Saturday, July 30, 2005

Mysteries of Peru No 4

The Alpamayo Vegetarian Restaurant - Chavin
Imagine my delight at discovering a vegetarian restaurant in this small town......Imagine my dismay when the waitress cheerily offered me a choice of spicy Guinea Pig, Trout, beefsteak or chicken. When I asked if she could bring me something vegetarian she returned with a glass of warm, slightly fermented yoghurt in a glass.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Mysteries of Peru no 3

Yesterday a small girl stopped me in the street and asked for my autograph. After a moments hesitation and feeling like a total fraud, I signed my name on her little notepad. She looked at it, said 'gracias' and ran off looking very happy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Mysteries of Peru no 2

In a country famed for its folkmusic (think pan pipes, Simon and Garfunkel ripping off ancient tunes) why is it compulsory for all bus drivers to play their favourite trashy pop music cassette that has warped in the heat all day long at full blast and so wobbly it sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks?

Mysteries of Peru no. 1

In a country obsessed with paper napkins, where even if you purchase a chocolate bar you will probably be given a serviette just on the off chance your hands might get messy - why is it that there is never, ever, any toilet paper to be found in any of the toilets?

Monday, July 25, 2005

As sick as a Peruvian Dog

Funny Little fishing boats in Haunchaco accessorised by drunken man

Ahh hasn't been all beauty comps and brick laying for moi in the last two fact in the last week I was struck down by quite a nasty lurgy, the kind of stomach bug that I distinctly remember wishing for when I was back in Sydney and a tad bit chubbier.Yes, the kind of bug that makes the idea of any kind of food repulsive and the bathroom your new best friend. For three days and nights I was trapped in a hotel room in Cajamarca where I travelled from bed to bathroom and watched endless facinating shows on cable tv such as the 'Tara Reid story' or the 'Secrets of Lara Flynn Boyle' - lovely.

But thank god for drugs as Ed was finally able to rouse me from my sick bed to make the 8 hour trip south to the city of Trujillo and the beach town of Huanchaco. When we rounded the corner into Haunchaco I spied the ocean for the first time in almost 3 months and heaved a sigh of relief.......I am most definately a coastal person. I get nervous being up in those hills for too long. But the pleasure of seeing the water was quickly negated by the fact the 'beach' was dirty, covered in rubbish and the water was icy cold. The only people who were surfing or swimming were the pommy tourists who seemed quite chuffed with their tropical paradise - poor things really dont seem to know any better.

So beach plans shelved, Eduardo and I decided to go see the ruins that are famous in the area instead and they didnt disapoint. The first lot were whopping great mud temples out in the desert built by the Moche people about 800 years before the Spanish arrived. Because it almost never rains on the coast of Peru the mud buildings have survived reasonably intact with intricate sculptures and paintings on the way in bright colours. Mind you the Mocho were a bit bloodthirsty and fond of sacrificing large numbers of people each year to appease the gods and the weather. Next stop was the incredibly huge Chan Chan - a city spanning over 30 ks and was the capital for the Chimu people who supposedly arrived out of the ocean and set up shop. their cities and palaces were also made out of mud and incredibly have survived in parts also. The Chimu werent quite as bloodthirsty but were rather fond of mummifying their kings and digging them up each year so everyone could have a look.

The incredible mud city of Chan Chan

While we were at the first site I spied this terrible looking dog. It had pointy ears, no hair on its body just dark grey skin and a little blonde mowhawk of hair on its head. To top it off its tongue was dangling out of its mouth at a weird angle making it look completely derranged. I immediately thought, oh yuk this dog has some skin disease, has been mashed up in an accident and basically looks like something from pet cemetary and walked on.

When we head to Chan Chan in the afternoon there are two more dogs that look exactly the same, this cant be a coincidence so I ask our guide Jose who says happily "Oh they're not sick, they are just Peruvian Dogs - they are meant to look like that". These dogs have lived with the Peruvian people for centuries and have turned up in artwork from civilizations over a thousand years old. Apparently they have high body temperatures and were very popular for snuggling up to at night - check them out - don't they look cuddly?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Queen for a day

Katty Browoon y Eduardo Holmez - the beauty queen judges from OZ

Although the main purpose of us heading into the wilderness of Cadmalca was to build a stove we still had quite a bit of free time in the afternoons. Thanks to the rather extraordiary family that we stayed with at the lodge this meant we were constantly off doing things. One afternoon in particular we headed off with Celida (our local guide) her brother Jose and her boyfriend Edver to the Llangoden community about 8ks away for its inugural fiesta. To get there was interesting, in a place where there are no telephones, and until 3 years ago no road, transport is an interesting prospect. Having walked to this community the day before (it takes over 2 hours) Celida thought we would take a "taxi" this time. Basically getting a taxi means walking down to the main road and waiting for any kind of vehicle to come past and see if they will give you a lift for a few dollars or for free. Its all very zen and inevitably someone does turn up. On this day it happened to be a distant cousin of Celidas who was driving his pickup truck past. So we piled into the cabin and into the back and made our dusty way to the fiesta.

This being the first ever fiesta meant that this was a big deal and people from all sorts of communities got spiffed up in their best clothes and hats and made their way by "taxi", foot, horse or mule to the action. After checking out the band, the dodgy fireworks and having a beer or two with Jose, Ed and I were invited to be judges in the all important "La Reina" competition. This is the local beauty comp and to be the Reina (Queen) is quite an important accolade. The pressure was on and after being introduced as "Katty Browoon and Eduardo Holmez" the special guests from Australia we were seated and given our score sheets. We had to judge on deportment and arrival, facial beauty, best traditional dress and the ability to answer a question.
The three wannebe queens arrived on very large horses in full regalia. One was already trying to work the judges over by throwing Ed and Jose some rather seductive looks (all at the age of 12!) and then the race was on. During the competition Ed was invited to dance by one of the Queens, a rather mysterious dance that involved Ed waving a hanky around. I didnt escape as the MC invited me up onto the stage to hand out the "preguntas" (questions) to the Queens which were fascinating questions like "how do you make cheese?". In my nerves at being up infront of so many people my Spanish dried up faster than a puddle in the desert and all I could get out over the microphone was a squeaky "Hola" when I was introduced.

Finally the tasks were over and the voting process began. In my, Eds and Joses mind there was a clear winner. However the other local girl who was judging obviously had it in for our little Queen and marked her right down leaving who we considered an inferior well in the lead, but there was nothing we could do, the numbers had spoken and the winner walked away with $30 and the title of "La Reina". Eduardo and I walked away into the crowd only to be followed with points and whispers of "Australianos" from the locals.

Ed dances the mysterious and seductive dance of the Hanky with the queens.
Ed and I with the lucky winner - La Reina de Llangoden

How to make a peruvian stove

We arrived in the far nothern Peruvian city of Cajamarca to begin our stove trek. Thanks to Ed befriending an Aussie guy he met in a hotel in Ecuador I have found myself in a remote community 7 hours rough bus travel on an unpaved road from the nearest large town, a place where they only had a road put in 3 years ago and electricity arrived at Christmas 2004. Remote? Yes. Lovely? Oh yeah. But first things first, Eduardo and I were here to build a stove for the family above. Cecilia (who is the tiniest woman I think I have ever met) and Antero are the parents of 9 children several of whom live with them and with some grandchildren too there are about 10 people living in the house. They have no electricity and until we arrived Cecilia was cooking on 3 rocks and an open fire on the floor - theres no chimney so the smoke just fills the room, covering the walls in soot and grime and just generally smelling bad. For Cecilia this is particularly bad as she spends the most time in there and she said her eyes are always really sore and she gets bad headaches.

So off to work we went. Thank god as part of the tour we had the company of the lovely Mercedes who actually knew how to build a stove and was patient with us slightly useless Sydneysiders. However under his tutelage we got there and before I knew it we were mixing concrete and laying bricks. Eduardo proved to be quite the nifty bricklayer while I became quite a dab hand at filling in all the gaps with concrete and smoothing it all over.

The Family were pretty excited about the whole thing and everyone pitched in. Even this tiny little cutie who busied herself carrying rocks to fill the stove while her even tinier little brother helped wash up the tools when we were done. Over two days we worked and I've got to say it was backbreaking. I dont know how brickies at home with big guts who smoke a packet of fags a day can do it. After the first day I went home and slept for two hours before dinner!

Here is Ed carrying the all important chimmney down the hill from the lodge where we we staying. I am proud to say that we made this too. Though once again I displayed a true city dwellers amazment that you could actually make something useful from some sheets of corrugated iron and some power tools.

