Post scriptum

And another thing….

Just wanted to say Thank you particularly to Derek who has tracked my steps assiduously from his northern eyrie in Newfoundland and been there as a backup, to Lois and Dexter for the compass which was useful time and again (whether lost in the jungle or searching in town for the right direction it was brilliant) and to everyone else who chipped in with comments and encouragement.

And to April for not worrying so much this time despite my being away for so long.

There were two books I read before going which were vivid and very much on the nail –  “Journey along the spine of the Andes” by Christopher Portway, particularly pertinent as he was in his fifties; and InkaKola by Matthew Parris which is a funny heart-wrenching and scary tale of rough travel in the eighties.

Last Post

Arrive back in Qosqo exhausted and grubby. It ended up hot and sweaty at M/P and wearing same clothes for two days. Change and shower and a meal down the hill at Jack’s Cafe is relaxing and filling. Mama’s chicken soup and vegs would be a lunch on its own. But I haven’t eaten all day so it is followed by a (tasty) fillet steak toastie served with a proper large side salad. Apologies to all those of you who ever had to think of veggie options when feeding me!

Last morning in Peru, in S America, dawns bright and sunny. The view from the  breakfast room could almost be Venice. Apart from the mountains !

Packing the rucksack means careful balancing of what to dump, what needs to be in backpack and will it all fit? Needless to sat there is more rather than less, despite two books having gone but not much else. A couple of  pots and quite a few sherds picked up on sites – even two bits from M/P. And dried clay from the jungle and broad beans and black potatoes for the allotment. It all fits in eventually.

There are two very good museums relating to the Incas which seem to be the obvious priority amongst all the others. The first is housed in a fine mansion owned by a Spanish admiral – long way from the sea though.

It fills in so much of the cultural and economic background that was lacking in the tour. The kulpa was the method of  recording information  but available only to the elite. And the maize beer seems to have fuelled their life almost as much as the  coca leaf.

On the way to the second I am distracted by an earnest conversation in the street. It is a universal image, really

And again the walls continually draw your eye in their consummate perfection. These are just streets and houses, rather than the elevated status of the royal palace. Whole long streets put together. Even my bedroom had a wall built into the rockface.

The second is more artefacts from the excavations, and very modern inside, though sited again in a historic house. It makes the old lady stand out.

Though I’ not sure how she would feel about being transposed next to this couple. This dates from about 800 AD and is beautifully made, technically and in its detail. Until I came to Peru I had never associated pottery with sexual activity. But I have seen a lot  covering a variety of poses and subjects; humans; frogs; monkeys, heterosexual and homosexual. The closest I can think of is Grayson Perry. My next roof finial will be featuring……….

Reach the market just as the heavens open. Bread cheese and tomato for a snatched lunch and some more chocolate for good measure.

Having checked in at the airport I am then regaled by the Peruvian police conducting a “random search”. Not sure what their profiling criteria are. Made a point of telling them what my job had been. Chiefly worried by all the pottery sherds stashed in the bag – none of which they noticed. Did ask why I had potatoes. Eventually repacked bag and heartbeat returned to normal. I was more worried that both bags were being searched at the same time and it was difficult to watch what they were doing. Didn’t want stuff either to go missing or strangely appear for a shakedown.

So the flight to Bogota went smoothly and in glorious technicolour – more cliche, sorry

Three hours is a good gap between flights, not too long to be oppressive but time to shop ( gin) and find your way round without rushing – unlike the rather portly lady on the plane fretting because the doors hadn’t opened to get off – “I is running to be getting my plane, ja”  She had an enormous pack on her back as well so God knows if she ever made it.

Overnight on a Dreamliner – sounds good. Watch Bladerunner 3 till about 1.30am. It lacks the edge and zest of the original, too often predictable and the ending is lazy. And Harrison Ford is just Indiana Jones sci-fi style.

Dawn comes eventually, though hard to tell as the windows are self-tinting. I keep looking at my watch thinking it should be light by now. We land within a minute of scheduled time – not bad after a (tailwind) flight of nine and a half hours.

