I left UK on May 19th for 10 months of freedom and exploration with a Round the World ticket. Will I find New Zealand as perfect as it was fifteen years ago? How has Australia changed? Will I learn any Spanish in S America?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Peru - Chincherro and Inti Raymi

Chincherro -
Just back from a weekend in Chincherro -a small market town famous for its potatoes and sunday market-only 45 minutes by bus from Cusco- high up on the altiplano- I stayed with a local family having read that you could do homestay.I stayed with Pasqual, Fortunata and 2 of their 3 daughters - Miriam aged 20 was away doing the Inca trail as part of her tourism degree training.
Miluskia and Milagro(which means miracle) are 13 and 2 and a half respectively. Fortunata showed me my room ( converted outhouse, whitewashed walls , wooden floorboards) and I handed over my presents - puppet for milagro and pens and notebooks for Miluskia and food -maize flour, beans, raisins, tuna fish and quinoa for the family in general.
None of the family speak English. Snr Pasqual was out working in the fields when I arrived , and I sat in the kitchen, which is a room seperate from the rest of the house but adjacent to the other large room on the ground floor where the family eat their meals and which doubles as storage, workshop and family shrine. Fortunata prepared lunch and I did my best to converse in my basic and very limited castellano - spanish spoken without the distinctive lisp that Spanish Europeans have apocrophyally due to Philip II of Spain having a speech impediment -
The kitchen is a very rough undecorated working space - Fortunata cooks on a clay stove fuelled underneath by eucalyptus wood ( introduced in early 20thcentury for firewood and to stop soil erosion)- they also have a kerosene stove. Squeaks and squeals came from the first living guinea pigs I have seen so far, they were eating scraps on the floor and scurrying about avoiding the dog- Riti (which means snow (Snowy!!)in quechuan*) and a little grubby white kitten with blue eyes with no name - simply called "gato".
Milagro was very very precocious and fascinated with me and talked all the time non stop, often correcting my spanish and called me "mi amiga "- she was great because whenever we went out she would stop the other little kids from constantly following me asking me to buy things. Now just over a month here the constant requests for money, or to buy finger puppets or postcards( it starts as soon as you walk out of your hostal door) are really beginning to wear- you feel sorry for these kids often living on the street, but can´t buy from all of them. I give money to the really old people who really do look desperate and can't have any other way to make money.
The kids get taught some English by volunteers working for charities and invariably their spiel goes- where you from Mrs/Lady? Inglaterra-? Capital is London, Primeminister Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth 2nd, buy from me lady? One small boy when I declined a shoeshine, asked what are you looking for lady? Peace and Quiet? But they are very friendly and when I have bought from them have often had half hour conversations in broken spanish to find outwhere they live etc. Only one person sat down next to me and talked and didn't try to sell me something which was very pleasant suprise!A lady in trad dress with hat etc
When Pasqual came home we had lunch in their large dining room , which has a shrine at one end (with candles and pictires of saints and members of teh family and a doll in a crib) and pale blue walls. Huge bowl of delicious quinoa soup with vegetables. Second course, meat, rice potaotes and vegetables - all but the meat grown by the family in their fields - which are on the old inca terraces of Chincherro about half a kilometre away on one side of the valley which you can walk down to meet the sacred valley. ( about 4 hours).
Pasqual is an artist as well as a farmer- and he paints wooden plates with inca designs and also is a potter and makes large pots painted with traditional designs with puma heads and carrying handles( ropes go though and it is carried on the back) Fortunata makes weavings - blankets and shawls- all coloured with natural dyes- cochineal and plant dyes- which she makes herself- she showed me some of the plants - weavings are very inticate and take about a month in all- only drawback of the homestay was that I felt rather obliged to buy their work as it was produced rather meaningfully after lunch- all very high quality - but really I am not on a shopping trip! Miluskia is learning how to weave and helps a lot round the house but after lunch took me out to show me the incan ruins - they really are very extensive - Chincherro was far more important than it is now - after the conquest inca temple pùlled down and church built on top . There are deep baths carved outof the rocks and a circle of seats carved out of a rock and once you look, niches carved out of teh rock everywhere- presumably shrines or else niches for the mummies who often were placed uprighht overlooking valleys. Flocks of finches flitted amongst the stalks of corn and a hawk of some sort wheeled above . Pigs on ropes grunted and foraged amongst thecrops along with burros and there were also cows and sheep quietly grazing amongst .stooks of corn . Out on a grassy plateau in front of the ruins against the most magnificent backdrop of the snow capped peaks of the cordillera senoras intheir layered skirts and hats sat on the ground peeling the skins of chunos- type of potato left outside on grass overnight for three nights to effectively freeze dry. They turn white and are used in soups.
There was a most magnificient sunset and Miluskia was very keen to take photos with my camera and I took lots of her and little sister playing around.Miluskia said she would like to be a photographer when she grows up. I imagine she gets quite a lot of practice with all the homestay people so perhaps she will be able to . We took a volleyball on the walk as well - she's keen on it but I wasn't with my tenosynovitis.And te ball kept running away and down the terraces.
At dinner Pasqual asked me how much I earned in UK in a month. Converted into soles it must have sounded like the proverbial fortune to him but I explained how much travel and living costs were in London - however this still made me feel a bit uncomfortable having so much in the west- he said it was hard to make money in peru - the familiar refrain that there are no jobs.
There is very little manufacturing done in Peru - the big exports are the crops - coffee etc- it is virtually impossible to find good coffee here- all the beans are exported- as i n most of S amercia- the word for coffee more often than not is nescafe- because it's mostly instant and there is a lot of condensed/evaporated milk - Gloria brand - that goes into it.
Both Pasqual and Fortunata find it hard to sell their goods at the market - there are simply just so many people selling the same sort of things . Everyone weaves- you see women at the side of the road waiting for buses with their spindles , spinning wool- baically spinning or weaving every spare moment. The women weave with one end of the woolen strands held by their big toes. I have seen men knitting woollen chullos( hats) with 6 needles at a time!
The Japanese want to build an airport right next to Chincherro on flat altiplano with its stunning views- no doubt the farmers would welcome the chance to sell their fields at profit. The houses are all made from beautiful red brown mud adobe brick - but every now and then you see ugly grey concrete houses going up- they are status indicators- it also looks as if gringos may be starting to buy up houses as holiday homes in some of the villages.There are quite a few American owned properties now in the Sacred Valley.
We went to bed v early- market day next day- Fortunata and Pasqual left house early both with huge bundles of goods on their backs- I went off on a walk most of the morning - down the valley with superb views catching occasional glimpses of hummingbirds - so hard to follow with binoculars as they are never still for long. Back to village and everyone in church - standing room only- candles and ceramic saints, and a sermon which was broadcast on speakers around the village.
Said goodbyes and paid for my board and lodging and caught bus back to Cusco - actually went back with Leigh who by chance had also come to Chincherro the same weekend but stayed in a hostel - passed by the pub equivalents of Peru- much as old taverns in medieval England must have been - where chicha is sold - much laughter issuing forth and a glimpse in revealed large old ladies and small men swigging big glasses of pink frutillada chicha - made with stawberries and white maize .

