the tour guide had said it would.  At 1:00 pm the road opens again (they are rebuilding it) to allow the buses to get to Km 82.  The Inca Trail actually starts at Km 88, but from Km 82 one starts walking.  We also had bought some 50 cent ponchos in Ollantaytambu, just in case it rains.  After getting off the bus we had to go through the first check point, where they checked out entry tickets.  There were already two big groups in front of us.  The hike starts out along a river and one in the beginning climbs slowly higher.  KM 82 starts at 2750 meters above sea level.  Our tour guide seemed really shy and not very competent.  He did not give us or anyone  a good impression. He did not seem to explain much and interact with the group.  The hike though was really beautiful and we were very happy to be doing it. There was only one hard section, where it was fairly steep.  After this section one had a good view of the Inca ruin Qoriwayrachina.  The guide tried to explain some things about the ruin, but no one could really follow him.  From there it was an easy 1 hour walk to the campsite.  There we pitched our tent next to the other people's tents. None of the other people in the group  were carrying there own tents and food.  We were actually the only people we met on the whole trail that carried their own tent and food.  We then started cooking, while the others waited for theirs.  The second tour guide who was there to oversee the first tour guide, said we could eat with them and at least have some tea or coffee with the group. We immediately said no thank you. We both suspected something.  However after them asking us 20 times we agreed to only have a drink.  (This will be more understandable by the end of the trek).  We were very happy to be cooking for ourselves, especially that we were able to go to bed an hour earlier at least than the others.  There were a few reasons why we did not want to accept the food, one was that we wanted to cook ourselves, two that if we did not cook ourselves we would have to carry the food the whole way, third we did not feel right accepting the food when we paid much less than the rest (most paid between 160 and 190 for the tour), four we did not want to pay extra for the service at the end or have to give the porters a tip since we were carrying our own stuff.   The campsite LLactapata, was at 2650 meters, so it was not cold at night.


On the second day, they again tried to get us to eat their breakfast. We again told them no thank you. They were however very pushy.  We began to suspect more that they wanted something more from us.  The first 20 minutes were flat before the trail started climbing.  It was quiet an altitude climb to the lunch spot of 3600 meters.  So it was a major climb, it took around 3 hours.  The scenery was amazing, even though on this day, one saw the same thing the whole way up.  At 3600 meters we had a very long lunch break, over 2.5 hours.  It was way too long.  The guide really explained anything and did not stick with the group.  We ate our lunch while the others had to wait 2 hours for theirs.  It got fairly cold when the sun hid behind the clouds, but otherwise it was ok.  They again offered us a meal, even though they knew we had already eaten.  We first said no about 20 times, but then accepted only a soup, even though we did not want it.  It just did not seem right.  Right after eating it was off and up again another 600 meters to the Dead Women's Pass.  From there we had a beautiful view of the surrounding scenery.  It was a hard walk up, but what surprised us was how many young people got porters to carry up there backpacks on this day.   Ok it gives the locals a chance to earn 25 Sols (over 7 US$), but have some pride.  After enjoying the view for a while it was then down around 500 meters to the campsite Pacaymayu.  There we pitched our tent and had a great dinner, first a tomato soup, then macaroni and cheese with fresh cut onions. We were again very happy to be cooking ourselves, the others had to wait over two hours for their food, and we could go to bed after  such a long day.  Though they again asked us a few times if we wanted to eat their meals. We declined. Something was up.  We had a feeling that they wanted something from us.  The night was ok, we put our sleeping bags together and were able to keep each other warm.