It seems like only yesterday – well maybe the day before – that I was flying out to Quito. Then it felt that it was a long journey to undertake. There have been times when I felt a bit weary or isolated. Days counting those past and those to come. But most of it has been full of new sights and sounds, smells and colours. I have learnt some Spanish and occasionally understand what people are saying to me (what’s new?).

Ecuador and Peru are undoubtedly still Third World countries, the infrastructure, the poverty and corruption, economic deprivation. But the people have a sense of self and identity in their culture and history that we have long lost. It has survived the deprivation and desolation caused by the Spanish rape and pillage of their countries and is still to be seen in the language, Kechwa, Aymaru that they speak and the customs they follow.

I leave you with this brief peek at the evident joy they feel for their culture

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Thank you all for your company and I hope it has been worth your time logging in.

 

 

 

 

Macchu Picchu: cherry on the cake

Yet another wake in the dark morning to get to the station to get a bus to Ollantaytambo and then a snail train to Aguas Calientes by 10 am. The hotel looks out over the Urubamba river which rushes past red and frothy.

A walk along the river and over the bridge through thick trees brings me to the museum where a lot of the background to the re-discovery of  Macchu Picchu is displayed. The American, Hiram Bingham was actually looking for Vilcabamba the last stronghold of the Incas when locals told him about this site. It was completely covered in vegetation, a problem he resolved by setting fire to it, in 1911. A lot of the artefacts he turned up are on display here. It is a useful introduction to the site, particularly as the guide tomorrow is an unknown quantity. There is a botanical garden next to it full of (unflowering) orchids and suchlike. Also a tiny bird sitting on a branch for a long time

Not to mention some curious creepy-crawlies

Need to get Roger onto the case for identification. The reputedly best place to eat in town turns out to be closed till 25th so another mediocre meal in a restaurant overlooking the river.. Tomorrow I have to be in the Square by 6 am to meet Harold. At least the hotel does breakfast from 5 am.

Up to the site is a thirty minute ride of 180 degree hairpins with a stream of buses coming down. There are only 2000 visitors per day allowed but they all want to go early in the morning. And Sunday is free for Qosqenos.  It’s raining and the whole site has rolling white clouds floating over it. It is mysterious, elusive and frustrating.

As the tour progresses the mist lifts, the rain stops and the sky lightens. The slopes are steep but the terracing has made it all accessible for various uses: agricultural; administrative; religious and storage. Although only a thousand people lived there the construction involved tens of thousands, paid by the Inca with food. Moving some of the giant stones quarried nearby was done with log rollers, ropes and a lot of hands. Stories of stones slipping and crushing hundreds at a time like ants.

This piece of rock is of uncertain purpose – they had no written records other than kulpa, collections of knotted strings. But it is supposed to have great power and if you stand closeand hold out your hand you can make a wish. Mine came true.

 

A lot of the open spaces are now covered by an African grass for neatness, but you still have a sense of the place as it must have been, people working, animals grazing, produce being stored. It is all inherently so ingenious. They fitted what they wanted into the space available and did it almost perfectly. Their religion dictated that they came from the earth and were part of it. The stonework close up is tight as can be, no mortar, and all done with stone tools, water and the odd bronze chisel.

They were able to assess the solstice and equinox very accurately, with a Temple of the Sun that threw a shadow precisely onto a line in a rock. It is unusual in having a curved wall. Their agriculture was all keyed in to phases of the moon and sun.

There is a hill towering over the site called Huayna Picchu which I am due to climb when it opens at 10 am. It is steep,clad in trees and it has been raining.

Forty five minutes of hard climbing take me about two thirds of the way up. But then there is a section almost vertical and no handrail. I could go up but coming down…? I decide to call it a day. The views back over the site are good through the trees. Later on back in town I see the young Dutch couple with whom I had started the climb. They went on but admitted they had been on all fours to get higher!

