A Travellerspoint blog

Peru: Arequipa to Cusco via Puno and Lake Titikaka

semi-overcast 24 °C
View John and Jackie Around the World on JohnandJac's travel map.

John:... ´I Did it My Way', and indeed he did. The fresh faced, poncho wearing, pan pipe packing young Andean Indian guy leapt up to entertain us on our lunch break stop yesterday on our tour of the Sacred Valley outside of Cusco. As he manipulated the backing CD it was clear that his rendition would neither emulate the version by Frank Sinatra or Sid Vicious. The anodyne piano and drum machine backing disk kicked in and, a semitone flatter than the backing music, our friend rendered ' I did it my Way' ....unconcious. Other casualties included ´Imagine´ and ´Jealous Guy´ by John Lennon, ´Yesterday' and ´Hey Jude´ by The Beatles and Harry Nilson´s ´I Can´t Live (if living is without you)'. Tragic that he thought that this is what gringos touristico would want to hear rather than some of his own rich musical culture. As I tucked into the last bit of an otherwise lovely lunch I realised that he had stopped playing and switched to a CD of his own, copies of which he was selling by going from table to table. In an act of supreme cowardice we left the restaurant by the back door and went to talk to the Amazonian parrot in the garden....but I am getting way ahead of myself...... As previously reported our flight from Arequipa to Juliaca (the nearest airport to Puno) went smoothly. We were met at the airport, as arranged, by a taxi driver for the 48 km drive to Puno. This was the smartest taxi we have been in so far (all four wheels matched, dent free and, unusually, the rear seat belts were functional). The taxi ride to Puno was painless, travelling through the squalor of Juliaca before getting on to the three lane highway to Puno. As soon as we left Juliaca the scenery changed. We saw small families of farmers working the land; small neatly ploughed strips of soil, a few cows and a sheep or two. Workmen working in very dusty, hot conditions surfacing the new highway waving us on, away from Juliaca towards Puno. In fairness to Juliaca it doesn´t promote itself as a tourist destination. It is the local industrial hub, being the manufacturing point for ´Inca Cola´, ´Cusquenia´ (local beer), a number of soft drinks firms, a cement factory and bootlegging goings on. For only a few soles you can buy a genuine Rolex watch. A little less will get a genuine (best price senor) fancy handbag and a lot less will secure an Adidas shirt, Nike trainers and so on.

In many places it is easy to say it´ll be nice when it is finished but that would not be true for Juliaca. Whilst the people who live there may think it is a nice place to live it would be impossible to reach that conclusion otherwise. Unpaved side streets with great pools of dirty water, pigs rooting around in the decaying rubbish in the middle of the road and mangey dogs roaming around looking for food. It was still early in the day, 07:30 ish as we drove through the town but there was no indication that more people on the streets would make it any more attractive.

Our hostel was good and within a short while we had unpacked, yet again, and headed into the port of Puno to find some breakfast. That achieved we decided to visit the old steam ship SS Yavari moored just outside of the main part of the town on Lake Titikaka.

This remarkable little vessel was commissioned by the Peruvian Government for the Peruvian Navy to be built in the United Kingdom for the expressed purpose of patroling the Lake. It was then dismantled, shipped to Chile and, piece by piece transported inland to Lake Titikaka, the world`s highest navigable lake, by mule and manpower. Here it was reassembled and put into active service. After it was decommissioned it fell into disrepair and was left to rot. Since then interest in its restoration was sparked and a slow process of fund raising and rebuilding has taken place. A thoroughly rewarding experience. Admission is free of charge but a donation is gratefully received.

On the day we went, an ex-(Peruvian) navy chap was busy and enthusiastically polishing the brass on the capstan whilst two teenagers were busy practising their spoken English by taking tourists around the boat. Like many things in Peru the tour wasn´t particularly polished but the enthusiasm for the project was evident and infectious. The little boat was gleaming, the engine room shiny, Peruvian flag flying proudly, decks scrubbed and all on what is obviously a shoestring budget. If you are visiting this part of Peru this is a great little visit. Allow yourself an hour or two. The charity supporting this project is based (I think) in London (google SS Yavari) and has a web site for further information. If you have an interest in old fashioned ships, several others are around Puno in various states of repair, one of which is the sister ship to the Tavari.

Puno itself is an interesting little town. As I mentioned, this is the main Peruvian port on the Lake, taking imports from Bolivia with whom it shares a border that cuts across the lake. Most of the boating activity is tourist and fishing related. At nearly 4 000 metres above sea level the air is a little thin and altitude problems can make themselves felt here. We took it easy, drank coca tea and wandered about admiring the different hats and clothes of the Andean Indians in this region. The missing Peruvian musicians that we had looked for elsewhere were here, in the street, in cafes and restaurants, in fact at times it was hard to move for them. The place was awash with wooly garments, some more authentically Indian than others but all colourful and/or interestingly patterned. We took a guided trip to the Sillustani funerary towers an hour away from Puno.

The community (originally the Colla culture) still works pretty much as it did in pre-Inka times 600 years ago, farming llama and alpacca, harvesting reeds from the local lake and harvesting Peruvian Soles from the constant stream of tourists arriving to see these spectacular towers. Built by the Inkas with remarkable stone masonary, many have at least partially survived the earthquakes that rock the area and flatten more contemporary structures.

