Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wayna Picchu: A Great Climb

I never expected that I will be climbing again another mountain this time. This was my second and it was such a great climb. It took us one hour to trek the Wayna Picchu or Huayna Picchu mountain from the base. This is another mountain in Peru that rises over Machu Picchu. Its name was taken from Quechuan language. It denotes Young Peak. We were able to reach its peak at 2,720 meters or 8, 900 feet above sea level. This Wayna Picchu is much higher than the Machu Picchu by 360 meters. According to local guides, this is the residence of the high priest and the local virgins. The high priest would go down to Machu Picchu to signal the coming of a new day.

We waited for the 10 am schedule batch to climb the peak. We have to register in the logbook. As we began to ascend, we saw the more beautiful sight. We have seen the Urubamba river that rapidly flows. The entire view of the ruins can be seen from up here. The climb is steep and at times exposed. There were footpath, stairs and steel cables for support if its slippery. The high altitude makes you gasp for air. It’s kinda exhausting so I have to make several stops and rests along the trail. One can totally view the entire Machu Picchu from up above. It was such a wonderful sight. There was a narrow passage at the summit which was the cave that you have to go through.

As I reached the peak, it felt like I am on the topmost part of the world. Wow, I ran out of words to really describe what I am seeing and experiencing. It got much cloudy as I approached the peak and it began to rain. We got wet and soaked. This did not dampen our mood.

At the summit, I met Rafa from Costa Rica who traveled alone to see this amazing site. Mariana of Argentina drew close to us and we had photo together. I initiated singing the birthday song to Mariana and everybody at the peak joined in singing. She was so happy for that. I admire her courage to celebrate her big day at the summit.

As we slowly descended the mountain, Philip, Mariana and me met the Argentinian people and tried their popular herba mate which they brought all the way from their country. We enjoyed jamming together for a short while.

As a finale, the three of us went singing and dancing crazily with the Bulgarian music for us to celebrate our climb. We even sang Machu Picchu to that tune.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Machu Picchu: Wonder of the World

The four of us Philip, Vassy, Tsvety and I woke up and took our breakfast early to catch the bus to Machu Picchu. We met Mariana of Argentina in the hostel who was also on her way alone to celebrate her birthday on top of the wonder of the world. We waited for the bus at 5:30am. There was a long queue of visitors waiting. We were advised to be early to get accommodated to the limit of 400 guests a day to enter the site on two separate batches of 7am and 10am.

Machu Picchu is one of the new seven wonders of the world as proclaimed on July 07, 2007 and is situated at 7, 710 feet above sea level in the Andean Mountains. Its name was taken from Quechuan language which means Old Peak.

This is the Lost City of the Incas and revered as a most sacred place in the ancient times. It seems that it has been utilized as a secret ceremonial city with the presence of palaces, temples, baths, storage rooms, and houses in a remarkable state of preservation. Notable are the terraced fields. The important structures which we visited were the Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Moon, the Room of the Three Windows,Temple of the Condor, Great Cavern, ceremonial rock, the Intihuatana ("sun-tier") which is believed to have been designed as an astronomic clock or calendar by the Incas Vnd many others.

It was so incredible and amazing to see how these ancient people can carve stones and build the structures in this site of 5 square miles in the 1400s. It is unimaginable how these rocks and stones were transported, precisely sculpted and fitted together with exactitude. One cannot even insert a thin knife blade in its mortarless joints. These structures were even built to endure earthquakes. It is indeed a product of architectural and aesthetic genius.

The site was rediscovered in 1911 by archeologist Hiram Bingham of Yale University with the help of a local farmer and brought artifacts he found to the United States. It was agreed that these shall be brought back to Peru where they belong.

Hollywood film was produced in 1954 with the title Secrets of the Incas that resulted in a surge in tourism in that same year. It is one of the top archeological sites on the planet and this Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List in the year 1983.

We truly enjoyed so much our visit to this breathtaking site. It was a journey of a lifetime. I never expected to come to this place so sooner. It was one of my dream destinations. I am so lucky that I had the chance to experience and see it right before my very own eyes. I consider this as the very highlight of my trip to the Americas.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

El Magnifico Peru

My five hours flight to Lima was a bit stressful because we experienced series of turbulence especially when we got close to the area of Colombia. I met Paolo in the plane who was coming home after eight years. We had a good talk and he sampled me Peruvian music in his Ipod.