Once the stove was completed the family presented us with some rather unusual gifts. Firstly Antero, who looked for all the world like a hardened rural type revealed that he liked to write poetry and then produced a self published book of his work. He then jotted down our names and has promised to write a poem about me, Eduardo and I guess the stove. Then Cecilia and her son after a spot of rushing around handed me a soft cotton bag....after some investigation I discover that the bag contains two live guinea pigs who start squeaking loudly in protest. I gingerly take my "gift" and look up to see Ed has been handed a big sack of spuds ( deluding myself about what the guinea pigs are for!) and Mercedes has a pretty white hen tucked under his arm which is also for us. Below is Cecilia holding one of our guinea pigs which I am ashamed to admit was served up to Ed and Mercedes for lunch the next day. The hen, the other GP and the spuds we offloaded to Mercedes Mum who seem quite chuffed.

The guinea pig thing is quite bizarre - most people keep them in their kitchens which shows how dopey guinea pigs really are living happily so close to the place of their ultimate doom. But although I feel bad that they get eaten they actually have quite a nice life. They dont get eaten til they are over two years old and literally have the run of the place in the meantime. Most people we met have a little nest type thing in the corner of the kithchen and they just run around eating grass and things and squeaking. Though I have to admite it does take a while to get used to sitting in someones kitchen at the table, sipping tea while guinea pigs race around on the floor squeaking and a pair of pink pigs are peering in the door hoping for some food, but hey thats Peru.

But I must say its one of the best things I've done with my time in Sth America and highly recommend the Stove Trek if anyone out there is heading this way. All the details can be found at so go and check it out.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Hola Peru

Four days into Peru. Ed and I waved a sad farewell to Ecuador and walked across the bridge between the two countries to say hello to Peru. Should have realised things would be different when on the Ecuadorian side of the border there were flowers, flags and a big Welcome sign while on the Peruvian there was just a big board sort of painted like the flag with a big crack in it...........

Onwards we descend from the eden like green of EC to a bleached sandy desert.... the heat was just brutal and the only decoration was rubbish. After 6 hours we arrived in the city of Piura which someone later described as looking like Afghanistan. Pretty accurate I say, shanty towns, desert, unfinished buildings that look like they are bombed out, crazy cars and rickshaws of all things burning around the streets in a frenzy.

The next morning we make a break for it and head to Chiclayo a city near the coast that surely must be different. We board a bus and make the 4 hour journey to discover another city just like Piura but possibly even more chaotic. To top it off, there were big black birds circling the skies.... just like vultures I joke....then one flies down and perches on the roof of the local town hall and upon closer inspection I discover it IS a Vulture. The evil looking things are everywhere, circling the sky, perched with their hunchbacks on the roofs of buildings and pecking through the rubbish on the ground. Surely not a good omen. Then as Ed and I take a walk down the main street dodging hustlers and pervy men a guy comes over and says in English "dont walk here - its dangerous" What did he mean? This street? This suburb? The whole town? Peru? All rather difficult but I took his advice and hotfooted it to the hotel where I tucked myself up in bed and watched a Bee Gees concert on the telly. Who said travel wasnt glamorous.

By now I had started calling Peru sh*t-ru which I admit isnt very big or clever but it made me feel better. One more bus trip and we head up,up,up into the mountains to Carjarmarca where finally Peru was salvaged from my savaging. A lovely old city, green, cool and filled with loads of groovy looking indigenous ladies who wear these incredible hats. Imagine a pilgrim hat with a great tall crown and brim but in straw and you are halfway there - amazing.

Hooked up with Ben the Aussie guy here who is sending us up into the hills to build a stove. Gulp, poor family that get us.... I dont think they are expecting two slightly useless Sydney people to sort out their cooking issues but hey, I'm willing to give it a go. Apparently you often are given a guinea pig (live) to cook on the stove when you are done. If I get one I'm liberating it!

Adios and back in a week with more stove stories. X

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Another day in paradise...

I am sitting at a table, in front of a computer....nothing strange about that except that i am sitting outside with the warm breeze ruffling my hair and lovely soft green mountains surround me. What an office! But I feel obliged to point out that I have only popped in to check a few things and then will head off as it would be criminal to be an email nerd in such a glorious place as Vilcabamba.

We are staying in a gorgeous place out of town run by two jolly Bavarian brothers - Peter and Dieter. Needless to say, we got drinking with Peter and playing pool and the like and suprise suprise today I have one of my first hangovers of the trip. Dangerous folk those Bavarians. The US / English couple that are living there seem to have a touch of fear in their eyes before also succumbing to his charms.....they didnt get to bed til 2am before having to go and teach a roomful of kids and take a four hour mountain hike respectively!

The place has hammocks, a swimming pool, giant chess (?), warm balmy weather, an Ecuadorian massuer who used to look after Danny DaVito and a couple of big headed german pointer dogs. What more could one want?

Here for 4 days and then it's goodbye Ecuador and HELLO Peru.