11. Sep, 2015

Full Circle in Peru with Paula and John

Full Circle - like our white water rafting experience we would return to Lima different people.

Lima, Cusco, Aquae Calientes, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lima

Fugitives were on our plane! 4 police, 1 interpreter and 2 potential convicts sat almost directly behind us. This didn't give me the greatest confidence in the low budget airline as the 'handcuffed fugitives' were restless and certainly appeared to be the ones in control. They shouted in what seemed to be Gujarati and repeatedly tried to stand up drawing attention to themselves. It was at this point that I wished I was issued with a taser gun at check in and the plane insert card told me not how to put on a life jacket but how to use it! Take that, I would say as 50,000 volts turned his once belligerent body into a quivering silent one, I imagined. http://www.defenseproducts101.com/tasers_introduction/taser_questions.htm

Take off wasn't smooth, how could it be in the land of clouds? I had always wondered what it was like being in a cloud, well now I had had many experiences and I loved it. Cold, haunting, mysterious and unique, whether the science says it is different to fog or not it feels different.  http://www.differencebetween.net/science/nature/difference-between-fog-and-clouds/

Before the wheels had even left the runway we were above the clouds. Bouncing around in our seats it wasn't too long before we were wowed again by the sight of the gently smoking Cotapxi. Snow capped and burning beneath just to serve as a reminder of its power and that people are so vulnerable to the natural wonders of this planet.

Yet another form to fill in at Lima airport and by this time I actually knew my passport number, my son's mobile number and everything else, such was the banal questions that we were repeatedly asked by each new country. At least we didn't need a visa!

Lima was a city divided into 3 parts, the Miraflores or new town, the old city or historic town and then the bus station and immediate surrounding area. Not since we visited India 4 years ago have we been haunted by sights such as those we saw at Lima's bus station.

We left the Spanish Inquisition Museum in old town and took a taxi to Lima's premier art gallery, MALI. This gallery according to the guide books is  full of wonderful art pieces that we would enjoy seeing on our once in a lifetime trip to Peru - only the bleeding thing was shut for renovation! You can imagine the fury from within. There was an easy release and that was a stroll around the classically laid out park and then a hop on a bus back to our hotel about 8 miles away.

The park was filled with classical pieces and water fountains, again all of them either not working or yellow taped up with a 'sorry for the inconvenience' marked on nearby posters.  Disappointing. We walked out of the park, which wasn't easy as it was gated off with only 2 entrances at either end. A covered market sat adjacent to the park and sold local food and wares. Hungry, we thought it might be a good place to eat and drink something, but it was a place strictly for the locals and we were not really welcome. Their love of music is clear across Central and SA and no covered market on a Saturday afternoon would be compete without the locals signing karaoke style and the granddads dancing and cheering them on in the forum below. Beautiful!

We emerged from the market to be confronted by the worst of Lima, urine smell surrounded the busy streets, battered buses, taxis and cars and battered looking people rose up and took their place in this hubbub called Lima central. I was determined to get to the cathedral I could see in the distance which cast its huge shadow on the depravity below. After 10 minutes the cathedral looked even further away, such were the tragedies that we were passing. The visions made every step uncomfortable. I wanted to disbelieve what I was seeing.  Heartbreaking. Few success stories were being cooked here here,  although I fantasised that they were. By the grace of God go I.

I was becoming dizzy with the sights as my mind whirred. Children lay very sick by the roadside with their begging mothers. People sold food from a blue covered barrel such as a homemade Swiss roll or charred guinea pigs. Boys with blackened hands hung out with each other looking mischievous. Diesel fumes was the flavour of the day and my pores were already choking; the human depravity was worsening with every step. I was on a mission to get to the cathedral which was still in sight, but I knew we were at risk. Desperation often brings desperate behaviours and on our worldwide travels we had seen the best and the worst of mankind. Last time I failed to take note of the potential dangers in a place such of this I found myself in unforgettable hot waters. We hailed the next taxi which looked road worthy, we had to wait quite a while! Soon we would be homeward bound and onward to Cusco and stepping in the footsteps of ancient Incas.

The first night in Cusco was an unexpected challenge for me as the altitude sickness crept upon me like a stalking cat. It made my appetite for life wane significantly.