Republic of Peru is a country in western South America. It is home of the world’s oldest Caral civilization and the Inca Empire, the largest state in the pre Columbian America. This country together with other South American countries was conquered by the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. It achieved its independence in 1821. Its population is multiethnic that includes Amerindians, Europeans, Africans and Asians. The official language is Spanish while a significant number of Peruvians speak Quechua. The name Peru was derived from Biru, the name of a local ruler who lived near San Miguel Bay, Panama.

We touched down at Lima International Airport at almost midnight. When I presented my passport to the immigration officer, I was asked how many days shall I be visiting, answered seven days and my passport was stamped.

Paolo and Isabel, the first Peruvians I met bade me farewell as they headed home to their families while waited for my flight at 5:15am to Cusco. But the flight was delayed for some 45 minutes. On the air, most of us passengers became excited as we saw mountain ranges of Andes mostly covered with snow.

When we touched down at Cusco airport after one and a half hours flight, I was fetched by Henry of the Samay Wasi Hostel and took me to the van where I met Bulgarian friends Philip, Vassy and Tsvety who came all the way from Argentina who were also on their journey to the newest wonder of the world, Machupicchu. We checked in the same hostel and we went together touring around. We joined a group tour to the Sacred Valley of the Incas or Urubamba Valley.

The sights were so amazing. Most people were still wearing traditional clothes. The structures of buildings were so impressive as well. A few colonial churches were there that I saw. I encountered the South American camelid animal called llama. Definitely it was an exciting culture I have experienced.

We went to the Peruvian village of Pisac where I bought my boleto turistico at 70 soles good for only four major places in the circuit of Sacred Valley. You also pay 70 soles for around nine places if you have a valid student ID. On this village we ascended mountains to which we follow the ready footpath. This climb was tiring due to lack of sleep and the high altitude made us gasp for some air. Water is a must for rehydration. We have seen in this area rice terraces and river. It was definitely a nature tripping.

Prior to our ascent we were taken to a marketplace and were given free mate de coca or local tea to zip. It is believed to get you going on higher altitudes if you drink this tea. I bought one huge corn for 2 soles. It has large kernels. My jaw got tired of chewing the corn. We saw many Andean crafts and souvenir products being sold. We did not let pass pictorials with llmas with a local mother and daughter in traditional Quechuan costumes. The mother was also doing the weaving. A donation of any amount is made after taking photos.

We stopped by for a lunch in one of the restos. It was a buffet of Peruvian foods where I and Philip basically tried most of the foodstuff available.

Then we proceeded to the town of Ollantaytambo. It is an Inca archeological site of southern Peru. It is located at an altitude of 2, 792 meters above sea level. It is one of the important tourist attractions because of its Inca buildings and this is the starting point for a three-day trek to the popular Inca trail. We have seen in this place the Terraces of Pumatallis and the Inca Storehouses.

Chinchero was our last stop for that day. This is a village that comprises of adobe houses. We visited the adobe colonial church located at the main plaza. This was built in the early 17th century. Its walls and ceilings are covered of floral and religious designs.

On the following day, we continued our tour by car arranged by a travel agent. We headed to the town of Aguas Calientes by taking Peru Train from Ollantaytambo in the afternoon. Prior to that I visited the copycat of Christ the Redeemer of Brazil built on top of a hill overlooking the entire Cusco. Then we proceeded to Puca Pucara. We went to another interesting city that is Maras where we joined a lady who was dancing at the park. Adobe houses can be seen all around and the roads were narrow as we passed on our way to the town of Moray Incan ruins. We saw the Incan agricultural terraces. This is composed of enormous terraced circular depressions that were used to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. What a brilliant idea they had.

It was an exciting ride we had on the Peru Train for an hour where we got a glimpse of the mountains, water falls and rivers. To cap our day, we tried the banos termales for 10 soles. There were various pools available for different levels of water temperature. We were rejuvenated and that we had good night sleep.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Transit to the Sunshine State

Upon arrival at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport from San Jose, I lined up at the immigration counter. The officer asked me the purpose of my visit to US and so I stated a transit in Florida for I have a flight to Peru on the next day. He even asked me if I really love travelling since he saw my almost filled up passport. I went out to ride the bus at once since I have to find my way to my hostel named Bridge II hostel. It was just close to the airport and paid only a dollar for the bus fare. I checked in at the hostel and used the free internet. I met my roommates, a French mother and son who were on vacation.

