TRAVEL DIARY - PERU/LOS ANGELES 2000
By Andy Webb
Sunday 20th August - Out of England
After days of anticipation, the 20th finally arrived. After checking all my stuff was in order and present, I made the short 2 minute walk to meet up with my fellow traveller's, Andy Coates and his girlfriend, Sarah. The cab arrived almost immediately, and before we knew it we were at Gatwick, but not before brief amusement at old passport photos. On board our flight, we passed up through the UK, left Scotland, past Iceland, scraped the fringe of Greenland, before hitting the Canadian coastline. Arrived in Atlanta early evening, soon noticed how effective their air conditioning is, once we decided to kill time by leaving the terminus (took 20 mins), a great barrage of heat suddenly hit us. A few beers later we were on our flight to Lima through the night.
Monday 21st August - Lima/Arequipa
A very bumpy flight punctuated by some impressive tropical storms. Tried unsuccessfully to get to sleep by consuming large amounts of whiskey, which only ended up giving me a bad headache. Then the day started to arrive, it was like a void outside, just white nothingness. We were informed that we were beginning our descent into Lima; still the cloud remained. It wasn't until just at the last minute that we saw our first glimpse of Peru. Due to the coastal weather conditions, Lima is almost permanently covered in a layer of mist for most months of the year.
Once in the airport, we booked our internal flights, which in retrospect was a good idea as it saved us a lot of hassle later. After killing a bit of time, we had to go into Lima to pick up some plane tickets for our jungle trip. A cab was organised for $12 both ways with our driver, Carlos, and we were suddenly thrown in to the crazy traffic of Lima. It seems the national pastime in Lima is use your horn, couple this with mad drivers, lots of battered old American cars and you've got an interesting experience. Took the coastal road, where we got our first glimpse of the Pacific, even if it was grey, and decorated with rubbish and giant cliffs ready to collapse. After getting use to the few near misses and the rather ominous crack in the passenger's side of the windscreen, we were dropped off at the 'Haiti' coffee shop in Miraflores, the 'rich' part of Lima. Good coffee and the best toast I have ever tasted.
Then we ventured out to search for the Rainforest Expeditions office, walking up Avenue Arequipa, buses fly along beckoning you on or trying to run you over. A tree surgeon seemed to take great delight in dropping logs into passing traffic. After a brief trauma about whether the office actually existed, we were instructed upstairs the bank, where we were eventually united with our tour rep, who it seemed hadn't actually booked our tickets, and so we were left to watch some videos about the rainforest while she sent someone off to do it, we would have saved $30 if we had done it ourselves, oh well! Then after a tasty meal back at Haiti we were picked up by Carlos, back past the sea and some brave surfers, and arrived at the airport. Our flight was delayed for 1 hour; tiredness had started to set in amongst the group. A large group of school children came to watch the planes fly off.
Our flight to Arequipa took about 1 hour, unfortunately we missed stunning mountain views due to the lateness of the flight, and the fact that we were on the wrong side of the plane. Once at Arequipa airport, which was considerably more chilled than Lima, we were able to sort out a hostel direct from the airport. We arrived at the Hostel St. Monica in the smallest minicab I have ever seen. The hostel was on a street just off from the Plaza de Armas. After an evening stroll around the floodlit Plaza we found a little bar with a traditional Peruvian band: panpipes, mandolins, guitar, drums and Indian-style dancing. This was washed down with Arequipa beer and traditional cancha or salty fried corn. 3 beers and a donation to the band, at a price of 20 soles (about £4) between everyone, was very reasonable. After finding the rooftop terrace in our hostel, it was time for sleep.
Tuesday 22nd August - Arequipa
Arose at 7.30, and went up to the rooftop terrace on our hostel, stunning views of the mountains/volcanoes (which were not visible the night before). The town that stretches out could easily be in the Middle East, with large palms that could be minarets. After breakfast, we visited the Monastery of Santa Catolina which is actually a convent and dates back to the 16/17th Century. With it's streets, living quarters, communal baths and banquet hall it is almost a city within a city. After this we stopped for lunch just off the main square at a pizza bar, where we were entertained by yet more panpipes, giving an interesting rendition of 'Hey Jude' by the Beatles.
In the afternoon we checked out the Museo Santuarios Andinos, which is part of the Universidad Catolica de Santa Monica. In here they are responsible for the research into the Inca civilisation, in particular the frozen ice mummies found on the mountains surrounding Arequipa. The girl on show in the museum (Juanita) was only found due to a volcanic eruption which melted the ice on the next mountain causing the frozen mummy to get dislodged and to be discovered by a research team back in the early 1990s. They managed to get her back to Arequipa safely, still frozen from Inca times. In Inca times, children were selected at birth to become offerings to the gods; they were taken away from their families, who were given gifts for the rest of their lives. The children had come from nobility, be pure (unblemished and of Incan descent). They were offered at any time in their short lives, in a special ceremony where they would climb the mountains with the priests (who would take Coca leaves and drink Chicca (fermented beer) to endure the cold conditions and the high altitude. The child would spend one night on the mountain before being battered on the head, and buried under stones in a foetal position with various offering including figurines, jars full of coca leaves/corn and plates.
We were quite lucky to see Juanita, as she had just returned from Japan 3 days earlier. It was kind of an eerie experience coming face to face with someone who was alive over 500 years ago. That evening we first gate crashed some religious ceremony at an Indian restaurant, after some brief clapping and bewilderment, we decided to rethink our culinary destination. This led us to walk in to downtown Arequipa, where there were no tourists. It was quite an experience of colour, noise and smells, even at 9pm at night all the shops were open, street vendors cooked kebabs, while badly recorded music blared out of shop-fronts. Eventually, after backtracking, we found a pleasant little restaurant just off the main square. Loaded with the knowledge that we had a 2.30am start for the Colca Canyon, we decided to retire early.