Inti Raymi- Winter Solstice
Friday 24th June- not 21st as you would expect and the ceremnoy takes place in daylight. Met up with friends from the Manu jungle trip, and all decided it was not worth paying the $80 odd charged for a ringside seat in the tourist stands at Sasywaman, the ruins of the site which dramatically overlooks Cusco and was the the scene of a huge battle between Spanish conquistadores and the Incan Emporer 500 odd years ago.
I found it hard to comprehend why the Incas, who numbered so many and weren't afraid of bloodshed or death, were defeated by a mere handful of Spanish in the decisive battle at Sasywhuman. I later read Jared Diamond's book Guns Germs and Steel where he discusses this - the Latin Americans were not so germ resistant as the Spanish - who also had horses which were a huge advantage not to mention the guns. They were able to literally mow the Incans down in great swathes.
The Europeans with a long history of living close to domesticated animals had built up strong immune systems and were used to epedemics -they didn't fall so foul of the germs in Peru but the Incans had very little natural resistance. The Spanish also had luck on thier side with timing, arriving in the middle of a dispute over the throne and used a civil war to their advantage playing each side off against each other.
The ceremony which is still held to be the most important for any Peruvian left us gasping for air as we scaled the hills with the big white Jesus to one side of us.
The main Inti Raymi ceremony starts at 1.30pm. HOwever we set off early - 8.30am to climb up the hill to occupy a good space up on the hill overlooking the grassy plain,which was already heaving with Peruvians who come from miles and miles around for the festivities which include a huge kind of fair outside the main complex - with kitchens and musicians and jugglers - again but for the clothes and faces a very medieval kind of affair. A big encampment was starting to form in fields surrounding the ruins with stalls already selling guinea pig, rice and chicken etc. We were ushered to a spot on hill opposite and overlooking the tiered seats- great view - and enterprising locals selling patches of free land for 5 soles a aperson to sit on piece of canvas that the owners then wanted back about an hour into the ceremony - we wouldnt budge and were backed up by peruvians from lima sitting behind us.We were all a little underwhelmed by the actual ceremony - having waited for it for 4 and half hours it was all a bit of an anticlimax. The part most people want to see is the sacrifice of the llama - it used to be for real with heart ripped out - but now ( we thought) the llama is already dead when they bring it on and it was so well covered with helpers that you could hardly see it anyway. Costumes were colourful and the arrival of the inca king mildly exciting - but it somehow lacked panache- and drama- maybe we are all so into sensationalism in the west and used to high tec production values that we are unmoved by simpler things. The highlight for me was sampling the different foods onoffer - women picked their way through tightly packed people carrying jellies, chicken, chocolate cake, icecreams,packets of biscuits sunglasses and water . We were sitting next to some English people all with tatoos. We were at first none too impressed as the men in the group punctuated every utterance with blue language - but I started talking to the woman next to me who turned out to be a tattoo artist - she and her mates were all here for the annual tattoo convention held in a different country every year - this year the turn of , Cusco- Peru. Her name was Fiona Long- and she was rather underwhelmed with Peru as she found it far more western and less indigenous than - previous conventions - in Samoa and Borneo . Borneo´s was held deep in the jungle, in a long house with tribesmen and real shrunken heads hanging from rafters. In Samoa she was invited especially along with 4 other female tatooists and they were driven in open topped bus down a main street to crowds cheering-and clapping - everyone in samoa has a tatoo as rite of passage but only the men are allowed to apply tatoos.