Florida is branded as the Sunshine State since its almost sunny most of the year and there were so many beaches all around. The famous Miami beach is very much close to Fort Lauderdale. Early morning on the next day, I went to the Fort Lauderdale Beach. I walked for an hour to reach the place. It was worth the walk since its a lovely beach with all the palm trees and the birds flying around. They were grooming the sand with a machine. Some people were swimming and some were sunbathing. I was not lucky to have the ample time to maybe swim and enjoy the place a little longer since I have my flight in the afternoon.

I went back to my hostel because I have to check out. Along the way, I saw a dollar tree store which sells various items for just a dollar an item. I was happy to buy foods such as a liter of juice, a pack of chips, sandwich spread, noodle soup all for one dollar each. What a great value.

I took my lunch at the hostel before proceeding to the airport. I checked in early but there was a delay in the schedule of our flight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sharing Time with the Children of Paraiso

Before I arrived in Costa Rica, I requested Sonia to set an outreach activity for me to join. I was fortunate to participate in her project Our World: Children with Cameras. She set a Sunday to be with the children of Pueblito Shelter at Paraiso in Cartago.

Luli and Hadass picked me up at Maria’s house and proceeded to Sonia’s place. I met her mom and sister Carmen. We all went together in one car to Paraiso. We dropped by Tres Rios to pick up Rolando. It was fun to be with the group and worked with the kids.

It was a photo workshop wherein Sonia grouped them into two and gave them cameras and shot whatever subjects they like guided by us. Each of them acted as models for the pictorials. They used films and these will be printed and shown to them later on. I met Kenneth, Lisseth, Jessica, Flor, Katharina, the little kid Sebastian and many others.

I was tasked to document on video the activity. I had the chance to interact and play with the children as well. Some of them were playing soccer. They were so happy to meet me as a Filipino and they became curious and asked me something about my country. I even taught them to make a special handshake which they enjoyed. I gave out some Philippine coins that surprised them to receive it.

It was so fulfilling to share a little time with the beautiful children of Costa Rica. They were even asking me when shall I be back to see them. To cap our day, Sonia and her group treated me for a late lunch at a nearby resto trying most of the traditional foods and had a desert of helados or ice cream on a stick.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Day at the Puntarenas

For me to at least experience beach of international waters, I was advised to go to the nice Puntarenas. It is a large city in the province of the same name in Costa Rica. Puntarenas which means “Sandy Point” in Spanish is located on the Pacific coast.

After having breakfast, Papa Fernando and Mama Vilma sent me off to the bus terminal. It was a two-hour ride from San Jose to Puntarenas. The bus goes all the way off to the beach side. It was so hot in the area nevertheless I took a walk along the street and visited establishments such as souvenir shops and restos. There were many peddlers of granisado, sorbetes, barbeques and chicharon. I also visited Port Caldera. It is the docking area of the luxury cruise ships.

Then I walked along the shore and I was tempted to take a dip. The cool water was a big relief to the warm temperature. It was so refreshing. The sand was brownish and the water was calm. Many tourists were also swimming and doing water activities such as banana boats.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Folklorica in Cartago

Maria Fernanda took me to the beautiful city of Cartago on one of the days I stayed in Costa Rica. Papa Fernando sent us off to the bus terminal. It was just an hour ride to the site. This city was founded in 1563 and is located in Cartago Province at an elevation of 4, 707 ft above sea level at the base of Iraznu Volcano.

We visited first the highly revered and wonderful Basilica de Nuestra Senora delos Angeles where the Black Virgin or La Negrita image was enshrined. It is an impressive Byzantine style of church which is the national religious shrine of Costa Rica. A pilgrimage on foot to honor the image and pay homage to the favors conceded is usually held every year that coincides on the feast day of the Virgin. This is to commemorate the miraculous appearance of a tiny carved image of the virgin to a young local lass in 1635.

The actual rock which the image appeared at can be seen at the crypt below the altar. We have seen a board which contained the metal miniature body parts such as limbs, heart, kidneys which devotees usually offer to the Virgin for favors to heal this diseased specific body parts. Some other items were also offered. There was a spring at the back of the church where its water is believed to cure illnesses and helps in fertility problems of couples.

We went to see the Santiago Apostol parish church ruins. It was built in 1574 however in the year 1910, it was massively damaged by several earthquakes. It was abandoned and now forms a centerpiece of park in the heart of the town. In front of the ruins were people setting up stage and Maria learned from them that they were staging a festival of dances at that night. I was happy to know that I could see a festival outside of my country.