Wednesday 23rd August - Colca Canyon
We were picked up at 2.30am on the dot by our minibus, in which we were joined by a moody group from Minorca and a German girl called Birgit. The drive was 3 hours, 2 hours on dirt tracks, some great scenery at dawn near our arrival, very barren, desolate plains topped with snow-covered mountains. We stopped for breakfast in a little town called Chivay in the Colca basin, which included Coca leaf tea to help with the altitude (which personally I didn't notice) and a rather disgusting fruit juice. Back on our way, we were greeted by vast plains with impressive agricultural terracing (potatoes, corn, wheat); we stopped at a cliff face that had tombs high up in the cliff, an amazing feat.
We moved on to the Condor cross viewpoint, just outside Pinchollo, where we caught the first glimpse of these magnificent birds. As soon as we got out they flew off, but they soon returned. With wingspans of almost 3m, they majestically glide through the air. To supplement this, we were also at the deepest part of the Canyon, nearly 3km deep; this was put into perspective by some small huts near the bottom, which were only just visible. The Colca Canyon is supposedly the deepest canyon in the world; it's sheer scale discernible to the human eye. From there we stopped off for another look at the terraces, where local people sold their wares (alpaca jumpers, panpipes and fruits), and posed with llamas. Further down we saw irrigated lakes in the shape of Peru and a 'mini' Machu Picchu. After passing through a few basic villages we arrived in Maca, where a church was being rebuilt due to a volcanic eruption which had decimated most of the village. Even here the main trade seems to be tourism via alpaca jumpers and hats.
Before lunch we stopped off at a natural hot sulphur spring, some indulged in this, however, the rest of us preferred a refreshing beer! Then it was back to Chivay for lunch, where the service was very friendly, but the food a little bland. It was here, that I apologise to the person who lost 200 soles, but as no one reported it missing, I decided to give it a good home! After yet more panpipes, me and Andy both won a Condor's feather, while Sarah was given a Peruvian tablemat. The rest of the group looked a bit suspicious of our good fortune!
Then it was on to the highest point of the Canyon, which gave spectacular views all around. At the top, people had made offerings to the gods in the form of mini-cairns, this made for the creation of a bizarre lunar landscape. On our descent we passed herds of llama and alpaca. Through the desert plains we spotted some vicuna, as we alternated between existing dirt tracks and a nice new tarmac road. I can't help thinking that when I return, everywhere will be tarmac making it easier for the tourists. We passed through the suburbs of Arequipa on the way back, which had a lot of unfinished or unbuilt houses. In the evening we had an interesting meal in Govinda's, a vegetarian restaurant, with the weirdest service, which consisted of meals arriving at different times. Poor old Andy C waited 15 minutes after ours had arrived! Sleep.
Thursday 24th August - Arequipa-Juliaca-Puno
Hailed a cab to the airport (£1 between 3 of us). Watched a large brass band at the airport , as well as a large amount of school children visiting the airport again! Our flight only lasted 25 minutes but we passed over some stunning scenery. At our arrival at Juliaca we boarded a collectivo to Puno, which was about £1 per person, although you do have to wait until it is full up. The journey was about 40 minutes, starting off going through Juliaca City, which is the largest town in the Puno area, although most people seem to just pass through on their way to and from Puno itself. The journey lasted about 45 minutes, with the latter part showing emerging views of the very blue Lake Titicaca. Puno on first impression seems a bit of a shanty town, but it has it's own charm. The climate is colder than Arequipa, but not uncomfortable. We checked in to the hostel Santa Maria, which on the outside looks very grotty, but was actually OK inside. On exploring, Puno is a very charming place, with a railway track running through the centre of town, supplemented by market stalls that seem to stay open from dawn to midnight.
The main high street is more touristy, but is full of nice cosy bars and restaurants. Stopped for a drink in Ek_, which seems to be a traveller's bar, was showing 'Stigmata' with Spanish subtitles extremely loud. Our evening meal was spent at the _ which was very nice inside, with open hearth fire, wooden floors/ceiling supports, I had the Alpaca steak, which was extremely tasty. From there we went to a Bob Marley tribute bar called Positive Vibrations, inside it resembled a jungle lodge, but the atmosphere was very chilled with great music, my part of the bar bill came to only £4 for a whole evening.
Returned to the hostel at 10.30pm, past market stalls that were still open, to our hostel that was shuttered up. After a brief concern, we managed to wake someone who let us in. It turns out that it was just a security measure. And to bed, where the ear plugs became very useful!
Friday 25th August - Lake Titicaca floating islands
Arrived at Puno docks by minibus, we then embarked for the Floating Islands (Uros). Our guide was Juan, who lives on Uros, and speaks very good English. Lake Titicaca is one of the highest navigational lakes in the world, and is split between Peru and Bolivia. Uros is only in a little bay of the lake, so it was only about a 30 minute boat journey. The Floating Islands are made of reeds, and their people live entirely off the land, only going to Puno to sell their catch. The first time you set foot on one of these islands, you think you may sink through, but they are very firm, except for where the reeds are rotten. Local women sell handmade goods, which they lay out for tourists to see. Indeed you do feel that their income is partially reliant on tourism. Living quarters are basic, with water taken directly from the lake and the only source of power being solar panels that are on loan from the government for 10 years. After a ride on a reed boat which was very chilled, and also very comfortable, we went to Torampata, the capital of Uros, not strictly a floating island this time of year, because of the low water level in dry season. Some of the houses here have windows and doors. As we arrived a catch of Kingfish was being laid out to dry before being cooked. Behind the village was a mass expanse of dry land, normally covered in wet season. Near here, are the school buildings, which are designed to float. Inside one of the classrooms we were treated to some traditional songs in Aymara, Spanish, French and Japanese. After the school we passed the hospital, where a shipment of baby milk had just arrived.
Back in Puno, we wandered around the markets, which seem to sell an abundance of textiles and toiletries. Other stalls sold vegetables, meat and herbs. Most impressive was the inside market which was an array of colourful vegetables, fish, meat and fruit mixed together with a pungent aroma. Most of the locals eat out on the local stalls, presumably as this saves fuel costs at home. Looking for alpaca sweaters in Puno isn't a problem, just as long as you get a vendor who is awake!
In the evening we went to another traditional Peruvian restaurant, this one with rather tasteless pictures on the wall. The seafood was very good here, especially as it was straight out of the lake.
Saturday 26th August - Puno-Cusco
Another early start, our bus eventually left Puno at 8am, meandering through the market stalls. We went back through Juliaca City, where locals tried to sell drinks, fluffy llamas and snacks through the windows. It appeared we broke down for 1 hour, although there was no explanation, people seemed more interested in getting the movie on the monitor working properly. This was one of the downsides of using tourist buses. When we got moving, we were treated to some terrific scenery, those of us who had our curtains open. The journey brought us to Cusco about 3.30pm, arriving via the agricultural suburbs. Cusco is a charming place surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, and is, of course, the old Inca capital. We picked Hostel Incawasi on the main square, prices were reasonable, but you could probably get cheaper if you were further from the main square. Cusco has all that a traveller needs to survive: bars, clubs, restaurants, tour agencies, supermarkets, cyber cafes and foreign exchange places. As it was Sarah's birthday we all met up in the Cross Keys Pub on the main square. This pub is run by an Englishman, Barry Walker, who also runs an expedition company. Inside you can get reasonably priced beer, good food and good conversation with other travellers, although it does get busy some nights. Drunk a lot of beer and Pisco sour, talked to a lot of different people, played pool while hopelessly drunk
Sunday 27th August - Cusco
After breakfast, we set out to explore Cusco, after purchasing our tourist card, which was roughly 30 soles (£6). We were treated to some sort of military pageant in the main square, with marching bands, soldiers and crowds of school children all in their Sunday best. I think this must have been some sort of remembrance service, as it went on all morning. Down one of the side streets was the famous 12 angled Inca stone of Cusco, heavily guarded by craft sellers. It is amazing to finally see the Inca stonework in the flesh, and realize the absolute perfection they had in their building work. After stopping to admire this we then climbed the steep winding streets until we had a rooftop view of Cusco, you definitely notice the thin air in the Cusco heat (about 70'F).
After lunch, we set off for the long walk up to Sacsayhuaman, where the battle between the Inca's and the Spanish took place. Sacsayhuaman was originally an Inca temple, but was conveniently designed to be a very efficient fortress. Walls are zigzagged so if someone were to attack one side they would leave their flank exposed. Here the Inca stonework is even more evident, and especially impressive, considering the scale of some of the blocks. The views of Cusco from here were very stunning.
Spent the rest of day and night in the Cross Keys, where we spoke to a couple who had just been to Puerto Maldonado, and were stuck in riots for 2 days, this was especially concerning as we were due to go there in 2 days. At the end of the night, got talking to some local Peruvians, one of which, had done a degree in Inca history. His stories were very interesting, but perhaps worth a story of their own.
Monday 28th August - Cusco ruins
After a leisurely morning recovering from the previous nights festivities, we took a horse ride to encompass the remaining ruins of Cusco. Having tried to ascertain that all our horses were 'tranquille' we set off at a light pace. My horse was eventually christened Fernandez, whilst Andy and Sarah's were Paul and Gary respectively. It turns out that Fernandez loved being in front and being the fastest, whereas Paul and Gary (named after the Womad merry-go-round horses) seemed to have some personal vendetta against each other. We passed some stunning scenery, sometimes a little too close for comfort on a trigger-happy horse. But to have actually taken a horse ride on the Andes is something to remember. We visited Tambo Machay, Qenko and Puca Pucara. Admittedly after Sacsayhauman, the ruins weren't that impressive, but interesting nethertheless.
After recovering from our sore arses we had a very nice Indian meal in _. This was followed by a tour of the craft stalls (behind main square), which sell a variety of interesting oddities, clothing, rugs, and musical instruments. The prices were very cheap; it is probably the best place to buy gifts in Peru. Cusco at night is very beautiful.
Tuesday 29th August - Puerto Maldonado-Posada Amazonas
Arose early to get our early morning flight to Puerto Maldonado, from where we would start our jungle trip. Another short flight, crossing awesome mountains before hitting the clouds. As we started our descent, the jungle gradually started to appear. Tight clusters of greenery and meandering brown rivers replaced the mountainous deserts so synonymous with Peru. Upon our arrival the jungle heat greeted us, although only 80'F, it was very humid. Unusual insect life also started to make an appearance. Puerto Maldonado is effectively a small jungle town, with dirt track roads and little commerce. After stopping for brief refreshments we embarked by boat up the Tambopata River for the 2 hour journey to the lodge. The world seems to just slip away when relaxing on the river, small jungle communities passed by, it was hard to imagine that we are in the same country as yesterday. When we arrived we had a 20 minute journey on foot through the jungle to the lodge. The first thing that hits you is the noise of all the insect life, like some symphony playing out a constant tune. On our walk we spotted some monkeys, the largest butterflies I have ever seen, some Geckos and a redheaded woodpecker.
The lodges were luxurious, with a communal area, dining area and individual rooms with their own bathroom all open to the jungle. On arrival at our rooms, we were greeted by 2 monkeys. After a delicious lunch of traditional jungle fare, we went for a brief stroll, where we were immersed in the diversity of plant life. Joining our guide and the rest of the group, which consisted of a couple of Americans, a couple from Aberdeen and a German couple, we were shown some of the plants that were used for local medicine. Amazingly there were cures for malaria, colds, cuts and sore throats (menthol) in the space of 500 yards.
Climbing the top of the observation tower we were greeted by spectacular views of the canopy layer and the river. In the distance some howler monkeys were spotted in the trees, it was then we realised that you would be very lucky to see much animal life in such a short stay. The walk back was decorated with fireflies and the rhythmic crescendo of the insect symphony. Supper was noodle soup followed by rice and cheese served under a delightful candle lit canopy.
After a few beers, it was to back to the rooms, where I was joined by some very interesting insect life: cockroaches, lizards, praying mantis' and large moths all kept popping up in various parts of the room. Fell asleep to the mesmerising sounds of the insect population, fuelled with the knowledge that I was to be up at 3.30am for a trip to a lake.
Wednesday 30th August - Posado Amazonas
Was woken up at 3.30am, after washing I joined the others and we made our way to breakfast. Breakfast included cocoa in a soup bowl, something that verged between bread and cake, and very strong coffee. We set off for the boats, it was still dark, although the first snippets of day were becoming apparent. On the river, it was reminiscent of Charon transporting the dead to the underworld, with mist coming off the river, and an eerie silence. This illusion was cut short by the boat's outboard. It was a relatively short journey, before we embarked on the other bank, and took a 30 minute walk to the lake. We passed though some stunning vegetation on our way to the lake, daylight gradually began forcing it's way into the sky. On arrival at the lake (which was an ox-bow lake), we boarded a wooden catamaran, which was to be our floating vantage point. Kingfishers, herons, parakeets, swallows, as well as bats, turtles and giant river otters were seen. On our way back we saw a large group of macaws at a natural salt lick on the river bank, they are much larger than expected as well as being very colourful.
After another very tasty lunch, we ventured out to try and spot some parakeets from a hide, unfortunately an imminent thunder storm curtailed our chances of seeing much as they all flew off. We then joined our guide, Andreas, for an ecology walk, the humidity and lack of sleep was beginning to have a small effect on my enthusiasm. However, we saw one of the largest trees in the seasonally flooded forest (covered in water in the rainy season), some 2-3m wide and 30-60m high.
Back to the lodge we enjoyed another interesting meal, which included fried bananas, and then tiredness took it's toll.
Thursday 31st August - Cusco-Ollanytambo-Agua Calientes
The journey up river started shrouded in mist after a breakfast of fried bread and banana soup. The sun gradually rose over the river to introduce the new day. We were returned to the port at Puerto Maldonado, where while we were waiting for our bags, found great amusement at a pig in a sack which was running around the riverfront while still in the bag. Then it was out of the jungle and back to Cusco, where we were to leave our bags before departing for Ollanytambo. After a few mundane shopping tasks we were off again, this time on the bus to Urumbamba, which was 3 soles (60p). This is the bus that most locals take, so it is advisable to get on early on route, as you may not get a seat. Passing the time on the journey, we were entertained by a very daring musician playing the panpipes and guitar as well as singing, while jostling with the other bus passengers for space. At Urumbamba we changed for Ollanytambo, which was a small minibus which we shared with some grain sacks and a very dubious stench!
Ollantytambo reminded me of an old Wild West town, very wind swept, half-deserted at times, and shanty-like buildings. Needless to say lunch was spent in one of two restaurants listed, where the food was slightly undesirable. The next few hours were wasted trying to ascertain when the train for Agua Calientes left. The officials seemed to know but decided against any positive answers, they seemed more interested in their dinner that was being prepared roadside by a Peruvian lady and her son. After realising our only option was the local train, we decided to check out the ruins.
The ruins of Ollanytambo are impressively cut into the mountainside, with steep steps leading up to the top. Mix this up with some very changeable weather, and it was a very bracing afternoon. After deciding that we had had enough of being cold and wet (a change from the jungle climate from the other day), we decided to seek refuge in a small café/bar called Café del Sol, situated off the car park below the ruins. As soon as we walked through the door, we were greeted with incredible warmth; Pink Floyd playing, a roaring fire, walls adorned with paintings and very friendly English speaking lady called Irini. The lady in question was a Greek American artist, who had come to Peru to do some restoration work, and had ended up staying, leaving her old life behind. Her commitment to her cause is admirable in what is quite a tough place to live. We were treated to some homemade liquor made with aniseed, mint and plum. This was followed by the nicest mulled wine I have ever had accompanied by some very interesting Peruvian sausages.
We were joined by an old Peruvian woman called Peres (who had a big appetite for liquor), a local Peruvian lad and a girl who was staying with Irini. We kept being treated to wonderful snacks of food, which included: meat pate, pepperoni, chilli, quail's eggs, cheese with cumin bread, mushrooms with Roquefort filling supplemented by hearty glasses of red wine. The conversation ranged between the disillusionment of capitalist society, the need for self-expression, rude tourists, Jerry Garcia, Pink Floyd, Inca rituals and much more that passed me by as I gradually became more and more inebriated. Despite our distinct lack of Spanish between us, we could still understand the Peruvian people with a mixture of sign language and cross-language fertilisation. We were shown rare Inca craftsmanship, including a condor carving coco leaf toothpick. It was almost to tempting to stay the night, but we had a train to catch
We made for the station with Irini's dog in tow; he eventually decided about halfway that his home would be better after all. We joined a queue made up mostly of locals, although we spotted a few other travellers. After a brief wait in the smelly station buildings we boarded our seats, hard leather affairs, so not much sleep then! Brief amusement was to be had at an old women sleeping with her mouth open who resembled the Kraken from Doctor Who! After a few delays, waiting for trains to pass at the passing places we eventually wound our way into Agua Calientes, our stop off place for Machu Picchu. Had we had more time, we would of done the Inca trail, but we decided to put that one on ice for a few years. Agua Calientes is a small little town in a tight valley with a railway track running through the centre, the market stalls, hostels and houses spread out up the hill. We found a very cheap hostel that lived up to its price, anyhow we only had 6 hours sleep here.
Friday 1st September - Agua Calientes-Machu Picchu
Awoke early to catch the 6.30am bus to Machu Picchu, which cost $10 per person. The bus wound up the corkscrew roads cut in to the mountains, secretly glad that the conditions were dry. On arrival at Machu Picchu, you get the real sense of disappointment of not doing the Inca trail, you arrive at a 20th Century tourist centre with extortionate prices. Word has it a cable car is soon to arrive as well, lets hope they change their minds. Getting over the initial tourist issues we were let free into the sacred site.
Our early arrival meant that the hardcore camcorder-wielding tourists were still tucked up in their nice cosy hotels. My first impressions were one of immediate wonder, the setting of the place is almost magical, with changeable weather fronts of rolling mist, rainbows and piercing early morning sunlight served with the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen. Once you take all this in, you then wonder how on earth they managed to construct such a vast city in such an impassable place. On our trek to the Caretaker's hut we bumped into various travellers just finishing the Inca Trail, including Brigit, the German girl whom we had met on the Colca canyon trip. What a reward for 4 days trekking! I am lost to describe too much about this place, as you really need to see it for yourself! The sun was really getting hot so we decided to go down, in the bus we were joined by some porters hitching a ride back down, the sizes of their packs were extraordinary, as well as the fact that they wear sandals and run up and down the mountain. Pretty impressive, especially when you discover they get less than £2 a day for their efforts.
Back in Agua Calientes we went to the train station to book our tickets back to Cusco, a word of warning be prepared for a long wait, and if you want to arrive back in Cusco at a reasonable hour you will have to pay quite a lot for the tourist train ($40 per person!) We decided to shell out, as it was Andy and Sarah's last night in Cusco, and we wanted to enjoy the evening in a bar, not on a train! After a very tasty pizza and a few beers in the riverside pizzeria with spectacular views we embarked on our journey again. We passed more magnificent scenery, including a volcano that seemed to be spurting ash. Our arrival in Cusco, early evening was also spectacular, it took 30 minutes for the train to zigzag back and forth as it descended into the town. The view of Cusco at night was breathtaking, and even prompted one idiot to take a flash photo through a closed window!
After arriving back in Cusco, resting and showering, me and Andy went for a farewell drink at the Cross keys. We discussed the trip's highlights and the possibilities of starting up a travel website (sounds familiar!). Andy left to conclude his souvenir shopping, while I mingled in the drinking crowd. Got talking to a group of Europeans, made up of a Dutch girl learning Spanish in Cusco, a girl from Vienna, a guy from Berlin, and a few others, I do confess I was introduced formally, but the excesses of alcohol and tiredness allowed me sportingly to forget everyone's names! After having a final farewell drink with Andy, I joined the Europeans on a club crawl, which involved lots of free Pisco Sours, Whiskeys and god knows what else. Out of all the places I recommend Mama Africa, which plays good contemporary music, has free drinks and a good dance floor. Everywhere was free admission, which makes a change from London! After a few clubs I decided to call it a night, I said my farewells and stumbled back to the hostel
Saturday 2nd September - Cusco
BANG! I awoke sometime after 9 feeling absolutely terrible, I also noticed that Andy and Sarah had already departed but they had to get to the airport for 7.30 so there was no chance of any goodbyes. After scraping myself up and into some clothes I ventured outside. On my way out, I was stopped by the receptionist who said there had been a call for me from some girl called Gaby. This was when my ailing head really did give up the ghost. I was convinced it was a mix up as I had absolutely no recollection of meeting anyone called Gaby. But, hey if your out there and you phoned the Incawasi hostel on or around the 2nd Sep 2000 asking for an Andy, then get in touch as I'd be interested to know what I got up to!
After checking the Internet, a light breakfast and a few visits to the toilets (dodgy ice I guess!), I paid a visit to the Cusco museum of National History, which had a large collection of antiquities, pictures, pottery and statues. Everything was in Spanish, making me more determined to learn the language next time. Still feeling awful I took a break before going to the Cathedral, which was impressive with it's golden altars, massive renaissance paintings, wooden carvings and statues. The cathedral is undergoing quite a bit of restoration at the moment, so I can't wait to see it fully restored. After this I visited the convent, which I must confess passed me by as I began to slip into lethargy.
In the evening I braved the Crosskeys for dinner, being the mad nutter I am, I had the chicken curry! On the TV they had Chile vs Columbia in the South American football qualifiers. I was joined by an American couple, Kim and Michael who were living in Chile, but turns out were moving to London very soon. After a few beers and a decent chat they left, and I was joined by 2 American girls, Cullen and Rachel, from San Francisco and New York respectively. A few more beers later, and we all decided to meet up in the morning to go to Pisac.
Sunday 3rd September - Chincero-Urubamba-Pisac
After a lie in (somewhat of a novelty on this holiday!), I had a light breakfast before watching a band play in the Cuzco square, there always seems to be some form of Sunday entertainment or parade on Sundays. Once I had met up with Cullen and Rachel, we got a cab to the bus station, where we boarded the Chincero bus. The journey took roughly 30-40 mins, but it was accompanied by some very pleasant scenery.
Chincero is a very basic, but idyllic village with a vibrant Sunday market. It is less bustling than those of Arequipa and Puno, but has a large diversity of fares, including Chicca which was served by Peruvian ladies. Chicca is the traditional 'beer' of Peru, often used in ceremonial times, women I am told, can drink just as much, if not more than their male counterparts! The chicca which we tried was flavoured, it is hard to describe the taste, it verges between a potato-taste-sour-creamy-bitter. Perhaps not one to smuggle home then! After perusing the market, while the girls bought a few gifts, we then climbed the stony steps to the cathedral. On entering the square, you are greeted by the boleto turistico man who ensures you have your tourist card, I was OK, but Rachel and Cullen had yet to get theirs, so they sneaked off into the museum! To be fair the boleto-man did not seem to be too bothered, he just walked off. There was a 'festival of hats' on while we were there, I suppose it equates to the 'beauty contest' in our part of the world, but instead hats, hair and clothes are more important. I have never seen so much colour and vibrance in clothing in one place. There was a wedding also taking place, with the most miserable couple and families I have ever seen, I don't know whether it was an arranged marriage, but they sure didn't look like they were enjoying themselves. Everybody else was, the whole floor was covered in new and old confetti. I got a glimpse inside of the cathedral, which was one of the most beautiful I have seen, you were forbidden to take pictures, so I'm afraid if you want to see it, you'll have to go there for yourself.
On our descent Cullen and Rachel got their boletos, and we then had a very basic lunch, mine was chips and rice with a very explosive mustard and a group of very hungry dogs (watching) to the side! On boarding the bus to Urubamba on route to Pisac, we had to climb over a 4ft tall old lady who had decided she was going to lie down by the door of the bus. The bus got very full, but this didn't stop a panpipe/guitar/singer playing quite well while shuffling around with all the standing passengers. We arrived quite late in Pisac (16.30), realizing we wouldn't have time to climb to the ruins we got a cab to the top for 50 soles which was probably way over the odds but we were to tired to care.
The ruins were very impressive, especially in the setting sun, casting shadows. I won't describe too much about them, as you'll understand that after seeing all the Cuzco ruins and Machu Picchu, there isn't much more too say, other than they are well worth a visit. For an extra 40 soles we extended our cab back to Cuzco, as the buses at this time of night were all full. Back in Cuzco, back in the Crosskeys we all had dinner before saying our farewells and retiring to bed.
Monday 4th September - Last day in Cuzco
For my last day in Cuzco I decided to complete all the necessary touristic attractions that were to be enjoyed in Cuzco. The first, though, I feel is one to avoid. The Museum of Natural History may at first sound really good, but having experienced the Natural History Museum in London, this was never going to compete, was it? To be quite honest no! What you get for approx. 20p is a few stuffed animals, dried insects and fossils, you'll only need about 20 minutes for this one. Next stop was the South Church, also in the Plaza, not realizing I had walked in while a service was taking place and before I knew it a lady was nearly piercing my nipple with a picture of the Virgin Mary. Undeterred, I decided to leave them to their prayers and walked down to the Temple of the Sun (St. Domingo), somewhat confusing, but the bottom line is that this was originally an Inca temple which had a Spanish church built on top of it.
My guide was Miguel, I must admit I am not too keen on guided tours, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. For a price of 20 soles (£4 - It might of been 10 soles I can't remember), I was given a one on one tour of the temple. It is the best place to see preserved Inca ruins. I am not going to elucidate what I learnt as there are probably other web sites with much better articles on Inca history and legend. Needless to say a lot of my questions on Inca culture were answered and I came away having learnt a lot.
After the temple I reconfirmed my flight out of Cuzco and then had lunch at a very empty restaurant. The dish I tried was Ceviche which is essentially raw fish in a spicy lemon sauce with onions. It was perhaps a bit too salty and lemon tasting for my liking. After lunch and a spot of watching some bizarre daytime TV Peruvian style I ventured up to the indoor market, which had a wide range of fruits, vegetables, meat, groceries, alcohol and coca leaves. The colours and the smells were extremely stimulating to the senses. I visited a nearby church and passed a funeral cortege on the way out, people lined the street while a brass band played a sombre tune.
Next stop was souvenir shopping for the friends and family at home before an early evening movie in the Andes Grill next to my hostel. Not surprisingly I finished my final night in the Cross Keys where I was joined by Birgit, the German girl and a soccer mad Swede called Peter from Helsingborg, who also supports Q.P.R, so a lengthy discussion about football ensued. Then it was off for my last kip in Cuzco..........
Tuesday 5th September - Cuzco-Lima
So farewell to Cuzco, I must admit I wasn't looking forward to the return to Lima, having spent half my time in Cuzco it had become a second home for me. Anyway cab to airport all went well, once again on the wrong side for the mountains! All of a sudden the tell tale clouds appeared, the last time I would see the sun in Peru. We descended through the sea mist via the coast landing in Lima in the early hours. Rather than bartering outside the airport I paid 30 soles at a desk near baggage reclaim to take me to my hostel. My cab driver dropped me at the Hostel Wiracocha which is just off the main Plaza. Lunch was at a restaurant on the main square where I had Lomo Saltiedo (Steak, onions, tomatoes, rice and peppers in gravy, mmmm!). It is very recommended, quite spicy with a mustard side sauce. After lunch I strolled down the main shopping precinct from the main Plaza with it's tell tale yellow colonial buildings. Walking through this street with its MacDonalds and Pizza Hut I could have been in any European city, very weird. Next I strolled due south past a few opportunist 'drug dealers' (never even speak to them, they will try and trap you and get you arrested by the Police), and then down past the main financial buildings and to the Museum of Art, which had a mixture of ancient Peruvian Art, 19th and 20th Century painting and some contemporary art, nothing special in this exception, I found the canvas roof the most interesting!
Next I attempted to find the National Museum, unfortunately the scale of the map was misleading and I seemed to be walking ages until I realized was lost, I was in real downtown Lima, there were no shops, hardly any cabs and a lot of very interested people standing on street corners. Eventually I managed to hail a cab who knew where the museum was, it turned out it was miles out in the suburbs and not walkable! The museum itself is in an old converted power station or something similar, sorry Tate Modern they got there first! The museum itself, is excellent it has artefacts from every era of Peruvian culture, however, if you don't speak or read Spanish get a guide as all the labels are in Spanish. You also really need a whole day here, as I only had a few hours to glimpse at things. I returned to the Plaza by cab, had a dinner of Ravioli before getting an early night.
Wednesday 6th September - Lima-Atlanta-Los Angeles
Got up just before 5am before hailing a cab in the street for 20 soles to take me to the airport, Lima seems a lot nicer at this hour, without the crescendo of car horns and the lethargic cloudy weather. My in cab entertainment was UB40 (Kingston Town) and the Bee Gees (Staying Alive), quite ironic, as we passed a serious road accident. Anyway this was goodbye to South America, I must say I was sad to leave Peru but quite relieved to be getting out of Lima, the people are lovely, but, like any capital city, you feel claustrophobic and long to see clear skies, well next stop California!
The flight passed without note and arrived in Atlanta a bit late, but managed to find a short immigration queue unlike a lot of others who must have missed their connections. The weather in Atlanta was also very bad, and we left in a queue of planes and out of the drizzle back into blue skies. We then preceded to go 'back in time' to LA, as a result of LA being 8 hours behind GMT and 6 hours behind Atlanta. So warmed by the prospect of a 28 hour day, I settled back and enjoyed the view. Underneath us, perfectly crafted 'yin and yang' crop circles passed by, it made the whole ground look like some bizarre kitchen tiling, I guess it some form of crop rotation. Then we passed over the mountains of New Mexico and the vast stretched desert plains of Arizona. The clouds in the sky had a strange alienesque quality about them with the late evening glow of the sun illuminating them.
