Monday, July 20, 2020

Repatriation Blues

Repatriation in three versions

Due to the Pandemic, we stayed on Taquile for five months in 2020, January to June, under Peruvian lockdown after Mid-March, in safety, and experiencing Taquile culture in the absence of tourism.

Here's the Short Version:
Sam and I were “stuck” on Taquile an extra two months this year, with no tourists, after the March 16 quarantine declaration. It was actually pretty cool and safe, with no nearby cases for quite awhile, then just a few in all of Puno province. Under the Peruvian stay-home orders, we Taquileños simply considered the shoreline as the walls of our “house,” and lived as a community. When Sam and I finally got our tickets to repatriate, our journey was expensive and arduous (overland from Taquile to Lima), but we got home to liberate our dedicated house sitters here in Colorado and in time to plant a garden.

Here's the Long Version:
When the Peruvian Government declares the emergency and initiates quarantine lockdown on March 16, we still have a couple of weeks to go before our scheduled flight home. I rescheduled the LATAM flight from Juliaca to Lima from April 3 to the April 7 date of our US flight.  Our goddaughter and her family live in a fairly crowded neighborhood on a hill in the capital city of Lima, which is starting to report coronavirus cases so we will skip our few days visit with them this year.
So I’m in no big hurry to leave. Except that our Peruvian visas expire on April 9.

So we gather up our courage and take the boat to Puno with Silvano and Ruperta on March 30. We need to get money out of the ATM, and to extend our visas at the Peruvian Consulate. It’s also a supply trip: rice, oil, flour, salt, and treats: bread, cheese, chicken, avocados, olive oil. We have no trouble getting our money, but the Consulate has been closed for two weeks. We will try to renew it online.

We dress as Taquileños, Sam with a vest over his traditional shirt, me with three skirts and a chuko over my head. We wear masks over our nose and mouth, as does everyone in Puno. Military or Police are on every major street corner making sure everyone is wearing a mask and keeping distance. In the line at the bank, they call out “dos metros, dos metros” to keep the line spacing at two meters between each person. 
On the boat, we enjoy a nice conversation with the Taquile woman who brings produce to Taquile every week. We have a very official letter from the authorities on Taquile Island, explaining that we have been on Taquile since January 12 and that we are helping the Taquileños. When the boat docks, our captain, Elias, tells us to stay in our seats; we will be the last ones off. Then he urges us to close the curtains, warning that the press is there! Two coastguard officers come on the boat with their machine guns and wearing masks (as we all are). They photograph our letter and our passports and tell us to be careful. The press is gone by the time we get off the boat, but later we see a video from the local television station. In the interview with our produce lady, when asked if there are any tourists on Taquile, she tells them no. She is accurate, actually, as we are not tourists on Taquile, but family members. 

Again when we leave Puno the next day, the coastguard officers photograph our documents again, and wish us a pleasant boat ride to return to Taquile. Machine guns and all.

We hear rumors of foreigners being arrested and removed from the nearby peninsula; we can’t imagine where they are being taken, but we don’t leave the island again until we are on our way back to Colorado, two months later. I begin to wear traditional Taquile clothing every day, to blend in. From a distance I look like every other Taquile woman if you don’t notice my glasses. The Taquileños like this and compliment me. 

We register with the U.S. Embassy’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and begin receiving notifications about repatriation flights. We also learn that the Peruvian Government has automatically extended all foreigners’ visas until 45 days after the quarantine ends, thus solving that problem. And the US Government extended the deadline for filing taxes to July. So now we are truly happy to stay where we are.

A non-profit organization, Warrior Angels Rescue (WAR), looks like our best way to get home. They run on donations, and we will be happy to contribute. They have one flight all scheduled for early May, and are planning another which would fly us from Arequipa and we could avoid the longest of overland travel. Suddenly their flight is blocked by the US government from landing in the United States. Travelers waiting at the airport, passports already stamped, had to return to wherever they were staying. The US Embassy offers the only official flight on Easter Airlines for $2050 per person from Lima to Miami, a flight that cost $200-$400 before the border closure due to COVID-19. We consider this high price as price-gouging, a result of some sort of corruption and refuse to participate. Other flights are also announced, still overpriced at $1300. So we stay on Taquile and help out as best we can.  Future blog posts will feature our extended stay on Taquile.