So I went back alone in the town to witness it. It was just in time when my bus arrived. People were on the streets and watching. It was street dancing where several groups performed. It was followed by dance showdown in front of the ruins with many spectators around. I was able to get photos with the dancers in their colorful costumes including the la caretta and the bulls.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pura Vida Costa Rica

At dawn of March 18, Andy sent me off to Reagan Airport in Washington where I took my flight via Spirit Airlines at 7:10AM bound for Costa Rica. I had a connecting flight to Fort Lauderdale. I was surprised to be asked by an American seatmate if I am a Tico. I did not understand so he explained if I am a Costa Rican. He told me that I looked like a Latino.

We touched down at San Jose International Airport after 3 hours of flight from Fort Lauderdale. The local time was two hours late to that of Florida. The airport had some improvement works. There was a long queue of visitors to the immigration. I was asked how many days do I plan to stay in Costa Rica so I answered six days.

Costa Rica which literally means “rich coast” is a country in the Central America which is headed by President Oscar Arias who is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. It is a small county with only seven provinces.

I went out of the airport and saw Sonia Leon, my Costa Rican friend whom I worked with in a leadership program in Japan. She was already there waiting for me. We warmly greeted and hugged each other. She then took me to her car and toured me around San Jose showing the places of interest in the city.

Later, she sent me off to the house of Maria Fernanda Torres Valera, another Costa Rican friend whom I worked with in the same leadership program in Japan on a separate batch. I had homestay with her and met her parents, Papa Fernando, Mama Vilma. They were so happy to receive me. They prepared for me traditional lunch consisted of frijoles, chicken and rice with platano so we dined together while exchanging pleasantries. Her parents speak only Spanish so Maria translated all into Spanish.

After lunch, I went for shower and a power nap. Then Maria took me to her school at University of Costa Rica where we walked around showing to me the different colleges and departments. We visited Rolando Coto, another friend from the same Japanese program in his office. He was so surprised to see me.

Maria turned me over to Sonia as she went to attend her graduate class. Sonia treated me out for dinner and later met up with other friends Maria Jose and Dan for some drinks. We discussed about the ship program and their life’s experiences. After a good talk we called it a night.

On the following day, Maria took me to a walk tour to San Jose. We visited the National Museum of Costa Rica where I saw many artefacts. I learned a bit of the history of the country. I found out that they abolished army forces since 1948. We proceeded to the different parks such as plaza cultura, plaza la libertad and the National Theater. We went to the mercado central for our late lunch where I tried the allo de carne, one of the traditional dishes.

I thanked the whole family and bade them goodbye on the last night since Papa and Sole will be working early morning the next day. Maria and Mama Vilma were the ones who sent me off to the airport.

It was a fun filled Latin experience that I would truly cherish for lifetime.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Mount Vernon: The Home of George Washington

On a Sunday, after hearing mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Andy with her friends Loida, Gay and Ate Malou took me to a trip to Mount Vernon. It is the mansion house of the first President of the United States George Washington which is located in Alexandria in the state of Virginia. This building was made of wood in a neoclassical Georgian style of architecture. This was built in the year 1757 and was declared as National Historical Landmark in 1960.

This beautiful estate of 8,000 acres was the product of tireless efforts of George who worked for 45 years expanding and improving the Mansion, outbuildings, extensive gardens and grounds. He visited this 15 times during his term of presidency. He even wrote that, “No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this...”

There is a fee of USD13 for the general admission of adult visitor and there is additional fee for the visit to the wine distillery. A separate reservation and fee is made for the National Treasures which we failed to make since its better done ahead of time. When we entered the reception building, there were some men in colonial costumes. We took photos with them.

There was a long queue of visitors waiting for their turn to get inside the mansion. It was even raining when we got to the line and we braved it. There was a group of Japanese people whom we met on the line. We toured around the house where we saw the dining place, the reception area and the master bedroom of George Washington where he died at.

At the back of the mansion is the Potomac River. We spent a little time over here to shoot good photos. Andy and I went around and saw the slave quarters, the spinning room for textile weaving, the gardener’s house and the greenhouse where we watched the monologue of an actor who portrayed as physician of George Washington who explained the death of him which at the end made him cry. He made a wonderful performance.

A visitor can also see the Tomb of the Washington couple and the Slave Memorial located on the south side of the mansion. There are also shops to buy souvenirs from and a food court to take snacks at.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Visit to Washington DC

The District of Columbia or Washington DC is the capital of the United States and the seat of the federal government. It was founded on July 16, 1790 and named after George Washington. It is not a state but just a district. Its land area was donated by the state of Maryland.

