A Travellerspoint blog

Peru, Lima to Cajamarca

overcast 22 °C
View John and Jackie Around the World on JohnandJac's travel map.

John:....I mentioned the comfortable nature of Miraflores, the district we have been staying in for the first part of our stay in Lima, Peru. There is an uneasiness underneath that. Many of the houses in the area have high walls, thick steel fences and, in many cases, electric fencing along the top of the walls. The presence of police and security staff, often armed, outside the banks and out on the street suggests strongly that there are things here to protect and people around who may want to take them away. Reportedly Peru has changed out of all recognition in the past 5 years to all but the poor, who continue their hand to mouth existance. There is quite a lot of begging on the streets, even in Miraflores, often young women with small child in tow. A huge influx of people from the countryside has seen the population of Lima increase by several hundred percent in recent years with housing and infrastructure failing to keep up.

The national economy has improved considerably and the country`s infrastructure developed alongside the economic improvement. Nowhere is that development more marked than in the Miraflores district. A new rapid transit system is being built along the Avenue de la Republica, a fine shopping and dining complex has recently opened atop the cliffs looking out over the Pacific and even though many of the drivers are certifiable, the roads are in very good condition. Above all else it feels safe to walk the streets....but it is very clear from excursions through the town to the docks area and towards metropolitan Lima that outside districts like Miraflores life is very tough and can be brutal. We saw a lot of evidence of just how tough on our journey to Cajamarca

The climate here is comfortable, short sleeves and no hair is comfortable although waiting at the bus station for the bingo bus to Cajamarca it was bordering on the humid with the temperature up around 27 degrees. Having just come to the end of ´the dry season´ (no significant rain here in Lima for many years) it was interesting to see what the north of the country had to offer when we got there. Being inland and,therefore higher up than we are in Lima may drop the temperature enough to send one towards a warming glass of the local spirit ´Pisco Sour´ or as the tour guide described it ´The World Famous Pisco Sour´. I may try one but definitely not two. Its reputation is fearsome.

Inside the hostel Christmas has come late; well later than New York where it started some weeks ago. The staff have put up the Christmas decorations. An eclectic mixture of large painted clay houses with wise men, manger, donkeys, shepherds along with the main cast, sitting next door to fluffy snowmen, Santa Clauses in bright red hats, fir trees with twinkling lights...the whole lot. In a city where there is rarely rain let alone snow, a snowman looks a little incongruous although I suppose that is no different in Christchurch in 28 degrees of glorious Canterbury heat. Oh and there are elves, many of them.

We found a great place to eat near to the hostel. A Hare Krishna cafe-restaurant where they do interesting things with brocolli and spinach. These are the only Hare Krishna people that I have seen in a building that isn´t an airport and I must say that they are a very agreeable bunch. Peaceful and courteous and clever at cooking sans meat. I once bought a book from a Hare Krishna person, allegedly endorsed (the book that is, not the person) by Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Carlos Santana and a number of other notables. When I get back to New Zealand I´m going to see if the brocolli recipe is in it although I suspect it deals with higher things than that.

Unlike other parts of the world there is no celebration of bonfire night this week. It is also Emma Gribble`s birthday and Jackie and I were the only people drinking her health in Lima. I`m sure there are those in Ripon, North Yorkshire who are having a great time!

Enough of this. We headed to the Cruz del Sur coach station to catch the 16 30 coach to Cajamarca (Kaha-mark-a). We got there a little early and checked in the baggage. We had protected our gear as best we could, using a Pak Safe each on our main luggage and padlocks on the smaller bags. Anything valuable stayed with us. We need not have worried though. Our luggage check in was just like going on a flight (but more efficient), we were issued tickets for our bags and watched them being loaded on the coach before we embarked. As we were all seated a security person came and photographed each of us. We weren´t sure if this was about security or passenger recognition if the coach was involved in an accident. The coach was a double decker with reclining seats, hostess service, hot dinner and light breakfast, Video programmes and.....Bingo. Our seats reclined almost flat...this was the luxury coach no mistake. Just as well, as the journey to Cajamarca is 15 hours, most of it through the night, arriving in the mountain town at 07 30.

The first thing of note as we moved out of the coach station was the safety video. None of your humourless ´pay attention or you´re in trouble´ stuff. These people knew well how to get your attention. The hostess they chose to film was stunning, made up to the nines and had all the non verbal powers of seduction you could imagine. She twinkled her eyes, smiled in that way and I knew that she was only talking to me, nobody else. For her I checked my seat belt was on properly several times and took special care to put my take-on luggage in a safe place. Had she instructed me to check my inflatable life jacket I would have done.

We left on time (and arrived at our destination 4 minutes early - very good indeed). We rolled out in to Lima´s early evening Saturday traffic and slowly inched our way towards the Pan-American Highway that would help us to race up the coastline. The route to the P.A.H was through the outskirts of Lima; at first the main city then through mile after mile of communities consisting of poor or slum housing. The houses lining the freeway out to the PAH were mainly brick built,single or two floors with steel reinforcing rods up into the air hoping for another flimsy floor to be added. Given that this is a major earthquake zone it is unsurprising that on every major quake in the region the death toll is so high. From time to time we drove past small hillsides with shanty town housing perched on the sides.

Scenes of struggle over adversity were everywhere. A policeman on point duty on a dias under an umbrella controlling 6 lanes of freeway trafic at a junction with arm gestures and a whistle: he was in charge and nobody argued. This was the impression through the outskirts of Lima. Whatever had been thrown at people through life there were countless games of 5 a side footbal, small outdoor theatrical stages with rows of plastic picnic chairs and against the lines of brickwork houses flourescent posters advertising boxing, concerts and the like. Above all the impression here, as elsewhere in Peru, was of a nation proud but also humble and resilient.