We walked about 1km from our hotel and found a small local restaurant, The waiter picked his nose and used the floor rag for the tables, served us alpaca curry, a noodle soup,  a burrito, but hey we were so impressed we returned the next night for seconds! Our standards were falling alarmingly or was it the affects of the altitude at 12000 FT above sea level? Filth is relative!

The next day was spent tying up loose ends, finding flights to Iguazu and Brazil and and touring the city looking at the Inca temples etc. The city of Cusco was really worth exploring and having realised it was once the capital city of the Incas our thirst for knowledge grew. I fought through the sickness, but my appetite was low and I wasn't sleeping.

I find the fact that Mayans and Incas are recognised as an ancient civilisation the same time that Britons were being ruled by a Tudor king fascinating.  Europe's churches at this time were still defining how people should live, but were going through a rapid period of transition including the birth of the C of E and the flare up of the Spanish Inquisition with the latter driving the Spanish to the shores of Central and South America. Here the Spanish and Portuguese created further havoc murdering all the leaders and stealing all their gold!

At more than 3000m high above sea level every step in Cusco was a challenge as we attempted to walk the  steep steps in the citadels of the Incas.  I welcomed the submissive cries from fellow Brits as they too struggled to move at Pisaq, part of the Inca Trail.

Living in Bath has its advantages, one of them is the ease at which we climb steep hills.  Sophie and I have been running, walking and hiking Widcombe Hill for over 3 years and as of late had found it easier as we became fitter but this - it wasn't  my legs that didn't work  it was my lungs. At times my whole body felt dizzy - even my kidney felt like it was spinning.

A queue of people scaling the steps at each site meant that we had to take our time. I was so thankful that Machu Picchu, our next destination, was 3000 ft lower than Cusco. Some people clambered the hills with great ease despite having cameras and lenses bigger than heads wrapped around their necks, but like the Inca walls it was a rare sight.

Every site we visited involved this degree of climbing and we were not just climbing one a day but  4 or 5. We were walking until 6 or 7 pm  each night. The stories we heard whetted our appetite, but I must admit I think I preferred the gore of the Mayan's history.

At the sites we found out about everyday Inca life, so to put it briefly Incas were sophisticated  farmers who were also astronomers, unlike the Mayans who were a warrior society travelling from place to place occasionally creating havoc, dismissing the current culture and looting treasures including land. Sound familiar? 15th century Spanish and 21st century Isis. Let's not forget the Brits and how they tried to conquer the world and accumulate wealth at the expense of others now!

Like many Indians, the Incas respected the land, the animals and the celestial world. They worshipped  them all with an aim of getting the best out of their life on Earth. They cultivated the land and developed lots of different variety of crops and medicines. They seemed to be a harmonious society apparently using no slaves to build their impressive citadels, preferring to use their peculiar philosophy and faith to keep the communities together. Generosity, reciprocity and kinship were promoted across their empire to encourage people from as far afield as Mexico and Argentina to join their communities. The Incas were a very small population, for example it is believed that out the 1000 inhabitants in MP only 300 were pure Incas. The rest worked for part of the year in the empire to pay for the privilege of living in it.

The guides never referred to human sacrifices or barbaric ways enforcing law and order, but they did talk of burying rituals which seem similar to many others during ancient civilisations. Bodies were washed in caves, mummified, put in the foetal position and buried in the nearby caves.

Money was rarely used to pay for things, but labour or goods were used as currency.  I was told that they were not allowed to make profit from their labour in the kingdom - this was frowned upon because it was believed to cause arguments and was not conducive to a harmonious society. Incas' ultimate belief was that they were born to serve the Earth and their brethren.

There was a belief that this was still the case, particularly among those that have Inca ancestors. Peruvians were truly humble people who looked after one another in the main. Just like in Mexico it was obvious which people had Inca ancestors and which had Mayan. Our next country that we were to visit, Argentina, people here clearly have European ancestors. It is always interesting travelling as you begin to identify the different types of people and their heritage. Before I lived in Cambodia I thought, rightly or wrongly,  that all Pacific Asians looked very similar. It didn't take long to identify who had Japanese heritage or Khmer or Filipino etc. the people's features are mainly quite defined. Khmers had darker skin and larger eyes and Thais had rounder faces and lighter skin.