From Largo Town Center in Maryland, Andy and I took the Metro train and alighted at the Smithsonian Station and the National Mall was the first thing we saw as we got out. It is an open area national park located between US Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. This was the area where people flocked during the oath taking of President Barack Obama. Then we headed close to the Washington Monument. It is a tall and large obelisk made of marble, granite, and sandstone located in the west end of the National Mall. It is the world´s tallest obelisk with a height of 555 feet. This was erected on January 31, 1848 to commemorate the first president George Washington. Other people call it pencil because of its pointed peak.

We proceeded to the Lincoln Memorial where we saw the huge seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. This building was in the form of Greek Doric temple and was built and dedicated in 1922 in honor of President Lincoln. The image of the building is shown on the US5 bill. We also saw the famous speeches of Lincoln such as his Gettysburg Address with the iconic phrase “Four score and seven years ago...” which were inscribed at the walls. There were many visitors on this monument.

We visited the National World War II Memorial which was dedicated in 2004 to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians in the World War II. It has a pair of arches, 56 pillars surrounding the plaza, fountain and the freedom wall on the west side. Korean War Veterans Memorial in a triangle form was another spot we visited. It was dedicated in 1995 to the men and women who served in the conflict. It has 19 stainless steel statues and a black granite wall where the faces of the soldiers and people were sandblasted into it. We have seen also the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial which was dedicated to US Armed forces who fought and died in the Vietnam War. There was a long list of names inscribed on the wall. We have been amazed of the courage and bravery of the men in those wars.

Then we rushed to go to the White House, the official residence of the US President as we were meeting Dewi Sitompul, my Indonesian friend whom I worked with in an exchange program in Japan. It was so nice meeting her again after four years. She now lives for a year in Maryland with her hubby. I introduced her to Andy. We had a great talk over a snack at the Fossil Cafe of the National Museum of Natural History. Of course the main topic of our discussion was all about our Ship experiences mentioning our other friends. It was reliving the spirit of SSEAYP. She invited us for a dinner in her house on the following day.

On succeeding days, I went back alone to DC to visit museums. It was so great that these were free of entrance fees. I started with a great visit to the National Air and Space Museum where I saw various commercial and war aircrafts. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was featured in here. The space shuttles were also exhibited. It was followed by the Smithsonian Castle, National Museum of American Indian where I watched featured films such as "A Thousand Roads," "Miss Navajo" and exhibit of Mayan back strap loom weaving. I saw many great art pieces that include paintings and sculptures at the National Art Gallery. I went back to American Museum of Natural History and saw the different huge animals on taxidermy and many artifacts. I went to visit also National Museum of American History, the Library of Congress and as a finale the US Capitol which serves as the seat of government for the US Congress constructed in 1793 with American neoclassicism style of architecture.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Majestic Angkor Wat

The Angkor Wat is a world-famous centuries-old religious monument. This structure was declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in the year 1992. It had been a finalist also to the Seven Wonders of the World. I was able to visit the site in 2007 with Dan, a Malaysian friend. On the road we breathed in cool fresh morning air as we rode the tuktuk for USD10. We then paid USD20 per person for our day pass to the monument. The temple was truly a sight to behold.

One can see the enchanting structure from afar with a lake in front of it. It was enveloped by the splendor of its beauty. It’s indeed majestic in appearance. The following are the major temples that are open to tourists: ANGKOR WAT, ANGKOR THOM, BANTEAI SREI, THE BAYON, TA PROHM, BAKONG, PREAH KO, THE BAPHUON, TA KEO, and PREAH KHAN. These were spread out in 40 miles around the village of Siem Reap. These temples were built between 8th and 13th century when Khmer civilization was at its height of its extraordinary creativity. It ranges from single towers made of bricks to vast stone temple complexes. The extensive architecture is a living manifestation of the Kmer’s strong belief to Hinduism and Buddhism religions.

The sunrise and sunset periods of the day were the best times to see the monument for the dramatic effect of lights. We climbed some of the towers. I took pictures of the stone carvings depicting the devas and goddesses. There were enigmatic and silent faces, watching with half-closed eyes carved on the walls. There were people worshipping Buddhism images. Some images were headless. There were monks roaming in their orange robe and fully shaven heads.

It was indeed overwhelming to take many photos. When we got out, we went to the shops on the side, souvenir items were on sale and the rates were much cheaper here.