The sun is out now and the place feels different. Warm and prolific, very isolated despite all the people walking round. A royal retreat for the Inca away from the bustle of the capital, Qosqo ( it means navel of the world ). Sintra and Lisbon, Simla and Delhi, the elite will always make themselves comfortable.

There is a one way system all round the site to get out. My feet feel heavy and the sun is hot. They would have been very fit, a diet of potatoes, vegetables, quinoa and small amounts of [low cholesterol] alpaca meat. It is tasty and tender, and surprisingly unavailable in UK, given all the boxes it ticks.

I am tired by the time I reach Aguas Calientes and glad to sit outside the hotel, drink a long cold beer ( yes, no cider here!) and wait for the train to take me back down to Ollantaytambo.  The sense of place hasn’t fully sunk in yet but the impression of a strong and cultured society is already in my mind.

 

Qosqo : Imperial Incan capital

Ten and a half hours on the train actually pass very quickly. We clank along at about 40-50kph, Slow right down for some dodgy looking bridges and even a 10 minutes halt to try and sell artisanal products. Some of the countryside is stunning, running through a gorge with a river below.pl

Lunch  is served early at noon and is not bad. It’s all aimed at high end tourism. The whole journey, 380kms is $210. Very few Peruvian travellers. Dire musicians and worse” typical folklore” dancer. It passes the time.

An interesting couple from Cambridge next to me share our enthusiasm for Venice and i tell them about the flat in San Polo. Keep Juergen happy. She is interviewing NGOs in the city which sounds intriguing.

Qosqo is the kechwa name for the city. It means navel of the world. Spanish got it wrong as per and their spelling is something rude. All the street signs are redone with kechwa names and Spanish as secondary. Almost everyone I came across spoke it as their first language.

Despite its reputation as the Incan capital its a pretty hardcore tourist town. Lots of hippies, young girls selling massage- not sure what the Spanish is for” happy ending”. Prices all higher than Lima.

Nonetheless it doesn’t feel threatening, just overly commercial. But then Puno felt friendly and safe and a pickpocket had 260 S (about £57) one evening. First time it has ever happened to me.

Having only one day makes it difficult to organise. Get up very early to go to the Cathedral, breakfast then a load of churches and a visit to the market. The latter was productive and I found all the bits I was after. Everywhere you look there are the signs of the Incan civilization of which this was the main hub. The stonework is astonishing. This has twelve sides and is probably a metre deep. Fashioned with only stone tools and at best bronze chisels, they are so accurate no mortar was needed.

The afternoon on the other hand was bad. A guided tour of five archaeological sites had me as the only English speaker in a group of thirty, which is embarrassing, you can feel all the iberophones twitching. A Frenchman and his two sons alleviate the pressure. He is an interesting character, does tall-building engineering. Says he is sure the Twin Towers explosion was a fix, given the way they fell down so quickly. Also, he is an old friend of Philippe Petit who did the wire walk between them. PP is completely crazy, he said. Who’d have thought it.

Anyway the tour is aimless and poorly informed and the final straw, when we are just about going to get back on time, is an unscheduled stop at a shop. When I tell the guide I have a meeting in Cusco at 6.30 she says it’s my fault for not telling her sooner. She eventually waves down another tourist bus that gets me to the centre by 7. God knows what time they got back.

Briefing for M/P informs me I will be picked up at 5am, so no breakfast. Dinner is grim in a scruffy cafe- the two places recommended had just closed as I got there! Decide to pack diocalm just in case. Macchu Picchu not a good place to have a stomach bug. Going to bed early is not a solution to getting up early. So, tomorrow is the pinnacle of the trip, the first thing anyone has mentioned  in relation to Peru, world-renowned, on a par with the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal.

We shall see.

 

ire

On up Puno


From sealevel back up to 3800 metres. Hope it is quicker this time to adjust. And Cusco will be lower.