In the midst of all this were several huge shopping complexes with footbridges stretching across the freeway from the housing developments and hundreds of people streaming to and fro. This was the Lima that we wouldn´t have seen if we had flown to Cajamarca. Even as we drove through, it seemed far away as we moved at increasing speed towards the PAH. On two occasions we spotted ferris wheels rising out of the housing, washing out on the roof tops drying in the smog. Past a shanty town with a proud sign proclaiming (I think this is right) ´AL CAMPO FERIAL - LAS MALVENAS´. Rather like the ferris wheels, church towers rose up, offering elevation of a different kind. Despite, or because of the obvious poverty the ubiquitous casinos still obvious, SUN CITY; traffic jammed heading into Saturday night Lima. Battered Toyotas, Daewoos and Nissans, Toyota mini buses, luxury coaches like ours and Moto taxis, motorbikes converted into taxis with three wheels and covered-in convertions for two or three passengers.

By 18:30 we were rolling up the coast and into the night. Desert around us suddenly as the shanty towns cam to an end. We were served a hot meal after watching an excellent Jodie Foster movie about a hijack attempt on a plane. Following the film we were invited to participate in Bingo (the hostess became the bingo caller) but despite our best efforts and the handy positioning of the phrase book we quickly lost track and failed to register on the scoring sheet. I suspect we were looking for the spanish for twenty two while the hostess was calling ´2 little ducks´. We didn´t sulk but did recine our chairs to the sleeping position and began a fitful sleep. Catching glimpses of toll gates on the PAH and small, barely lit towns with a cafe here, a bar there lit with single bulbs and then darkness as the desert stole back the night. Some more sleep and then, after about 8 hours of driving north we turned in towards the Andes.

I slept through much of the trip, just catching glimpses of small villages as we drove through. The road was tortuous as the coach made its way up the foothills
and into the mountains. Fortunately we couldn´t see the road and the steep, long drops off the roadside (that was saved for the return journey a few days later). As we climbed the moutain towards Cajamarca we crossed the 2 500 metre threshold past which altitude begins to give some physiological challenges. We climbed to just over 3 200 before the short descent into the town. The last half hour of the trip saw us with a breakfast of a muffin and a cup of sweet tea.

On arrival at Cajamarca we were picked up by Bessie and driven the short distance to out accommodation where we met the elderly, short, visually impaired and utterly delightful Leoné who looked after the place. We had a snooze before venturing out into this wonderful little town.

Some advice for those reading this blog who are planning to travel to Peru;

1. If you can, it is well worth getting the best quality transport you can afford. Even our VIP coach only cost 40 dollars; not bad considering that this includes over night accomodation, and evening meal, a couple of movies.....and bingo

2. Don´t make the mistake we made and by a Spanish Phrase Book. Buy a Spanish for South America book ( The Lonely Planet books are quite handy). The Spanish left here centuries ago and the language has developed a lot in South America since then. Many locally specific things (like food) are not in the Spanish books.

Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends. The next blog will describe the lovely town a Cajamarca and our daytime and sometimes ´thrilling´journey to an equally lovely town Trujillo from where this blog is sent.

Posted by JohnandJac 15:22 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Peru: Lima

sunny 28 °C
View John and Jackie Around the World on JohnandJac's travel map.

John....One of the following statements is true; a) Taking a taxi ride or attempting to cross the road in Lima constitutes reckless behaviour and invalidates your travel insurance b) There are many buildings in Lima dating back several centuries c) you can buy cans of Old Speckled Hen in the supermarket in Miraflores

Please submit your answers via the `comment` facility on this website. There is only one correct answer.

We arrived in Lima at around midnight. Not the best time to arrive in a city about which so much scary stuff is written. It would be easy to imagine an airport full of pickpockets, bag snatchers and other such creatures but this wasn`t the case. Certainly it is important, as anywhere, to take sensible precautions and not flaunt your Rolex or Nikon but what greeted us was a huge crowd of people waiting for friends and family off the incoming flight from Los Angeles, LAN Chile 601.

The immigration queue had been well tempered but slow, the customs formalities over in a few moments. When we got to the desk we were greeted courteously and wished a pleasant stay in Peru by an immigration lady who actually smiled at us. Some other airports (Sydney leaps to mind straight away, and New York for that matter) could note that it is not considered a sign of weakness to smile at visitors as they enter your country, nor does it aid the war against terror to scowl, be rude and contemptuous to passengers (the TSA in the USA in particular). The airport in Lima did well or as well as airports can do.

The planning time we spent at Pete and Margaret`s house in LA paid off as the taxi pickup we arranged with a reputable, licensed taxi firm ran smoothly. We came out on to the concourse amidst hundreds of people to see a sign that proclaimed Jacie Kooper. I`m not sure who that is but we took their taxi anyway and hurtled across Lima. By this time it was about 01:30 - 02:00 and parts of the city were still buzzing. I was surprised to see so many casinos, each one dressed up in peposterous clothing, flashing lights, faux marble exteriors and gushing waterfalls. They all seemed to be doing a roaring trade, as did the many fast food outlets that seem to cluster around them; the usual suspects Pizza Hut, Burger King, KFC, McDonalds and so on, rather like those little parasitical fish that hang around big sharks.

