Friday, 20 October 2006

Earthquake

 

Apparently there was an earthquakke of 6.4 this morning at ten to six. I slept right thhrough till eight and didnt feel a thing so nothing to report. Maybe Ive been woken by so many strange things it now takes more that an earthquake to getme up.

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

nearly finished

 

All I intended to do today was buy souveniers but I ended up discovering the grave of Tupac Amaru. Strangely there were no tourists and the church it was indidn't charge entry even though it is right by the qoricancha. Afterwards I walked out for ages, the tourist restaurants were slowly replaced by places doing a 3 course lunch for 2 soles, then even those stopped and the crowd thinned till I came out onto a quiet open place caled Plaza Belen on the top of a hill, it felt a very long way from central Cuzco.

 

The following are a few random observations I couldn't fit elsewhere.

 

Names

 

Recently I was pleased to find that the combination of Spanish tradition and US influence means that there is a mayoral election between jesus and Elvis.

 

Taxis

 

Taxi drivers probably don't vote for Elvis, I was in one taxi which has the following. "Dios es Amor" sign on the windscreen, red carpet fringed in gold tassels on the dashboard, two pictures of saints hanging from the mirror, a large gold crucifix and best of all a plastic statue of the virgin Mary with a halo that flashed in time with the indicators.

 

Traffic

 

They may feel they need the protection as the general rule of the road is to use the horn not the brake but if anything I've been surprised by how good traffic management is here, traffic lights are obeyed and there are traffic police at main intersections. I haven't even seen anyone drive on the wrong side of the road, which is surprising to someone who judges most poor countries by Hanoi.

 

The trip is very nearly over, there are other things I could write but I need some stories to bore everyone with when I get back. Probably won't blog tommorrow as I'm just flying to Lima and stopping in a hotel till I leave but I may add something on Bogota if I get out of the airport there.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Machu Pichu and the Inca trail

The Inca Trail
That was actually easier than I expected, apart from the second day which was sheer hell. I managed to be near the front of the group and didnt feel any pain in my legs until I stepped through the entrance gate at Machu Pichu. Having packed for wild campingI was surprised when there was no need to use my candles, mess tin or iodine tablets. I found it quite amusing to hear people say that this was roughing it while the porters set up their tents and cooked dinner for them.


I have to put in a word about the porters who were amazing. Every day when we left they would saty behind to break camp and pack up all the heavier bits of equipment, then run past us on the trail and have the next camp set up by the time we got there. Our guides Washington and Ephraim spoke excellent English and were very funny, they also told us interesting facts like the fact the 'discoverer' of Machu Pichu 'Meester Hiram Bingham' arrived about fifteen years after the area was opened up by the railway and Inca artefacts began to appear for sale in Cusco.


After three days of glorious sunshine we arrived in rain and mist. I ran to the gate at Intipunku hoping to see something before the clouds closed in but just missed it. After a very wet tour we all went down to Aguas Calientes. It was obviously a tourist town from the fact that prices were in US dollars but it was possible to find hints of local life as well like a restaurant with two entrances one saying 'Tourist Menu and Pizzeria' the other 'Se vende menus economicos y chicha de maiz'.


The main road was actually a railway track, something of a shock to someone used to the idea that train tracks must be seperated from people by high fencing that only the highly trained can go behind rather than something you can casually cross between one shop and the next. In fairness the trains seem to move about walking pace so there is probably less danger. I visited the hot springs which were crowded but otherwise ok hot water felt good after the trail.


Having booked for a second day I returned to the ruins and was pleased to find that even such a popular site has quiet areas so while tor groups queued to climb up to the temple of the sun I wandered around the agricultural terraces and buildings newly cleared from the jungle with only the lizards and birds for company. Finally I rejoined the throng to get the obligatory postcard shot from the watchmans hut before heading back down to the train station.


Thursday, 12 October 2006

Photos

 

I have added photos to this blog so you can get some idea of what it all looks like. For some reason I cant add to entries from last month so those photos are in seperate albums. I've also found out how to turn on comments if you want to say anything about the pictures.

 

As with everything on here these are the edited highlights.

 

Tomorrow I leave on the Inca trail so will update in about a week when I get back.

 

Since I havent taken any photos today here is an earlier  picture of a popular local pastime.

 

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Sacsyhuaman

 

As a bit of preparation for treking at altitude I walked up to Sacsyhuaman above the city, I was really pleased that it took half an hour instead of the hour the guidebooks suggest, then I realised my hostel is half way up. Part of the way was on road and part on path beside a stream before emerging into the car park at the top of the hill.

 

Sacsyhuaman consists of two hill with terraces some of them with the giant stone walls typical of Inca sites. Even when you've read about it the skill of carving such massive stones so exactly is still breathtaking. According to guidebooks the site was used as a fortress during the Sapnish conquest but may have been built for something else, no one seems to know what.

 

The route down was along the only road in Cusco not to have hundreds of taxi's and passed through alotments and the first wood I've seen since leaving the Amazon.

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Sicuani and Raq'chi

 

Looking to get away from the tourist zone at least for a couple of days I got a local bus to Sicuani, 2 hours south which while not exactly isolated (it's on the main road from lake Titicaca) is deffinitely unvisited. However I was disapointed, the town is largely made of concrete and dominated by a startlingly ugly bridge and council building. Someone has painted these in bright orange and purple to draw attention to them, whereas any decent person would have them buried in the dead of night. Since I was only there for a brief overnight stop I chose a cheap hotel near the bus station. Now I know why it was cheap, the anouncements of buses arriving and departing were clearly audible until about 2am. After that there was a few hours to sleep before the manager put the radio on a 5.30. Not a private radio, but a loudspeaker system designed so everyone could hear it.

 

I took an early bus to the small town of Raq'chi to see the temple to Virracocha, the only building from Inca times with surviving walls two storeys high. There I was compensated for the bad night by being the only visitor for well over an hour. I also got an excelent guide, Alberto who not only showed me the ruins but took me to visit his family who make pottery for the local markets. He then then got me on the bus back to Cusco as he was on his way to start training as an official guide.

 

As there are only a few days till I do the trail I've decided to base myself in Cusco and do daytrips, at least that way I'm guaranteed food and sleep. Tommorrow Sacsyhuaman.

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Moray

After trturning to Cusco I went today with a group of people from my Hostel to a site called Moray. The journey there was an adventure in itself  starting with a local bus ride up through the mountains to the middle of nowhere passing houses made of mud bricks and people  ploughing with oxen on tiny patches of farmland.  Then a taxi up a dirt track through the cliffs. The site itself is simply breathtaking a deep bowl cut into the landscape hundreds of metres deep and terraced around the sides.

 

Coming back we were lucky enough to get a taxi all the way which was about five times quicker than the bus and had the same views.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

Pisac

Well despite all the warnings I still managed to get my sunglhat stolen on the bus here. Though Im tempted to say it was worth it for the stunning views on the high pass between Cusco and Pisac.

 

PIsac itself is a small town that seems to pretty much shut down in the evenings once the market closes and the coaches of American tourists leave. Maybe because of that and because of the views I really like it here. The only bad thing is that the altitude sickness seems to have recurred and stopped me climbing up to Inca Pisac above the present town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Still Cuzco

The whole place is like a museum with beautiful Spanish churches and monasteries on every corner and many buildings have Inca stones at the foundation. Yesterday I saw the Cathedral, La Merced monastery and the Qoricancha where a spanish monastery was built over the temple of the sun. The interesting thing is that the Inca walls have survived better than the colonial ones although much of the building has been covered with a modern metal roof which rather spoils the effect.

 

One of the best things has been just walking round town never knowing whether the next doorway will open into a European style jewlery shop, an open air market in the courtyard or something else. The food is generally good but I have to admit there is no comparisson to Asia where you can pick up delicious stuff on every street corner. Here unfortunately the main local dishes seems to be Pizza and fried chicken though it is possible to get more local dishes if you search.

 

Today I´m going to get the local bus to either Pisac or Urabamba to spend a few days in the Sacred Valley before I head to anywhere more off the beaten track.