Arrived in the massive sprawling suburb that is L.A only an hour after I left Atlanta, although in reality it was something more akin to six hours. The lights of the town below seemed to last forever, with the fading sun it made for a beautiful sight. Mixed in with the lights below was the glimmer of the many swimming pools part of a wealthy culture. After retrieving my baggage I set out to get a cab to take me to my meeting place (The college of technical design). I thought this would be a major trauma but as it turned out, I found the right person almost straight away, who informed me that a taxi to Pasadena would be along fairly soon. A 15 minute wait was cut short by the arrival of my ride, which looked more like a futuristic version of the A-Team van! The driver was decidedly angry, mainly about the lack of custom he was getting, we circled the concourses of LUX for a good half an hour, before leaving. In that time two people joined us, a girl going returning from holiday, and some guy who was either on drugs or had a severe mental problem! All this mixed with the fact that the driver drove like a nutcase made it an interesting ride. After dropping off the other two passengers, the latter being the girl who was dropped off in a very rich Pasadena suburb. This annoyed the driver due to the fact that she only tipped $1, from then on he seemed to calm down, interested in what I had to say about my trip to Peru. Eventually we found the college, here was the moment of truth, I had visions of arriving and not being able to contact Peter. But this was not to be, with Volkswagen Beetle in tow, there he was, after giving the driver $30 for a $25 fare he departed happy into the night. Me and Peter then journeyed back to his hotel to dump off my stuff. I thought I would be mortally tired after all the travel, but instead I was quite up for a night out.
Peter was staying at the Fuller Guest House Seminary in Pasadena, supposed to be for Theological students, but it appears they will put up anyone with money. The problem with Pasadena is the lack of cheap places to stay and $40 a night is about the cheapest it gets. We then went in to Old Pasadena (Colorado Blvd) for some beers, first time I was asked for ID for years, but then they check ID of everyone entering a bar. It was also nice to have Budweiser on tap for once.
Thursday 7th September - Pasadena
After a much needed lie in to recharge my batteries, I went and visited the Pasadena Art Center, where Peter is doing a design degree for two years. The weather was extremely hot, well into the 100s, so the use of air conditioning seemed something of a revelation. The standard of design here is very good, with futuristic designs for cars, consumer products and aeroplane interiors. Got a cheap lunch in the canteen where we joined up with one of Peter's college mates, Maik from Texas, there was a large contingent of overseas students here, a lot of Japanese and a lot of Europeans, where do they find the money? We went back via the Rose Bowl, a lot smaller than I imagined it would be, but then I guess it goes down in to the ground.
Next stop the supermarket for a quick snack before a leisurely afternoon driving about the freeways looking for a house that Peter was due to move into. The evening was filled with a reasonably priced curry restaurant ($16) and a few beers.
Friday 8th September - Pasadena
Explored Pasadena after Internet sundries at the library, first stop the bank for some cash enhancement, everything is so easy here. One small problem, though, is the lack of a car, not thinking ahead I left my driver's licence in the UK, so I was restricted to walking, which is fine but in 100°F heat it is a bit of a task. First thing I noticed is the lack of time you get to cross the road at crossings, as well as the left turn traffic that ignores all red lights! I feel really sorry for the elderly people, but then I guess most of them were driving! The Pacific Asia Museum was first on my itinerary and houses an impressive array of Chinese and Indian ceramics and statuettes, as well as this there was also an exhibition on American-Ethnic Art, which had some very good work in it. The museum also has a nice little Chinese garden with a pond, very therapeutic.
By now the weather was almost unbearable, I was about the only pedestrian out and about, I just about made it to the Simon Norton Museum which is the biggest museum in Pasadena housing a huge collection of art from the last 5 centuries aswell as some very impressive ancient Chinese artefacts. The museum also has a very tranquil sculpture garden, where I stopped for lunch, buying the most expensive sandwich I have ever bought. It seems that in this part of America there are virtually no small shops that sell drinks or snacks like you find in London or other parts of the UK, just the occasional gas station, supermarket or cafe.
After about 2 hours I was finally met by Peter outside the library, he got lost driving back from the supermarket in Pasadena and ended up halfway to San Francisco! Peter was due to sign his house contracts with his new landlady tonight so I met up with Maik for a drink. We went via the supermarket, there was a sign outside saying NO SOLICITORS, a slightly different meaning over here I think! Then we strolled on down to the Colorado bar on Colorado Blvd, unsurprisingly. A walk that looked like it should have been 15 minutes on the map actually took 35-40 minutes, but not so bad in the cooler evening air. When we finally arrived at the bar, we weren't disappointed, it was an old style dark and dingy number playing old classic rock such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, my kind of bar! Played a lot of pool, drank a lot of beers, poor old Peter arrived late again, having got lost again!
Saturday 9th September - Pasadena and Hollywood
Went for a drive to Hollywood today, saw the famous Hollywood sign from a far, tried to get up close but ended up getting lost, no surprise there then! Despite all the glitz and glamour, the famous road seemed quite ordinary to mean, roadworks, building, where have I seen this before? We parked next to the Mann's Chinese Theatre, saw all the star's footprints, all rather touristic, so not my scene really.
Then I helped Peter move into his place, a big house in Silver Lake, a rich neighbourhood of Hollywood. We were welcomed extremely warmly by Cherie, his landlord and her two dogs who, I'm told, had a penchant for Fisherman's Friends! (The sweets I mean) The view from the veranda was outstanding. Then it was back to Pasadena where a Latino festival was taking place, which had some cool music and dancing. Caught a bit of English football in an Irish/English style pub in the town which was an added bonus after days of only baseball and golf.