The land we travelled across was very fertile and many Peruvians will be found toiling the land from dawn till dusk - backbreaking! The homes were still largely made from 'soil', similar to that of the Irish homes until the 20th century. The mud bricks are built during the rainy season and then left for months to dry out during the dry season and then used to build a house complete with metal foundations. Some are finished with a thin layer of plaster ready for painting. Some houses are made from wood or from bricks, but the majority in the countryside are built from the soil.

The bus ride from Cusco City to Ollaytaytambo was again hairy. We tried to distract ourselves by joking around making up silly stories amidst the odd 'OMG' as the driver  drove very close to the 800m+ drop. It was a Top Gear wheel spinning moment on many occasions. There's always a Brit on the fated bus or plane, we joked despite how remote the place was. We made the journey here 3 times and on all 6 trips I feared for my life. Why did we have to have all the crazy drivers with a penchant for a thrill?!

Midway through our Inca Trail we prepared to pay a visit to the mother of all Inca sites Machu Picchu. The train ride to its base followed the Rio Urubamba; the land was filled with eucalyptus trees and daring mountain goats.

I wrote while John read and helped to edit the blog, together we were a good team. We are fed some local biscuits and a piece of chocolate along with some Almond tea or fruit cocktails. I opt for the cocktail which tasted better than it looked, the floating bits of desiccated coconut did not appeal. The service was reminiscent of that given on an airplane and I am sure was modelled on it. As the hostess came to collect the rubbish I grab the serviette as every opportunity to get tissues is important - rarely is there toilet tissues in the banos.

The clouds lay low in the trees just above our head as we enter the tunnels. The scenery turns more dramatic 20 minutes from the end with huge mountains covered in evergreen trees. People walk alongside the track laden with goods to sell to the tourists or hikers use as part of their safe route on their 4/5 day trail to Machu Picchu.

Child like passengers on a school trip inhale and exhale the sights around them pointing at maps and chattering about their plans - where will their hiking boots take them next? Even experienced guides do not definitively know as each new group brings their new challenges.

The train whistles frequently on this single carriage on a single track warning animals  and people of its presence. The average age of the passengers is 30+ with about 3 couples aged over 50.

At the end of the journey We were met by the owner of the barely 1 star hostel we were to stay at for the next 16 hrs with a sign saying Paulo Cheroa. Not thinking it was me I ignored it! This was about the 7th time my name had changed! I had been Paula, Pauleeta, Paulo, Sherry, the list went on. And I have to say many people had much fun with John's surname of Greenhalgh!

We always judge a place of stay by several things one being our own personal safety and how clean it is. 'Puma Inn need of a serious makeover' just about made the mark (a) and was the first of the 14 hotels we stayed at that we judged this. We always had to travel with large amounts of cash on us owing to the ongoing money crises in Argentina and a belief that it was preferable to take US dollars there so we always needed to ensure that we had a safe in the room although our own safe was pretty secure - a padlocked suitcase secured to a large piece of furniture!

Puma Inn seemed similar to a Chinese brothel and you were going to get bitten by one or all three things - the owner, the insects or the locals. Let's face it, just staying here we were getting stung! Within minutes of landing at the hotel John sat on his glasses, broke the strap on his watch and bumped his head taking a thin layer of skin off to reveal a shape surprisingly like an alpaca. Believing that the Inca gods had wreaked revenge on him for eating an alpaca days before we laughed and went off to find help.

We found it in the form of a young lad who seemed to be very much in demand in his shop by the local school girls wanting to buy a plastic football. A man of many talents and typical of many people who live in developing countries as they have to make, mend and do. He was able to fix John's glasses and his watch and sold us a padlock for our back pack. We would later return to ask this same lad to break the padlock as it became impenetrable!

We walked back to the main street and saw the girls in full swing playing with their plastic ball on the local football pitch. Sport wasn't so much an obvious pastime as it was in Ecuador but equality was!

