Category Archives: tours

Get Off the Bus

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of persons in the US over 65 (officially elderly) has jumped by a factor of 11! in the past decade. We are growing by an average of 2.8 % annually. Well, our numbers are. Personally, I am shrinking faster than that. I have to hurry before I am too short to ride The Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island. cyclone

Seniors make up the wealthiest niche market in the developed world. As travelers, they are said to want comfort, are cautious, safety oriented, demanding, and complaining. Additionally, they are quick to sue if anything goes awry. It makes sense.

A majority of these seniors live in gated communities, which comprises 10% of the US housing market. According to an article by Rich Benjamin in the New York Times, these communities “attract like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders.” In other words they distrust those beyond the pale. However, they have a staggering amount of money to spend, and the tourist market is working overtime to accommodate them.

tourist bus

Daily, buses full of middle class and upscale tourists from around the world clog the narrow streets of ancient cities forcing the residents to wait until they pass. Tourist companies pick and choose shops and restaurants that are ‘perceived safe’ for their clients. They are cautioned not to eat or drink from local street stands, or buy from unapproved merchants. God forbid they should go out alone at night. So, from their sheltered, cushy, climate controlled seats, perched high above the streets, these people observe the surroundings while being informed about it by the guide’s well rehearsed discourse. Later when relating their experiences at cocktail parties, they say, “Oh, yes. I’ve been there, I’ve seen that, or those people. It (or they) were charming, or quaint, or poor.”

The tourist industry is attracting like-minded physically secluded, tourists who seek shelter from the very places they tour. It’s crazy.

If you have the slightest inclination to step out a bit, to experience a different culture, or mingle with the locals, you have to get off the bus. Let that be your first adventure.

Adventure by definition means taking a risk, however small. Trust that people around the world are kind and curious. They want to know you, and are eager to share. As Rudyard Kipling said, “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

Puno: The Living and the Dead

Founded in 1668  near a now defunct silver mine, and on the shore of Lake Titicaca, Puno sits at 12,500 feet. My faulty heart beat hard in my chest climbing up the hills to see the Chullpa Tombs of Sillustani-hell, it protested going up the stairs of the hostel.

The chullpas, huge stone towers cut into square, cylinder, and rectangular shapes that all fit snugly together, is where the Colla tribe buried their dead over 500 years ago.They have been plundered by grave robbers, tumbled by earthquakes, and defaced by tourists. However, they continue to stand as testament to their respect of the dead.  I get it. I take great pride in my family cemetery plot where the remains of  my beloved family lies in Foxburg, PA. although in comparison, our tomb stones are a bit understated.

Would you be interested in setting up house on a foundation of tortora reeds that rot continually, forcing you to move every 25 years or so? I didn’t think so. The small island, part of the Uros Floating Islands that  we visited was one of about 48 on Lake Titicaca. Three or four families, a  total of 26 people live there. I bought a hand-embroidered pillow case of Pachamama (mother earth), made by Maria, the matriarch of the clan. When I was paying her, the coin fell into the reeds causing us to dig among them to find it. Walking on the reeds, ones feet sink in am inch or two. I watched a toddler lurch and stumble, but he got to his destination without help.

The island was very small, less than a whole block in the US; the houses not much more than thatched roof huts. The tribe used to use reed boats exclusively , but out back, behind the houses were several motor boats that the kids were playing on when I was there. A puppy, that dared to poop in front of us tourists was isolated in one of them, looking longingly at the kids. Apparently most of the families only go the islands to meet the tourists, and live on solid land these days. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating history and gives one a clue to ‘back in the day.”

Taquile Island is a non-floating island, with an intricate pattern of terraced farming, fenced off by large rocks dug up on the land. It reminded me of Ireland and England.

The Aymara and Uros tribes have intermarried, causing the Uros language to fade out. We were given a demo of the hats the men wear. Similar to Christmas stockings complete with tassels, depending on if he is married or single, or needs a visor for the sun, it’s turned around on his head. Boy, it takes out the guessing for the girls, who wear long scarves around their hair but don’t cover their faces. They wear tons of petticoats under their skirts and intricately, handknit sweaters.