Sunday 10th September - Santa Monica
Woke up to a glorious sunny morning with breakfast on the terrace, ah this is the life! Our plan today was to hit the beach, the drive to Santa Monica took us about 40 minutes as we had to pick up Maik from Pasadena. You can easily forget you are in California when in Pasadena or Downtown L.A, but on first entering Santa Monica you really know you are in California. After finding somewhere to park, we headed down to the pier, where a Korean festival was taking place. The rather strange thing about this was that the presenter/announcer did not appear to be on the stage but sitting in a tent over the other side of the pier! We were treated to a beauty contest where a group of 12 or so Korean girls paraded their looks, talents and traditional costumes, despite the seriousness of the event, it just seemed a little bit lost amongst all the hustle and bustle of the day.
Moving away from the pier, rollerbladers and cyclists weaved their way along the seafront dodging pedestrians (pedestrians are few and far between compare to those on wheels). Looking out the beaches are long stretches of golden sand with 'Baywatch' style lifeguard stations, the beach itself was strangely empty when we arrived. Walking due south along the seafront we made our way to the famous Venice Beach which has a multitude of crafts, stalls, clothing stores, incense sellers, palm readers, reflexologists, masseurs, bodybuilders and even one man bands! The whole place was awash with colour and sound. We sat for a while listening to a group of drummers, it seems you just bring a long your drum, bongos or musical receptacle and tune in....The hours just seem to drift along here and if I was to return to L.A this would definitely be first on my list.
The evening was home made stirfry, beer and cards on the terrace overlooking the Hollywood hills.
Monday 11th September - Warner Bros
Caught a lift with Cherie (Peter's landlady) to Warner Bros, via the garage. Her old Jag needed servicing, apparently she likes her cars, she owns 2 jags! The garage was in a very hot valley, and out of the shade the weather was almost unbearably hot. We waited some time for a lift to take us to the car hire place, evenually, after a barrage of complaints we were taken to our destination.
It appears that over here, the need to be well insured is pretty much a necessity, all you have to do is knock someone's wing mirror and you could be in court to the tune of several $1000! I didn't ask figures, but it seemed to me, that to get decent insurance over here, you are looking on investing a small fortune.
I arrived at Warner Bros, where I was joined on the tour by two girls from Fulham. I guess if your going to come to LA you must do one of the studio tours. I elected for Warner Bros, as I wasn't too bothered with the theme park side of things, Warner Bros offers a straight tour of the studios and sets. The tour starts with a look around the museum, where various costumes and props from a variety of screen classics are on display. Most impressive for me were the models of the spaceships used in Bladerunner, and the actual door that shatters in The Exorcist. Following this we were taken onto the set of a popular American comedy series, can't remember which one, as my knowledge of this genre is rather flimsy. As it happens they were on lunch so we didn't get to see much. Following this our 'extended golf buggy' took us around some of the outside sets, these included sets from Friends, ER, a wild west town, a village green (used in countless films) and Boss Hogg's house from The Dukes of Hazard.
So I didn't get to see any stars, well not that I was too bothered anyway, I left Warner Bros with the express desire to try and navigate the local bus network. What seemed a good idea initially, turned into somewhat of an endurance test with temperatures in the 100s and a severe lack of buses. In the end it took 3 separate buses to get back to Silver Lake via Burbank. However at a total cost of $1.85, this represented fairly good value and with surprisingly helpful and cheery bus drivers (unlike London!). I still maintain, though, that the car would have cut the journey time by a quarter.
After a stop at the supermarket, I spent the evening with Cheri, hearing about the pros and cons of living in LA. The balcony from her office gave spectacular views over the Hollywood Hills.
Tuesday 12th September - Downtown LA
An early start saw me getting a bus into Central LA; it was already very hot even this early. My arrival in LA saw the introduction of towering skyscrapers, clean streets and a severe lack of pedestrians. I caught the Metro to 103rd Street which took me out of the clean, sterile centre into the suburbs. The Watts Towers were built by a farmer in the early 1900s and were constructed entirely from glass, plastic, metal and mortar. I'd seen them originally on the TV, but in the flesh they weren't as large as I'd expected. The surrounding streets reminded me of the setting of the film 'Boyz in the Hood', with blacked out cars cruising past at a snails pace, definitely a place to keep yourself to yourself!
I took the Metro back to LA, where I had lunch in the water plaza, mainly populated by office workers. After this I headed to MOCA, the Museum of Modern Art. It was a great space to view work, and on show was work by Adrian Piper, who made racially aware pieces. I couldn't help but feel the attitudes conveyed were a bit dated and egoistic.
Next it was the shuttle to take me to the Geffen Contemporaries (also part of MOCA), where a show on world architecture was on, perhaps most interesting was the computer generations of buildings that were never built, in particular, Tatlin's Tower in St.Petersburg.
On my way back to find a bus, I walked through Little Tokyo, hoping to find the thriving hub of L.A, however, once again, there seemed to be very little going on. I have visited quite a few major cities in my time, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague and Berlin to name but a few and have never been bored, I can safely say that one day in Downtown LA was enough for me! I caught the bus back to Pasadena where I met up with Peter and Maik for a few beers in the one token English/Irish bar. I must confess that I chose this one as it was showing English football, the food was considerably cheaper than everywhere else and, hell, I wanted a decent meat pie! After a good feed, a few beers and a decent chat we departed back to Silver Lake for my last night in the States.
Wednesday 13th September - Home
The journey to the Airport passed reasonably uneventfully thanks to Peter giving me a lift right to the Departure Lounge, we said our goodbyes and then I was finally on my long way home.
I can certainly say this has been an interesting and eventful month, Peru was, as I expected both awesome and surprising, I found the people to be exceptionally friendly and very helpful. It is certainly geared up for backpackers, and Cuzco has everything you could possibly need without being overexploited, as well as being an excellent base for exploring the surrounding area. All in all, with the exception of Lima, I always felt comfortable. Just wished I'd learnt Spanish before I went!
L.A, on the other hand, was a pale comparison to the movies, very synthetic and lacking a definite cultural centre. Santa Monica was perhaps the best place I visited here with it's long golden beaches. A car is almost an essential item here, without one, it can be very difficult and tiring to get around, especially when the temperatures hit 100!
Be sure to visit the gallery which contains the images from this Peru and L.A trip.