Preferring to be out pounding the rainy streets of Aquae Calientes (nearest town to MP) than in the hotel we found a nice town laid on just for tourists - compare it favourably to a reasonable ski resort based on a steep hill. Aquae Calientes was a long thin town running alongside a tributary of Rio Urubamba. Full of lively bars and shops ready for the après or pre tourists to MP to party and share their highs of the day. Typically people would spend 1 night here if they were taking public transport to Machu Picchu or 5 in and around the area if they were trekking. We were taking the bus. Not a trekker, never have been and never will be, give me 2 or 4 wheels every time. I do appreciate others do love it and we have by this point walked approximately 140 miles, many of those up or down hills, but I am a stroller and that's not great when you have another 2500 people to compete with to get a shot of one of the wonders of the world. (B)

Anyway we were off to see one of the WOWs!  We have seen a few, but there is so much more out there in the world than filling your bucket with a list of views. It has to be the experiences and how you feel that decides whether it is a wonder of the world, not because someone says it is. For me Bath Abbey is one of my wonders of the world, I always feel lifted when I see it or am in it and if anyone knows me they will know that I never miss an opportunity to walk past it. I wouldn't say we are bucket list writers or fillers. We keep an eye out for opportunities and consider how best to grab them and enjoy it. We had never planned to go to MP, we had discussed that if the opportunity arose we would seriously consider it, but if not it was no big deal. We had planned only one  non negotiable each on our a trip of a lifetime and they were due in the next few weeks.

These bus journeys, I thought, really would be the death of me.

6 am, iPad, camera, walking shoes, shorts, blouse and cagoule. I was prepared. Wow! 😛️🇦🇹.
We hadn't even got into the site and I was captured. The rhino horn, known as Huayana Picchu stuck out majestically stealing your imagination and once fully inside goose bumps rose all over my body and mouth was left agape. No postcard, no film and no photo could ever do this place justice, like Nerja you have to just go to believe what you are seeing. In many ways I did not want to write about it as again no writing could do this place justice. It was just a feeling that you have - you were in the presence of something very special, like God.

Mountain clouds haunt the skies
A forgotten secret stretched out on a green haven
Wooing those clad in nylon into its arms
Llamas chew the cud for excited snappers filling their buckets
Bodies in the foetal position listen to the whispers of the intrigued
If you listen her majesty speaks as you carefully poke
Designed and built by those high on the land's leaves
Sun up til sun down the 'slaves' returned a favour for their beating heart
Crevices reveal their secrets to those who dare to ask
The celestial sky draws pictures to tease the ancient people
Now void of the Inca's chanting that is until
Spirits rise up when the last bus heads out

Do not believe the guide books that say that you have to wear many layers and expensive hiking clothes. MP is such a simple place to hike around and certainly easier than a day's walk on Dartmoor, although the guidebooks would have you not believe this. There were many people there in unsuitable clothing, too many thick layers and huge back packs! These were not hikers who had walked the trail for 4 or 5 days as you could leave your travelling backpacks in the storerooms outside - these were their day packs.

Again like Chitchen Itza Machu Picchu was a name given to the site by 20th century explorers as there is no written record to what the citadel was actually called. MP means Old Mountain and I discovered that MP was actually the name of one the highest mountains (rarely pictured in photos of MP as it is behind the citadel) and not the site itself, but the common and most popular name is indeed MP.

In ancient times people worked from sun up to sun down chewing coca leaves to ensure they had the energy to survive the day. As already stated this society of people were sophisticated farmers and pharmacists, growing more than 2000 varieties of potatoes and 500 different maizes. Mostly vegetarian they used their faeces as manure to further produce the crops needed for the 1000 inhabitants. No evidence of sewers was found at MP. They designed their crops and then took them all over the 2 million square mile empire to harvest and trade with its 12 million inhabitants. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inca_Empire

Incas were also the designers of the terraces which helped to germinate and grow the multiple crops. They taught generations to perfect their horticultural skills. Many of these terraces are still in perfect condition today, although they have been restored to their original design. See photos.

Death they believed, like the Egyptian and the Mayans, was the beginning of their life time, so death, while not celebrated, was considered a positive thing. People typically lived for 40-50 years.

We were grateful that we had spent  a few hours touring Machu Picchu before the crowds entered and before we met our guide. We had arrived about 6. 45am.  At the end of the tour the guide said , 'do not say thank you, but indeed, today it is for me and tomorrow it is for you.' An Inca philosophy in action.

