Sunday, August 28, 2005

Machu Picchu

I always have a fear with iconic tourist destinations that they are never going to live up to my expectations. It happens a lot all over the tourist world, as I used to witness almost daily on my walk to work at the Opera House in Sydney. I would often hear tourists say things like "oooh it's not 'alf as big as I thought it would be" (from the poms) and "Ewwww it's not even like, totally white" (from the Americans) . I have to admit that as I dragged my bum out of my grotty overpriced hotel at 6am after 4 hours sleep in order to see Machu Picchu at dawn I wasn't the least bit excited about going to seeing the place - but I am thrilled to report it not only woke me from my cynical tourist mode but totally awed me on every level. Blessed with the most spectacular location, eerie mountains that look like faces and animals, and a climate that took us over our ten hour visit from mysterious mists to broad sunlight to rain storms, rainbows and thunder the place is mesmerising. We can only be thankful that the Spanish never stumbled upon this incredible site otherwise they would have hauled the stones off the make Churches and houses and smashed the rest to pieces like they did to all the other sites. There are several theories about why the place wasnt "discovered" until the early 1900's. Some theorists believe that disease wiped out the inhabitants and the city was deserted and left to grow over, others believe that the place was deliberately deserted not long after the Conquistadors arrived in order to keep it from the Spanish as the news spread they were destroying all the other sacred sites - I like the second theory. But either way it means that the site is 8o percent intact and doesnt require too much imagination to fill in the gaps - truly a wonder.

One of my favourite things about the site was the small flock of Llamas who are lucky enough to live at Machu Picchu. Unlike most of their contemporaries in Peru who are simply hairy beasts of burden these rather pampered creatures wander the site looking photogenic for the tourists. Completely unfazed by the crowds and large enough to intimidate anyone that might try and hassle them they clip clop though the ruins, down the steep stairs on dainty feet pushing the hordes of tourists out of the way.

Another amusing part of the day were the classic tourist watching possibilites. The difference in the various nationalities that the site brought out was amazing. In the morning the English tourists who did the 4 day hike that is the Inca trail in order to see the sunrise are unfazed to find it completely obscurred by mist.They laugh about it just being like England, while chainsmoking and saying that they got into training for the hike by giving up the beer for a week. Meanwhile the Germans are not pleased and quiz their tour guide relentlessly "Vill za fog clear?" "ahh yes" says the guide. "Ven, Ven?" says the German pulling out a pen and paper, "Vat time please? Vat time vill za fog be gone? Nine? Nine thirty?" - the guide starts to look scared. Meanwhile a group of young ridiculously enthusiastic American girls are talking about the Inca trail "it was like soooooo hard, I almost turned back but y'know what? I DID it! Woo Woo!" followed by lots of fist pumping. In the background the stoicly sporty Canadians clutch backpacks with Maple leaves sewn on them hoping no-one will mistake them for Americans. The other Europeans, mostly French and Italians get about the site nonchalantly sucking on Malboros and wearing outrageous padded pastel coloured outfits that look like ski gear. Then across the mist a broad flat accent cuts the hubub like a rusty knife - "Geeez it's bloody big isnt it?" - yep, it's an Aussie, followed by another who says "hey, do ya reckon theres a bano (toilet) somewhere around here? I'm busting for a wee."

After lunchtime the tourist hoards were disperesed by a sudden and torrential thunderstorm. With little cover it was tempting to vamos with then but Eduardo and I braved it out. The reward, an almost deserted Machu Picchu and a rainbow. It was so pretty it was almost cheesy - here is Eduardo looking like someone from a Christian Ad.

A rare treat, the most visited tourist destination in Sth America empty except for me and my Llama friends.

The Sacred Valley

Apart from the terrifying drunken grannies the Sacred Valley is a wonderful and diverse place filled with tiny villages, Inca ruins and Spanish churches. A lot of the people still dress in colourful traditional dress like these two ladies below in the tiny village of Chinchero.