We join several social media groups of people stuck in Peru and follow them on our cell phones on Taquile. Most people are much worse off than we were.  We made the following video for WAR to use in their fundraising.

The weeks keep passing by, and some slightly more reasonable flights are offered. One day, Saturday, May 30, we see a flight for $1000 each that includes luggage. We jump on it; make our reservations immediately. The confirmation comes through while we are playing volleyball high above the plaza and I duck out of the game to make our payments. When we tell our teams that we will be leaving for the US within a few days, they are surprised and shocked.

Getting home is arduous and long.  Here it is in 12 steps:
1. Monday. A two mile hike to the boat with luggage (lots of help) down the famous 500 steps. 
2. Three hour boat ride to Puno; last minute purchases; overnight in Taquile albergue. 
3. Tuesday. Five hour ride in private van from Puno to Arequipa; meet our travel partner in her hospedaje, rest and await our 8pm transportation. 
4. Seventeen hour overnight combi ride to Lima; carsickness. 
5. Wednesday. Carried luggage two blocks to AirBnB since security measures closed street; buy food at convenience store, cook, eat and sleep overnight. 
6. Thursday. Carried luggage back to meet taxi at 5:00am for 1/4 mile ride to meet busses for shuttle to airport; two hours waiting on bus (bathroom available). 
7. Check-in sitting in plastic chairs under a tent at the Peruvian Air Force Terminal (commercial airport closed). Bring our own food and water both for waiting and for the flight. Bus across tarmac to airplane.

 8. Still Thursday; plane take off about 10:30am. Flight from Lima to Miami. Arrive 4:30 pm. Eat, sleep. Overnight in airport hotel. 
9. Friday. Flight to Houston leaving at 6:30am. 
10. Flight Houston to Denver. 
11. Beautiful private car drive over the Rockies; 5 hours to Grand Junction and our car. 
12. Drive ourselves from Grand Junction 1 1/2 hours to Paonia and HOME.
A drive through Glenwood Canyon


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Solar Renewal in Llachon

Fire destroyed Solar Power in Llachon Home
On January 18, a fire in the little kitchen in Asunta and Armando's home in Llachon, on the Capachica Peninsula, started at the 5 gallon propane tank and spread throughout the kitchen. The solar panels were mounted on the roof above the kitchen. When the fire spread to the battery, it exploded. The family had run far from the fire before the explosion, fearing that the gas bottle might blow (it didn't), and no one was hurt. Neighbors rushed to help and buckets of water saved the rest of the house.

This first picture is during the repair, as it will likely be the thumbnail for my Facebook Post, and I don't want to emphasize the battery!
So here is the battery and fire damage:
Panel fell, broke, and burned

Battery. You can see the plates.

Kitchen tools melted and destroyed
When we arrived the power was off!
The family had rigged up power from the neighbors after the fire, bringing a 220volt wire across the field so they could have lights and so Armando could play his electric piano. He is a serious composer and sometimes forgets to eat when he is deep at work. However, a lightning strike that morning had taken down the grid, which is fairly frequent in this town at the end of the power line on the Capachica Peninsula. We prepared dinner by headlamp and ate by candlelight, and decided that the solar system needed to be replaced.

Mariella Sarita, high school student who wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.
Last year the power had gone out all over Llachon and none of the students could study in the dark. Sarita was the only student who submitter her homework! Because her family had solar pwere, she had light to work by. After that incident, one other family in the village installed solar electricity!

Early the next morning, Sam and Armando and Silvano left before breakfast to go to Juliaca to buy and new panel and battery. Only it turned out that a big protest was going on in the city. 
Tires on fire and roads blocked in Juliaca
 They had to walk several more blocks than planned, and store doors were only open a crack until the marchers passed. Happily, they found willing merchants in the solar stores and found some good equipment. The charge controller was located in another room and had survived the fire. Testing it at the solar store proved its worth.
Solar store in Juliaca testing the charge controller.
Assembling the equipment
As soon as the guys got back to Llachon, we started assembling all the parts, including testing the second 100w panel that seemed to have survived the fire. After the soot was cleaned off, it was fine!
Uniting and wiring two 100w panels
 Installing the panels on the roof:
Young Jhoel keeps positive and negative wires separate
Asunta had been working on a new and colorful manta.
Of course, one of the main reasons we went to Llachon in the first place was to visit Kusi and her new 7-week old baby boy. He was slightly premature in his birth, but is progressing nicely. He was awake enough for a little baby bouncing on Tara's part.