The loud whistle of the train echoed throughout the valley reminding you that you were not in heaven but on Earth. It took the excited passengers home with their precious memory cards loaded and ready to share. I loved this place, I danced and sang around the site while it had just a handful of people in - a once in a lifetime experience - I had won. It is hard to believe that better was to come, but it was.

The rhythm of Cusco differs as the light changes. In the morning keen tourists and purposeful business people pound the streets. Like in Quito, fathers and mothers share responsibility for their child's care as they drop off their children to playgroup while they zip off to work. As the stars appear so do the people from the pueblos high up on the hills selling street food, juice, sweets, bebidas calientes and sometimes food consisting of kidneys or chicken or guinea pigs flesh on a skewer topped with a small potato baked over a Parilla.

We had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the ancient Inca sites and we had earned a rest day. We walked around Cusco taking in the sights and calculating our next chess move across South America. Flights and tours booked we had an easy day.

Salt ponds and the ancient terraces were next up on our tours. Always there were parts of any tour which involved imparting with cash to the community who helped keep the customs of Peru alive. We visited a place where ladies dyed yarn and made and wove cloth. The traditionally clad young girl danced around as she demonstrated how the yarn was spun and John and I couldn't figure why she did this as she continued to give her speech in Spanish about how to dye using natural products. 'This is the cochineal beetle which is used to get red', she said as she danced. 'This is how you dye the yarn black', she demonstrated, again still dancing. Dancing while you dyed the yarn was an old ancient custom we thought. It didn't take long for us to realise the real reason for her dancing, she had a baby strapped to her back in her brightly striped coloured cape. That baby would bring a smile to the most miserable face, whether the owner was suffering from altitude sickness or not.

More Inca sites and a set of salt ponds, which again would leave you mystified as to talents of people and the wonders of our world. We remained enthusiastic and loved looking, being and taking photos to remind of us the thrill of walking in the steps of this sophisticated civilisation. Do I talk again about the terrifying bus journey or the affects of altitude on the steep climbs? - NO!

When we got back to the main square in Cusco about 3pm this day and there was a small gathering of local bands. I have to admit I was starving by this point, so after eating an empanada from the local street seller we ventured over to the music.

What a sight! I had seen postcards of people dressed in costumes such as the ones I was seeing before my eyes now, but never did I think that we would actually see them prancing and dancing about in them before us. It was such a fantastic sight. About 20 groups consisting of bands and brightly and imaginatively dressed people. I stood mesmerised and smiling. A captive audience coupled with exuberantly dressed groups to praise God! Praise God! A colourful joyous and noisy affair performed before us and the accompanying bands competed simultaneously for my claps. They invited us to join in and posed frequently for photographs, it really felt like we were part of the affair. Little did we know that this 3 hour organised but at times chaotic jig was actually a practice for the next day's parade in the streets of Cusco to celebrate the Natividad de Virgen 2015. We felt so honoured.

Children dressed in elaborate and costly costumes left your heart melting. When you have never seen something before, but dream of it, but don't plan for it you can only thank your lucky stars, your guardian angels etc. they have offered you a present to remind you how beautiful and magical life is. You can but smile and be at peace. It really was a special day, just another fantastic thing that had happened to us that we had not planned for.

Chocolate making - from coca bean to dark chocolates in a little plastic bag complete with bow was planned, but not before a visit to a few historical museums. Our guide and chef for the chocolate workshop was hilarious and made the experience totally unforgettable. Poised with a sharp knife he really did have us believe that he would draw blood from John's veins to make the original Mayan chocolate caliente.

A goggle at the well organised Christian parade where two villages' Virgens met in the city's square (Natividad de Virgen) came next. The two groups arrive at a crossroads hauling the huge Virgins while everyone throw rose petals and cheer or stand silently to observe the event. Then after colliding with these 10'ft effigies of Mary one group goes north and the other goes south towards their respective churches to continue the celebrations. This lively and unique spectacle finalised our tour of Cusco.  A truly fantastic end to a fantastic time!