Our main reason for being in Puno was to head out across Lake Titikaka to visit a floating village, then to carry on towards the island of Amantani where we would be staying with a family over night. As luck would have it we were put on the wrong boat at the harbour. This became apparant when the guide said that after the visit to the reed islands the boat would be returning to Puno. The advantage to us was that we were left on the reed island for longer than everybody else waiting for our connecting boat to take us on to Amantani. We enjoyed watching the comings and goings of island people and toursits; an interesting mixture of colours, languages, shapes and sizes. The floating villages are fascinating places. Up to 2000 people live on the lake on reed plaforms made from blocks of reed roots bound together, covered in fresh reeds and anchored to the lake bed. There are in the region of 40 islands clustered in this part of Lake Titikaka. Each has its own traditional costume and family identity. We travelled to the Huros community where houses, built from wooden frames and reeds form a semi-circle around a communal area. We were shown into one family´s hut and beneath the straw exterior was some polythene sheeting for extra waterproofing and a TV powered by a solar panel that we had not spotted earlier on. Income for the island is mainly generated by selling embroidered and knitted goods to tourists and so we were able to look at, and buy, some finely crafted things. The motifs on these items reflect the importand matters to the lake peoples, fish, birds, frogs, weather, boats and reeds. Eventually we picked up our connecting boat and took the two and a half hour journey out to Amantani. Heading towards the island was an illustration of how large the lake is. At 180 km long and 70 km wide Lake Titikaka is a major piece of water and, as we were to discover the following day, subject to major weather.

We arrived at Amantani, together with a number of fellow travellers, and met our host family. Martina and Pedro live with their 6 children (oldest aged 11) and Pedro´s elderly mum in a homestead higher up this very steep little island that I care to recall. Our companions for this stay were Pree and Steve from Hong Kong. As we all gasped our way up the rough track Martina walked, sedately, in front, sensitive to our respiratory and mobility problems. As she walked she was spinning wool. Every now and again as we looked a little pink around the gills she would pull out some leaves from the ground, crush them and get us to breathe in the aroma. This plant, pronounced Munya, is a real antidote to altitude problems. We had it served as tea, in soup and a real life saver it was.

As the ´cultural show´ was back down at the place we started from we declined (wisely as it transpired) the opportunity to dress up as Lake Titikaka Indians and dance around. Steve and I walked to the top of the Island to visit the temple and got back to Martina and Pedro´s place as night was beginning to close in. This walk was an epic journey diminished in terms of world achievements by the number of children and adults running up and down the hill whilst we were contemplating the penalties for stealing a donkey to complete the journey.

Pedro´s family was a delight. Their main language was Quechua with a few words of Spanish which, happily, matched our few words of Spanish. Conversation was difficult but even so we learned a little about their family, their farming and the childrens schooling. We also had a chance to make friends with Pree and Steve. Hopefully we can catch up with them when we get to Hong Kong. It was really good to spend the night out on the lake. The food was simple but very tasty, when night fell it was bed time, no electric lighting of note. Thick Alpacca wool blankets kept us snug and the inquisitive children kept us on our toes.

I made a paper aeroplane for one of them which caused some interest while Jackie showed them a book and got them to tell her what the picture was. Every picture of water, whether river, sea or anything else was identified as Lake Titikaka, so far the extent of their worlds. Early the next morning we set off from Amantani across Lake Titikaka to another Island with yet another set of codes and costumes.

As soon as we left the lee of Amantani the shallow draft boat began to rock and roll in a most alarming way. By the time we were half way across the 30 minute journey the wind and waves were very strong to the extent that a couple of people on board were concerned the boat may sink. By this time it was as quick to finish the crossing as it was to go back. We arrived safely and climbed to the top of another steep island for lunch before beginning the 3 hour, much more serene journey back to Puno.

We had deliberately chosen a coach to Cusco, capital of the Inka empire, that stopped at various sites of historical interest on the way. A combination of pre-Inka, Inka and colonial Spanish places, the 9 hour trip was really interesting. Without going in to all the detail about each site, of particular interst was the way in which each conquering culture subsumed some of the beliefs of the previous one.

Paintings in the almost stiflingly, highly decorated and in places very beautiful Spanish colonial church at Andahuaylillas were mostly undertaken by Peruvian artists from the Cusquenia (from Cusco) school, who painted South American detail into biblical scenes. (The best example of this is a near replica of the famous scene from the Last Supper in the Cathedral here in Cusco which actually has the local delicacy Cuy, or guinea pig, served before Christ and the Disciples for eating. These additions to the conventional story were an essential part of the process of conversion, establishing relevance to the native peoples)

On our journey through the mountains I was surprised at just how fertile the land is here. Away from the coastal desert is a land of farmers working small scale farms, each tilling a few fields of rich black soil at altitudes I had previously only associated with mountaineering. Very little mechanisation although the occasional tractor to be seen but most ploughing was done with oxen and most harvesting and weeding done by hand. If you spoke to many of these perople about organic farming they would give you a very strange look; it is all organic up here.

Each little farming community had developed its own townshop, tidy, clean and well maintained, in marked contrast to the ugly squalor of towns like Juliaca, full of people who had come in from the countryside. We arrived in Cusco and after overcoming some problems with our accomodation eventually settled in to a great little hostel just 10 minutes walk from the stunningly beautiful Plaza De Armas at the heart of the city. And so to the end of this posting. Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends. Two weeks until we head to the UK. Not long now. The next posting may be a few days away as, tomorrow, we head to Machu Pichu.

Posted by JohnandJac 10:30 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Peru: Lima to Arequipa

sunny
View John and Jackie Around the World on JohnandJac's travel map.

John:....Our flight to Arequipa from Lima was painless as indicated in my previous posting. We picked up a taxi and headed towards our hotel, just 10 minutes walk from the very impressive Plaza De Armas and main shopping and eating area. The hotel was fine and the staff characteristically helpful and friendly. After a quick change we walked into to the Plaza; past the large hospital just 50 metres away and then a left, past the small grocery shops, internet bases, CD and DVD bootleg copying stores, the street sellers, the chicken and rice places, across the three lane road that seperates us from the next district and suddenly the street widens, becomes pedestrianised and the swankier shops appear. Clothes shops, shoe shops, souvenirs of Peru. Straight ahead is the colonade that runs on from the main street and forms one side of the large square. Colonades run around three sides with the fourth side of the square formed by the Cathedral.