 

Monday, 2 October 2006

Cuzco


I´ve been in Cusco for nearly 3 days now but thanks to the altitude today is the first day I´ve been able to do anything. Cuzc seems a very pleasant city, if a bit touristy. Most of the buildings are Spanish colonial houses built around courtyards, while many of the churches are built over Inca palaces. Today I went inside La CompaƱia de Jesus, the largest in the city and saw the entrance to the underground pasages linking several of these sites. The decoration inside the church is incredibly ornate, apparently it was designed in a baroque style but local artists decided that wasn´t complicated enough and added exta carvings and gold.


Tommorrow I hope to see more of the city and maybe make plans to explore the local area.


Friday, 29 September 2006

la Selva


Just returned from a week in the forest. Picaflor Reserach Centre is basically a family home complete with a two year old called Picitto. As the only volunteer for most of the week I had to help out with building a new chicken house, pumping water etc. I also spent a lot of time out in the forest mostly in the 1km square that Picaflor own, including tuesday night at the Cassita, a small hut they built in the middle of the forest.


The main house is three stilthouses linked by walkways a central area with kitchen, bathrooms and library, a family wing and a guest bungalow. it is a nice mix of the traditional style for the area (thatched roof, wooden walls) and new ideas ( electric lights from solar power cells just outside).


On monday I went out with Laurel the director of the centre to the boundary of the Concesion Conservacion which they manage. It took about 9 hours in total including a visit to an illegal logging camp at the far edge of the concesion. slightly disapointed to learn that the Cusco road was only another 3 hours further so this isn´t deep forest but apparently the national park proper is completely closed to people, except possibly some uncontacted tribes. On tuesday I got a short visit to an oxbow lake but didn´t see any giant otters.


The forest is quite different to those I have seen in Asia being almost totally flat and with well marked trails at least within the private land.

I haven´t seen quite as much wildlife as I´d hoped but did see Capybara, brown capuchin monkeys and agouti and paca near the house.


I was able to get free lifts in and out with the boat from the neighbouring tourist lodge so didn´t take the local taxi boat which apparently takes a full day for the journey we did in a few hours.

Amazon Wildlife


On returning to Puerto I decided to treat myself to one night at a high price hotel 36 USD!! for which I get a very clean private cabin with hot water, cable tv and a minibar and breakfast and airport transfer included. It´s a surreal experience to step form a hotel that could be in Europe onto the mud street outside and dodge the feral dogs and even more feral motorbike drivers. Tommorrow I fly to Cusco and get back to roughing it.

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

still in Puerto

 

Made contact with the director of Picaflor Dr Laurel Hannah who is in town for supplies arranged to meet up tonight and to get the boat together tommorrow. This morning went across town to get my permit for the reserve from INRENA, took longer than expected as no one told me they have two offices.

 

In the afternoon took another motokar (basically a tuk tuk over) to El mirador a big tower from where you can see the whole town it looks a lot bigger than I thought yesterday but is still surrounded by jungle. Not far from the bottom I tried Chica de Jora at a little stall, not that impressed to be honest but perhaps its an aquired taste. Got a motorbike taxi back, unlike Vietnam they are organised and all wear yellow jackets.

 

Otherwise Peru seems quite like Asia in a lot of ways, taxi drivers hailing me in the street, paving slabs worn to fine polish, dogs and internet cafes everywhere. However here there are proper toilets not squats and its different being able to understand some of the language.

 

Another difference is the politics everywhere, all along the coast buildings had candidates names painted on and last night there was a busy meeting in an ARPRA hall down the street. In Vietnam of course the party and monuments to revolution are everywhere but otherwise I never noticed such things in Asia. Guess it would be different about now?  

 

Anyway will update next with news of the forest of the Madre de dios.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Puerto Maldonado

The return to Lima was uneventful but it´s amazing how Barranco felt like coming home after having just 2 nights there before. Flew very early in the morning to Puerto Maldonado. Suddenly it is properly tropical and humid with it. Puerto seems quite a small town and very wild west except for the tour agencies and designer clothes shops which change it a bit. Like everywhere in Peru there is a Plaza de Armas in the middle, unlike other places two of the 4 streets running off it turn into dead ends at the river within 200m.


Wandered to the end of one and finally saw the river, I don´t think it is the Amazon at this point but it´s still pretty impressive. Will be down river from thursday so I´ll write a final message tommorrow.

Monday, 18 September 2006

Huacachina

 

Spent two nights in Huacacina a tiny oasis town in the middle of the desert, very relaxed place but so many hotels with foreigners that it could be Australia. The town is surrounded by huge sand dunes and has a lagoon in the middle. There are lots of dogs not just wandring the streets but walking into the hotels and restaurants unstopped it seems quite bizare.

Saturday, 16 September 2006

Nazca

 The bus to Nazca was easy to book and I found a travel agent just by the bus station to book a hotel and flight over the lines. The scenery on the bus journey was stunning all deserts and mountains and we passed through little towns where local miners got on and off. The hotel I have to say was shit but at 25s you get what you pay for. Kept awake all night by cocks crowing, people shouting and traffic so not my best when I got to the airport.


The flight was certainly interesting in a 6 seater plane where I got the co-pilots seat. The lines are hard to see but the size of them is impressive enough.


had the option of waiting in a posh hotel near the airport but got the bus times wrong and ended up with two hours to spare in the bus station. Not feeling so good not sure if its just the lack of sleep but the next place is Huanica where I intemd to do nothing for a day or so.

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Paracas

Spent the  day  touring Paracas  national  reserve,  got a  boat  out to the Islas  Ballestas to see  penguins and sea lions, incredible  views of the sea lions and  the islands are full of  sea caves and arches.    Then went to  the Paracas museum where there are mummies from the  Paracas culture the  oldest is about  2600 years old and to a rock formation on the  coast called  Cathedral. to get to it the bus had to cut across the desert and afterwards the driver couldn´t find the way back to the road at first so now I can say I´ve been lost in the desert.

 

Had cerveza for lunch in a little fishing villageated  in lime juice to make it soft, absolutely delicious and with   corn and potato vas well very filling.

 

Have now put my first film in to develop then I´ll see about getting some pictures up.

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Pisco

 

Whimped out of the cheapest option for leaving Lima and took an ejecutivo class bud to Pisco, unfortunately arrived at 5pm exactly the time when thanks to jet lag Im least alert. Luckily the first grifter I ran into was from a proper travel agent and wanted to sell me a room and tour so everything was sorted.

 

Pisco feels much safer and more relaxed than Lima already and looking forward to tommorrows tour of Paracas reserve.

Lima

 First day in  Peru

I arrived at Lima  airport without a hitch unfortunately my luggage didn´t and ended up being sent on a different`plane the next day. This gave me a day in Lima with othing but the clothes I stand in. Lima is at least 4 cities put together, near the airport it is all industrial estates, burger stalls and frightening group s of men who might be taxi drivers.


One surprising thing, Lima is cold,  not freezing but a long way from the tropical heat it should be , something to do with the sea currents from the antarctic.


The centre is very like a European city with a cathedral, palace, restaurants etc but just past the train tracks you can see shanty towns on steep hills. I was stopped for walking in that direction by the tourist police so returned to the Plaza de armas in time to see the changing of the guard or rather the start of it as they stopped half way thorough and a dog with a sunhat and shades took over entertaining the crowd.


Had a menu ejectutivo lunch with noodle soup, chicken and rice then pear segments for desert, not bad for 5.50s.

Barranco where I´m staying is a quiet residential area with a view of the sea and is much more relaxing to wander about in by day but turns ino a tourist drinking area by night.


Finally go my bags at 7 in the evening and to bed at 4am so now ready to leave but no idea where I´m going for the next few days.






Monday, 11 September 2006

Bogota

 

Well I made it across the atlantic, it was a near thing as the Gatwick-Madrid plane decided to wait nearly three hours due to "a fault with one of the seats". There is nothing in Bogota airport except this internet kiosk and a tv showing the pink panther so Im taking the chance to see if this works. Should have more to say in future entries.

 

Incidentally if you ever have the option do not stay at the Russ Hill Hotel Gatwick, it was dire sixty quid for a room the size of a toilet cubicle with no windows and no air. Actually there was a window onto the corridor, no idea why.

 

Matt