I was secretly glad to leave Cusco I thought as I passed the huge burger advert for McDonalds whilst on the taxiing plane back to Lima. Altitude sickness was still very debilitating and I  had to give in to it. It was never severe, but enough to change my mood. I needed and would welcome Paula back. With a well filled with memories and unforgettable experiences I bade farewell.

A last supper was found in the Barranco area of Lima. Lots of unique places to eat, drink and be merry. A quaint place which was once an artists' haven. Paula was nearly back and ready to be filled and I realised guide books are good for somethings!

By the time we were to leave Peru we had moved 17 times in 7 weeks and been in 11 airports. We had enjoyed and appreciated all of the places. The owners of 16 guest houses were committed to delivering an excellent service so that you could get the best out of their home and their city. Approximately half of the owners had decided to adopt another country other than their place of birth. Sue and Evar in Tortuguero were Canadian and Nicaraguan,  Arie in Ecuador was Dutch, Cilla in Cusco was French and Jemima and Enrique in Banos were Welsh and Argentinian.  We used to amuse ourselves making up stories of some of these owners pretending they were fugitives in hiding and we would decide upon their reason for running depending on their characteristics.

Peru is an interesting place. In terms of welfare it appears significantly different to Ecuador. People here seem more self proficient and community spirited. I tend to judge a country on how well it looks after its citizens either through community events and behaviours or through the delivery of welfare. Ideally the best nations have both. When when visiting India in 2011 I was shocked by the level of exclusion within the communities and the lack of love and support for their fellow neighbours. The caste system, I daresay, contributed much to this type of frequently observed behaviour. However, in Ireland when I was last there the opposite was observed.  People were very forgiving of one another, even in times of great opposition. 

Schooling in Peru appeared to be more random than in other Latino countries we had visited. There were few schools and many children do not go. In my 12 days there I saw no evidence of hospitals or free health clinics. I know they must be there, but I saw none. Whereas in Ecuador hospitals, schools and dentists were aplenty and clearly part of their their welfare programme. When welfare is less obvious I believe the community has to come together  so that all can live in harmony, alternatively a nation becomes a survival of the fittest. A despicable way to run a country. Despite what people think I do notbwe do not live in a dog eat dog world, well certainly not in Peru. People look after each other and there is an equality about the place. There is much love there.

Adios Peru we leave with many smiles and very fond memories. I really did cry when I left.

The flight to Argentina was a treat compared to the bumpy one the day before, which not only saw the plane soar but also my blood pressure.

(A) Our worst nightmare of a place was met one Christmas Eve in 1999 when we were travelling without boys to Koh Samui, Thailand. We had arranged to stay in a place that John had previously stayed in a few months before, but when there the owner said we hadn't booked and he was full. With millennium on the horizon we soon found out that the whole of the island was booked. We ended up at a place recommended to us - Silver Beach! Silver Beach has now become a family story. The entrance was reached via a brick filled sewage leaking gorge. At the deserted and should have been condemned bar we were met by the owner who showed us to our rooms. OMG! Mould on the walls, lizards in and on the stained mattresses, no windows and dripping antiquated shower in the corner to boot. Needless to say I dragged my family out of there preferring to spend Christmas Eve on the beach. We were later saved by an owner of a brand new property which had yet to open. We couldn't have wished for better Christmas Eve.

B) Which brings me nicely on to the etiquette of queuing. It is often said that Brits love to queue. We don't. We hate it. But what is the alternative?  In the main we are vigilant and protective about our space and that of others. Latinos, in our opinion are almost the opposite. They don't queue unless they have to but  a 'queue' in Spain often ends up as a gathering as it does in central and South America. They often are not aware of others around them and just find their space and own it. Once inside a venue Brits mingle and tend to be quite generous about letting people past not taking too long to pose for a photo to allow the next one in etc. Yet the Spanish are the opposite - once inside the venue they stick like they are superglued to their family and friends not letting you past and seem to take endless selfies and more than the 3-4 seconds to pose for and take a photo. I know this is a generalisation and both sets of behaviours have their pros and cons but Hispanics you are the selfie kings and queens of the world  and you must own half of the Internet with them all! Everywhere we went on our travels we would nominate a selfie king and queen and they were always last back on the tour bus.