Immediate impressions of the square were shaped by a protest outside the cathedral where staff from one of the Peruvian soft drinks manufacturers were protesting about low or no pay. Several of the protesters were on hunger strike, chained to makeshift crosses. Within a few moments of our arrival an Indian chap came over to sell watercolours that he had painted and we were offered, for a fee, a bag of seed to feed the hundreds of pigeons in the square. We declined both. We did decide to get a coffee on one of the second floor cafes and enjoy the panorama made up of people in the square, fountain, trees and space, the enormous cathedral and, in the background ´Misti´the volcano which dominates the skyline and up whose lower slopes the city is recklessly climbing (Arequipa is also known as the white city, built as it was in colonial times from the white pummice derived from the volcano).

We came to discover that protests are a part of Arequipa´s daily life. They start bending the ear early in the morning (05:30 - 06:30) with a quick round of the town on a megaphone followed by a picket, petition, march or, as previously mentioned, a hunger strike either in the plaza or outside the judicial tribunal building near the plaza. We were in Arequipa for 5 days and counted at least that number of marches and protests. Some were protests about water access, others about land. I mentioned the one about pay and the one we knew nothing about until too late was the strike by bus drivers on the day of our trip to Puno by bus. More of this later.

Arequipa gave us the ideal opportunity to explore some of the city´s fine features as well as being a base for us to travel to the Colca Canyon for two days.

The Colca Canyon is one of the deepest places on land and is home to a number of groups of indigenous people and the enormous South American Condor. We took a small guided tour out of Arequipa (2300 metres above sea level) across the desert and scrub that surrounds the city. Once past the cement factory and outer suburbs we climbed up into the high plain, reaching a height of 4 900 metres. We benefited a little from having been at high altitude earlier in our trip but even so we struggled a little. Some in the bus were really nauseous, some with headaches, some staggering a little, some with all of the above. I was more fortunate than most with just a little dizziness on getting out of the bus. Also thought processing took noticably longer (no surprise to some readers of this blog). We welcomed the mate de coca, always available for drinking at rest stops, brewed from fresh leaves in boiling water and cooked by Andean Indian women wearing their best outfits.

At every stopping place is a line of stalls with Indian women selling (mostly) knitwear and embroidery with characteristic Andean motifs. It is easy to get overwhelmed with wool on stops like this but it is well worth taking the time to note the differences in the regions. Many of these items are unbelievably cheap to the westrern wallet. The main issue for us is how to get so much stuff home. I am now the proud owner of one of those funny bobble hats with flaps over the ears. I look a bit of a fox in it (or at least I think that´s what Jackie said. My ear flaps were down at the time). The drive was several hours across bleak and unforgiving landscape that suddely gave way to fertile, well watered stretches with little adobe homesteads and farmers tending their flocks of Alpaca and Llama (pronounced Yarma). This is very harsh land and even the green pastures are blasted by freezing winds. We felt sorry for the roadworkers working on sealing the main road over the plain. Even on the sunny day we had, the awful dust and the burning UV rays most have been dreadful to work in.

Chivay was our destination and mercifully a little lower than we had been for the last part of the drive. We snaked down the tortuous mountain road a little faster than felt comfortable but the driver was very skilful and we arrived at our hostel safe and sound after lunch, a meal including Alpaca meat. Very tasty, somewhere between lamb and beef.

Our first activity of the day was to head down to the hot pools on the outskirts of town. Highly recomended, especially if the hot water in your hostel (or often the whole town) isn´t working. Laying around in water at 39 degrees at the bottom of a ravine is a good way to use an hour. It must have been like this in the pre Inca period I fondly thought. If you almost close your eyes the adverts for ´Inca Cola´ (the nuclear yellow, bubble gum flavoured favourite of many Peruvians) and ´Telefonica´disappear and you might drift back to the time of the ancients. Well you could if it wasn´t for the very odd musical backdrop including ´Ballroom Blitz´ by The Sweet, ´Fortunate Son´ by John Fogarty and ´You Take My Breath Away´ by some awful Euro-Pop band from the 80s (strangely the only appropriate lyric there was at this elevation). Not a panpipe in sight until......

Without further ado we were taken to (and our hearts sank a little as our guide explained what would happen) a ´cultural folk evening´. It was awful from start to finish. The food terrible, the beer warm, the Peruvian Band lazy and more intent on looking for tips than playing a proper set. I thought the one redeeming feature was the dancing which was certainly vigorous and at times bordered on the surreal....until one of the Peruvian people on the same trip as us told us it was very poor. Now I have never danced at altitude (without oxygen and protective equipment) and I wasn´t going start in Chivay so the attempts to get me on the dancefloor dressed like an Andean Indian were never going to succeed, especially as the dance involved the male being ritually flogged by the female dancer (and in the demonstration the flogging didn´t look purely ritualistic). Most of us left early to get some sleep before the 05:00 start the next morning to the Colca Canyon.

The drive to the canyon was wonderful, initially through small townships based around agriculture and a big church. We didn´t stop on the way out as the target was to get to the place renowned for its Andean Condors. These amazing birds measure just over a metre long from head to tail and 3 metres from wing tip to wingtip. It was our good fortune to spot three before we reached the Cruz Del Condors. With nobody else around we pulled up and silently watched these majestic birds pick up the first thermal currents of the day. In 10 minutes of watching them circle I don´t think they flapped their wings once. Spellbinding stuff; nobody moved while they were over us. Even the quiet sounds of a couple of cameras clioking seemed intrusive so we even stopped that after a few minutes.

As they rose out sight we headed off to the viewpoint called Cruz Del Condors. Not a single condor to be seen during the hour and a half we were there. We were very fotunate to have seen them earlier on. The place was full of tourists piling in and out of 50 seater coaches. Some displaying the gum chewing yobbery that we noticed in Zanzibar, disregarding the ´DO NOT STEP BEYOND THIS SAFETY WALL´ signs, perching on the very edge of the 1 kilometre drop directly behind them, daring the scenery to excite them out of their boredom. The long suffering security staff wisely decided that the miserable wage they earned was insufficient to save the lives of these over indulged children in their early 20s. With a shrug and a silent ´loco´ they watched, waiting for one of them (usually the males whilst their largely unimpressed girlfriends took pictures, presumably for insurance purposes) to take another bold step backwards. I was really pleased that we had seen our three condors in the relative tranquility earlier on. The Cruz Del Condors had some good toilets and spectacular views up the valley. Beyond that, nobody fell over the side.The condors will have been disappointed.

This was a long day because after the condor stop we headed back to Chivay for lunch and then the long flog back to Arequipa through the afternoon. On our last day in Arequipa we took a tour of the city, ending up at the astonishingly beautiful Monastary De St Catarina. Thesize of asmall town and rocked by several earthquakes the site has been lovingly restored and since the 1970s has been open to the public. The restoration has been faithful to the various ages through which it has passed, from the latter part of the 16th century through to the present day (part of the buiding still retains its original building.Painted outside in terracotta and white and sky blue and white the whole place shimmers in the brilliant sunlight of Arequipa.For those reading this blog with limited time in Arequipa,if you do nothing else then visit this wonderful place. There is a first class eating place with food choices to suit all wallets.The menu is fun with reference to: ´Salads for the Lay Sisters; of Happiness, of Magnanimity, of Diligence´, ´Pizzas of The Saints´, a variety of sweets prepared by the cloistered sisters of the convent including the following sinful indulgences: ´Chocolate Temptation, Arrogance,The Proud Carrot Cake, Gluttony,The Provocative Lemon Pie and much more along the same lines.

On display in the reconstructed cells are all manner of things from the cooking facilities to embroidery,musical instruments, illustrated manuscripts and beautiful paintings from the Cusco School showing a fusion of the imagery of the recently conquered Inka culture and the victorious and evangelising Spanish.

Early the following morning we set off for the bus station to get the Cruz Del Sur coach to Puno,on the edge of Lake Titikaka. On arrival we discovered a bus strike which may have gone on and on for days. Some quick footwork on the part of Cinthia at the agency we had booked with got us a flight early the following day. The next blog posting will start off at Puno, take us out across Lake Titikaka,first to the floating villages then to Amantani where we stayed overnight with a family before returning to Puno and taking the coach across the mountains to our current spot, Cusco, Capital of the Inka world, and base for travel to Machu Pichu.

On the music front there isa whole musical genre here called Afro Peruvian, a fusion of the music from African slaves and indigenous Peruvians. Notable singers are Sussana Baca and Eva Ayllon.The latter in particular combines a wonderfully powerful and expressive singing voice with one of the finest percussion setups and bands that you will hear. If you live in Christchurch and you fancy a listen to this go and pester Rockin´Ross Middlemass and Brian at Radar Records (and pass on my best wishes) otherwise give Amazon.com a go where some of this music can be listened to.

Lots of love and best wishes to families and friends. Dedicated to teachers past and present this time.Only a couple of weeks until the end of term in the UK. Hang on in there and enjoy the carol services.

Posted by JohnandJac 12:13 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Peru: Trujillo to Huaraz and back to Lima

High in the Mountains

semi-overcast 25 °C
View John and Jackie Around the World on JohnandJac's travel map.

John:...With Huaraz, like every town we have seen so far, the first impressions should be suspended as soon as possible because with a little effort (none in some cases) these are often lovely places and if a little scruffy around the edges they have a story or series of stories to tell. Almost regardless of the place, nearly every Peruvian person we have met has been helpful, generous and kind. Any prejudice and preconceptions I might have had about South America and its people (except for Maradona) have been dispelled on this trip. Peru is a beautiful country and great value for money as a traveller...which brings me back to Huaraz.

From the tourism point of view this town is a base for mountaineering and trecking up in the high Andes. It is nestled in a bowl formed by surrounding mountains and in the past 50 years or so has been knocked over several times by earthquakes. The death toll from seismic events has been in excess of 100 000 people. Looking at the standard of building in the often rebuilt town the next earthquake will knock it over again. There seems to be an air of quiet acceptance about the inevitability of such things. We were struck by a melancholic, fatalistic air to the town.

As we were doing neither trecking nor mountaineering we looked around for other things that the town might have to offer. First and foremost, the central market (as in every Peruvian town we have been to) is a fascinating insight into the lives of local people. Lots of locally grown fresh fruit and veg, surprising names from overseas (Milo - Kiwis will know and Ritz Crackers, stacks of them). Fairly rudementary butchery going on with muscular little women wielding axes over the carcasses of some creature or other, the heads often saved and on display, hutches of guinea pigs (Cuy) a local delicacy in Peru and much much more.

Out on to the busy main street. Not too much room here for multi-national companies. The profit margins would be so low in such a poor place that they have no interest in moving in. One of the joys of this trip; most of the names on the high street are Peruvian (or with Telefonica, the state run phone service, Spanish). Most of the shops are small. One of the biggest trades on the street is copied CDs. We are now in Arequipa, Peru´s second city after Lima (although the people in Arequipa think it is the other way around). With a population of over 1 million people there isn´t a single music store other than the 3 CDs for 5 Soles (1.5 dollars) stalls on every street and a small kiosk sized store selling original CDs). Bookshops suffer a similar fate but here in Arequipa at least a few survive the bootlegged books competition. The upside is that books and music are affordable for people who otherwise wouldn´t or couldn´t read. In a poor but rapidly developing country a literate population predetermines how the country will develop. My observation is that improved education has lead to a rediscovery and pride in the country´s history and increased popular involvement in the political process.

Just off the main street of Huaraz are many good places to eat with the cuisine ranging from European, American and Chinese through to ethnic Peruvian. There is a relatively high ex patriate population here, people drawn by the spectacular environment. We noticed a high per-head-of-population VW beetle count as people drove them down to Peru or where they were driven across from Brazil (where the VW beetle is still a hugely popular car).

