Wednesday, December 14, 2005

alpaca tastes yummy

But I haven´t tried guinea pig yet. Someday, I am sure it´s time will come, but right now I am content eating cute little furry things that keep my fingers warm with my new fingerless gloves, and keep my belly full.

Other food highlights have been a Turkish restaurant in Arequipa, and an unlimited supply of muesli, fruit and yoghurt with honey in the Colca Canyon. You know, the best backpackers are run on their stomachs. And of course, mine is still expanding, just in time for Christmas.

After Nazca, we got the overnight bus to Arequipa, which was quite comfortable. The journey, or at least, the bits that I was awake for, was quite picturesque, driving through the desert, and of course, Arequipa is a beautiful city. It is known for the white rock that is used in building, called silar. The whole of the city centre is constructed from this rock, and it is incredibly striking with the sun beating down on it. Perhaps the most famous attraction in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina convent, which was built by a wealthy Spaniard in the 16th century, and is a city within a city. Furthermore, along with beautiful winding alleys and courtyards with cloisters, the two main colours that the monastery are painted in are a bright cobalt blue, and gorgeous sienna-orange. It makes for a very peaceful and enjoyable couple of hours strolling through the many rooms and streets.

The architecture in Arequipa, as I mentioned, is fabulous, including the amazing churches in the Plaza de Armas, and, even better for me, the little courtyards and alleys up which you could find fantastic cafes and resturants to while away a couple of hours reading or writing. Sometimes that is the best thing about travelling - that chance just to be on your own with a book and a crepe. Aaah, bliss!

From Arequipa we went to the Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. The first is right beside it, and I can never remember the name. I have to say though, that the Grand Canyon is more spectacular, perhaps because it is wider - the narrowness of the gorge that makes the Colca Canyon makes it rather hard to comprehend the scale. What is fabulous about the Colca is the fact that it is home to condors, and we spent a hour looking for these huge birds. I am no bird lover, but I do have to admit that they were spectacular.

Whilst in the Colca, I indulged in another bout of horse-riding, which was tons of fun. Our guide spoke no English, but he was nice enough to speak super basic Spanish, so that I could understand him, and translate for everyone else. (Yes, GCSE spanish really does have a use.) We rode up to an Incan village ruin, which was in the process of being restored by DESCO, which is a Peruvian institution, I assume aimed at protecting Peruvian heritage. I also met Scooby at the ruins, who was the most adorable little puppy dog, who was rather fond of tugging at my leg, and trying to me to play with him. Come on, it´s a puppy dog, how could I resist?

We ended up in a restaurant which did local dances along with food. Now, normally I hate that kind of thing, and I wasn´t best pleased about it, but the final dance made up for it, because it had such a bizarre story line. There was a boy and a girl, and then one of them would get sick, and fall on the floor, shaking with fever. The other one would then take a rope and whip them, and then when that didn´t cure them, they would sit on their head, acting out the sick person drinking their pee! If that isn´t the strangest dance storyline, I don´t know what is.

Right now I am in Puno, a port on Lake Titikaka. It´s quite a happening little tourist town, and in a minute I am going to get myself some cake, at one of the many restaurants along the main pedestrian drag. The tourists come to see the Floating Islands (Uros), and the other islands on the lake. I went out yesterday, and it was a pretty good trip. The floating islands were amazing - they are made from a special reed which grows in the lake, and are anchored down. If they weren´t anchored, they would be blown around in storms. The people who live there now seem to mainly be supported by tourism, which is a shame, but their lifestyle is fascinating, with everything being linked back to this reed - their land, their houses, their food. The other island that we went to we actually stayed on - Amanti. There were maybe a hundred tourists who stayed with families on the island when I was there, which was also a little weird, but it was amazing to see such a simple life - no running water, no electricity, and lots of potatoes growing in fields run by irrigation (it hardly ever rains up there). The kids in our family were fantastic - they were only 3 and 5, and were so much fun. Furthermore, there was a tar heel sticker in the courtyard of my family´s home, so I felt right at home. Some other tourist had given it to them.