All other friends have now moved on to Puno which is also my next stop. Miss real coffee and being able to cook for myself. North Peru apparently is less touristy and also poorer.Heading that way after Lake Titcaca.

I hope you are all well- please do drop me a line anytime - I do think of UK and everyone there and would love to hear from you!

xxx


Louise

* Quechuan is the language of the high andean people - basically its the language of the incas and is still first language ,spanish second, for many of the indian people)If you learn a few words and use them on a bus you will really be toting up the brownie points.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Viva El Peru !

Flying into Peru

Cusco
Incan Women in Cusco



At top of Dead Woman's Pass
Llamas




The first things I saw as we came into touchdown on the runway at Lima - a deserted aircraft hanger filled inside and out with anicent and decrepit looking aircraft - and next to it parallel to the runway an impossible looking shanty town of scraps of wood and corrugated iron. My first glimpse of real urban poverty- the third world.
On touchdown in Lima where it was about 10.30 at night, adrenalin pumping , trying to maintain the air of someone who knows what they are doing but mind writhing with all the possible things that might happen to me as described in vivid detail in every single guidebook without exception, I took the easiest and most costly route (a massive $14)- in a prebooked taxi - just a short hop from the airport to a nondescript hotel/hostel (prebooked over the internet)for my first night on Peruvian soil under a non visible Peruvian moon. Lima , being near the coast is almost permanently swathed in a seafog , a mix of car exhaust pollution and the weird dullness of the sky which stretches all along Peru's western seaboard.