Anyway back to Huaraz. Our accomodation was outstanding, on one of the higher parts of the town and with a rooftop terrace, we enjoyed breakfast looking out over the town and at the surrounding snow capped mountains. The most active person in the hostel was Rosa, diminutive Indian person wearing a Royal Navy baseball cap as part of her Indian dress, who worked from dawn until 22:00, on reception, cooking, cleaning and advising on trips and tours. We took a prostate clenching trip to the local lookout, a ride of about 7 kms in a local taxi along an unsealed ´road´. Even more prostate clenching on discovering that the taxi driver only had one useful eye and was transfixed at times by the view from the increasing heights we reached. On arrival at the top the view was truly wonderful. Unfortunately the enormous concrete cross (15 metres high) (one of which sits high above each town we have been to so far) was spoiled by vandalism and graffitti. The area around was pretty squalid and clearly a place where strange things happen at night. We plucked up the courage for the downward (contolled we hoped) trip, got back into the taxi and headed back to the hostel for a strong coffee and an ECG.

Other activities of note included a visit to the archeological museum which houses a world class collection of Pecuay Culture monoliths and lintels, carved in representation of animals and people of significance in the area. Every gesture and body position gives meaning to each carving. These folks pre dated the Inca culture and covered a lot of the surrounding mountainous terrain. It´s hard to get away from male genitalia in these carvings and the little square people portrayed on the monoliths brandish their parts with passion and pride. Not just the humans; some of the creatures they encounter are similarly well endowed. In this collection there were only representations of men, unlike some of the pottery jugs and bottles we have seen in centres representing other cultures (Chan Chan, Lima). I went back for a second visit on the Sunday to do some sketching. A really interesting museum, run on a shoestring but with enthusiasm and commitment from the staff we saw.

As we wandered around on the Sunday afternoon we came across the early signs of a street parade with 4 groups of Peruvian dancers dressed in highly decorative costumes with sequins, bells and extravagantly bright colours. Each group had its own distinctive outfit and all had Peruvian symbols and motifs designed into each uniform. The nearest I have seen to this before is the Irish dancing outfits although the style of dancing was very different. The worst organisation we have seen so far (which has been very good, another preconception gone) meant that the parade took ages to get going. This gave us the opportunity to watch the goings on, the teenage boys preening themselves and seeing if they looked cool in shades, chewing gum and with a little more product in their hair. It was never going to be easy; dressed in powder blue and lilac satin with bells around each lower leg but they had a go anyway! The girls, all dressed up to the nines travelled around together giggling, they all went to the toilet together and sniffed at the girls in the other teams. One made her boyfriend walk her across the square holding hands to get a slice of melon and an ice cream- poor guy loked like he had no choice.

We went to have a look at the Cathedral and church but sadly both were locked up. It looks as if that is the case outside of church services and at other times the doors are chained shut and a security guard is clearly in evidence.

Dancers in the parade in Huaraz

Dancers in the parade in Huaraz

As the parade eventually got underway the music being played by the lead car, at deafening volume stopped. The CD player had packed up and the parade stopped. We wandered off back to our hostel. We had our pictures and had seen the best part. Nobody seemed too bothered about the interuption. A collective shrug and ´that´s life´ seemed to be the response.

Dancers in Huaraz

Dancers in Huaraz

Our decision to pay a little extra for better quality bus transport paid off again on the journey from Huaraz to Lima. We left the town at 22:00, on time, expecting to arrive in Lima at 06:00. One hour into our journey and just below the highest point of the drive we came to a sudden stop. An accident had just happened in front of us with what we understand to have been a vehicle going over the edge of the road. Rescue efforts were underway. This seems to happen often here, usually involving trucks, buses or cars where the driver falls asleep. One of the reasons our bus fairs cost a little more is because the bus company we use always has two drivers on the bus at anytime. Anyway we were stuck there for 4 hours with little information and no lights on. A monk was on the bus with us and he kept saying Sanctus which helped some people who were clearly shaken by the whole episode. I sought sanctuary in my iPod. Feelings mixed, with sympathy for those injured and deceased, frustration at the unkown length of the delay (no information and to conserve fuel and battery all lights plus fresh air blower stopped), some Huarazian fatalism that seemed to have infected us and enormous relief that we had paid the extra for a wide awake driver plus a spare. I also thought about the rescue effort going on in front of us and how lucky Jackie and I would have been in similar circumstances in Franz Josef to have our excellent St. John Ambulance team and Fire team.

The delay meant a 10:00 arrival in Lima, a very different proposition from getting there at 06:00. We crawled through the slums on the Northern outskirts of the city. Any softening of the reality that may have happened at night on our journey to Cajamarca was exposed fully in the glare of the morning light. Small children selling papers, fruit, sweets down the middle of the freeway, anywhere that traffic might slow down. Grown men rummaging through piles of garbage dumped in the middle of the street, looking for anything usable. Traffic chaos as these normally kind, helpful people got behind the wheel of a car or onto a motorcycle at which point the red mist descended and they took on different personalities. The filthy air along the freeway into Lima stole the view a kilometre ahead of us and seemed to add to the grubiness we felt at being in the coach for so long. In my tiredness it seemed strange to see all of these things that smelled, exhaust fumes, rotting rubbish, mangy animals and not be able to smell them as the air conditioned (relative) comfort of the coach selectively shielded us from the worst of it. For me it looked like some rather grim silent movie in full colour. Along with our tiredness the squalor and struggle all around us took away a fair bit of our remaining energy. To watch this all was compulsive viewing, seemed voyeuristic but at the same time we didn´t set off on a Disneyland tour and we will see much much more of this in India and South East Asia.

On arrival at the Cruz del Sur terminal we saw that the expressway was jammed solid with traffic. The only way this would become an expressway would be if very fast runners (Matt Smith?, Ross Cooper?) ran across the top of the stationary vehicles. We decided to have breakfast at the terminal. I ordered, I thought, fresh fruit juice and toast with something else from the breakfast menu. What actually arrived was a bowl of strips of beef cooked in tomato and onion. Nice but another reminder of the ned to be cautious about ordering anything in a second language. Still it could have been worse I suppose.

We arrived back at our `home`in Hostel International in Miraflores, Lima. A few hours of sleep later we saw Cinthia, on the staff at HI as their travel agent to complete the planning of our trip down to Southern Peru. Cinthia´s excellent skills meant that this was a very efficient process. For those reading this blog planning to stay in Lima we would very strongly recomend this place and the advice that Cinthia can offer on how to travel and what is available. She has saved us quite a lot of money by tweaking the schedule here or making a phone call there.

Before we knew it we were up and out, heading to our flight to the south of Peru, Arequipa our first stop. We saw Lima airport for the first time as a departure point and were very very impressed. Efficient friendly staff saw us through the security points. The airport was very clean with a good range of eating places and plenty of space to walk about and a good shop with English Language magazines (but not newspapers). Flying down to Arequipa was a fairly short job. Total flight 1 hour during which time the crew served breakfast, drinks (10:00) and stayed at it until about ten minutes before touchdown (when the chap sitting next to Jackie had his last vodka of the flight). We flew over the Pacific for a short while, leaving the Lima smog behind us and then back over the arid coastal strip of Peru. Desert through and through except that now-and-again a dry river bed would support some agricultural greenery. As we travelled south and inland we flew over incredibly deep canyons and gullies as well as tiny little hamlets (goodness knows how they get water and survive) before flying in to Arequipa.

In the next blog I will describe the beautiful city of Arequipa, our journey down to the town of Chivay and into the Culca Canyon, seeing some mighty condors flying over head and how a bus strike can change your plans just a little.

In the meantime lots of love to family and friends and special thoughts after our Huaraz bus trip to the St John Ambulance and Fire Service volunteers in Glacier Country.

Posted by JohnandJac 10:42 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Peru: Trujillo and the journey to Huaraz

semi-overcast 20 °C
View John and Jackie Around the World on JohnandJac's travel map.

John:... As with all the Peruvian towns we have seen so far, the outskirts of Trujillo looked unpromising. The usual mix of rapid, poor quality housing built to accomodate the rapid rise in urban population. This is exacerbated by the recognition that Trujillo offers a better quality of life than the now hugely over crowded Lima. In the words of Don Henley in The Eagles ´Call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye´and this may well be the ultimate fate of Trujillo; but for now, inside the Avenue Espagnol it is a jewel of colonial architecture and beautifully maintained public space. The centre piece of this is the huge Plaza De Armas. As I mentioned in the previous posting the paving stones are actually buffed with an electric polisher. Fortunately the rainfall is light.

Our hotel was excellent. The Hotel Porteda Del Sol is an easy walk from the Plaza De Armas or if laden down is a 3 soles (1 dollar) taxi ride. The decor is functional, the place spotless, the shower effective and, above all else, the staff were welcoming, friendly and very tolerant of our stuttering Spanish. The owners of the hotel were hands on owners, their son spoke very good English and were interested in our travels.

The Plaza De Armas had plenty of attractions to keep us interested on the first day in Trujillo. We began by going to the Tourist Information Centre, or at least where the Lonely Planet guide book told us the centre was. We boldly walked past the armed security staff and climbed the elegant stone staircase to the first floor where we were met by a smartly dressed woman who ushered us into her office. We attempted to say that we were interested in any recommendations she might have for a two and a half day stay in her town. She, in turn, presented us with some pens and a very bright pennant bearing the name of the President of this region of Peru, La Libertad. Suddenly the large number of cameras, security staff and serious amount of milling about made sense. We had inadvertantly walked in on the end of a conference that he was chairing. The Tourist Information Centre had moved to another building. We finally managed to make ourselves understood, offered to return pennant and pens but were told we were welcome to hang on to them and the smartly dressed woman kindly got one of her staff to walk us across the square to where the Tourist Information Centre had moved. On exiting the lovely old building I was photographed by a member of the press corp looking very sharp in my walking boots, Zanzibar football shirt and Levis. We looked the following day but the picture did not appear!

Ever on the quest for interesting and authentic music on this trip we were very pleased that the Trujillo brass band was playing in the square on one late afternoon and a joyful noise they made too. In the same way that the Trujillo Plaza De Armas was more polished than the Plaza De Armas in Cajamarca, so was the band. Two beautiful white euphoniums, clarinet, sax x 2, trombone, trumpets x 2, drums and percussion. They played in the formal, non New Orleans brass band way that the band in Cajamarca did but had a higher success rate in the ´right note first time´ way. The guy playing the very large pair of cymbals fascinated me. Very serious, eyes glued on the conductor he began each piece with that nervous shaking of the legs that I remember so well from my warm up routine before playing rugby. His flourish at the end of each section of his playing was spectacular. He made my night.

One of the more disappointing aspects of the Peruvian towns has been the lack of places, other than bootlegging stores, to buy music. I am sure that this is solely down to the lack of disposable income amongst the permanent population and the relatively low numbers of visitors coming to Peru. We were hooked by one of the bootlegging places as we walked down from the Plaza. We bought two CDs for 3 soles each (1 dollar) one of which advised of the dire consequences that would be faced by anybody copying this copy! I quote directly ´WARNING: All Righ Reserved Unauthrized duplication a violation of aplica laws 1285 458 558-0´...you have been warned. Las Reynas de la Musica Criolla is a belter, featuring notable female Peruvian singers and Jackie´s choice Guitarras Peruans y Punta has no such warning. Both are recorded onto CDR blank CDs and the information about the artists is minimal but they´ll get us by until we get back to the music stores of Lima tomorrow!

As with all the places we have visited so far there was a great range of eating places from small ´Chifa´ (literally goat and rice) chinese eateries to those serving Peruvian dishes like Cuy (Guinea Pig) and those bringing other South American cuisines over the mountains. We ate at a Uruguyan restaurant one evening and were served more meat than you could shake a stick at.