Whilst we were on the island the boys played a football match against the locals, and I went for a hike up the mountain (it was more of a hill, but since the summit was 4,600m above sea level, I definitely get to call it a mountain) where at the top there were some Incan ruins. I was accompanied up the hill by three little boys playing various musical instruments, which made for an incredibly novel motivational factor. Maybe this is the key to getting up the inca trail - have my own band supporting me!

This morning we went to another island, and then home. I am absolutely exhausted now, and will sleep like a baby before catching the bus to Cusco tomorrow. I am most excited about that. It is where I have been looking forward to most in Peru.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

back to tuktuks

Peru has tuktuks - my website title makes sense again. Although, they are not called tuktuks, they are called combis. And I haven´t had a chance to ride in one yet, though I will, I am sure, before I leave. I have ridden in the twingo taxis. I don´t know if anyone knows about Renault Twingos apart from me and my dad, but they are these impossibly small, box-like cars that are very popular in France, and all the taxis here seem to be based on them. They have too many stickers stuck all over them for me to see whether they are actually twingoes, but I shall do some more research on it over the next few days.

Being in Peru is making me feel like a real-live backpacker again, which Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and Patagonia all sort of knocked out of me. There, everything was easy, because everyone spoke English, or I wasn´t having to make decisions or work anything out. Peru is much more challenging in that respect, which is good. It is good to end my trip on a proper culture shock again. There are dogs in the streets, the houses are made of bamboo and that woven straw-like material, most of them seem to have only three and a half walls, a large proportion of the population like to sit outside of their houses and do nothing. I often wonder why the greatest philosophers have not come from Cambodia, Laos, and now Peru, since all the people do is sit and watch the world go by. With all that time thinking, surely great thoughts must emerge? I know, I am being naive. But still...

I haven´t tried Inka Kola yet, but I think that even my sweet tooth will be defeated by it. Everything here is very sweet, and I am over sweet foods. An excess of dulce du leche has sickened me. I actually have to admit that the food here has managed to completely underwhelm me, and no one in the entire country, can fry an egg. The lack of bon cuisine is actually good, since it now means that I have two weeks to diet, which I sorely need, in time for Christmas. It would be nice to come home thin and tanned, but neither of them are likely. Oh, I can´t be mean about all the food - the fruit is fabulous and cheap.

I arrived in Lima a few days ago, and it was the shithole that I had been led to believe, and I was in the nice part, Miraflores. I had to go out and change some travellers cheques, and of course the banks were charging 12%. I eventually found one of those dodgy dealers that you have to count back the notes twice to make sure that they are right, and that you are sure the notes are either stolen or counterfeit, although they look too grubby to be the second. Who cares, when the commision is only 3%? I then wandered around a bit, was unimpressed, and went back to my room to get my last dose of CNN for a long time.

The next day we headed to Pisco, named for the drink, which turned out to be a bit of a shithole (I am sure the Lonely called it charming, or with character.). However, from Pisco you head to the Islas Ballestras, which are the "Little Galapagos", and they themselves were pretty awesome. It was the usual deal of a tourist company picking everyone up late, dumping you at a cafe to "wait", meaning "buy", and then take a tour of the islands. I actually felt quite happy at the familiarity of the set up. The islands were cool in that there were thousands of inquisitive sea lions, and zillions of birds, including pelicans, tropical cormorants, penguins, although I didn´t manage to spot any boobies. I am not sure what a booby looks like, and that might have been part of the problem. Kate should have been there to help me out.