We took off earlier than the others. They had to wait around for their breakfast.  It was cold waiting around in the shade, so we left at 7:30 am and climbed 45 minutes to the Inca ruin Runkuraqay.  There we waited for the rest of the group. What one has to imagine is that one is not the only group on the trail, there are at least 10 other groups on the same trail as you are, and at the same time. So it does get pretty crowded at some sections.  The tour guide tried to explain a little about the ruins, but was not very understandable.  It was then another 45 minutes to the next pass at around 3800 meters.  From there one had also beautiful views.  One then walked down  to 3580 meters to the Sayacmarca Inca Ruins which also had great views of the surrounding area.  After that we walked another 20 minutes to a place where we had lunch. Again we had to refuse their food a hundred times, which by now was becoming a pain in the rear, and kind of embarrassing for us every time.   We then hiked another 1 hour along a path that crossed around the mountains, providing some fantastic scenery.  It really made the hike well worth it.  Even with all the people and our horrible guide we were very happy we were doing the Inca Trail.  We stopped at the Phuyupatamarca Ruins. There we waited a half an hour for the guide.  We decided to eventually keep on going when he did not show up even after the last person in our group got there.  The rest of the way to the third campsite Winaywayma, was straight down to around 2650 meters at KM 104.  There we were very disappointed. There was a restaurant there and a convergence of the 4 and 2 day hike groups. Maren took a rest while Kirk walked 15 minutes with a Canadian guy to the Winaywayma ruins. The nicest ruins so far on the Inca trail. Afterwards we cooked a meal.  All the groups were served their meals in the restaurant.  There they could buy beers and drinks at the bar while loud music played in the background.  We ate our meal there too, but the atmosphere was horrible. One could not understand the people next to you and the after having such beautiful scenery and outdoors, who wants to spend their time in a loud awful restaurant.  One can go to such a place anytime, one spends the time and effort to enjoy the outdoors, not sit in a such a place. It is not comprehensible, expect that they want to milk the tourists for more. We should have went to bed, but we decided to stick around a little longer to be sociable.  What we really noticed was that they were really suddenly this evening really nice and helpful. Of course offering us again to eat with them. Our meal actually was not very good. The noodles were starchy and did not taste good. Kirk felt not very good afterwards.  Getting back to our point of them being overly nice and helpful.  Well it was tip time. They brought out the cook and porters and it was clear that it was time for a tip from everyone.  Even though they did not carry anything for us and we really refused all meals, we gave them two dollars in the pot together. The others gave just under 6 dollars tip each.  We thought it was ok, for the one soup we had, cup of hot chocolate, and a small shot of wine, all we refused at least 20 times each.  The others seemed to think we did not have to give a tip.  Afterwards we went to bed. We were tired and we would have to get up at 4:00 am the next morning.


We woke up at 4:00 am packed our tent and went to meet everyone at the restaurant where they were to have their breakfast.  Kirk felt sick the whole night and hardly slept.  When we were down at the restaurant, what did we first notice. For one, there were only 11 cups on the table instead of the 13 cups on the table there usually were for the group.  Second they did not offer us a drink or breakfast for the first time on the trip.  So what does this mean. They had gotten the tips and they did not have to be nice anymore to us, or they were not satisfied with the tips, even though they could not exactly know how much we gave them. This again is typical South America. Always trying to scam you.  It was exactly what we thought was going on from the beginning.  They just wanted something from us, they were not trying to be just nice to us. It is always the same.  Yes there are probably nice people who when doing something nice does not want something from you like your money, but for the most part, when they seem to be nice and friendly, they want something.  To think otherwise in our opinion is a little blind eyed.  We had nothing for breakfast, Kirk was not feeling good and had no appetite.  It took an hour to the sun gate. The first half in the dark. It was good that we had our headlamps with us.   At the sun gate it was packed with people, so we decided to go down to the half way towards Machu Picchu and watch the sunrise from there, away from the masses.  The Canadian couple (Francois and Sophie) also went with. The sunrise over Machu Picchu was nice but not spectacular.  The ruins however were very impressive.  We were happy to get to the ruins before the other tour groups came because it allowed us to get a few pictures before the place filled up with tourists.  We decided not to stick around for the rest of the tour with the guide. Instead we decided to check out the ruins ourselves.  We first climbed Huayna Picchu over looking the Machu Picchu Ruins.  It is a steep climb that takes just under an hour to get to the top where there are some ruins and some fantastic views of the landscape below. It was well worth the hard climb up.  After resting for a while up top we climbed back down.  We met a Peru tour operator that had relatives in Stuttgart Germany.  He also mentioned that the high entrance fees are ridiculous .   We then walked through the ruins some more before getting our backpack at the gate and walking to Aguas Calientes with the German Couple (Peter and Patricia from Heidelberg) from our group.  They were actually the couple we spoke to the most on our trip. They were spending a month in Peru.  In Aquas Calientes we bought a train ticket back to Cusco for 17.5 US$ each.  They claimed at the tourist office that it costs 25 US$.  Again great information.  We were not sure if we would spend the night there or not and take the 6:00 am train for 10 US$, but decided it was better getting back to Cusco that night.  Kirk still was not feeling good and hardly ate a thing. The train ride back to Cusco took 4.5 hours. Took just one hour to get from the top of Cusco down to the center train station, because the train "zig zags" down the hill.  That is why a lot of people grab a taxi from the town before getting to Cusco. It is much faster.  We then took a taxi to our hotel.  We actually did not need to take a taxi, but being unsure of the safety in the area.  Guess what happed again.  We shared the taxi with another couple.  For 2 SOLS each couple. After dropping the other couple off at their hotel, the taxi driver tried to get another SOL off of us, saying it would cost us 3 SOLs to our hotel even though we agreed on a price to our hotel beforehand.  We told him no and he still drove us to our hotel. But they are just a bunch of scam artist.  Can not trust any of them. Too bad for the honest ones, the rest ruin it for them.  We went back to the hotel in which we stayed before. We then walked to town, on the way seeing the German couple from our tour again.  We checked our email and went to bed. Maren actually went to bed earlier while Kirk played on the net. 