At the hotel there was a small in- house restaurant where four other westerners were tableauxed around the room - a middle aged man at the bar who from his converstaion with the barman I gathered was a dealer in alpaca woolen garments which he shipped from Peru back to the UK. He was more intersted in the bar than anyone else. There was a very young but interesting woman of 19 - who had just finished a year in Peru a mix of voluntary work and Spanish lessons , staying with a family in Cusco. She was flying back to the Uk the next day and had nothing but wonderful things to say about Peru and her adored adoptive family here but absolutely nothing good to say about the English gap year company that had releived her of well over a 1000UK then placed her first with a single Peruvian man who had an unusual take on cultural exchange. He had not been vetted properly, there was no in -country support, no advice and she felt badly let down. These companies really do rip people off something wicked. It is simplicity itself to arrange all these things on the ground here -given a bit of time - then you can go on personal recommendations rather than glib marketing copy.
I also spoke to an Australian couple- very ocker very on their first trip abroad in their mid 40s. I bumped into them again in Cusco and decided I really didn't like the bloke and I shouldn't think he liked me.
My room was interesting only beacuse it was my first in Peru and South America - red coverlets on blue nylon sheets on a double bed. There was what looked like a lipstick mark on the bottom sheet- the room became seedy in my imagination - a room of cheap assignations between businessmen and Peruvian prostitutes . A window with bars looked out over a small park where a policeman sat with a gun in a plastic chair. There was hardly anyone out on the dark streets but the occasional car.
On the way to the hotel apart from practicing my fledgling spanish I soaked up the scenes lining the streets , two men pulling an enormous cart , women in hats with shawls round their soulders tucked into crevices in their brightly lit gaudy street carts, people milling shoulder to shoulder on the narrow pavements walls of traffic , ancient old buses with seats high above us , exuding black soot straight on up into the atmosphere and up to the big CO2 blanket in the sky.

Nothing I had read made me remotely interested in staying in Lima apart from the description of the South American Explorers Clubhouse - apparently an old 19th century mansion which with no actual knowledge of the SAE membership I imagained as full of marble and huge leather sofas , men in topakis shorts and boots, and young American students discussing their plans noisily in baseball hats. I had already taken care of this by prebooking an 80UK ticket the next day to Cusco through STA.

The flight from Lima to Cusco, only about an hour long , is absolutely spectacular. We flew over mountains of snow and over valleys in which were hidden green and azure blue lakes. No trees. I took pictures but was asked by the stewardess to put away my camera half an hour before we landed. I am not sure why.
The plane swung round and up above the hills that surround the ancient capital of the Incas, the hills which in the long running craze for marking out words and dates on the landscape in stones read Viva El Peru !- a Peruvian version of the Hollywood letters and also reminding me of Cyprus where as you leave the Greek side from Nicosia you see.............................................emblazoned in stones on the hillside - a verbal two fingered salute. the plane came into land neatly on the flat strip between the two ranges , at the top of the valley sat Cusco. Don't attempt to walk from the airport to Cusco with your backpack warned all the guides. you are asking to be robbed. When a taxi costs 15p or so it seems more thaqn mean to penny pinch in this way but I expect it is quite a thrill to be able to thumb your nose at the guidebooks now and then.
No way was I taking chances at this stage and besides I had arrived with a nasty case of tenosynovitis and my right hand and wrist was in a support bandage. From reading mry South Americanm bible I was fully briefed on the range of standard con tricks - the food on your clothes scam , the handshake that disappears your watch and rings ( none of which I was wearing as a precaution) and was almost disappointed with my uneventful ride in the back of one of the tiny perennial fiat taxis to Rumi Punku - the doorway of stones - where I intended to spend a few days in relative luxury acclimatising. Plenty of time for cheap dives! Luxury came at US$25 a night - this was cheaper than usual as May is considered low season. It bought me a huge room with more beds than I needed , interesting photographic prints on the wall and a whole box of llama wool blankets to heat up the cold nights and chilly afternoons together with the ubiquitous ensuite. But you pay for the place and positon on calle . The house is an old Incan house with the distinctive stonework to match - and a good buffet breakfast and a clientele comprised almost nearly all of middle to elderly Americans - of whom there seem to be an absolute plethora in southern Peru at leastalong with the Dutch.
After the staff introduced me to my first of many coca leaf teas.Drinking coca leaf infusions helps the acclimatisation process. I took the guidebook's advice and read in bed for the rest of the day only venturing out in the evening with great excitement and minus camera and valuables to see exactly where I was. The taxi had given me a taste - from the airport its a long climb up and up , an extended version of the climb from Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle, to the ancient site of Sasaywhaman, monumental slabs of grey black stone commanding the top hill view over Cusco. Cusco is supposed to be laid out in the shape of a Puma. Pumas are everywhere in Peru - but mostly in the rocks if you have the imagination to see and it is often a bit of a stretch. One day school children from Cusco took a whole day off to stand in the streets making in human form a depiction of the Puma shape but I only found out afterwards why there were lines of schoolchildren in the streets. The vantage point is Sasayhuman.
My street was cobbled and intersected with the street of the 12 angled stone - the most famous street in Cusco where a permenant encampment of Peruvians points out the stone to you and tour groups from Japan America UK and Russia are led to it. I passed it nearly every day as it led to the Plaza de Armas - the main square.

I found a tourist orientated restuarant but not too flash or full and had soup of some kind and a fruit juice - the first of many fresh off the press gloriously exoctic concoctions I had in S America . The streets were now quite full with Peruvians the majority in traditional peasant dress, and tourists, some with big cameras round their necks, looking into the shops full of paintings, knick knacks, woolens, carved wood objects. I got puffed out just doing the short walk back up to my hotel -and drank more coca tea before bed.

At breakfast I met, , an American woman in her 60s with grown up children divorced and now living in Santa Fe invovled in peace activities etc. Sheimpressed me a lot- she was very friendly with a shaman who had taken her up on a pilgrimage to a glacier where people leave gifts for the spirits of the mountain. the glacier of course is in full retreat and each year the walk to reach it gets longer and longer. had also been to the potato fields to celebrate the harvest and had a swig or two of some highly potent alcoholic homemade mixture.
After three nights I felt as acclimatised as |I thought I was going to get and moved to a cheaper place just off the Plaza de Armas - an old colonial house with incan stones incorporated - a room with tiny double doors which opened onto the creaky wooden balcony but had no other sourceof light. It smelt a bit damp and got pretty cold at night but I allowed myself the luxury of an ensuite bathroom - tiny with a shower that very rarely ran hot water so it made sense to shower midday when you could dry your hair in the sun. this was a dirt cheap place - now paying $5 a night and it was from here that I left one morning at 5am to join my Inca Trail group. Whilst waiting for the trek I familiarised myself with Cusco - its endless squares leading to yet more, the strange church candle shops, old colonial buildings, a spanish lesson or two, the fascinating stationery shops, cafes with not a coffee bean in sight, markets, film clubs for tourists , the Israeli quarter, the Inca Musuem, peasant demonstrations, policewomen on motorbikes,fending off constant pleas to buy buy buy finger puppets and postcards, peruvian food carts , trucha, arroz, pizza, quinoa soups, fruit ice creams and lots and lots of internet cafes.

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Inca Trail with South American Services - 3 nights 4 days with optional extra night in Aguas Calientes

>I had bought wooly llama motifed socks and an orange sun hat in the market ( I fell for the sales pitch of an old granny but at least I was easily spotted by my group) and later I was so glad I had bought those socks - each of the three nights we had up in the mountains was freezing but slightly alleviated by the morning cup of tea brougt to the tent door by our guide, Henry. My friends , Henry would always begin in any address to us imparting sometimes I discovered later somewhat erroneous information along the way. Tour guide is the job many middle class Peruvians aspire to , well not all, but lots who like walking and earning relatively easy money. It is a rather prohibitive profession though as to get a license you have to study for 5 years at university - something way beyond the means of the average Peruvian.
Henry had to carry a whole canister of oxygen in a backpack in case one of us expired from the thin air - the only time I was in danger of doing this was when I nearly choked to death on chewed up bits of coca leaves which is supposed to keep you going and help your acclimatisation as you climb ever upwards. I was the eldest in our group made up of a Canadian couple, an Australian couple and 3 Brits including me - very commonwealth. All the others were very fit with super duper ski poles apart and seemed intent on setting a new speed record apart from 2 of the Brits Stuart and who were on a round the world with 5000UK each, ie a no frills trip and both smoked. Stuart does lots of travelling and he can do this as he has his own music production business - I was very impressed.
We drove out in a big van in the chilly early morning light from Cusco , stopping in Ollaytaytambo for an obligatory buying spree- as we climbed off the bus we were swamped by diminutive women and young girls clutching handfuls of woven goods - buy from me buy from me !!! - De rigeur for the trip were walking sticks ( bamboo) coca leaves and bags and water bottle holders . We seemed to be expected to buy these necessaries and I duly did. Plus spare AA batteries for my Canon A95 Powershot - a lovely little gem of a digital camera that did absolutely everything which eventually was stolen in Argentina on a night bus.
The scrum over we boarded the bus again and passed by small adobe houses, herds of llamas, corn drying on roofs, a woman washing the hair of another out in a courtyard, a westerner with long hair baggy pants and a felt hat walking with a Peruvian woman and child, until finally we hit the river, the Urumbamba and the bus ran parallel with the train tracks beside it until we reached kilometre 82 where we disembarked and prepared to walk.
It was very hot by now as the sun was beating down from above and we stood behind other groups setting off in a queue to hand in our entrance passes to the trail. Numbers seting off per day are now strictly limited which is why you have to book your trek in advance.
We watched as our porters sprinted off up the dusty dry path ahead of us.They were carrying in bundles on their backs plastic chairs, tents, matresses, our backpacks and gas cylinders and cookers. All were wearing the standard issue Peruvian sandals, nothing more. We must have had a team of 12 to service our group of 7.
Then with bamboo poles at the ready we took out first steps along the trail. We passed small groups of huts with animals, pigs, etc and one had the sense that people were there but hiding from us. We were soon going nowhre but up and stopped for a breather at a grouping of small stone huts where women with pigtails and hats ladled out glasses of pink chicha for the porters and offered us gringos bottles of coke or fanta or water . Henry taught us how to use our coca leaf purchases - taking about 3 or 4 good leaves in your hands you break off a little bit of a brown ball which looks like hash but acts as an activator to realease the compounds in the coca leaf - you crumble this on te leaves then scrunch it all up into a ball and tuck this into one of your cheeks giving it little chew now and again. After a while you notice how this numbs your mouth and tongue - now you will be have more stamina and also a resistance to hunger. I musthave got the whole process wrong.

A couple of hours later we stopped for lunch beside a river inside a dining tent which was held down by a porter on each corner as it was incredibly windy.We were given a 3 course meal which was not what any of us had anticipated. It felt oddly colonial. In fact over the next few days we were fed as if were sumo wrestlers - calorie laden food - pancakes with dulce de leche ( think caramelised sweetened condensed milk) a S American favourite - you certainly won't shed any pounds .
I found the uphill climb in oxygen thin air hard going but fine once I had my own pace. The porters bent double with huge bundles on their backs staggered past us, some with dried grass stuffed in their sandals, sweating but keeping going . We stood aside to let them pass.Some do it for a few years to earn better money than they could farming and they come from all over Peru to porter on the inca trail. Dinner was another 3 course affair on the first night with the silhouette of Dead Womans Pass looming up beyond us on the horizon and a sky full of hot white stars.




Best for me was the cloud forest section - a veritable orgy of plants- gorgeous water soaked mosses in variegated greens and reds, vines hanging from trees and primeval looking ferns ;constantly changing envrironments along the trail - one of the richest in the world as a habitat for flora and fauna - and one of the greatest at risk from climate change.
Arriving at Macchu Picchu was the icing on cake - sorry but hand getting weary now - will have to further update another time.



