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Trip 4 -- Middle South America

Part 2: Cuzco to Cordoba
13 November 2000

Well, I haven't quite made it to Buenos Aires yet - that happens tomorrow morning. I'm now in the very pleasant city of Cordoba, Argentina, a place laden with colonial architecture and bustling with several universities.

When we left off, it was my last day in Cuzco. I spent much of that afternoon visiting the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman, which are sort of like a Peruvian Stonehenge - it's a military fortress consisting of three tiers of zigzagging stone walls I also had the opportunity to sample two native dishes, cuy (roast guinea pig) and lechon (suckling pig). The former was very flavorful and had a duck-like taste; the latter was salty and very tough.

After Cuzco, I moved on to Puno, on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The highlight there was visiting the village of the indigenous Uros people, who live on "floating islands" that they build out of totora reeds and replace every six months or so. Also, it was Puno Week, a festival held every November, so there was a dance competition at the Puno stadium and music and dancing in the streets, mainly performed by the children of Puno.

From Puno, I moved on to Chile, a country I liked instantaneously, despite a couple of glitches in getting there (though neither as severe as being denied entry into Tibet twice or being detained at the Ukrainian border). First, I had bought some food in Puno that I thought I might eat on the 27-hour bus ride from Arica (at the northern tip of Chile) to Santiago. However, Chile is the only country I've ever entered (other than the U.S.) that requires you to declare food products on arrival, so while bringing in peach juice and even ham was OK, the cheese was a problem. So I asked my fellow bus passengers at the frontier whether they'd like a cheese snack before entering Chile - and by the time all our passports were checked, most of it was gone.

The second glitch was more annoying, and it shows that maybe I ought to be just a little more compulsive about having the correct time. After confirming with a Peruvian passenger on the bus from Tacna (Peru) to Arica (Chile) that Chile was one hour ahead of Peru, I bought my ticket from Arica to Santiago, wandered around Arica for an hour or so, and returned to the terminal to find that I'd missed the bus: Due to that irritating convention known as daylight-saving time, Chile was two hours ahead of Peru. Fortunately, another bus company had a bus leaving for Santiago an hour later, but it meant buying another bus ticket. I'm not sure which bothered me more - wasting a $21 bus ticket or losing two hours in Santiago.

Santiago is beautiful, with friendly people, well-laid-out streets, an efficient and cheap subway system (though it closes at 10:30 at night), and two hills that provide panoramic views of the area. One of the best things about Santiago is having lunch at the central market - amidst all the fish vendors, there are a bunch of restaurants serving fresh, cheap seafood. I also indulged in a sashimi dinner, sampling the raw versions of local fish varieties. The meal was a bargain at about $11 for 30 pieces of sashimi, but alas, my Spanish dictionary doesn't delve into fish varieties, so I'm not sure what they all were. The salmon I recognized, and "corvina" is Chilean sea bass (though there they just call it "sea bass"), but I have to find out what "reineta", "cojinova", and "liza" (I'm pretty sure it's "liza" with a "z", not "lisa" with an "s") are.

I also made a day trip to Valparaiso, Chile's second-largest city, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes. Much of the city is built on very steep hills, so everywhere you look there are long staircases leading from street to street and from house to house. There are also about 15 elevators that, when functioning, carry people up and down the hills.

From Santiago, I took a bus over (and through) the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina, arriving early yesterday morning. Mendoza is an extremely sleepy town on Sundays, especially at 5:00 in the morning - but it has pleasant parks and squares and an interesting snake-and-lizard museum (just about the only thing open yesterday). And at Mendoza's central market, instead of fish, I got to have a parrillada for lunch, consisting of whatever parts of whatever animals happened to be cooked at the time.

Now I'm in Cordoba, and in about seven hours I'll leave for Buenos Aires, where I look forward to spending a few nights in a hotel instead of on a bus.

Go on to part 3