In the morning we got packed and waked down to the bus station. There we missed the early buses to Puno and had to take the 11:30 am bus there.  To waste time we had some food and checked our email. The bus ride was ok, it took 7 hours to get to Puno, but some of the scenery along way was fantastic and made the ride more bearable. The bus passed through villages at over 4000 meters in altitude.  Kirk read most of the way.  During the bus ride women came on the bus who sold meat and potatoes.  She would chop the sheep meat and bones right next to us.  It smelled awful.  Also a guy selling necklaces was again on the bus, preaching how good they were.  We are always surprised how many people purchase this crap.  They had told us the bus trip would only take 5.5 hours but it took of course longer. After arriving in Puno we took a taxi to a hotel.  We agreed on a price before hand of 2 Sols. First he almost allowed a tout to get in the taxi with us, until Kirk told him to get out. When we got to the hotel, he tried to get us in the hotel next door by claiming he did not have any change for the 5 SOL coin Maren gave him. Well in the hotel he then after supposedly getting the needed change from the hotel clerk, try to take 3 SOLs for himself, until Maren said something.  Kirk sees him minutes later with about 10 SOL in 1 SOL coins in his hand.  These guys are all just scam artists.  We went to the hotel next door, then this tout followed us there, and took credit for the sale. It made us pissed a little. They are such leaches sometimes. We then went out for some street food for dinner. Puno is very much a Student town, with a student population atmosphere.  We had some sort of Hamburger thing and fries on the street.  Kirk did not feel good the whole night. 



In the morning we did a little sightseeing of Puno and Lake Titicaca.  The lake is not very nice in Puno.  We then got a bus to Yunguyo where we then walked 25 minutes to the Kasani, the town at the border with Bolivia.  Going through immigration on both sides was no problem.  On the Bolivia side we would have taken the minibus to get to Copacabana, but they only drove when they were full with 10 people.  So we were lucky and were able split and taxi with 2 locals for only 35 cents more than otherwise it would have cost us.  In Copacabana we first bought a bus ticket to La Paz then walked around the town for a while.  It has a much nicer atmosphere than in Puno and Lake Titicaca is much nicer.  Kirk had to also use the bathroom desperately,  he got a really bad case of diarrhea.  The whole bus ride to La Paz he was in pain.  The ride to La Paz goes over some 4000 meter passes and is quiet beautiful.  One also has to take a small boat over one section to from San Pedro to San Pablo.  The bus takes another ferry, more like a barge. It looked at times to tip over into the water.  The bus ride took around  3.5 hours to La Paz.  From the bus stop we got a taxi to a hotel in the center of town. We did not bargain for the taxi ride, because we wanted to make sure we got to the place we wanted to go. We probably paid too much. The first two hotels we checked out we did not like. They were expensive and not very nice.  The third hotel a little further away was fairly nice and had a helpful staff. It was more made out to backpackers.  Later we had a delicious hotdog for dinner and checked the internet.  Kirk still had a bad case of the runs.