Back in Cusco after my sojourn in Ollaytaytambo I moved yet again - this time up to San Blas which involved a long exhilarating and heart pumping haul up steps (inevitavly women with ctrased faces and huge bundles on their backs would pass you as you gasped for air and to still your racing heart) or a slippery narrow pavement to San Blas - the artist's district - which I really liked.
There was a pretty square there with a fountain and a saturday market and an old church with a celebrated set of wooden pulpit stairs, a seething taxi rank and always always assorted assemblages of brass bands with drums playing for some reason or another.
My first place was Dutch run - operating partly as a charity - and the room overlooked the noisy street but I spent very litte time there - I was always out from before breakfast to well after dark.

Currently( Sunday 12th June) in Cusco, sunny but cool, cold at night.The sun fades quickly around 5pm and with it goes the heat - definitely jumper weather. I have spent some distinctly chilly nights in my room as it goes without saying that hostels do not have such a commodity as central heating. Nor did my bed have sheets for the first two days and my ensuite bathroom had the distinct aroma of not quite flushed away sewage but what it lacked in niceities it made up for with view - from my San Blas top floor room I could survey the twinkling lights of central Cusco beneath me , the twin towers of the cathedral .and hear the nightly cacophony of dogs baying at the Incan moon and an exteremely annoying electonic door bell which was in constant use day and night - thank god for ear plugs.
I am having some hand problems - tenosynivitis -met someone on my jungle expedition trip - Andy who used to work as a tree surgeon, who has had same thing as me - he warned me that I have to be very careful for longer than I had initially thought -hand should be in splint permanently for at least 4 weeks then v gentle exercise and no weight for at least 2 months more. Oh dear. Still I will go to clinic (private) tomorrow whilst in Cusco - they speak English - to get professional feedback as well.Managing ok so far one handed but typing slow of course & am practicing left hand diary writing.



Meeting friend ex Peabody on 14th , Julie Perkins ne Alexander- now in Cusco with her husband doing the Peru thing before they fly home-though in some style they are staying in the 5 class hotel opposite the Cahtedral del Sol having moved from the much feted Monasterio up near San Blas, which is where John Peel died. Peru is full of 2-3 week summer hols people- but reports on the grapevine are consistently excellent as regards Brazil ........boat trip up the Amazon???!