The guide books say Puno pales in comparison to the colonial beauty of Ariquipa and Cusco. Maybe so, but it beats them hands down for sheer friendliness. Saturday, I happened upon a festival in the plaza. It was not for tourists. The colors of the costumes dazzled under the bright blue sky and hot sun. Walking around taking photos, I was asked to danced, given a cup of beer, and asked questions about my country. Even the women who are usually shy and don’t want their photos taken, allowed me to take a few.

Hilda, the woman who owns Inka’s Rest Hostel could not have been friendlier or more accommodating. Within a day I felt a kinship with her. She suggested I move there, and teach English to her, he

Uros canoes

Uros canoes

image image image image image

Taquile Island

Taquile Island

Huts: Uros Island

Huts: Uros Island

male heron

male heron

Uros Island

Uros Island

image imager 4 year old daughter, and the staff. It’s tempting. Having ceviche in a tiny restaurant, the owner came out to sit with me, to share lives.  That to me, is the point of travel.


Rio in Five Hours

Rio in five hours.

The towering 98ft limestone Cristo Redentor sits in the middle of the Tijuca national park, a tropical jungle smack in the middle of the city.
The artsy neighborhood of Santa Teresa, the Catedral Metropolitana downtown, (depending on who you talk to 26-46% of Brazilians are catholic) and 1300 foot high Sugarloaf, a huge granite and quartz rock that over looks Copacabana, and Ipanema beaches. Whew. This is the city version of eight cities in ten days.

A van full of folks from Europe, South Africa, Brazil, and the U.S.,   

 led by a young, fast talking guide sped through the city as if we were being pursued.

“When I say stick together, ju shud be together. When I say ju hav 20 minutes, ju hav that. If ju become lat, it is bad for ju-not for me. I tell ju that if ju are late ju will be sorry because ju will miss the sunset from Sugerloaf mountain and it is best part of trip!”
Warned, we careened around a narrow mountain road to a busy parking area where there were long lines of tourists waiting to board park vans to haul them further up the hill to the elevators or steps that finally end at the feet of the Cristo. 

 Raphael retrieved our tickets and whisked us past the queue.
At the base of the elevators he commanded, ” we meet here at twenty minutos past three. Everybody together. OK?” 
We were there. The van was not. We waited. Maybe fifteen minutes later we were winding our way down through the hilly neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Aging, elegant homes stood tall above us like so many widows with veiled eyes.   

On the downside slope below them were shops filled with what appeared to be artistic stuff. We didn’t have time to browse.
When we parked on a side street, Raphael announced:
“We will not see the sunset. The traffic is bad because it is Friday.”
“It’s Thursday!”we rang out.
“Ahhh. It’s bad traffic for Thursday,” he laughed.
You had to love him.
Separately we explored stairs  

that were covered with tiles representing places around the world.

“Remember. I say important to stay together. It’s worse here.”
By this time no one was listening. We certainly didn’t stay together. I wandered into Balaze Gardi. A truly wonderful exhibit of black and white photographs showing our planet’s troubling issue with water. For some sobering reminders have a look at his website.

 I wanted to see more, spend more time, but I didn’t. I hate being the last person on the bus.
Next, the conical cathedral. Lovely. I liked it best reflected in the office building across the street.

 “Five minutoes!” he called to us as we poured out of the van. “Only five!”
It was dark as we pulled up to Pao de Acucar or Sugarloaf which is actually two mountains.
Waiting for the Italian cable car up to the highest point there was a sign that read: ‘Do not feed the wild animals.” Now this is an extremely high volume pedestrian area. “What animals are here?” I asked.
Raphael, a master of improv, said ” Nada. No animales live here now. Maybe before.”
Then he recanted. “Monkeys. But it is winter and they are gone for the winter.”
Gone for the winter? The temperature is in the 70s-f. It is not cold. Nevertheless, maybe they have gone to Columbia, or Florida-somewhere quiet.
Finally we reached the top. The view was spectacular as promised. “We will meet together. Here. Twenty minutoes. Together.”