In the morning we first walked to Brazilian embassy, only to find out that it was closed for a holiday today.  We then decided to go and visit the La Paz medium to maximum security prison.  It has an hefty 11 US$ entrance fee. (75 BS entrance + 3 BS tax to be allowed in) It turned out to be worth it. One goes in this active prison with prisoners all around you.  The guy giving the tour is also a prisoner called Fernando.   He is in there for smuggling cocaine.  It is a weird place.  He claims that most of the entrance fees goes to the warden.  The tour begins with him going over the rules and hierarchy of the prison and what he and some of the guys are in there for.  This is all going on while the prisoners are all around us going through their routines.  This is not like in a US prison where things are run from the guards, this is run from the prisoners.  First of all the prisoners have to buy or rent space in the prison. There are different sections for the different classes of prisoners. In the better sections one pays from 5000 US$ to 15000 US$ for a place and in the lower class area, only around 10 US$.  These prisoners also have their own shops, selling anything from food to drugs and alcohol.  The also have in their possession knives and things.  The knives were all over the place. We took the tour through all sections. He explained certain things about each section.  The guy who had the 15000 US$ apartment, was a drug dealer who got caught trying to send 4 tons of cocaine to the USA.  According to the guide it was his fourth shipment.  The guide claimed to live most of his life in New York and to have spend time in NY jails. Also claimed to have 2 million in safe deposit box there, which he received for not snitching on  big drug dealer when he did his time. They also explained what they do to rapists when they arrive in the prison. First they make them swim in a pool of urine and doo, then make them pull down their pants and they get thirty lashes with an electrical cable.  Then they get hot peppers placed on and in their rectum.  They claim this is because they want to make sure that these people do not rape in prison.  What we forgot to mention is that there are children living in the prison.  The kids are playing around you as if it was normal. Also there are the wife's that were visiting and selling things there too.   They said no rapes have occurred in this prison since this punishment has been in place.  The guide also claims that the guards smuggle in what ever they want from cocaine, alcohol, women, or cell phones. He also went over the prices, like 100 US for smuggling cocaine to 100 BS for getting the Cell Phone.  The guide claimed also that he owns 7 rooms he rents out, plus supplies the Alcohol and the women to the prisoners.  By the way the women cost the prisoners 150 BS for 15 minutes.  The whole time one is a little tense and is not sure what is going on. One is walking in a prison with rapist, murders and drug addicts all around you.  They claim that the hierarchy has rules which make the prisoners respect the tourists when they come in.  He said only after 5:00 pm does it get violent in the prison in some sections.  Fernando claims because he does this tour and gets time credit for work, he will be allowed with get out after 5.5 years and will not have to serve his full 8 year sentence.  Who knows how much to believe, but to say the least it was a very weird experience.  Afterwards, one never wants to get in trouble in a third world country.  It is tough in there.  There were foreigners in there. One German prisoner actually said hello.  So these guys smoking pot or doing something stupid here, should watch their rear. One does not want to end up here.  Somehow some of the tourists on the tour with us found out they could get a discount if they smuggled in a bottle of alcohol in for the prisoners.  One is not searched when one enters the prison.  But how stupid to save a dollar, when one of the police wants to screw you, he can and you can end up in a place like this.  Some of these young tourist just do not think right.  They also offered to sell the tourists drugs when they were  inside the prison.  At least we saw no one buying.  Afterwards we looked at the handicraft market and then walked around town a little. Later we went to the movies. We saw The Last Castle. We could have stayed for another film, but we decided one film was enough.  The double feature was included in the price of the ticket (10 BS).  Afterwards we walked to the bus terminal to get bus information and then had a couple of hotdogs for dinner again.  Afterwards we wrote our diary. It was a few days behind.


In the morning we did a little souvenir shopping before buying bus tickets to Uyuni.  We then walked around La Paz some more, before doing some work on our website back at our hotel. Afterwards we went to an internet cafe to upload our stuff. For lunch we ate at some local stalls, some rice dish with some meat and sauce.  It was ok, Maren liked it more than Kirk did. Otherwise we did not do much except walking around.  Later it was off to the bus station to catch our bus to Uyuni. The bus did not leave on time, an hour later than planned. But it really did not matter. It was freezing cold in the bus on the way to Uyuni. We were very glad to have our hats, gloves and sleeping bags with us.  It was really cold.  The views which one could see in the night were really nice.  It was too bad that the buses all traveled at night to Uyuni.

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