Jhoshua with mama Kusi
 It rained all morning in Llachon while the guys were in Juliaca, but we did life--
Jhoel with the sheep
 I actually got to make a drawing from the shelter of their comfortable comedor (dining room) looking out this big picture window. My drawing was in the early misty light, but then the sun came out:
Asunta and Armando actually do have a room to rent for tourists. If you ever want to stay overnight on Capachica, it's a sweet place to stay--PLUS IT'S SOLAR POWERED!

Excursion to Sicuani

Sicuani: hotsprings up the pass and ruins toward Cusco, plus healing waters

Silvano and Ruperta were totally busy last year as autoridades, and had no time to play, so we invited them, their two sons, Ivan and Clever, and Silvano's mother, Eufrasia, to join us for our annual excursion. Sicuani is ideally located just off the Altiplano and over the pass toward Cusco, in Cusco Province. In one direction are delicious hot springs, and in the other is the archeological site of Raqchi. A museum to honor and tell the story of the last Inca, Tupac Amaru, is nearby in the town of Tinta, and the purifying waters of San Pedro are also available.

Hot Springs were our primary goal:
A line of taxis are always ready to take patrons to the Aguas Calientes about 20 minutes south of Sicuani, where outdoor pools of many temperatures are available.
That's Samuel in the blue hat
I spoke up to some splashing boys with some swimming lesson tricks, such as "Take a breath IN when your face is out of water. Blow your breath OUT when underwater." Pretty basic stuff, but children don't often have swimming lessons and many are fearful in the water. Later, a young girl, maybe age 12, who had seen me with the boys, actually came up to me and asked me to teach her to swim! We worked on breathing, and kicking and some standard strokes. She got a LOT more relaxed and later I saw her teaching her little sister about blowing bubbles. So much fun!

The other hot springs in the area are higher up the pass, and we had to contract the taxi to take the group there and pick us up. We had a lovely woman taxi driver who took a lunch break as we soaked and it all worked out. 

The mineral deposits above the springs were a beautiful golden yellow:
Clever in front of the mineral deposits
Water seemed to boil at the source, with Silvano.

The pools were inside, which gave us paleskins a sunburn saving grace. The water was hot enough to need to get in and out to thermal regulate. The whole family fit in the private pool.

The Raqchi archeological site is an important one:
It is an important stop along the long Inca highway between Cusco and Puno and includes the most skilled Incan rockwork. 

A small detail that we appreciated was how protruding rocks in a rock terrace served as a ladder:
See how one terrace leads to the next.
Natually, the ladder made a nice family portrait.

The most prominent structure is the Temple of Wiracocha, an enormous rectangular two-story roofed structure that measures 92 metres (302 ft) by 25.5 metres (84 ft). 
In front of the Temple of Wiracocha
This long "hallway" is oriented exactly to the summer solstice of December 21.

A hike to the viewpoint high above shows the whole layout, including the Temple and the hallway.

Naturally, Samuel couldn't pass up a good wind to fly his rainbow kite, with Eufrasia's rainbow manta in the background

The Museum of Tupac Amaru 
In the village of Tinta, just a few kilometers beyond Raqchi, is a tribute to the last Inca, tortured and killed by the Spanish Conquistadores. 

We enjoyed fresh Chicha (fermented quinoa drink) when we first arrived in Tinta.
Tina is also famous for this stone arched bridge from Inca times.
stone arch bridge; one arch eroded
 Early in his life Jose Gabriel Tupac Amaru traveled the vast Incan Empire, trading goods. During these travels, he also saw the cruelty of the Spanish Conquerers.

Eventually, the Spanish famously tied his legs and arms to horses to pull him apart in the central plaza in Cusco. This failed to kill him and they cut off his head.
It's a gruesome tale, but an important one for Peruvian History.

Healing waters of San Pedro
A fountain of deep spring water contains purging minerals. The Taquileños place lots of confidence in the power of this process and Eufrasia wanted to do it. None of the rest of the family was interested, so I joined her. It's a lovely park and people sit around drinking and then running to the squat toilets. Everything is very clean, with buckets of water flushing everything away.You can pay a little extra for sitdown toilets.

chemical analysis

Gardens and sculptures
Our vacation in Sicuani was full of laughter and education and relaxation. What a pleasure to share this with our Taquileño family!