Some parts of town looked fairly grim as we shot through. Poorly built brick structures tottering above equally poorly brick structures. Ersatz offices for continuously failing businesses. People standing around in the warmth of the night. What was clear, even in the relatively light traffic of early morning, was that this is not place to drive for the faint of heart. Zebra crossings mean nothing, if anything they provide a target for car drivers to aim at. The right of way at crossroads, or any other junction for that matter, is a place where luck favours the brave, deranged or biggest. More of this later.

We got to our hostel in the comfortable district Miraflores. The importance of this tourist district to the city is underlined by the number of private security people, cars, motorcycles constantly on view. The private security people are all armed. Any infringement receives a loud blast on a whistle for starters and the implication that worse, much worse will follow is very clear. Our room is comfortable, clean and secure and the hostel has a very friendly atmosphere (not to mention a small swimming pool) and a couple of computers. Our arrival at the hostel at 02:30 was the first clue that learning spanish ASAP will be the only way to get around Peru (thanks to Pete who took hours downloading spanish lessons onto an MP3 player for us). .The reception chappie does not speak any english at all and amongst the staff only one person speaks english better than I speak spanish. For those reading this blog who are planning to travel to South America I can´t over emphasise the importance of being able to speak spanish. My gift for languages has already put me on course (although I did say `no thankyou`to a chap selling things on the pavement and as I noted his puzzled look realised that I had said it- Habana Assante- in Kiswahili; not often heard in these parts) for success in this area.

Our first few days have been spent in Lima, beginning with a tour of the city involving a bus, a walk around several museums and the catacombs under the huge monastary. A great way to get orientated to the city. A vast city with 8.2 million people and with some places not too safe to walk in alone it is good to use the plentiful taxis to get around. They can be cheap to use although both Jackie and I got caught for a few extra dollars overand above what we should have paid. In Jackie`s case the guy wouldn`t give her the change from her note and in mine I ended up paying twice the going rate. In both cases it amounted to a couple of dollars only and taught us both a lesson. The taxis are so plentiful that they are constantly on the look out for pedestrians, either to pick up or run over. When walking to the laundrette this morning, a distance of about 500 metres, I must have had a dozen or more opportunities to get a cab. At the supermarket I met the taxi driver that diddled me. He greeted me like a long lost brother proclaiming `KIWI`in loud voice. I suspect that he wants me to fund his retirement. Not a chance.

Last night`s excursion was a real treat. We headed into the centre of the city to the Parque de la Reserva where we watched an extra ordinary display of dancing fountains. Now even as I am writing this I can see how corny the whole thing sounds but it was genuinely wonderful. The park has in the region of 15 water features on a big scale. They include a water fountain tunel of 100 metres that you can walk through, a dozen or so con centric circles of fountain jets with the outer most circle having a a diameter of 20 metres or more, a pyramid and many others. The biggest display became the main attraction 3 times per night as a light/water/music show lasting half an hour played out. Jackie described it as a firework display with water and that pretty well sums it up. Lasar lights, the water jets turning to fine spray with pictures of Peruvian wildlife, scenery and people projected on to the spray screen. The whole thing was `choreographed`to a wide range of music from Beethoven, The Beatles, Abba, Queen, Delibes, Mozart and numerous Peruvian pieces by people I have yet to discover. El Condor Passa did not feature (but I did hear a man playing it next to the roadworks on the corner of our street today) at the showing we attended. Special effects aside the most pleasing aspect of the whole thing was to see so many people from the city attending. Whole families, teenagers in love, elderly couples. A very nice place to be. Interesting that a city that would be, like much of the south-western side of the american continent, desert if it were not for big water trucks driving through at night has a water feature as one of its big

I mentioned our respective taxi swizzes. Whilst I ended up paying over the odds for my taxi ride to the docks I wouldn`t have missed it for the world. Having secured the job the driver revved the heart out of his old Datsun before spinning the wheels into 3 lanes of traffic whilst looking at the map he had just borrowed from me. Numerous driving manouvres ìnterested`me but the best was taking the inside line around a 2 lane roundabout, becoming the third car and pulling out across the outer two cars with hand on horn. Early on in the trip I had instinctively reached for the non-existant seat belt. He saw my move and it was as if I had said that I would rather go to the ballet than watch the bull-fight, would rather wear a dress than blue-jeans. He shook his head and said `no belt`. It was one of the most exciting car rides in my life.

On that trip I found the Peru naval museum; a very interesting place. I was shown around the museum by an Indian naval rating with the improbable name of Gladys who took great pride in explaining the history contained in the museum. Whilst not exactly the Greenwich Maritime Museum it was put together with pride and clearly well looked after. There were wars I had never heard of - Peru vs Chile, Peru vs Colombia and more (some of these wars are still going on, thinly disguised as football matches). The Peru Navy has ships on the River Amazon and Lake Titicaca as well as at sea. Each artifact was polished within an inch of its life and Gladys stumbled gamely through her limited english whilst I nodded and fluently ran through my 5 or 6 phrases of spanish.

We have enjoyed excursions to various parts of the city but focussed mainly on Miraflores. The restaurant area around Larco Mar is particularly good. The seafood is excellent and the cost of meals very cheap. A cooked breakfast at the hostel comes to 7 soles, about 2 dollars NZ whilst a very fine paella with crab, prawns, fish, squid, octopus, mussels a little saffron came to the equivalent of 15 dollars NZ. It is easy to eat well and not pay a lot to do so. In fact it costs more to eat at McDonalds than it does to eat at some of the small family restaurants.

Just on the edge of Miraflores is a huge pyramid construction, now thankfully being restored and preserved after a long period of neglect and abuse. A nice young guy showed us around the site and explained really interesting things about the Limas and the use of the site. I´ll share a couple of interesting facts with you:

South American ´flat topped´pyramids are solid. No tunnels or secret chambers at all. This is because they were used as alters, unlike the Egyptian pyramids that were used as tombs.

The Limas (pre dated the Incas) worshipped the moon and the sea. Symbols appearing on pottery include dolphins and sharks to represent the sea.

A lot is learned about earlier civilisations in South America from pottery pieces because they had no monetary value and, therefore were not stolen. Ceremonial pots were broken as tokens of good luck in much the same way as a bottle of champagne is sacrificed on the bow of a boat being launched.

O.K. enough learning for now...

I have been surprised at how few buildings in Lima are very old. The frequent and occasionally severe earthquakes have seen to many and, as in any big city, the battle between ´progress´and conservation is a difficult and often uneven contest. The tyrany of traffic seems to hold sway and the city is criss-crossed by several large roads. The Avenue de la Republique runs from the metropolitan heart of Lima down through the edge of Miraflores to the sea. Construction of a mass transit rail system is now well underway and runs down the centre of the 4 lane highway. This (the train) may give the machismo fuelled taxi drivers something else to race once it is up and running!

We have just completed the work on our Peru itinerary. Starting tomorrow we head off to Cajamarco. A 16 hour bus journey overnight arriving at 07:00. The service includes a meal reclining seats and, surprisingly, bingo and a running commentary, in spanish, on the journey. I´m just hoping for a sober driver who won´t fall asleep on us. iPods were invented for such journeys and mine will be well used.

We´re both struggling to keep up with our reading at the moment. I´m less than a quarter through ´The Scramble for Africa´ and have only just started ´I Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans´ so I´m 1 whole continent behind and we have been lured into a bookshop and purchased some books on Peru. Perhaps we should have more long journeys. Anyway our itinerary in Peru is as follows:

Lima to Cajamarca

Cajamarca to Trujillo

Trujullo to Huaraz

Huaraz to Lima

Lima fly to Araquipa (Culca Canyon)

Araquipa to Puno and Lake Titicaca

Puno to Cusco (Machu Pichu, Sacred Valley)

Cusco to Juancao

Juancao to Lima

From there we leap into an Air Canada plane to head across to dear old blighty via Toronto.

I will do my best to keep the blog going throughout the Peru expedition. I´m not sure what internet facilities will exist in some of these places. Lots of love to family and friends. To those lucky few heading off to see Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe together in Christchurch have fun. It should be a great gig.

Posted by JohnandJac 12:38 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

USA: New Orleans to Los Angeles

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

John:...The trip to LA was never really a trip to LA as a tourist, I have been a number of times before for that, but was an opportunity to see my excellent brother, Pete, and my equally excellent sister in law Margaret. We planned to stop there for 6 nights. An opportunity to spend some time with family but also a chance to gird up our loins, do the washing and catch up on some chores before we headed down to South America (from where I am writing this posting). We flew in to LA on the American Airlines flight from New Orleans via Dallas Fort Worth. Flying in to and leaving from a very squally, bad tempered kind of a day in Dallas, the weather cleared as we left Texas, giving us great views of the desert lands of New Mexico, Arizona and South Eastern California before flying over the huge expanse of neatly laid out South East LA.

Our flight left and arrived on time, didn`t crash and wasn`t hijacked. Apart from that there was little to recomend it. The cabin service was perfunctory, the plane crowded, the cabin crew surly and seemingly bored with their work and contemptuous of their passengers. This is OK because the flight was reasonably cheap. So was the service. 6 dollars US for a Budweiser in a plastic cup is excessive in any language.

Budget airlines do this kind of thing much better than the bigger players because they don`t over promise and under deliver; for example don`t tell your passengers that they are the most precious commodity on the planet and then have your staff scowl at them for the few minutes that they are available for viewing, wearing your company uniform. As with the British Airways flight earlier on in our trip I would advise the staff to attend whatever classes it is that LAN Chile, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and half a dozen other world class airlines are doing by way of staff training.

After arriving in LA, after clearing immigration and custums, a very cheery and efficient immigration person from whom the words `enjoy your stay in the United States`sounded 100% sincere we met Pete, my brother, at the roadside of terminal 4. One of the airport staff who keep people from parking attempted to get Jackie to contribute to a children`s charity she said was supported by the Airport. The invitation was declined, we lept into Pete`s van after a big (but manly) hug and headed off.

Pete lives in North Hollywood so after doing a couple of chores on the way it took us an hour to get home and carry our excessive baggage past motorbikes in various stages of restoration. Pete is a chef, I think he is the best chef there is, and so good food was a given throughout our short stay.

As I mentioned previously, for us this was an opportunity to catch up on chores; posting things home, sorting out the banking, catching up with the Travellers Point blog entries, doing the washing and arranging flights, visas and accomodation for tyhe next 3 - 4 months of our trip. If this sounds mundane let me tell you that it is a relief to be able to use computers that a) work b) are not running on a meter c) in an environment where there aren`t several hundred other people in a room d) it is possible to upload photographs in less than 30 minutes e) from which it is safe to access bank accounts, and watch baseball at the same time.

In reading through many other blogs, few people dwell on the administrative details of their trip but in order to be able to travel as we are, all of these things need to be done....especially the washing! However much one was fascinated by the beatings that our washing received in Zanzibar (see earlier blog) the clothes were grateful for a little warm water, some suds and a gentle rinse (just shows you how soft clothes can be).

The evenings were mainly spent chatting about our travels and catching up with P and M`s news. Both very busy people it was good to find out about work and family developments as well as talking about politics, Paul Weller, bike racing, Irish dancing and all the things, big and small that families talk about.

For those of you that have been following this blog, it won`t surprise you to know that Pete and I visited a music store; in fact a warehouse of CDs old and new in all areas of music. The excellent Amoeba Music Store on Sunset Boulevard is a must visit for every music fan visiting LA. In keeping with my disciplined approach to music buying on this trip I only bought music by artists from places on our itinerary. On this occasion a CD by Los Lonely Boys, from Texas (a trio of brothers with sprinklings of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana and a lot of Mexican magic of their own), Los Lobos from East LA (known globally for their soundtrack to La Bamba, the bio-flic of Ritchie Valance but vintage Cal-mex rockers before and since then) and Novalima from Lima, Peru (a fascinating blend of Peruvian melodies and instrumentation with some groovy modern beats and effects; not traditional but definitely Peruvian and NO pan pipes...we have only been in Peru for 36 hours and heard the traditional song made famous by Simon and Garfunkel `El Condor Passa` 3 times; a lovely song but there comes a time....we were on a bus and the doors were locked as well so no way out. I suspect we will hear it some more).

We had free use of a car (thanks Katie) and generous help and support from Margaret and Pete in sorting out our stuff. In amongst the work we had some real highlights.

Pete and I had a visit to a guy called Mike Parti. A prince amongst men and a king amongst bike enthusiasts Mike showed us his workshop, shared stories about his times with Burt Munroe (The Worlds Fastest Indian) in the States and allowed us to gaze in wonder at the beautiful Vincent Black Lightning engine he is currently restoring. Mike`s workshop is a stunning example of how you can pack a lot in to a small space and keep it tidy. I`m sure he could find his way around his workshop with a blindfold on...in chef circles I think it is called mis-en-place. Just when I thought that I had heard and seen all the good things I could we went to his room with a collection of vintage bikes, Triumphs, Harleys, Moto Guzzi and many others. The room, furnished with posters, models and other collectable items from Mike`s past is a real treasure chest. It was a real pleasure to meet such a knowledgable and accomplished man who shared his time and anacdotes so generously. Perhaps we`ll get some more time with him next time we`re in LA.

Beautiful Downtown Burbank is always a pleasant part of LA but on Halloween that pleasantness is brushed with a hint of strangeness and a sprinkle or two of kitsche. We headed down to BDB at around 5 pm as families dressed up in all manner of costumes, some spooky, some not took to the mall trick or treating the various stores. This struck me as a win-win situation for all concerned. Firstly it was good to see whole families out together on a lovely warm evening (some had even brought their pet dogs dressed up, in a couple of cases as hot-dogs!). Being in the mall the trick or treating was safer that going from house-to-house and for the store and restaurant owners it meant a large volume of people in the mall who otherwise might not have been there; all for the price of a piece of candy...which brings in either the toothpaste manufacturers and the dentists, either of whom stood top do well out of this too!

We shied away from the candy but did get sucked in to one more CD store where for a mere 7 dollars I picked up a copy of Elvis Costello`s recent recording of songs from the deep south with T Bone Burnett...Pete bought a John Mayer bargin before we headed in to a cheerful Mexican restaurant, Chevys. Excellent service, good food and very reasonably priced it was a good end to the week. The next day we headed down to LAX, reluctantly passing up the chance to go and see the Italian and French car show on the way (sorry Pete). Two and a half hours of queues, sometimes having to queue to join a queue, got us to the departure gate for our LAN Chile flight to Lima, Peru...now how does that song go again....`I`d rather be a something than a something else...` add your own Pan pipes!

Today`s strange musical experience was hearing a medley of songs played over the supermarket speaker system including For Auld Lang`s Syne and `Do the Hokey Cokey`sung in Spanish and played on the harmonica with a tremendous rhythm section...20 drummers, a singer and a harmonica player made us smile as we rifled through the breakfast cereals.

Lots of love to family and friends. Next blog posting from Lima Peru before we had out into the Peru that isn`t Lima. We are planning our trips to Cusko, Machu Pichu, Arequipa and several other spots. Some of these places are over 4000 metres high, almost half as high again as Aoraki Mount Cook. Others involve bus trips up questionable looking roads in questionable looking buses where looking out of the window might be considered an adventure sport. We`ll fill you in on the details as we go along.

Posted by JohnandJac 18:57 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

USA: New Orleans

The Crescent City, The Big Easy

sunny 21 °C
View John and Jackie Around the World on JohnandJac's travel map.

John:...It is four o'clock on Sunday afternoon and we have just passed the local park where a dozen children are playing soccer. It is possible that they are some of the only people in New Orleans that haven't been drinking since 10:00 this morning. New Orleans by-laws allow for drinking alcohol in the street...the park, the riverside...in fact just about anywhere. The only condition is that you are not allowed to drink from glass containers so all the bars do 'take outs' in plastic 'glasses' and you can even have your chosen drink frozen so that it is ready chilled and harder to spill...but I'm getting ahead of myself already.

After getting here we settled in and decided against our usual orientation bus tour of the city. Partly because there are numerous bus tours taking slightly different routes but also because, unlike Boston and New York, there was no hop-on hop-off option so it didn't really suit our purpose. Also, because we are only here for 3 days, we decided that we would stay mainly in the French Quarter, just 10 minutes walk from the Marigny district where we are staying.