We took in a few of the sites, and sights available around Trujillo including a visit to the ancient city of Chan Chan. At one time measuring 22 sq km and made entirely of adobe bricks plastered with crushed sea shell and mud plaster, this is a truly spectacular place. A World Heritage Centre, the extensive remains are being excavated, restored and conserved through government investment and other sponsorships. For all the awfulness of Peruvian politicians and politics ( a story is told here that when God was giving out the natural resources to all the countries of the world the angel Gabriel pointed out that he had unfairly favoured Peru in the distribution of good things. God replied ¨wait until you see the politicians I´m going to give them) it takes a lot of courage to invest in this kind of thing when there are so many other calls on the government purse. The preservation of sites like this is what will draw the tourist dollars into Peru and provide work for many people...hopefully. Anyway this city was the pinacle of achievement of the Chimu culture who immediately predated the Incas in this part of the world. They worshipped the sea and the moon and there are many beautiful motifs and carvings dedicated to both.

It was worth our while to engage a guide and taxi driver for the morning to see this great place before being dropped off to watch a display of Peruvian folk dancing and Peruvian Paso horse riding. Towards the end of the show both dancers, the horse and its rider engaged in a traditional dance together which looked pretty amazing. The dancers and rider looked very pleased with themselves afterwards but the horse made no comment.

After a meal we headed back to our hotel for a cup of tea and a chat with the owners before heading off to the bus station for another through-the-night coach trip into the mountains; this time to the town of Huaraz. Altitude wise we´re now over 3 200 metres. We woke at around 05:30 having seen nothing of the drive from Trujillo. The last hour of our journey so us in a fertile, green part of the country, even at this altitude, in marked contrast to the near desert of the coastal area. Past small adobe cottages with diminutive Indians, the women in tall hats, bright skirts and shawls, the men less brightly coloured, and lots of children about. Each has a small holding, an area of tilled soil growing stuff to take to the market in Trujillo...through scruffy little townships and abandoned, earthquake flattened communities and eventually through the characteristic tumble down outskirts of the town before finding ourselves in the coach station at 07:00.

The next posting will tell of our few days in Huaraz and our trip back to Lima for 2 days before heading towards the South of Peru. I will leave you with a question at this point. Why is it when you can´t move for pan pipe players dressed in ponchos and selling CDs in York, Christchurch, even Boston on this trip....they´re so hard to find here? I know that I have given the pan-pipes a bit of bad press so far but this morning (Sunday) I heard somebody on the pan-pipes playing ´How Sweet Thou Art´unaccompanied..truly beautiful, unlike the CD of ´Let it Bee, The People of the Andes play The Beatles´- best avoided.

Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends

Posted by JohnandJac 14:57 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Peru: Cajamarca and the Journey to Trujillo

sunny 18 °C
View John and Jackie Around the World on JohnandJac's travel map.

John:... First things first. The correct answer to the quiz a couple of postings ago is yes, you can by Old Speckled Hen beer in cans in a supermarket in Lima. Not only that but from here, in Huaraz up in the Andean mountains you can buy Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale...all the way from Tadcaster, North Yorkshire.

As far as the taxi answer is concerned, it´s not strictly true that taking a taxi in Lima invalidates your travel insurance but it probably should be. I forget who it was that said ´A man who is tired of taking a Lima taxi is tired of life´ (or was it ´A man who is tired of life should take a taxi in Lima´) but they probably had it about right. Taxi riding in the relative tranquility of Cajamarca is no different. The enthusiasm and sheer will to succeeed with which they seek out the racing line through a congested roundabout is breath taking. All this in a beaten, badly beaten, Daewoo mini. The notable difference here as well is that there is no ´inshallah´ or 10 sets of rosarie beads and a couple of figurines that say ´if I crash its not my fault´ these guys want all the credit for getting you there.

Out near the bus depot are some of the car repair shops. In similar vein to the repair shops we saw in Africa these chaps have a two piece tool kit; a hammer and a spanner and the spanner looks under used but you have to hand it to them these boys know how to keep a wreck on the highway and there are plenty of wrecks cruising around looking for customers. Taxi fares here are unbelievably cheap and, apart from our experience in Lima, the drivers are honest, helpful and forgiving of poor Spanish....and deranged.

On our arrival in Cajamarca we were met by Bessie at the Cajamarca Cruz del Sur bus station. We were tired and after passing the courtesies with Bessie and Leone. Both encouraged us to drink lots of coca tea to help with any altitude problems we might develop (at 2700 metres above sea level it just falls into the range of causing altitude problems for some people. If a problem, 24 hours of taking it easy is usually plenty of time to adjust. We will be going much higher yet)The coca tea tasted of mud but we should probably have taken their advice more seriously. For the first 24 hours getting slightly puffed on exertion, an annoying headache and loss of appetite suggested that we may have a period of adjustment ahead of us...except we were only here for two and a half days! Anyway we had a sleep for a couple of hours before venturing out on the town.

An observation at this juncture is that the person who did the plumbing and the wiring for the whole of Peru is probably the same person who, before this, had wired and plumbed Zanzibar. The shower in our little pad in Cajamarca didn´t work...or at least it gave us an uninterupted supply of mountain fresh water. Despite our best endeavours we were not able to fix the shower all the time we were there, no towels, no pots and pans in the kitchen....and it didn´t really matter that much. Some plug sockets worked, others not. Some sockets were too small for the plugs on the appliances. The lights were dim and the decor very 1960s and it was absolutely perfect for us. Just a couple of minutes walk to the Plaza des Armas, the town square, past the shops and cafes in this delightful little town. After Lima it was a lovely contrast. The pace of life seemed a lot slower, people smiled at us and gave an occasional ´Buenos Dias´ or a nod of the head. A mixture of Spanish and Indian people in the town, the Indian women looking very splendid in their tall hats, brightly knitted shawls and jumpers, usually with children and the Spanish, castellenos, looking more conventionally ´business like´.