Having arrived early afternoon the first priority is to organise a doctor to look at my heel. The antibiotics have not cleared up the infection and it feels worse. The hotel gets someone there in thirty minutes. A diminutive Bolivian doctor and sidekick. She speaks pretty good English. The wound needs draining and antibiotics in the bum, unbelievably painful, the needle reminiscent of the one they used for a lumbar puncture when I was twelve. And more sharp pain anaesthetising the area to put an antibiotic capsule into the site. You can only hope all that trauma, it’s bound to do the trick. No showers for three days. As it happens this is the first place there has been a bath. I have to buy flipflops so no pressure on it. Hobble out with Bartolomeo the bellboy to find  a shoeshop. Fortunately there is a good restaurant on the opposite side of the square so don’t have to flipflop very far.

Sunday is the big folklore dance convention in the stadium. Told to get there by ten o’clock. It’s throbbing with families and an enormous queue. Once again I find myself being gently guided towards a much shorter ” preferencial” because of my age. Not the time to quibble. Inside it’s a football stadium and I’m sitting behind the goal. Binoculars Invaluable. The numbers of each group range from fifty to well over a hundred including the band. And the costumes are varied and colourful.

inAll around me families have come loaded with food and drink, blankets and umbrellas. The latter cause some muttering if they block the view.

This lady had certainly come prepared.

I end up in the shade of the lady next to me after I have let them have a go with the binocs. The enthusiasm on the field and in the crowd is expansive  and it’s clearly a massive annual event. Broadcast on national television. After three hours the concrete bench gets to me and I wander out into the streets. There are troupes of dancers everywhere, lounging around drinking beer laughing, having done their spot. Up close you see how ornate the costumes are, and each individual has variations on the basic colour scheme.

When you look closer you can see they are engrossed in their phones!

As I make my way back to the hotel I find the streets are solid with people camped on the pavements enjoying the free show of groups marching by.

The flipflop is hard work, a rubber band keeping big toe gripping is not brilliant so opt for restaurant not far along main street. It’s great, set menu with good choices and only 25 S, that’s £5.50. Alpaca steak is tender and tasty. Real napkins and a trained waiter are a bit of a novelty.  Four television crew next to me look weary.

Next day I  book a couple of tours for Tuesday and Wednesday but otherwise have a quiet day to rest the foot. Doctor returns on Tuesday and pronounces it is looking good. No more pain and antibiotics kicking in.

It’s a reminder of the generally poor education that there is still a business in writing letters for others

Local museum was created by a German painter and includes mummies taken from a burial site used by pre-incan and Incan  groups. That is where I’m going Tuesday. On the way back we stop at a farm with tethered llamas and Alpaca and also very cute small rodents.

I ask if they are for eating – ” no of course not, they’re too small” ! The highlight is when a German in his fifties approaches a seated male llama from behind to stroke it and gets spat upon. Tries to make out it was on his list of things to do it.

I’ve seen a likely place offering cuy and we agree to meet to try it out. It’s not at all smart but there are several  families in. It has been cooked with a coating of salt hence crostada and with head on. Very gamy flavour  and tricky finding your way round the bones. At least I can say I’ve tried it. Given the way they breed you can understand why they are kept for food.

A trip on Lake Titicaca is both enjoyable and harrowing. The first part is to the floating islands of Uros. They first moved there five hundred years ago to escape marauding tribes- echoes of Venice- and developed a way of life using the floating reeds and building boats out of them. It was hard and isolated but they survived. They had strict rules designed to avoid consanguinity though the population was fewer than three thousand. Sadly, tourism has destroyed their original way of life, and the massive influx of visitors has turned them into pantomime characters attempting to screw every penny out of the boatloads who arrive hourly, sometimes a hundred at a time. The women of all ages are enormously fat presumably from a poor diet. They no longer grow vegetables and apart from a few fish, it’s mostly junk food. I left feeling very uncomfortable. The second island we very different. Its far out in the lake and they speak qechwa rather than aymaru, so more Incan. It’s terraced and has a large agricultural  production.