Friday, January 24, 2020

More great kid friends!


We have found time to play with our kid friends. High priority!
Rolando with his new book from Daniella

Lisbeth and Sam with the flying  ring

Lesdy helps at her mother's retaurant by keeping the buckets full. Bucket flush is the technique.

Little Chico has totally warmed to Samuel, and rests on his lap.

These girls are growing up, but we still play hide and seek in the Ruins above their house.



Taquile is ancient, pre-Incan, and several sites can be found, Some quite major, others small secret places.

The highest point on Taquile, I will have to add photos later, or check out previous years' posts of Mulcina.

Many places are poorly preserved, and the National Cultural Preservation people (or some international group) would be well to step in. This following picture shows how the doorway her is opening a gap that may fall one of these days.

I am pointing to a gap that wasn't always there.
 I found this small round disk with a hole in the middle, apparently carved stone (though might be ceramic), in our playground ruins. The young girls tell me they are ancent and they find them now and then.
This wasn't always in this spot.
 This entrance to our playground ruins is covered with lichen. When we firt came, 34 years ago, the lichen was much less abundant. We were told that it is an excellent natural dye. However, as important as textiles are here, it is an island. Very little natural dying is done any more, and the lichens have recovered.

Beautiful Taquile


Southern Hemisphere summer brings rain and agricultural growth. This post is mostly pictures of the breathtaking beauty of this island.
View from the highest point on the island, the Ceremonial Site, Mulcina

Classic gate used to keep sheep in place. Note sandal soles for hinges.
 Many rocks are sedimentary, able to be split along the layers.
Note strata

Thatch roofs

Add caption
 Some say you cannot swim in Lake Titicaca, but this beach curvs around a relatively shallow bay that can warm quite nicely on a sunny day. White sand perfect for beach volleyball, sand catles, or just hanging out. Once in a while the family makes it an outing. Not yet this year, but we will!
La Playa
Two Taquile women round the corner.
 Many sheep are being born this time of year.
Baby black sheep huddles from the wind.
 Look closely at the horizon line below, the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the Bolivian Cordillera Real appears among the clouds. In rainy season, we are always blessed for this view. I thought the arch made a fine frame, but here we have one of many half-finished houses on the Island.

moist, mossy wall along the trail.

Plans for 2020

We left Colorado for Peru on January 9 and will return in early April. I made a list of our hopes:

Here are our expectations of projects to do for 2020:
*Finance Ivan’s second year of college.
*Help out with school supplies for about a dozen children at approximately $35 each.
*Install and trade a solar electric system to a poor family.
*Trade efficient 12v electronics such as LED lights, USB ports and inverters.*
*Give technical advice and help with solar problems.
*Bring young people on educational outings, such as to archeological ruins.
*Buy all the groceries for the family while we are there. Our presence brings the family together, with cousins and uncles often spending time and eating at the house where we stay.  
*Be available for medical emergencies, such as broken arms.
*Possibly bring Noemi and her children from Lima to Taquile during summer vacation. They had a healthy and learning summer last year, playing outside safely and freely, and Noemi helped her mother with the agriculture.**
*Dance in Carnival.
*Participate in community projects such as dock building or path improvements and community litter cleanup. 
*Work in the fields with the family.*** 
*Help host guests staying at our family’s homestay hospedaje.
*Give attention, play ball and just plain have fun while mentoring at least a dozen young children.

I post this after being in Peru for  less than two weeks, and already much has happened:
*We've traded or sold nearly all our electronics and are in process of atempting to order more life-saving flashlights sent directly from Amazon. They are currently in the customs offices in Lima, so still waiting to see. The trails are rocky, and a decent RECHARGEABLE flashlight is essential for night walking safety.
**Noemi and Alejandro have duties in Lima this summr, so unless Grandpa Felipe can bring one or two of them as he travels now and then to Lima, this repeat adventure will have to wait for next year.
***We already put in a hard day's work planting potatoes. More to come, for sure!

 New posts will tell. Please follow this blog and we can stay in touch.
Just to brighten this post, this was the Christmas display at the Lima Airport: