Reflections on the Journey Home

This morning wasnt too stressful surprisingly – the airport in Santiago is certainly not as chaotic as Juliaca up in the Andes or Lima in Peru and we were flying Qantas which was departing on time unlike almost all the Lan and Aerolineas flights we had taken. We managed a visit to the American Airlines lounge at the airport and purchased some pisco sour to help us come down slowly on our return home…

I almost burst into tears when I boarded the plane with my smiling hola and the nice man grinned back at me with a big “G’day!” It was so unexpected and I think I was both exhausted and overwhelmed with everything we had done and everywhere we had been. Muchas gracias may stay on the tip of the tongue for some time me thinks – but that G’day greeting was more welcome than you can imagine!

My beloved was happy too but not quite as emotional as we sat in our beautiful big new Qantas jet ready to head home, but as soon as we were in the air his emotions were a little different. The older Spanish lady in front of him reclined with her head almost into his lap and stuck her feet up on the seat in front! TThis was before the seatbelt light had gone off! Reminiscent of the Macchu Piccu bus ride without the knee cap problems! Fortunatemente she was disturbed by the fact that husbands tv screen kept bouncing her seat back (I cant imagine why?) and she relocated to a spare seat on the other side of the plane which was left by passengers stranded in Buenos Aires through some sort of strike in Argentina – obviously they dont just put rocks on the road over that way. Ironically her seat was then no longer reclined!

Anyway all is well in the air somewhere over the Pacific between Antartica and the South Pacific Islands. (dont worry I’m not going to send love messages through the fancy little messaging system this time (might end up going to the lady who just moved) – I’ll just stick with telling him personally!)

What interesting and or useless things have we learned?

There are eucalyptus trees all over the place – originally imported from Australia (at least we saw a lot in Valparaiso and Peru (where they are used a lot but also considered pests) – I noted the locals in the Andes like to sniff Eucalyptus to keep their airways clear.

The pre-Inca language spoken by the locals on the floating islands of Lake Titikaka has a lot of similarities with Japanese and many tourists come from Japan solely for that reason.

Wild pigs left by early explorers and settlers are a problem in Patagonia just like they can be in Australia.

The dogs I originally thought were starving and too tired to move are actually fed by everyone making them too lazy and too fat to move!

Condors only prey on the dead – so dont stop for too long in remote wilderness regions lest you be mistaken for the dead!

Flying from Juliaca to Lima over the Andes was interesting and bumpy (read frightening) and we still dont know why people decided to climb them and live there (post Inca and pre Inca included).

I dont think anywhere really looked like Julia Creek but then, I’m not the expert on Julia Creek so maybe husband was right everytime.

If you really want to try roasted guinea pig (cuy) you should ask for it without its head as the mouth roasted open suggests the poor little thing was screaming as it was cooked (dont worry we didn’t eat them).

Watch out for dog poop everywhere you walk, and I mean everywhere! – only the national parks are safe from this problem.

Vegetarians and people from some Asian countries have more trouble with Altitude sickness than we did because they are picky eaters and dont eat enough red meat. (That is according to one of our tour guides and may or may not be true – maybe you can check wikapedia again).

Much to the horror of my beloved I may have exposed myself to future imprisonment – I have become a law breaker – yes I admit it – I crossed at lights that didnt say walk – many many times! (even when police were present with big guns and battons!). I accidently took some photos when I wasnt allowed – and last but not least – This may or may not result in breaking laws – I signed things that were in spanish and I had no idea what I was signing! But if we wanted to stay in those hotels – or go on that tour – we had no choice. Someone had to sign!

Husband is confident that either speaking Spanish or being with someone who speaks some Spanish is mandatory for many of the places we visited particularly if you are not on an organised tour! In my opinion even where we had organised things it is useful knowing how to say “necessito bano ahora!” (I need the toilet right now!) Or “Help – Ayuda my wife has just been sick on the floor!”

So what was great about the trip and what experiences were the best?

First of all I think the fellow travellers we have been fortunate to have come across have made the trip so great – mostly sharing experiences in Patagonia, Argentina and Peru. Firstly Marilyn and Lloyd both in the bus and at Ushuaia, and all the Canadian adventurers, Ginger and Gail and Carol whose hiking prowess and friendship made Torres del Paine and Cape Horn such a pleasure (and who donated a great Steinbeck book to the library in my pack), particular credit to Carol whose patience and photographic eye inspired us to stop every now and then to smell the roses metaphorically speaking (and photograph the smaller things), (hopefully we will hear from one or two of them soon as they visit downunder), Stacey and Lorena who we need to thank with a big dinner in Oz or Hawaii some time.

Ulrich and Heike also stand out for hiking prowess and great company (must be because they’re German lawyers) it may well also be the French Valley hike and the sharing of the heirloom brandy made by Ulrich’s father which ensured they will always be remembered! Only sorry we didnt have the stamina to stay longer at the bar at Iguazu and keep up with them!

Of course the tango girls Cassie and Stacey who hiked the Inca trail were inspiring and great fun and numerous others who sat and chatted with us on trains, boats and buses (and in bars and restaurants) giving us tips and patiently listening to our stories over and over and over (especially the one about the lost gopro!) (actually maybe I was the only one who heard that one over and over). I think it is fair to say that fellow travellers develop a unique bond regardless of where they are from and its nice to sit and have a drink and a chat and debrief after some of these experiences or to share tips for future destinations.

Due to the nature of the trip it was difficult to get to know the locals well – especially when my basic spanish did not extend to Glaswegian or Swaheli dialects and husbands Spanish was non existent! Nevertheless there were some great moments communicating with people all over the place – often when ordering one thing and receiving another! The young boy at the airport in Buenos Aires and the little boys practising English on the plane to Puenta Arenas also stand out.

As far as tour guides go Juan Adriana and Diego stand out in Torres del Paine and for much of our journey as being helpful, entertaining and filled with enthusiasm. (And for ensuring I did not fly to Antartica like Mary Poppins would have if she was there!) For most of the Argentinian adventure we were our own guides although Ulrich and Heike’s driver “omar” in Iguazu was a great catch. Cusco saw us being passed between a few different guides that followed script to the letter teaching us about the Spanish and the Incas. The pickups and dropoffs in Peru were always on time and well organised although these tours, while being informative and, at times, necessary, were usually quite strict and with minimal humour (a bit of laughter goes a long way when you are faced with such horrors of history and physically exhausted). Macchu Piccu was, thankfully on our own! We would say the diving team and Scuba duba in Puerto Madryn were great too and I am thankful fear did not prevent me from playing bait to the orcas for that one day. My beloved tells all it was the best diving experience he has had so that’s saying something for someone who has had so many dives! And finally of course one must learn to tango in Buenos Aires without question! A failure to partake in this dance of love is to deprive ones senses of the electricity of one of lifes great thrills (especially if your beloved is as hot at tango as mine)! lol.

For me must sees in these parts of world are Valparaiso, Torres del Paine, Cape Horn, jumping in with the sea lions in Puerto Madryn, both sides of Iguazzu, Cusco and Macchu Piccu – I’d head to Titikaka to see the floating islands but I’d try and find a private driver and check out some not so touristy stops up on the altiplano. Husband would say Puerto Madryn diving. There are obviously many other places we did not get to and others will suggest Antartica (it was so close) or the Argentinian Glaciers and hikes near the border to Torres del Paine – we were challenged quite enough given anyway that we live at sea level and rarely see a mountain at all, let alone the ones they have in South America! And frankly our trip to Cape Horn was fantastic and we were pleased to have made the landing!

We genuinely feel so privileged to have been able both physically and financially to have partaken in these experiences knowing there are many less fortunate who may never have these opportunities – although I will say with a backpack and a cheap hotel or hostel (and an uncomfortable bus) – its surprising how far the money can go if you at least have the physical capacity. Hopefully sharing the stories and a few of the photos might give some pleasure to those at home (especially those who should have been looking after the animals and mowing the lawn) and to others who have taken the time to read and follow this blog.

We hope that if you’ve met us along the way or even if you just enjoy the blog you will put a comment up and keep in contact with us! Editing and photos will be uploaded when we return home so stay following to ensure you catch the updates.

We will also be back soon with more adventures – next time the Camino – until then Adios!

 

Back to Glasgow!

Sitting in our air conditioned room in Santiago I have to say thank heavens we are not in the hot box we started out in here at Santiago a lifetime ago at the beginning of our trip.

Last night was another long night flying from Puno to Lima and then, and after being delayed in Lima we didnt arrive until after 1am this morning. A few technical difficulties with our booking so sleep was slow coming and it has been another hot day!

I couldn’t believe it was Sunday and all the little special shops are shut for our last day! Also, after finally having some reasonable Spanish conversations in Peru we are back in Glasgow! I couldnt even order breakfast this morning without the shop assistant muttering “gringo” as he tried to explain the type of juice in Glaswegian! Jugo de naranga was all that I wanted Pedro! (orange juice) – and as I said “Soy de Australia! No soy de Estados Unida!” My beloved relied on me to tell them Jamon y Queso and pedro had trouble with comprehending that! I think thats enough about Pedro except to say he got no chow pescado from me!

So we skirted around the Plaza de Armas and had a good visit to the Cathedral de Santiago – photos permitted and all. It wasnt as old as the Cusco churches, nor as ornate, but it was very impressive anyway – with various Archbishops buried below also it seemed. We laughed at the traffic signals that showed a lighted green man walking who started to run as it got closer to turning red. Council would be sued in Australia if someone ran and fell over!

We found a small handicraft market and watched a number of street performers throughout the day, and we watched the illegals packup stalls as the police come through and open them seconds later. All in all it was quite a pleasant last day in Santiago.

In the evening we found a great little restaurant in Barrio Lassaria and saw some night markets and busking musicians, had one last pisco sour and enjoyed a nice pinot noir to farewell Sud America!!

Hasta luego Santiago!

 

Lake Titikaka and the Altiplano

We are sitting in a plane high above the Andes heading back to Lima and then to Santiago in readiness for our final flight home. We are both reflecting on how on earth the Spanish found their way to Cusco and beyond – these Mountains make Australia's Great Dividing Range look like a walk in the park! It is unimaginable what drove men in such early times to cover such extreme terrain in search of gold, whether for themselves, for God or country – even without considering the pain inflicted on others – the mind boggles! Equally the choices made by the Incas and pre Incas even earlier – wow here is a mountain top as remote as we could possibly get, lets build some terraces and a temple or two – that'll show those people down on the flat how important we are!

We caught a bus from Cusco to Puno the day after returning from Macchu Piccu (MP). Unfortunately our travels back from MP and onto Puno were timed well to fit in with some kind of farmers strike. No-one could clearly tell us what the strike was about but, as with our own country, we came to the conclusion that the farmers here were getting the short end of the straw – one only had to look at the housing, clothing and teeth to conclude that the government might have been gaining more from the export of quinoa and other products than the local producers. Anyway – we may be wrong but thats what it sounded like when we put all the different opinions together.

A strike in these parts affects everyone through the rather interesting way in which it is carried out – trees are felled across roads, large boulders and piles of rocks are moved onto road and basically all roads are blocked. We were lucky coming back to Cusco as the strikers had gone home for siesta and our driver was able to manouvre around each obstacle where others had made temporary clearances and get us back in a reasonable time. The morning trip to titikaka and puno however required an exceptionally early start in order to get going before the strikers had desayuna (breakfast). This meant another 4.30am wake up as the bus was going to leave at 6am from the main station instead of the usual 7am time.

We managed well and almost left the passports behind as that was my job and I was in a trance – fortunatemente I remembered at the last minute and rushed back up to the room safe!

The trip entailed another couple of stops, one a very ornate church – marketed as the Cistine Chapel of South America and, you guessed it, some Inca Ruins, a museum and the highest pass we would reach as we crossed into the Altiplano where the large open lands are managed to farm sheep, alpaca, cattle, potatoes and grains! The church was impressive, the ruins impressive, the museum small, and the High Point – touristy in a Peruvian kind of way! I guess we were catching a tourist bus – maybe if we'd caught a locals bus we would have had a different experience – but then we may have taken two days to get to Puno and may never have known where we were at each point.

 

 

So we arrived in Puno exhausted (what's new?) and after ducking out for a quick meal and look around we headed back to our little hotel room to have a hot shower and pass out. Guess what! No hot water! It seemed we had hit the jackpot again with the dodgy hotel but, after a few calls, Marco down at reception sorted the problem and 1/2 hour later the water was steaming. I have to say that was a long half hour with both of us needing matchsticks to keep our eyes open and as much as I wanted to hate the place, Marco was so genuinely helpful and apologetic we had to be grateful.

Next morning a pickup was arranged for 7am which doesnt sound too early but this travelling was getting quite exhausting so we found it a bit of a struggle after the early start previously and the hot water incident the night before. The day started out cold and drizzley but as the boat headed out into Lago Titikaka the clouds started to part, and, almost the same as at many of our stops like Macchu Piccu, the sun shone through.

We first visited the floating Uros islands which we had been warned we very touristy but, as luck would have it, we were separated from the large crowds and were two of only three people that visited the family built island where we were shown the lay of the land! The people make their homes out of reeds in the lake and lay a new floor every now and then – eventually the island becomes too heavy and they have to start again (after about 40 years). This means that each island has a unique smell as the lower layers become old and rotten! Apparently there are no fires to keep everyone warm lest the grass floor catches fire! Given that the night time temperature reaches -10 celsius they all sleep together in one bed – sounds romantic doesnt it? Mum Dad and the five kids – maybe they dont get to five kids actually – not enough alone time maybe…

 

 

Anyway we went to the main island for this little community which had a few market stalls and a rather unique hotel – we checked it out and were glad we were staying in Puno – hot water incident or not – we could not see the need to spend too long on these very small islands where everyone wanted to sell us something!

 

Next stop was Taquile island which was set up well for tourists also – they did seem to do quite a bit of farming on the side but this island is more famous for its knitting men! The women spin the yarn and the men knit. All very interesting and the lunch here was surprisingly beautiful overlooking the lake but, I would have preferred to visit an island which wasnt expecting so many tourists as again the people here were all setting up markets with trinkets and touristy things along every path. At least we got to visit one family home alone and saw how they used a local plant as soap and shampoo to wash wool, hair, everything!

 
 

 

So that was our last touristy day in Peru. And now we sit on the plane high above the Andes marvelling at the tenacity of all who have come before us and at the same time looking forward with eager anticipation to our own bed and access to a fridge with lots of greenery!

 
 

 

 

 

Macchu Piccu Our Way!

Maybe it was the way he tangoed in Buenos Aires – you know – with style and ease, never to be forgotten – I dont know but on the train on our way back from Macchu Piccu a young English girl leaned across the aisle and said she had seen us at tango. I told you he had excelled! Amazing how fame can suddenly befall you when you take to a dance with such vigor and determination! Yes, I am joking a little and more about Cassie and Stacey and Candy and Troy later!

The morning of our visit to Macchu Piccu began with a very early wakeup – 4.30am to be precise! We packed our packs and headed down for an unnecessarily bad breakfast in our unnecessarily bad hotel! It made the hotel in cusco even more glamorous than we had first thought.

It was dark and cold outside and we left our packs in storage and headed through the empty markets towards the bus station. You need to catch a train to aguas calientes as I understand there are no roads – then you have to take a bus up the side of the mountain to the actual site. You may have heard of my trip to Vietnam where the road from Sapa to Bahai thrilled me to pieces meandering up the sides of mountains the likes of which I had never seen. I remember thinking if he misses a corner here I am dead meat. Well, I have to say going up the mountain to Macchu Piccu was not dissimilar – just a little quicker. The drops each side of the bus must have been on verticle mountain walls – with cloud cover you could not see how far down the valley was.

To start with I had the pleasure of sitting in the very back corner, behind a young man from the States whose girlfriend informed me “we all have no room” when I asked very nicely if he would pull his seat back forward when we first got in. After about 15 minutes I had secured my hiking poles between his seat and the back of mine to ensure it stopped bouncing onto my injured knee with every bump in the dirt road. Eventually my husband asked him if he could try again to find the lever on his left as his wife (me – his beloved) was in agony. Finally some reprieve! “Oh yeh there is a lever there! ” Der… The fact that he and his girlfriend had about 10 inches more space for their legs than I did, did not phase them for the first half of the journey. Another nice couple on the other side looked on in disbelief from the other side until the seat was moved. They were informing me of this as they kindly allowed me to exit in front of them at the end of the journey and as I chatted on I missed the step in the aisle and banged the billyo out of the other knee as I went down. This was clearly an optimum start to exploring Macchu Piccu which consists of steps steps and more steps! I was in peak condition …. ha ha ha.

Fortunately most of my knee pain occurs on the descent with stairs so my beloved and I powered to the top to the Guards hut where the best photos were expected to be had. There is a taller mountain opposite the hut you can climb if you buy tickets months in advance – the guards hut was fine for us. As anyone who has been here knows, cloud cover is a common problem so there we stood chatting with a nice young english couple who had the same idea of getting photos from the guards hut. And we chatted, and we chatted, and we chatted – we had one or two brief cloud breaks for a photo or two and eventually they had to leave for their tour after which they said they conceded they may as well hear about the place if they cant see it! Well we continued to wait and about 8:30 two minutes of sun – just when the security guard told me the sun would shine! We turned and thanked him profusely muchos gracias muchos gracias and he laughed and laughed.

And guess what – battery needs changing and I desparately fumble in my bag for second camera – sun is gone again by the time I locate it. Ok my beloved decides to investigate the surrounds a little more and I stand for another half hour, wet cold determined! With a sore knee (or two) there is no climbing back up for a second chance. Anyway finally as I decide to make the journey down one level – out comes the sun! No matter, one level down and the photo opportunities are still magnificent – we investigate level after level taking photo after photo and finally decide to head back out the gate and tell our tour guide we are done! She was a little distraught – how could we possibly be done without her insider knowledge? We were tourists who required word by word guidance on every step. Little did she know we eavesdropped on other tours when we felt like it but mostly we just looked on in wonder. It was just perfect investigating the ruins alone snapping photos where we wanted and not having to wait for a group to move on to the next one. Not having to go one way when we wanted to go another. And not having to listen to various hypothesise on what happened here. I had already read quite a bit about the findings and was able to identify some things as we went.

Back down at Aguas we tried the Inkaterra cafe – closed due to renovations, the Inkaterra Restaurant – not open for an hour and finally a little cafe up a side alley. Perfect to rest recover and eat. Desafortunatemente my fish was a little, well, fishy – so I just had chips and water! An hour or two later we had collected our packs and were back at the train station ready to depart. I quickly grabbed a queso empanada (meat just seemed to be a little to dodgy for my stomach) and we found our seats on the train opposite Troy and Candy from the States. They were great company for this ride sharing stories of diving and travel – in fact I think I might have to visit the gold souk in dubai when we pass through just too see the wealth in that place!

At one point we were all convinced the train had been derailed when a loud bang and shake resulted in a sudden stop. Either superman lifted us back on track or the noise was just a change of direction to allow us to sit aside while a train coming the opposite way passed us. Yes it was the later of the two scenarios.

Anyway it was about this time Cassie leant over and mentioned the tango – yes you heard right – he's famous! But his story is nothing compared to Cassie and Stacey's. They were sitting opposite their guide and had just completed the four day inka trail. At 4200 metres on the second night, Stacey had had to deal with nose bleeds and vomiting blood if you can believe it – altiitude sickness is indiscriminate – Cassie had no problem. Their guide had provided local first aid and helped clear her airways and she clearly had no choice but to finish the hike and get out of there! They hiked about 40 km in 4 days up and down some of the most unbelievable landscape you could imagine – my beloved was glad i had not signed him up for this one – I have to say after hearing the stories from these girls I was quite okay with that decision also.

Initially it sounded all bells and whistles, they had a guide, three porters and a chef – whom I believe did not assist with any weight loss hopes the girls had held prior to undertaking this physical challenge. I have to say seeing some of those mountains and knowing how awkward some of the hills could be in the wet it would still not be easy. Troy and Candy were equally in awe of this feat of significance. The trail must have only been open a week after the wet season – and frankly it was still darn wet! Full congratulations to these two for an impressive effort!

My basic kneecap problems pale into insignificance I know – but my fear of heights was faced every second of my visit to Macchu Piccu and I too am proud of making the journey!

 

Inca this and Inca that

We know we have a lot of reading to do when we get home (just quietly if you have decided to follow this blog you may have a lot of reading to do too!), but after spending a few days in Peru we are emotionally scarred by the atrocities committed by the Spanish and yet impressed by the pride of the Peruvian people in their history – both Inca and Spanish – and the ultimate marriage of the two – a unique Catholic Inca religion ith different developments in different areas.

Our tour of Cusco took us inside the most ornate Cathedral you could imagine – think baroque think gold and silver everywhere, mirrors in Inca tradition, Christianity and Inca moulded into one (sorry no photos allowed), we also visited many ruins, museums and other churches and have to say Cusco is like a time capsule of historic significance. Apart from learning quite a bit about the place we had the thrill of visiting one site that was over 3800m above sea level (Higher than the highest mountain in Japan apparently) and viewing the city from the Inca site of sexy woman (actually its saqsywaman but its pronounced sexy woman so I'll stick with that). We had some great meals, a day to ourselves and indulged in a bit of tourist shopping for a change. The broken beak penguin and the miniature sea lion no longer seem to be adequate tokens to remind us of this grand adventure now!

Anyway on morning two, and after a very unwelcome bout of food poisoning (or god knows what) I hit the medicine cabinet and thankfully stopped a potenially fatal condition in its tracks! I did however feel a little unwell for the morning and would have preferred another free day. Nevertheless I was up and ready as we had an early pickup and visit to the Sacred Valley and transfer to Macchu Piccu. On this trip we finally had the privilege of meeting some condors up close at a family run sanctuary where they were rescued from a circus and private homes. These condors were amazing and because they have not been in the wild they apparently have to stay at the sanctuary (at least for now) – we went in the enclosure with them and watched them being exercised over our heads! They are a member of the vulture family and seeing them up close was quite a surprise after seeing so many gliding through the sky back in Torres del Paine – I have it on good authority that they only eat the dead! Thankfully we werent still comatose from our travels or they may have mistaken us for dinner!

Then we went to more inca ruins – not meaning to sound blase' as these ruins are quite spectacular but we were feeling a little over incad for the day and wanted to see how people live in the present – the animal shelter was my highlight for the day as it was also part of the family home. The family run establishment had pet peruvian hairless dogs which I also found amazing – Husband finally got to see a boomer (read puma) that had been rescued from a sex show of some sort in Lima (I dont want to know what they did with a wild animal in a show of that nature so you can imagine that one for yourselves!). As an aside they also had a little pen of guinea pigs – these were not rescued from someones dinner table nor were they pets!

We also had a quick stop at some markets where we were offered roasted guinea pig (cuy) on a skewer – I took the plain bread (solo pan) – even if my stomach wasnt sensitive I dont think guinea pig would have sounded appealling!

We then caught the train from Ollyantambo to Aguas Caliente – also known as Pueblo Machhu Piccu. I had visions of bathing in the hot springs (aguas caliente means hot water) and then relaxing before dinner and taking an early night ready for the creme de la creme of Peru tomorrow (Macchu Piccu). Unfortunately the said baths were somewhat shall I say “unappealling” – actually lets say also not as expected – you know, natural water pumping up into pristine water holes – as it turned out they were part of a poorly maintained pool system where the first pool was empty and too many people crowded into the other very small brown water pools – cleaning their ears, scrubbing their bods, and generally trying to gain the health benefits which are obtained by the pools. I was unaware of the ear picking at this point and still adamant I would quickly jump in then out until the security guard chased me down the stairs babbling something about not taking my little daypack into the bathing area – well that was it – my staunch determination became a clear decision to stay away. I was glad the guard had broken my strong pace toward the pool because quite frankly I was terrified – I'd already dealt with stomach bugs and flu and probable food poisoning – the immersion into this pool of dubious character was destined to provide some further disease to deal with – viewing back down over the rail and seeing the scrubbing incidents confirmed I had made the right decision – husband had no intention of indulging from the moment he set eyes on the place. So, back down the hill, back to the rather unnecessarily bad hotel and out to a really expensive inedible dinner! Pueblo Macchu Piccu was not proving to be an attraction of any sort! But tomorrow was too be the star of the show.

 

 

 

 

 

And onward to Peru

We eventually touched down in Lima just before midnight and  we were met at the airport by a lovely young university student who was working as an English guide while he studied music – the driver couldnt speak English so we needed two people to take us to our hotel apparantly. We had just been to four countries in one day – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and now Peru. We were both near comatose but Max filled us in on what we needed to know for the next day as we only had one day in Lima before heading up to Cuzco and the Andes for the week.

Well as I said before we had heard alot about Cuzco and Macchu Picu but no-one had told us that Lima was pretty interesting too.

For starters there was actually surf there. The water was a bit brown but the two breaks we could see from the cliff face in Miraflores (the suburb we were in) looked pretty popular. Secondly, there were over 10 million people that live there – it is apparently the second biggest city in South America. This meant that there was again a diversity of living quarters and again, a high standard of living, against a very poor population that live in “shanty towns”. 

On the day tour we visited pre Inca archaeological sites, numerous neighbourhoods, town squares and finally a church/cathedral with rather large catacombs housing the bodies of over 25000 people underneath – so researchers say. We meandered through underground to be confronted with thousands of human femurs and skulls arranged in earthquake proof tanks (an amazing feet according to researchers) and 10 metre deep hollows. The design was so good that it has been able to withstand some serious earthquakes. This little side tour was disturbing and facinating – the locals and elite all buried under the church to be closer to God. The spanish stopped the practice in the early 1800’s apparently as fear of disease had spread. This cathederal church also housed a massive library with books from the 16th Century onwards – we could look but not touch or photograph inside anywhere here. We both would have loved to pick up a book and open it but had to be satisfied with the two large latin books on display. 

Upstairs in the Church people were lining up to touch a statue of St Jude – patron saint of the impossible – I guess everyone has an impossible wish they wouldnt mind fulfilling – there were hundreds of people lined up and you can only do this at certain times of the year so that was interesting too. Personally I found the vultures prched high on the steeple and the bats in the belfry the most surreal parts of the this massive structure. It seemed like something out of a horror movie! We dont have vultures in Australia (to my knowledge) and I couldnt help but wonder if they didnt start hanging about here centuries ago when all the dead bodies were being piled up. 

On a lighter note, we also saw some celebrations in the main square where people from different parts of the country come at different times to parade and celebrate their specialties. This time they were clearly from mining towns so the bright coloured dresses contrasted beautifully with the men in hard hats who had painted their bodies brown and dirty. Plenty of music and dancing as the parade passed by.

All in all Lima proved to be a very interesting city and worth a visit for sure. Late in the afternoon we are finally off to Cuzco. Due to the fact that I have a respiratory infection of some sort I feel it is necessary to start the altitude sickness preventative medication although I have ummd and ahed about it for some time due to other potential side effects.  As you might imagine the plane takes off from Lima goes up up up and then lands!  Not really but not far off.

Night one in Cuzco – we had dinner in a small place which for me consisted of Quinoa soup and Pisco Sour (complimentary) and husband had lamb stew and beer (and complimentary pisco sour.) There is great rivalry between Peru and Chile as to who owns the Pisco sour – each claiming it is their countries national drink and that their recipe is better – I dont mind the competition – if they are complimentary they are great! The waiter was friendly (not all that common in South America) and the atmosphere was great with a young girl dressed in traditional attire meeting people at the door (sin smile) and a whole bunch of locals enjoying their meal on the table next to us.

Back at the room I am struggling to breath, the ache in my chest from coughing and the seeming lack of oxygen makes me wonder if I can make it through the night – even taking pain relief makes me sick. I go to sleep half sitting in bed with husband wondering if I am actually dying or just overreacting and having some sort of panic attack! The fact that my lips were a strange mix of white and purple or that I couldnt breath when I lay down did not seem to phase him! Either way it was not a pleasant way to go to sleep on our first night let me say – but I am pleased to have awoken this morning able to breath and I have continued the anti altitude sickness medication in order to not bail out now on this grand adventure. I admit I am not in peak condition but with a portable medical cabinet and a positive attitude I think I can survive and enjoy this visit to the Andes. And besides, we are staying in the most beautiful hotel we have ever seen – Hotel Aranwah – a converted Spanish Mansion – complete with antiques in every nook and cranny and courtyards everywhere. Just magnificent!

It was a lazy Sunday morning except for the fact that we kept hearing loud banging noises from our room that sounded not unlike canons going off nearby.  So we headed down to the main square which was only two blocks away and to our surprise discovered a massive parade and military celebration of some sort.  Guns blazing in salute and fireworks in the middle of the day – not unlike Graduation day at Ashgrove except for the guns!.  The locals were all out in the best black suits money could buy and, listening to the presenter, it reminded me of Moscow 20 something years ago when perastroika presentations were being made.  We have no idea what was going on but it was impressive – except when a whole line of soldiers were pointing their basookas our way!  We wandered about and bought a can of oxygen just for the hell of it (and to ensure I didnt suffer the same inability to breathe later in the day).

As we wandered the streets of this beautiful city we came across celebration after celebration. Sunday is obviously party day.  Opposite the cathedral a band played, couples danced and a cute little boy grooved to the rhythm.  There were bottles of beer lined up on the footpath with the odd flagon of wine and bottles of whiskey or something like it – and this was only the morning.  These people know how to party! Husband wants to live here!

We had to be back at our hotel by 1pm for a tour of Cuzco so we sat in a cafe, drank coca tea (apparantamente the stuff cocaine is made from but used here for altitude sickness)  and ate empanadas to ensure we would have the energy to be tourists in this high altitude city.  Back at the hotel we could still hear the fireworks (along with the odd American discussing the downfall of the republican movement as they sipped coca tea)!  Turns out the military procession happens every Sunday in Cusco – along with hundreds of other celebrations.  So far all is well in the Andes!

 

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Iguazu and Iguacu Falls

We have just spent two nights in Iguazu (the Argentinian side) and were pleased with the recommendation of Grandad and Joan to stay in the only hotel actually inside the national park as the town itself was definitely nothing more than a pile of hotels and taxi stands at least twenty minutes away. Sadly my thoughts of leaving behind the South American Jetstar were shattered when our flight from Buenos Aires with LAN was delayed not only after we had arrived at the airport but after we had literally jogged to the gate which I estimate was about 4 kilometres past checkin!

Nevertheless during the delay there was an opportunity to communicate with a young man whose mother and brother were on the other side of the glass waiting for him to leave. He was so thrilled to have met someone from Australia and we chatted for quite a while. He was leaving his family for the first time and heading south to work. I think I told him we had two boys at home – his mother and brother were using sign language (in Spanish) to communicate through the glass also so it was an interesting half hour. He even gave grabbed me as we were leaving and did the spanish cuddle much to my surprise! My Spanish has been improving bit by bit, but during the little jaunt to the gate (not to the cat) we had become rather confused and I frequently stopped to ask where Gate 15 was and for the life of me I do not know what came over me – I know at home that el gato is el diablo so why on earth did people keep looking at me with perplexed faces – Was it because I kept asking “donde es el gato quincy?” or “Where is the cat fifteen?” Puerta I should have remembered is both door and gate! El gato is the cat – or at our place more commonly known as el diablo – the devil!

Anyway we made it to the hotel in reasonable time to take a late afternoon walk and find our bearings and catch our first views of the falls. The park was not meant to shut until 6pm but it seemed the rangers found it necessary after 5 to go around putting closed (cerrado) chains across to stop people going in to lookouts and not coming out in time. Thankfully a group of very thoughtful sightseeers were running along at the same time as us and opening the chains so we were able (within the legally permitted times) to catch our first views of the falls – rainbows and all – it is impossible to put into words just how magical they are but I will try – thundering, majestic, powerful, gigantic, unbelievable ! We were also able to meet a family of little monkeys along with the long nosed rodents that frequent all areas of the park. 

Upon returning to our hotel we headed to the bar in the hope of finding our German friends from Torres del paine. Unfortunately hunger got the better of us before we could locate them so we headed down to the restaurant and what do you know! There is Heike and Ulrich sitting at the first table inside the door! It was great to catch up with them and share a few more stories of travel and home – Heike told us of their trek at Fitzroy in Argentinian Patagonia where she was literally needing to commando crawl due to the wind – reminded me of our trip to Grey Glacier where we stopped short of learning to fly our first day in Torres del Paine! 

Anyway next day we headed out to really get to see the falls and caught a truck through the jungle to catch the boat upstream and go under the falls – this was needless to say a little bit of fun! The noise, the power, the water – we were wet wet wet and we could not recommend it enough! We then followed the track up the Argentine side and caught different views of the falls all the way up – just unbelievable. In the afternoon we caught a bus into town to check it out and change some money and it was here that we confirmed the decision to stay in the park was the best! We had falls views from our balcony and we could wander early or late – as we had done the afternoon before. 

The next morning we were able to get a late checkout – thank heavens as husband was recovering from his flu and mine was now in full swing! Chest pains from coughing and all! Never to let a little illness get in the way of sightseeing we headed off early (because we were in the park) to catch the first train to the start of the walk out to Garganta del diablo – the throat of the devil! Again – nothing short of spectacular – this time we were literally standing on top of the falls watching this humongous volume of water thunder down and spray back up at us – again we were wet wet wet and it was only 9am in the morning. 

Back to our hotel for our late checkout we had time to dry our clothes on the sun drenched balcony, I had time  to laze by the pool and husband had time to watch tv and catch up on facebook – poor thing was feeling a bit exhausted but the worse was yet to come.

So Heike and Ulrich had recommended a driver who picked us up at 12.30 and seemed a little uncertain of our ability to action the planned itinerary because we had left it so late (because we needed a rest!). Anyway we headed through town and over the border into Brazil and down to the bridge to Paraguay. This particular area is where three branches of rivers meet and three countries meet but it is not as simple as standing on one point and being in three countries (although we did stand with one leg in Brazil and one in Argentina for a photo). No, the bridge to Paraguay is a little more complicated and the city in Paraguay is just a tad more interesting. Our driver was a little concerned that we may not come back I think so he decided to park in a secure lot and walk over the bridge to Cuidad del Esta with us. Due to the fact that this city is a duty free haven, mecca for wild things and the country is very poor the worry was we would be held up, pick pocketed or abducted as we just looked a little too non local (read white hair is somewhat standoutish!) The bridge also was undergoing road work which meant crossing in a car was a three our journey each way. Walking was a mere 10 minutes although it was by this time stinking hot and we were still not well but the thrill of exposing ourselves to danger, witnessing complete chaos, and buying a new sd card in Paraguay meant we had to do it.

The walk was initially uneventful but then we were lucky to see the gates on the Paraguay side open and the motor bike taxis storm across the bridge after having waited forever horns tooting hundreds at once – no lane control, just speed and engines blazing – they stop all traffic one way for some time while they let the other side through – the lineup of cars went on forever on both sides also. For foot passengers there was no need to line up we just had to do the right thing with Brazilian immigration but no need to visit the Paraguay immigration (well actually it was best not to lest we be charged a months salary for walking across the bridge apparantly). We also witnessed a customs dispute with a crowd gathering and shouting at the customs police to let the people through!

After returning from this very interesting 45 minute visit to Paraguay we headed straight to the Bird Park in Brazil which initially looked like it was going to be a dissappointment as the first birds were behind cages and we could barely see them – but then we went in to the open areas where we were able to see beautiful Macaws and Toucans up close along with the odd vulture, boa constrictor and a butterfly or two. This park is a refuge for injured animals apparantly and was worth the visit. 

Then came our last stop for the day, the Brazilian side of the falls. Unfortunately here we had to spend more time on the bus inside the park than we actually spent looking at the falls but this visit was again worthwhile. This time you walk out on man made metal tracks and stand almost in the falls – this was spectacular again and would be a must for anyone who had not done the boat ride the day before – for us it was still a thrill as the thundering volumes of water are just beyond imagination. Omar told us we now have to rent the movie “The Mission” as Robert DeNiro stayed where we did when it was being made and we will see plenty of views of the falls that were taken from places we had visited over the last few days.

Anyway itinerary complete at Iguazu we were at the airport in time for our flight to Peru. We had extended our itinerary to include Peru as many told us that it was their favourite country, Cuzco was beautiful and Macchu Picu was site to be seen. Plus we were so close! Anyway yet again our flight was delayed but this time we were in a domestic airport that had one large room with a cafe for the international flights. It was a little disturbing. We were exhausted – we were unable to email the person I had arranged to pick us up in Lima to inform them of the delay – internet was unavailable – and no shopping! Then came the news that our flight was being diverted for “mechanical reasons” to Assuncion in Paraguay! Two trips to Paraguay in one day – werent we lucky. 

 

Reflections on Argentina

Well, as you know we arrived at the worlds Southerly most city before flying half way to Buenos Aires and visiting Puerto Madryn. There we felt like the only foreign travellers as the peak season was over and there were no ships in port lending the 2 thousand or so day visitors to the place. It was a dry flat landscape although I did note on our return to the Trelew airport there were a few hills in the area – but nothing like Torres del Paine.

Flying in to Buenos Aires was like entering another world. There was greenery everywhere and a massive waterway seemed to be surrounding this vast city. Arrival at the airport suggested we had arrived in a very affluent country and, we caught the airport transfer bus to downtown (the sick boy was not overly thrilled to find our hotel was some blocks away from the final stop), but the trip was interesting as a little detour due to roadworks showed us that a short trip off the beaten track were some pretty poor areas with some homes barely having a roof over the occupants heads. Clearly Buenos Aires (BA) has a great divide between the haves and have nots.

Walking the streets of the city you see (on more than one occasion) poverty stricken families begging for money in dirty clothes and clearly no home of great attraction – this is alongside some of the most expensive labels anywhere in the world. Practising something I had learned in Cambodia I suggested we do not give money to the children as (at least in Cambodia) that encourages the parents to put them on display and tug at peoples heartstrings. We agreed to give food when we saw someone clearly struggling. I did notice the same family street hopping a few times – and wondered what was going on there – we will never know.

The tourist bus around the city cleverly avoided the really poor areas so I’m glad we had the airport detour and accidentally caught the locals bus – BA is clearly not all the bright lights it seems on first impression.

On a different note – Just when we thought we had figured out the shopping hours (our last night in BA) we discovered we still had no idea what the hell was going on. It seemed they were closed in the morning as they opened late. Then they closed in the afternoon for siesta. Now it seems they close early at night so everyone can go and eat or dance – what the hell is going on? Day one was Sunday so maybe the closure in the morning was to do with that – the siesta is a given everywhere we go – but what is happening at night? How on earth does one find time to shop in this city?

Another point of note is an interesting titbit that my friend Ginger told me about. These ladies wear “big” shoes. This may be due to the fact that a high proportion of the population are vertically challenged or may be a death wish on behalf of all females here. These are not just high heels, these are platforms (even on thongs (or flipflops as the rest of the world call them) ) and they only just stop short of what I would consider to be a form of stilts! You can google High steppers and see one version of them. The reason I consider these “shoes” (read “stilts”) suicidal is that the footpaths and sidewalks are not exactly smooth sailing. Sometimes there are cobblestones, lids are left off service accesses, concrete is broken – you get the picture – what is going on here? You cant even tango in the darn things, yet every second woman is wearing them!

Colonia del Sacramento Uruguay

Colonia, as it is known to the locals, is a lovely little UNESCO listed town on the shores of the Rio del la Plata opposite buenos aires. Apart from some modern buildings there is a very old city with early portuguese architecture and also has the oldest church in Uruguay. My friend Ximena recommended a visit and all the guide books suggest its worth a visit, if only so you can have a break from BA and withdraw us dollars from the atms.

After our night of tango I was feeling the need for antibiotics myself so hit the medicine kit before leaving our hotel and therefore I arrived at another boat feeling nauseous and ready to be sick. This is before we've even hit the water – again! Husband is still not feeling too good either so we get through customs and find our way on board only to sleep most of the journey. I have had to take the antinausea drug as I think the antibiotic made me sick. Anyway when we disembark we arrive at a quiet little town with beautiful buildings, trees and sandy beaches beside the muddy waters of this exceptionally wide river (it takes an hour on a fast boat to cross). It really was a pleasant little town and probably was the best thing we could have done for the day. But it was hot – damned hot.

The trouble is neither of us are bouncing about with a spring in our step, the climb up the lighthouse just seemed too much in the heat of the day (it seems we are reverting to our prepatagonia selves) so we cafe hop for air con and cold drinks and site see in between stops. It is certainly a break from the chaos of BA and we do have the opportunity to withdraw some US dollars which are good for getting a better exchange rate than direct withdrawals from atms in Argentina but all in all I think we could have done with a complete day of rest. Oh well…

Tomorrow we are off to Iguazu Falls on the Argentine, Paraguay, Brazil border. There will be no rest for the weary there, so desafortunatement the melanga will have to go on without us tonight (without the hot new lord of the tango) and we will rest and recover in air conditioned comfort ready for the next adventure!

Photos will come – i need to upload and shrink them first and most of the internet has been too slow thus far – maybe tomorrow.

 

Lord of the Tango

We were picked up early from our hotel and after a zig zag ride in the mini bus through the city, we were herded up the stairs into a dance space that looked like it had been operating for over 100 years. (I later found out it was built in 1895). There were probably 30 people in the lesson – some couples, some singles and a few small groups of guys and gals from all over – including Israel, South Korea and England – locals dont need lessons! It was the first time we had encountered so many Australians in the same place since leaving home. Was it a hidden desire of all Australian men to hold their women in these romantic poses? Or were they unceremoniously dragged through hot coals to get here? Or, like my beloved, were they doing it for the love of their wife or partner – happy to follow her to the ends of the earth – even though absolutely terrified? Actually many were backpackers out for a good laugh and, as it happens, the male dance instructer was hilarious. Husband was at the front of the mens group and he was smiling and he was hot (still had a bit of a fever actually)!

Women please move this way! One foot forward, one to the side,two steps back and then one two to the side. Men – the opposite. Then the leg lift – then the face! A few dropped out immediately as the horror of actually dancing set in. Not my man!

So they teach us separately then we have to put it all together – leg wrapped around husband – head turn to the side, serious face, no laughing!!! He held his hand out perfectly and danced me around the floor without fault. Twenty three years of marriage and I finally find out he can dance? Okay that might be an exaggeration as his rock and roll exhibits in the past (especially at bluesfest) have been a little lacking – but he can tango! Isn't that what is most important in the world? Isn't that what every woman needs? A man who can tango?

After the lessons we are seated in the theatre enjoying our meals and wine and this tango lady jumps off the stage, swoops down and grabs him up for another tango! He is sought after by the professionals! He is terrified! He grasps helplessly for his wine! Its too late – she has him in her clutches! I am laughing my head off just looking at his face as I quickly grab the camera for a snap. This night will be remembered – tomorrow night maybe the melanga where the locals go – he is too good to stop now!

But now i am coughing up a storm, aching again and feeling an undeniable need to be curled up in bed. Tomorrow we have a day trip to Uruguay how will we cope? Up all night dancing – fever – coughs – Just gotta love travelling haven't you…..