Despite the apparant affluence of the place there were still plenty of signs of poverty around. Poor people, usually Peruvian Indians, trying to scratch a living selling sweets (lollies for the Kiwis reading this) or cakes on the street corners or begging for a sole here or there. Our plan has been to work out roughly how many things we have seen or done that have cost nothing, or next to nothing, then work out what we think we would have paid to see it and convert that into Soles and donate those. It doesn´t do a lot but 1 sole buys a bottle of water, 2 gets something to eat and 3 equals 1 dollar so we´re not talking big amounts here.

The town´s architecture is a combination of Spanish colonial, including the cathedral, monastary and civic buildings, adobe brick single story houses around the outskirts of the town and functional small commercial as well as a lovely little central market. Later on the next day we discovered a Peruvian Indian outdoor food market taking up a couple of streets, with blue plastic tarpaulin sheets providing some protection from the fierce sunlight. The colours of the chillie peppers, corn on the cob, red potatos along with the beautifully patterned knitted hats, scarves and jackets and the woven blankets made for a very picturesque scene.

A feature of Cajamarca, and other towns we have visited in Peru so far, is how important the central square is. Often home to a statue and/or water feature of some kind, these squares represent a large part of the centre of the town. Without exception in our experience the squares are well used by local people and are kept scrupulously clean. The square in Trujillo, our stop before Huaraz, is so clean that on first glimpse I thought that it had been raining until I saw a man with an industrial floor polisher polishing the paving stones in the square.

Within a few minutes of arriving in the square we became aware of a procession emerging from the substantial Iglesia (church) de San Francisco. Slowly proceeding through the grounds of the church out on to the square; a large plinth with a nearly life sized wooden figure dressed in a black cloak was bourne by a group of policemen all looking very smart in their peaked caps and gold epaulets, polished shoes and sharply pressed trousers. They all looked very sombre, as did the vast number of police that followed them. We didn´t have the Spanish or the inclination to ask if this was the funeral of a colleague (no coffin in evidence) or if it had been a special service dedicated to the police force. Either way the police were led by a little old man with a big stick. It became clear that his function was to lift the electric cables up high enough for the policemen to get their cargo through safely without having to stoop down in an undignified way.

The music was provided by a smartly dressed marching band with their brass instruments polished and gleaming in the sunlight. In formation each player had his sheet music pegged, with a clothes peg, to the shirt collar of the player in front. Whereas the marching bands in New Orleans that we saw played with a degree of syncopation and swing this music was pretty straight down the middle. Whereas the New Orleans bands like The Treme Band had instruments dearly loved but as dented as a Lima taxi, these were spotless and pristeen.

On each day we were in Cajamarca there was a procession of some kind. The above, the next day was a fiesta day and the last day there a funeral. Each brought its own degree of chaos to an already chaotic traffic ´system´. For all the police in the town nobody seemed keen to step in to sort out the traffic but in the end people got to where they needed to be so maybe no need to.

We took a breath taking, literally, walk up the steep hillside to get the view of the town and surrounding countryside shrine up the hill side. This gave us a view of the town itself but also the surrounding hills and, in the distance, mountains. Whilst there we met a delightful Peruvian Indian family who spoke little English and little Spanish but were fluent in their own language Quechua. Fortunately their son was able to translate for us. The father ( mid 70s) of the family had dressed in his best suit for the day out into town on this public holiday. He wore his trilby hat at a rakish angle and was a lovely old chap. We had our picture taken together and Jackie noticed him adjusting his hat so that the rakishness was even more marked!

Soon it was time to get ready to leave Cajamarca. A delightful town and well worth a visit. For us it was back down to the desert coast and spend some time in Trujillo (True-He-Yo).

Unusually for our trip this was a daytime coach ride, retracing much of the route we had taken in the night a few days previously. After climbing several hundred metres out of the town we were introduced to the steep drops and switch back roads that we had slept through previously. The views were extraordinary on this clear-as-a-bell day. The road was amazingly good considering how difficult it must have been to put it in there but there were gangs working on it all the time, clearing landslips, putting in new storm drains and sealing the surface in parts. The driver was, I believe, certifiable. Certainly we were keen to get to Trujillo roughly on time but, as he overtook a petrol tanker going through the middle of a small town I began to think that schedules aren´t everything. We had seen the newspaper headlines just before leaving Cajamarca of a bus crash killing 9 and injuring 7 so it was fairly fresh in our heads. Anyway we had wonderful views of the river valley as we dropped down from the mountains. At first narrow strips of land farmed by families. Mostly growing rice in little paddy fields. with a few other staples (maize mostly), adobe brick huts by the dusty roadside and donkeys waiting patiently for the next load. As the road levelled out and the river widened the fertile strip became a fertile plain before turning to dust and desert just before we hit the Pan American Highway for this last couple of hours south, through the scruffy, littered desert to Trujillo. Plastic bags, fragments of cars, a fender here, a burst truck tyre there, some freeway jewellery shining amber, crystal and red in the bright sunlight after some accident or other and above it all, gliding effortlessly, vultures looking for a late afternoon snack before the thermal currents die away and they actually have to flap their wings a little.

Trujillo gets good press and everything we had read about the place was positive but, like so many Peruvian towns the outskirts are scruffy and shambolic. Lots of people sitting around looking hopeful as children play around them. As we drove into the city it was getting dark. The bright lights of the University shone out amongst all the diners and shops whilst around the stately progress of our coach Trujillo taxi drivers hurtled into a roundabout here, an impossible manouvre there. More about Trujillo, including dancing with horses, brass band in the Plaza de Armas and accidently turning up at a presidential press conference in the next posting.

Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends.

Posted by JohnandJac 07:16 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

(Entries 41 - 45 of 71) « Page .. 4 5 6 7 8 [9] 10 11 12 13 14 .. »