From Islas Ballestras we went to Huacachino, where you go dune buggy riding and sandboarding. I did sandboarding in New Zealand, and dune buggying in Oregon a few years ago, so I thought I knew what to expect. Of course, I hadn´t counted on the Peruvian attitude to things. Our seatbelts were tied to the buggy instead of being adjustable, and today I can hardly move my neck. (I am just picturing my mother´s face right now. Don´t worry, it is the last "adventure" sport I do) The sandboards were based on snowboards, apart from there was no way of controlling them or stopping them, which we only found out after we watched the guide fall over as well. I gave up on that sport pretty quickly. Huacachino though was a pretty nice place - a little oasis in the desert, with a lake in the centre of the two street town. Looked like a cool place to spend some time. We headed onto Nazca though, so we could take a flight this morning.

Upon arriving to Nazca, it turned out that there was no electricity, and therefore no running water. Hardly ideal. But what can you do? The hotel was good enough to heat us a bucket of water to wash in, so it was like having an Asian shower. Not great, but not horrendous. The beds were comfortable, and that´s the main thing.

This morning was an early flight over the Nazca lines. One thing that I have discovered whilst travelling is that I love to be in small flying things, and a four seater aircraft was no different - I loved it! The fact that strange, mythical lines in the desert were on display was simply a bonus. The lines themselves were actually awesome, especially since they are no more than 5cm deep in the desert. Of course, no one knows really why they are there, although the theory that I like is that they were drawn using the movements of the stars. I am going to a planetarium show tonight to learn more about it. And then, a night bus to Arequipa, the white city.

Home in two weeks today. I am really looking forward to it, but it doesn´t mean that I am not having a good time here. I am. It is an interesting country, although I can´t say that I love it yet. I think that the lack of Spanish might be the main barrier, but I couldn´t say for sure.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

europe on the other side of the world

Buenos Aires is one of the most European cities I have ever been to. There are coffee shops everywhere, where people eat croissants and drink coffee. San Telmo has a fabulous flea market, and there are Catholic churches abound. It is truly beautiful, with cobbled streets, antique stores, and kids playing futbol everywhere. Furthermore, there is the fantastically colourful and beautiful La Boca to visit - a sort of slum-like area where the corrugated iron roofes and walls have been painted orange and teal and pink. Amazingly wonderful to wander, and even better to photograph. Of course, you have to share it with thousands of other tourists, and the ubiquituous tango dancers who perform in the street. It´s a fantastic city to wander, and with the added bonus of great restaurants and fabulous ice cream, a good place to spend a wkend recharging my batteries before heading to Lima tomorrow for my final leg of travelling. In only 19 days I go home, and I have to say that I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

for once, nothing doin´

I have spent the last couple of days doing absolutely nothing, and that has been really rather nice. Catching up on reading and emails, drinking hot chocolate and finally being on my own has all recharged my batteries. I was beginning to worry that I was going to be constantly exhausted for the next 3wks and would never have any time to sleep. Instead, I have managed to get drunk in an Irish bar, survive a Beagle Channel cruise (not exactly exciting, and I like lighthouses), drink my body weight in the fabulous hot chocolate at Tante Sara, and avoid everyone I have been hanging out with. I can´t help it, sometimes I need to be a loner. There is not tons to do in Ushuaia though, it is a port town which thrives on tourism, being the most southerly city, and the starting point for the majority of Antarctica cruises. Everyone here wanders around wearing fabulous amounts of North Face with the biggest cameras I´ve ever seen, basically waiting to leave. This all gives the town a rather transient feel. This morning I did head to Tierra Del Fuego National Park, and did a rather lovely walk along the coast. The Beagle Channel is very interesting in that it is a channel through which the Atlantic and Pacific meet. If I had better Spanish, I could find out whether this creates any interesting currents or weather patterns, but unfortunately I am linguistically challenged. I am good enough at asking for what I want, and translating what barmen or waiters are saying for other people (what can I say? I am ruled by my stomach), but real conversations? Not a chance.

Tomorrow, the heat of Buenos Aires. I have to admit to looking forward to being warm and wearing flip flops again. Although I will miss the sunshine until 10pm at night. I will never get tired of that.