In the main square overlooked by the hotel groups of people are making music and dancing, not in costume. I get all starry-eyed about people giving expression to their culture for the sheer joy of it, till the receptionist refers to them practicing for next Sunday’s big event!

On the subject of culture, a reference in the local museum housing mummies from the funeral site

makes reference to more paintings being housed in the nearby Club Kuntur. I locate it and get past a dubious gatekeeper to be ushered into a scruffy back office housing the President and a crony. After initial restraint on their part they get quite enthusiastic about telling me about the place and he is keen to show me two snooker tables imported from England.In the course of wandering around various dingy and dusty rooms I get as close to a condor (Kuntur!) as I’m likely to.

Puno has been engaging and varied, and the worst moment was having my pocket picked in town one evening to the tune of about £60. Didn’t feel a thing.

Early start in the morning to get the train to Cusco. Have to be at the station by 7 o’clock

Trujillo- how could I forget?

I have had it pointed out, very rightly,  that there is a gap. I blame the culture shock caused by Lima.

Hotel Colonial is a large converted Republican house two minutes walk from the main square. Lots of style and character, bit thin on facilities. The only thing locking the french window is a little metal latch. It’s clean and there’s hot water- in the shower.

The main square is large and elegant, populated in the early evening by lots of families just hanging around. Sunset was eye-catching.

On Sunday is the national finals of the Marinera. This is a very formal almost ritualised dance where the man attempts to seduce the lady by the elegance of his dancing. She purports to resist. There’s a great deal of waving hankies by both. Some traces of flamenco but without the vibrancy. It’s rather genteel and stylised. Each couple gets five minutes to complete their routine. Quite a few of the couples reminded me of the ballroom dancers in Hi de Hi. Occasionally there would be a couple who really clicked and buzzed. The best was a generously proportioned girl, light on her feet and wearing a very day to day dress, rather than the glitz most had on. And not wearing a botox smile! 

The judges were changed for each age group but the band seemed to just keep banging out the same tune time after time.

These were the judges in waiting. Four couples at a time. An intriguing spectacle but you needed to be an aficionado to stay all day.

Sunday is limited choice for eating so I ended up in a chifa, a Peruvian tradition of fusion with chinese. They are quite common. This one proved to be excellent. Chow mein with chicken, large juicy prawns and quails eggs and lots of vegetables. I managed to eat most of it! The owner was from Shanghai  but had spent ten years in Toronto. He had some pungent thoughts on Peruvian junk food habits. You certainly see a lot of overweight people under fifty. He obviously worked hard at running a good restaurant. I felt sorry when he admitted he had lost $60000 in the Madoff Ponzi scheme.

After the previous tour experiences I decided to go to Moche under my own steam in a combi- minibus communal transport one step up from a bus. The fare collectors are invariably helpful and always looking to fill the bus. The collection I wanted to see is now housed in the town hall, so easy to find but tricky to get in to. Passport number and forms! It is a remarkable collection of pottery put together over many years. He had immaculate taste, everything was top quality.

These faces were all individuals sculpted onto the bottle. They date from 200-900AD. We were barely managing a bit of impressed string for decoration then! The one with the monkey is not fit for a family website! I’d had huge expectations and came away buzzing that they had been met.

The afternoon got better. Two adobe brick pyramids, misnamed by a European archaeologist as Huaca del Sol and del Luna, were actually an administrative site and a religious one. The latter had been fully excavated with astonishing results. Each time there was a new regime they built on top, covering up the old and conserving it in the process. The wall paintings are over 1200 years old and fresh.

It’s about three metres wide. The lowest level is about fifteen metres deep. Once again a free guided tour on my own, and the girl very knowledgeable.

While I had been waiting for her I spotted a woman moulding clay at a stall. Turned out it is her father who is the potter. Explained my interest but then the guide came by.

At the end of the tour she was waiting and led me across the open ground between the two pyramids. Progress was slow as the surface was littered with sherds! As we reached a few buildings she pointed out a big green walled garden full of fruit and veg that was hers. Her father, the potter, shuffled across from cafe opposite and showed me his workshop.