The Jungle Experience
I booked up for a 9 day trip to Manu Biosphere with Pantiacolla - a Dutch/Peruvian outfit who were more expensive than other operators but highly recommended by South American Explorers and as a fully paid up member of the latter I was entitled to a 10% discount not a bad saving on $400 odd. To put things in persepctive,Manu is a nature reserve the size of Wales! Just getting there from Cusco took a full day by truck through pretty rugged terrain. Several tribes live there hunting & fishing and have asked to be left alone, they have seen first hand the effects of modern life on other tribes and want no part of it - we were only allowed 2 days in the restricted zone (i.e. v few people& therefore the most pristine)- max 2 days only for anyone visiting.
Woken each am by the wonderful roar of the howler monkey troupe leader carrying across still red sky- carries for 2 miles - wonderful and of course my favourite bird- the screaming pihaa - you hear but don’t see - rule for birds seems to be louder it is the smaller and more unexotic plumage it will have- though the Amazon kingfishers and macaws make up for that - monkey groups above us as we walked through - unafraid as we walk on same tracks and apparently they view us as predictable as ants if we keep to the well worn paths through the trees taking care not to touch anything- Leaf cutter ants - I have film of them! army ants bullet ants (not nice) so many birds including rare crested eagle! Wonderful bird called hoatzin - ungainly and a ruminant - beautiful plumage with punky headcrest and hoarse rasping call - ridiculous but amazing bird. Its natural
protection is its smell! Best part for me was a catamaran paddled late afternoon on Lake Salvador - so many birds, jacarandas, hoatzins, etc even toucans- spotted high up in trees with distinctive call! Came next am at 6am to see a family of giant otters feeding on fish - they share the lake with caimans - we spotted them at night - the caimans - their eyes reflect back red if you catch with a flashlight - v spooky as suddenly you realise you are surrounded by hundreds of pairs of red eyes - no joking - 356 pairs were counted on last official tally.
>Inevitably I am covered in mossie bites but we had 2 hours in natural hot springs on last day which seems to have helped a lot.
>Did a lot of spotting from the river on our boat, we saw capybara and caimans camouflaged on stoney beaches ,but were all hoping to see a jaguar - but not in luck. Saw tracks of ocelot and peccaries in jungle.
>Starlight just wonderful - bright clear stars - know the southern cross and can see big dipper ( or ursa major) and jupiter - not got beyon d that yet - saw shooting star on first night of inca trail looking up to dead womans pass.
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>I am in Cusco until I decide where else to go - military coup in Bolivia -la Paz is still impossible to get to and road blocked - so may go north to Ecuador till quietens down. I have met at last 2 nice people also travelling on their own - unfortunately both at end of trips, both aussies and returning to aus in next few days still good to meet and exchange info etc. Tamara - 27 and Leigh 42. Met Andy and Net too -UK couple who used to live in Ruffam , Norfolk, then Spain - 2 years - then thought Chile - but probably going back to Spain - so much more affordable and easy going they say than uk.
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>Peru has no supermarkets* -Cusco - all little individual shops, streets where men stand or sit behind typewriters and will compose and write you a letter, colourful constant bustle and near enough back to back festivals and parades with brass accompaniement. Rural Peru- pigs roam freerange with goats llamas etc.beautiful houses made of adobe bricks - see the bricks being made and laid out to dry in sun all the time. If you are rich you have a concrete house or a concrete floor. Guinea pigs run around the dust in kitchens until they are ready for the pot. Cobs of black red, yellow and white maize drying on balconies , a pink plastic bag on bamboo stick poking out of an earth brick house means chicha - maize beer - is brewed and sold on the premises . I saw a woman in main square of Cusco in full campesino garb-hat and big skirts and brightly coloured woven shawl that may contain babies , green grass(haven’t worked out what this is for in Cusco yet - to feed guinea pigs??), or in this case a baby llama ---with a little knitted wool hat on, its ears neatly poking through specially made holes!
>Huge festivals all the time - Corpus Christi -big one I was here to see- the saints- huge effigies, who are transported once a year from outlying villages for a big pow wow in the cathedral lasting a week at the end of which they are carried round the plaza de armas on the shoulders of men who looked ready to expire with the weight, always accompanied by a full brass band playing a weird mix of trad marching tunes which I recognised- along the lines of Monty python theme(name of which I cannot remember).- Cathedrals in Cusco built with the forced labour of the Incan people who were forced to destroy their own sacred temples, magnificent architecture and unmatched stonework (no mortar- each stone worked to fit exactly its neighbours no matter how huge they were) to create on the original foundations,Over the top baroque edifices - monuments to greed and ostentation ,dripping in gold leaf and gaudy saintly statues with suppliant expressions, some with double chins, where devout
Campesinos still worship, as with so many religions they have adapted the Catholicism (there is a picture of the last supper where instead of lamb they are about to eat roast guinea pig !
Much drinking and feasting too; ate traditional plate of guinea pig, seaweed, chicken, (bit bloody) roasted beans, fish eggs tough beef and blood sausage.... didn’t quite finish my plate!
>Adjusting to altitude again after low lying jungle-and experiencing mild headache -drinking lots of coca tea to counteract this. Coca leaf helps relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness naturally though I would be in severe trouble taking just a box of tea bags of it into the UK which would qualify me as a drug smuggler.Peruvians and Bolivians deeply resent the demonisation of coca leaf as the source of the narcotic substance which is so abused in western countries. Here it is a sacred and historic leaf, used for social exchnage, to appease hunger and to keep your head in the dizzying heights of the Andes where so many farmers eke out an exisitence.


* I tell a lie – there is one in Cusco just down from the main market – full of westerners but it took me ages to find.