Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Napkin Story: Part 3

The final chapter!

(Click to read Part 1 and Part 2)

Psst: I took some photo-editting advice from the awesome travel blog foXnoMad and updated my Colca pictures. See, now you can actually tell why I love this valley! Check foXnoMad out if you have the chance.

Now on to the story!

At some point after the hot spring we make it back to our hotel. And at some point I remember there being a very large ruckus over payment. Apparently, our hostess thought we would be paying up front; we thought we would be paying when we left (which had been standard for all the other places we had stayed). I don't really remember all that happened but it most likely went something like this, with the Spanish words we understood in bold:

Hostess: blah bah blah blah blah blah today blah blah blah


Hostess: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah now.

Us: Ok.

Hostess: Ok? blah blah blah blah blah blah blah

Us: .....yes? nyyyyes.

Hostess: *sigh*

We ended up getting everything straightened up, and hopefully she didn't hate us too much. But we did decide to move hotels. I'll do more indepth hotel reviews later, but for now know that we definitely upgraded.

Anyway, day two rolled around and it was time to actually FOLLOW THE NAPKIN MAP! Step one: get to Yanque.

We walked around the square trying to find people who knew how to get to Yanque. I think we finally found a travel company who wanted to sign us up for tours. These cost money. "No thanks," we said, "We don't need a tour, we have this napkin."  The guy most likely thought we were insane, but he was nice enough to give us a tip: we could catch a 'colectivo' that would take us to Yanque.

The colectivo we rode!
A colectivo is basically a public bus. In some places, such as Buenos Aires, they are really nice buses. In other places, they are just some guy's personal bus that he lets people ride. The Colca has the second type of colectivo. They don't really have a schedule; usually, they just sit in a designated area and wait for enough people to get on board to make it worth leaving. You can get on and it can immediately go, or you can get on and sit for an hour while the man tries to attract more passengers -- it could really go either way. And much like the large buses we rode into the canyon, colectivos can fit a truly amazing number of people into them before they decide to go. But what makes them awesome is that fact that they are super cheap; I've paid $1 for an hour ride on a colectivo. The only way to travel cheaper is to walk.

Carol and I eventually find the side street with the colectivo buses and locate one that seems to be going to Yanque. Most of the drivers and passengers seemed really amused that we are trying to take their buses; I am pretty sure that gringas (white girls) weren't often their customers. In fact, when we finally get moving we begin to notice an interesting trend - no one will sit by us.  We were in the back seat of the bus, alone. We could have easily fit 3 or 4 people on this seat, but no one tried. Even when we stopped to pick up more people, no one tried; they decided they'd rather sit on the floor by the door than sit back there with us.

I really don't know why. Either:

1. We smelled repulsive. Which normally would have been a possibility, but we had just been to the springs.
2. People felt bad for us and wanted to give us room. This one could be likely. I think we were both getting sick (stupid Shaman curse) at this point, and we probably looked pathetic and tired.
3. People felt we had a spiteful look about us.  I really, really hope this one is not true. We tried so hard to be friendly!

Whichever explains the situation, it made for an awkward trip to Yanque.

Now Yanque is really small. Chivay has a population of 5,000, and Yanque is much, much smaller than that. I'd say somewhere around 2,000 people live there. This made following the napkin map pretty easy -- there were not many ways to go wrong.

Step 2: Get to Ullu Ullu.

We head outside of town, eventually hitting a bridge going over the river. On the bridge a little old man was walking; based on the shovel he was carrying I assume he was heading to his fields. He noticed we were stopped and looking at some tombs that are built into the bottom of the canyon, so he began to tell us about them. He then told us about lots of other things, not that we understand any of it. But we didn't want to make him feel bad so we just kind of smiled and nodded along and made "ah" noises every once in awhile. Finally, he finished and held out his hand -- giving us what was possibly the saddest little old man face I have ever seen. We stared at him, confused. He made an even sadder face. Finally it dawns on us that he wants payment for the 'tour' that he has given us. We gave him some money and he happily went on his way. We, meanwhile, had gained little except confusion.

We ended up crossing the bridge and heading out into the countryside. It was a long walk, but quiet and relaxing. We  hiked on a road along the agricultural terraces, past people working in fields and past grazing llamas and cows. After walking for some time we saw a sign saying "Ullu Ullu" and pointing to the right, off on some dirt path. We turned and followed this dirt road for awhile, but soon it becomes clear that it really wasn't a path. OR maybe it has been a path up to some point, but we somehow got off of it. In either case, we were soon in people's fields.

Terraced fields, with Ullu Ullu just visible in the middle.
As I mentioned - the fields are built like terraces, so they form giant steps. We could see where we thought the ruins were, but they were on the other side of this big earthen staircase. Oh and cactus, we can't forget the cactus. The whole thing was covered in spines of doom. 

We started the long hike up the mountain, and noticed for the first time how very alone we were. We were really, really alone. We had periodically seen people working in the fields, but now there was no one. No cars, no people, no houses. I got nervous, because I'm a worrier. My absurd paranoia soon hit CODE RED. I tried to make it look like I was checking out the scenery, but I was really looking behind us for our impending death. Carol was much calmer than I was about the whole thing, and I am sure she internally mocked my fatuous comments about how no one could save us out there. But at least she didn't verbalize these thoughts- thanks Carol :).

As we were walking, we passed a bunch of llamas out grazing and I noticed a large white one with a black face.  He was probably the only thing at that point that I didn't immediately stare down as suspect. Who would ever suspect that big cuddly llama casually chewing his grass? How naive I was.

We climb higher - I look behind us. The llama seems....closer. He is standing still, staring at us. 'That's kind of odd,' I thought. "Why did he leave all the other llamas?".   We climb higher - I look behind us again. The llama is the same distance he was earlier; he is obviously climbing too. And so it goes: we climb, the llama follows. But I can't actually catch him moving! Every time I look he is paused, just starring intently and trying to make it seem like it was a coincidence we kept seeing each other. "Oh, you again? Funny. I'm just here eating the grass...mmm.....grass."

You know what is past paranoia CODE RED? CODE LLAMA. Out of all my hysterical scenarios I had forgotten the most obvious, and the most dangerous - death by stalking ungulate. Seriously: it became a major concern. Was it a real llama with a taste for human meat? Was it a robot llama sent to destroy us? A spy in a llama costume? What was it??

Eventually, we did lose the llama. I think we went over some sort of irrigation ditch and the llama was foiled by water (which makes me think it probably was a robot). Ha, llama/robot/spy! You were no match for our ninja skills! But even with all our skills, we couldn't escape his eyes. He continued his unblinking eye-stalking. Stalking of my soul.

Anyway, by that point we had actually made it through the cactus and to the site. We were exhausted - being chased by llamas takes a lot out of you. We stopped, ate lunch, and then proceeded to nap in the middle of the ruins. We went all that way -- rode hours over the mountains, hiked for more hours, faced perils everywhere, with only a napkin to guide us -- and I didn't take a single picture. All that I really remember about the site is how good the sun felt while I sat on the ground eating lunch. And you know, I'm fine with that.



  1. This is a classic. Needs to be made into a movie! Who should play your Dad? Maybe Sting.

  2. Stalking Llama...or Llama stalking?...

  3. Now that you mention it....