We both had lists of things we wanted to see/hear/eat and so our first steps led us to The Cafe du Monde for coffee and Beignets. The coffee was very good as were the beignets. For your edification a beignet is a rectangular doughnut (no hole in the middle). They come in 3s, resting in a deep saucer of icing sugar and, if you as the diner have missed the point they are heavily dusted with icing sugar too. Jackie wondered if the long term employees developed respiratory problems there was so much icing sugar blowing around the place. With my miserable pancreas I asked for my beignets without icing sugar. I suspect they will be talking about this in years to come at TCdM.

We drifted across the French Quarter, first up onto the River Walk by the Mississippi watching the ships go by up to the port just inland from the city. The paddle steamer NATCHEZ was moored up at the jetty looking very handsome with its huge red paddle at the back.

We paused at the bottom of Canal Street to look inside the largest casino either of us have ever seen. We wandered about a bit until Jackie was asked to stop taking photographs of the roulette table. Up Canal Street we walked, stopping at Odyssey Records. Scored a direct hit on the new Allen Toussaint CD Bright Mississippi as well as a post Hurricaine Katrina fund raiser called Our New Orleans featuring N'awlinz' finest. The guy who owns the place is a real enthusiast and when I mentioned who was on my NO playlist he insisted on taking us across the road to the Roosevelt Hotel where, this very night, The Neville Brothers were playing and the following night Allen Toussaint, Aaron Neville and Irma Thomas. Having seen the hotel (truly magnificent) and learning the ticket prices (250:00 US each) and also that it was a 'black tie' (and presumably other clothing) do we thanked him politely and declined the offer! Still, we were very close.

We headed back across the French Quarter along street with the most expensive antiques and art work I have ever seen on public sale. Amongst the artwork were pieces by Salvador Dali and Picasso, selling for prices in the region of 250 000 US. Huge chandaliers and heavy french style furniture, brass and marble statues by the gross and a general air of opulance and wealth. One or two streets away is Bourbon Street, a very different story.

Our next NO culinary delight was the Muffuletta. The best are to be found at the Italian run General Grocery Store on Decature Street near the market. This delicacy consists of a round focaccia bread, approx 30 cm diameter filled with ham, salami, cheese, olives and green peppers. Absolutely delicious and enough for us to have a half between us. It is possible to eat very well here and not spend too much doing so.

Whilst walking about the city we were very aware of the importance of Halloween. All the balconies were 'dressed up' with pumpkins, ghouls, vampires, skeletons, bats and spider webs. Some people had gone to a great deal of trouble over it. This wasn't the halloween of childrens parties (there don't seem to be many children living in this part of the town); this is adult stuff, pumping up the mythology around New Orleans, voodoo and considerable alcohol consumption.

We had an excellent chicken gumbo at the strongly recommended (by some NO residents we met on the train) The Gumbo Shop in St Peter's Street. We sat next to a couple from the neat and tidy city of Lansing in Michigan who were visibly shocked having just walked down Bourbon Street to get to the restaurant. They had visited Las Vegas in 2008 and thought that was supposed to be the 'sin city' of the USA but now handed the award without hesitation to New Orleans. As americans they were surprised that it was even in the same country that they lived in! From having read some of the writing about Stoyville the early days of jazz and the blues in New Orleans it has always had a reputation for wine, women and song and it is still working hard to maintain that reputation 150 years later.

From the Gumbo Shop we headed across town to DBA, a bar and jazz place where Walter 'Wolfman' Washington was playing guitar in a trio with drums and organ (Joe Krowne). We arrived the manditory 30 minutes early and the band turned up the mandatory 30 minutes late giving us ample opportunity to listen to the sound check. Now I must pause here for a moment to point out that Jackie had been told during the afternoon that listening to Walter 'Wolfman' Washington would change her life (for the better was the implication) so we were very excited about all this....the drummer's assistant started to set up the drums, wrongly as it turned out, and then the drummer arrived and took charge of the sound check with a kid just out of school. Needless to say when Walter, more 'mouseman' than 'wolfman', turned up at the last minute all that could be heard was the drummer and the organist (who turned up just after the drummer). Now the organist was very good and, when he could be heard, Walter the wolfman was an excellent guitarist with a great singing voice. The over amplified drummer (why you need to amplify drums in such a small venue is beyond me) was dreadful however and seemed to think that volume would cover up his numerous flaws. We stayed for 45 minutes and then left. The rest of the place was really moving by now and all seemed to be having a great time. In our defence we had only had a couple of drinks, unlike the rest of the city.

The culinary high point was Coops Place in Decatur Street. A bar with dining seating at the front, the jambalaya here is legendary, and rightly so. We went one evening and I sampled the blackened chicken salad which was perfectly cooked. Nice and moist, spicy without being ridiculously hot. Jackie had the jambalaya supreme. Andouille sausage smoked on site, large shrimp, crisp fresh vegetables and the rice cooked just so. When I saw Jackie's meal I knew we would be back the following evening. As well as the food, the beer was an excellent local brew dark beer with the awful name 'Turbodog'. The place was busy, appropriately noisy and after we got there filled up quickly with revellers from the Halloween parade including 5 young women in bright yellow swimsuits and bathing caps. I'm still not sure what the halloween connection was but they decorated the bar nicely! On the wall were signs like 'Be nice or starve'. The service was efficient and we weren´t distracted from our meal by a chatty waiter. The response to `What beer do you have on tap?`. `We don`t do tap beer`came the reply. `Please could I see the dessert menu?`and like a rapier came back `We don`t do dessert?`We loved the place and if we ever get back to New Orleans that is where I would go to eat. The jambalaya the following night tasted even better than it looked. Anybody heading to New Orleans is strongly recommended to go to Coops Place and order the jambalaya supreme. If they did take-outs I would order it from New Zealand.

Hurricaine Katrina is still an issue 5 years on. There is still substanbtial building work to be done in some areas whilst others (we stayed mainly in the French Quarter) appear to the outsider to have recovered well. Conversations with a number of local people and reading the New Orleans Times each day suggested that there is still a lot to be done with the feeling that Katrina, and New Orleans has dropped off the national radar screen. We were very aware of the number of homeless people sleeping rough around the area. I don't know how many were sleeping rough before Katrina but it can't have helped. In conversation with the taxi driver who took us out to the airport some very bad things happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of the hurricaine and subsequent flood. Views varied about the degree of local government corruption and/or Federal Government indifference and incompetence. There were certainly many instances of looting, assault, burglary and according to one account, murders. Still some way to go but most of the talk we heard was optimistic. Not bad for a city below sea level bordered by an enormous lake, a very large and volatile river at a time of rising sea levels.

Amongst the many positive things we saw was the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Relatively small and tucked away in the Museum district, across Canal Street from the French Quarter this gallery punched way above its weight. The artwork varied from paintings about the civil war to a young painter, Bo Bartlett, who had painted huge canvases in a realist style depicting aspects of Southern life (family, hunting) whilst setting out some of the tensions between modern expectations matched against tradition. A very powerful exhibition. The gallery was well set out and the work really well displayed.

And just before I sign off I need to mention the noisy night trains. I mentioned in my previous posting about the romance of the sound of a train blowing its whistle tyhrough the night as we raced through the darkness. The sound has very different characteristics when trying to go to sleep and having to listen to train whistles all night. Perhaps Walter `Wolfman`Washingto´`s drummer has been tinkering with their volume. He should stop it!

The Treme Brass Band was another of many musical high points. Several of the players also belonged to the renowned Dirty Dozen Brass Band. They pumped out some standards for the Sunday afternoon crowd near the Cathedral and in the hot sun it sounded very special.

One more visit, unexpected, was into a dealers rooms where, for many thousands of dollars, I could have bought the guitar that Stevie Ray Vaughan played his last concert on or numerous guitars played by Eric Clapton and numerous other such instruments. All signed and authenticated.....

All too soon our stay in New Orleans was over. We had a fascinating chat with the taxi driver to the airport and in hearing his story about New Orleans, his life, Hurricaine Katrina and his climb back onto mainstream life we left with positive thoughts about New Orleans. A strange and wonderful place. I hope that in the rebuilding it doesn`t become sanitised and stripped of its edge. That would be a real tragedy. We climbed aboard the American Airlines service to LA via Dallas Fort Worth and were reminded again of the contrast between to very best service (from our taxi driver) and the worst (the A.A. cabin crew). The next posting will be from LA and will be written in Lima.

Lots of love and best wishes to family and friends.

Posted by JohnandJac 18:59 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

USA: Travelling Amtrak Style to New Orleans

semi-overcast 21 °C
View John and Jackie Around the World on JohnandJac's travel map.

John:...The train to New Orleans, The Crescent Service as it is titled, was a great part of our USA trip. After the extensive walking about we had been doing, the enforced 'breather' on the train was a welcome time for sitting back, enjoying the scenery, reading, catching up on journal writing and listening eagerly to the New Orleans playlist I had set up on my iPod. I mentioned the excellent Claude in my last entry. A New Orleans man himself he was full of anecdotes about the city and its people. Also a keen musician Claude had some insights into the best places to go ("go to Donna's place on the corner of St Anne, ask for Dog and tell him Claude sentcha") for live music. Some others that we met on the journey told us where to go to get the best gumbo (The Gumbo Shop on St Peter's - where the locals go).

We got on board the train in Washington DC at 18:30 and went through the orientation programme with Claude. Importantly he said to let him know when we wanted our small compartment turning into a small sleeping compartment. Without more ado and with a very loud ALL ABOARD the train let out a mighty blast on the hooter and slowly hauled its bulk out of the Union Street station.. As we settled down the train pulled out of the city, passing the Washington and Lincoln memorials before heading over the Potomac River, past the Pentagon and on out through the Virginia countryside in the increasing darkness of the evening.

Our first meal (I had a very nice braised beef and Jackie had some salmon) was lovely. Not much scenery to be seen as by now night had fallen. By the time we got back to our cabin Claude had done his thing with the bunk beds and before long, after a stop at Lynchburg (named for the Lynch family also famous for giving their name to unregulated mobs of people handing out justice), I was scaling the dizzy heights to get into the top bunk. I was a little alarmed at discovering the extensive strapping arrangement that would, hopefully, prevent me from being hurled to the floor but other than that it was a fairly comfortable night. I slept through North and South Carolina (as many people do) and woke early, as we were travelling through the North Carolina/Georgia state line. We had a scheduled 30 minute stop in Atlanta at 08:00 so we were both keen to be up and dressed to get out for a leg stretch. I elected to have a shower at this point. Now I don't know if you have ever tried to wash your feet with soap in a train shower travelling at 70 mph whilst holding on to the shower grip with a soapy hand but trust me when I tell you that it equals some of the more exciting rides at the funfair. The luggage trollies in Atlanta (the only station we saw do-it-yourself luggage trollies on the whole trip) had welcome to Los Angeles on the handles. Fortunately we were sufficiently orientated to realise that it was the trollies and not us that were in the wrong place.

After that, breakfast on the move and then a day of watching the Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and finally the Louisiana countryside roll by. The time interspersed with cups of tea and meals. The passing scenery was fascinating. My only exposure to the 'Deep South' has been through films (The Heat of the Night, Deliverance to name but two) and music (too many to mention) so I wasn't too surprised to see varying degrees of poverty as we headed south. Temporary homes and trailers which had long outlived their original use by date. Houses in considerable disrepair with grubby kids in the doorway. I was struck by how difficult it must be to be the President of the USA. Satisfying the needs of the extremes of the wealthy (and we had seen plenty of wealth on the earlier part of our USA trip) and the poor. This is not to say that the view was of unmitigated misery. The shacks and trailers with rusted cars in the yard were intermingled with some very fine houses, golf courses and country clubs.

I had never thought much about how rural much of the USA is. Our coach rides down the east coast and now this train journey took us through mile after mile of woodland, interspersed with towns and cities of varying size. Further north the autumn colours were breaking through but as we headed south from Washington the feature of note in the woodland was how many isolated huts and cabins there are tucked away in there with the standard collection of old rusted utes and trucks, cars and washing machines and so on. Too easy, perhaps, to seek the comfort of stereotypes but this seemed to me to be the 'Deep South' I had read about and seen in the movies. The other example of prosperity in the towns was the Baptist churches, at least one per town and in better shape, often, than much of the housing. The churches seemed to be doing OK. (remember that all of these impressions are from fleeting glimpses through a train window)

Every small town seems to have at least one scrapyard as well as an ageing motel with a liquor store attached to it. Some of the towns looked very poor whilst others seemed to be quite prosperous.

The further south we went the bigger the stretches of swampland became, populated by many things we couldn't see but also by the occasional white or grey heron and lots of wild water lillies.

A plant, originally introduced to assist prevent soil erosion has now become a major pest (Kudzu), smothering all in its way. Now, attempts to kill it off are marked by large stretches of brown, dead plant life along the track.

As we travelled, both in the train and outside was lots of evidence that the United States has been in a state of war for many years. A number of passengers on the train (we had dinner with a guy called Skip and his wife from Slidell) were ex army and others currently serving were on the train. We rolled on through a town called Anniston in Alabama which has the army's tank and armoured transport repair base. The railway sidings were full of trains with tanks in various stages of disrepair waiting for attention. The truck and trailer park outside the base the same. Disconcertingly, along the train route for several miles groups of vintage and presumably disarmed tanks point their guns towards the train. Anniston itself doesn't look pretty though with a large residential trailer park, gravel grading yard and several churches. And in the surrounding swamp land, in isolated cabins, I'm wondering if there are really people called Billy Bob or Billy Jo living in the woods...on my playlist I'm listening to Joe Jones (You Talk too Much, you worry me to death, you talk too much you even bother my pet - one of the great lines in rock and roll/R n B), The Neville Brothers, The New Orleans Social Club, The Rebirth Brass Band, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Pete Fountain, Mac 'Dr John' Rebenak (who is playing in Ronnie Scott's in London while we are in New Orleans), Professor Longhair, Clifton Chenier and a real mish-mash of Louisiana's finest. I really hope that Claude did sing with the Neville Brothers at one time (but I won't ask him about just in case he didn't really. I don't want that bubble to pop). As with the best music, it seems to sound at its finest when driving througth the countryside that helped to spawn it.

We pull in to Birmingham, past huge goods trains of 30 plus long trucks, scrap yards and graffitti covered corrugated metal sheds, past a large steel works on the right and the call goes out on the train speaker system "the next stop is Biiiirminghaaam Alabaaaaama". Painted on a freeway support as we enter the station is "Exodus 12 God" and a black leather executive swivel chair sits next to this as if some railyard CEO has gone for coffee after declaring his mission statement. With only 7 hours of our trip remaining time for a sleep to wake up watching 'nodding donkeys' pumping either oil or water from the ground. The swampy ground increases until we reach Meridian with its Budweiser depot (looks prosperous, unlike the rest of the town), head on past the Sonny Montgomery National Guard base with flood protection around the runway. Distinguishing between the languid, chocolate coloured rivers and the swamps is increasingly difficult but before long we cross the large lake behind New Orleans and then veeeery slowly edge into the big easy itself.

The trip from Washington (the train actually originated from New York City, four hours before we boarded the train) was a wonderful experience. When taking into account that we had accomodation, four meals each plus transport to our next spot it was very good value for money, if you have the time to take 24 hours or more for the journey. A number of the people we spoke to have previously flown but for a variety of reasons they switched to the train.

We catch a cab from the station to our accomodation in the Marigny district, just next to (10 minutes walk) the French Quarter. Our accomodation is comfortable, clean, secure and well managed. By the time we have unpacked it is nearly 22:00. Bed time and a sleep before setting out into N'awlinz; the subject of the next posting. You will be introduced to Muffulata, poboys, gumbo, jambalaya and have a lesson on why you should NEVER leave the drummer to supervise the sound check if you are the guitarist in a keyboard, drum, guitar trio playing in a small bar.

As always much love and best wishes to family and friends. Thanks for posting your comments on the site. It's always good to hear back after posting a blog page

Posted by JohnandJac 14:22 Archived in USA Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

(Entries 46 - 50 of 71) « Page .. 5 6 7 8 9 [10] 11 12 13 14 15 .. »