All covered in dust, junk lying around, piles of press moulds that he was using. He said they were original from Inca times. They certainly looked old. He had no reason to lie, not trying to sell me anything. Clay came from the hills nearby. The kiln was a small cube of bricks with a metal plate for a lid. He fills it up with layers of fuel and small plaques, clamps it all down and lights it. It’s fired when the fire goes out- 700-800 C?  He’s 76 and a bit wobbly

He was very pleased with a big plaster mould he’d made. Not sure how he would fire it. Although the daughter was helping with the stall, no sign that the pottery would continue after him.

Lunch the next day was in a big swish establishment south of the centre, a temple to ceviche. No tourists, serious eaters. I have never before taken a picture of my food.

Loads, tender, varied, the top was black small clams in their liquor. Perhaps a bit too picante for me, but otherwise delicious.

There is a beach resort near the city that was tacked onto an unimpressive tour of an archaeological site. A couple of the fishermen were out in their straw boats.

Don’t have to get up so early for the Lima flight. Hooray.

Lima – second half

No I have not turned to Didolatry. The disappointment of Osmo closed was assuaged by next door being Mario Testino gallery. The “beautiful people” pics were intriguing and engaging but it all came alive suddenly with the photos of the indigenous tribes. Breathtaking in colour and details.

And then there are the photos he took of Diana two months before she died. The images are large and powerful and intimate. And you can fill in the background and personality as you will. But the strength portrayed is overwhelming.

The girl on the desk said have lunch at the Singing Frog, so ceviche it was and very fine flavour and texture. Packed solid, I was seated at the bat being solo. It meant I had a great view of all the diners. Everywhere it is huge portions,my stomach I bulging.

LIMA ARGH!

After only half a day here already thinking of when I leave. Noisy, traffic clogged streets. Sprawling disjointed quarters.

Pavements keep you on your toes, being frequently smooth to the point of glacial. The best bits are when they are on a ramp going down to the road at corners. You learn to avoid them eventually.

The first night I ventured out to locate a restaurant run by French missionary nuns. They were from all over, Vosges, Congo, Vietnam- all francophone of course. It was a relaxing treat to talk to them without struggling for language. And the food was good simple bistro style. Three courses,  just over £10, onion soup, lamb casserole and apple tart. Elderly sister stayed chatting for ages telling me about miracles rendered by their guiding light, St Therese de Lisieux who had TB at 24. Apparently a 17 year old who suffered headaches all his life was listening to the Pope pronounce her to be a saint and was cured. It’s true. And at 9pm the sisters all gather in the dining room and sing Ave Maria. She wants me to come back Friday lunch when it’s very different.

The Aargh is receding a bit.

The hotel is occupied on the second floor by a very fine peacock. It only carries on in the morning. Like all the converted Republican houses I have been staying in, this one has lots of historical character and is down at heel and marred by very basic facilities. This rather sums it up.

I have cracked the enigma of all the VW Beetles you see everywhere. I was starting to wonder if there was a business opportunity buying them up cheap and importing them for all the cult freaks in Europe. Turns out they were being made in Brazil until recently so no rarity value and not a dark secret source of income. I did see one or two in Ecuador that had really been pimped up but here they are mostly old and wrecked.

Day 2 and I need to find a bank that won’t charge for taking out cash on a credit card. Swish double bendy bus to Miraflores. You need a card to buy a ticket so loiter at the gate and give bloke necessary 2.50S. How to buy bus tickets should be first piece of tourist information available. Everywhere is different. I have rarely met a miserable bus ticket seller. Perhaps because it is within your power to make people’s lives better in a simple way.

First bank I go into on arrival does the trick, easy. Miraflores is one big highrise shopping mall. Lot of traffic on broad streets roaring past. After coffee and cake hop on an ordinary bus to Barranco. Large cheerful conductress tells me exactly where to get off. This is Lima by the sea,it smells different and the air is lighter. Perhaps Lima is not so bad after all.

All will be revealed