Classic Peru architecture, Inca stonework on the bottom and colonial Spanish on the top. This church was glorious inside, made out of wonky woodwork and painted with fat childish images of saints, birds and flowers in bright colours.

In Salinas, as the name would suggest it's all about Salt. These natural salt terraces cover a steep hillside and are tended to by the locals who have set up a kind of salt collective. The place is all sparkly white and a natural salt water spring flows down the hill and settles in the little pools below. It is like the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory but for salt lovers, and just like Augustus the greedy boy from the film Eduardo couldn't stop plucking pieces off and eating them, he was finally overcome by a sudden and desperate thirst that necessitated a quick trip to the top for a bottle of water.

More Inca ruins than you can poke a stick at. With a real fondness for heights and building things out of big stones life as an Inca must have been tough. Here at Ollantaytambo the Incas perched up here when the conquistadors arrived before letting loose a heap of water from their irrigation system to flood the plain below bogging the silly Spanish and their horses. A small victory and short lived victory for the Incas before the big bad Spanish returned with reinforcements.

From large scale wonders to the very, very small. Behold the marvellous Castillo de Cuy - the Castle of the Guinea Pigs. Made out of mud and located in a bakery in the town of Pisac these fat little Gp's live in ignorant bliss that their castle is located right next to a largish oven that one day may be their fate.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The dance of the drunken grandmother

Out in the sacred valley it is Chicha season, the time when the local booze is ready to be guzzled. Chicha is made out of fermented corn and tastes like a nasty cross between cheap champagne, beer and, well corn.

I know this because Chicha is everywhere, anyone who has a stash of this nasty brew makes a flower shape out of a pale red plastic bag, attaches it to a broomstick or wooden pole, hoists it aloft outside the house, shop, whatever and bingo they are open for business as a bar.

Ed decided to drag us both into a Chicha den in the small town of Ollantaytambo - before I know it we are perched on a bed in a mud brick house, with guinea pigs running around the floor and a bunch of really pissed old ladies, most of whom are speaking Quechua and wearing traditional clothes (ie crazy looking red bowl shaped hats and big colourful skirts with sandals). We are given our warm nasty smelling Chicha and all is well, until one of the drunken Grannies comments in Spanish that Ed and I are quite fat. It takes all my will not to collapse into giggles so I bring myself back down with another sip of the nasty drink. Then finally when it is time to go the most drunken and craziest granny grabs Ed and insists that he dance with her, next thing the radio is on and they are off and away. At first I giggle with all the other granies and feel quite smug taking photos little knowing my turn was to come. Drunken granny makes a lunge for me and off we go, she has my hands in a death grip so tight it makes my eyes water - the song ends and I try and make a run for it, unfortunately Ed comes too close and then off we go again, now all three of us are lurching about the tiny room being held in a death grip. Finally Ed makes a break for it and then I am stuck, she has hold of both my arms and I am being dragged back to the dance floor. I am begging her, telling her I will miss my train, pleading, anything to escape. Even the Chicha lady is trying to prise her fingers off me to no avail - finally I wriggle free and make a break for it, Ed fobs her off with a "tip" for her fabulous dancing and we run - all the way down the narrow alleyway accompnanied by the shrieks of laughter of the evil drunken grannies.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The littlest Katty

Since I've been in Sth America I've undergone a name change, there are no "Kates" in Espanol only "Kattys" (prounounced soemthing like "Carty")

I had the pleasure of meeting this tiny Katty at the kids centre where we volunteered - she quickly latched on to me and I became her personal playmate for the rest of the week. Like the rest of the kids that go there, Katty has parents and a home but often these parents are very poor and are often out all day and night trying to make some money for the family. Often the little kids are left to play in the streets alone or they too wander around all night selling cigarettes and postcards to tourists. This centre gives them the chance to play, do their homework and have a little meal before they all disappear off into the night at 7pm. Having worked in a child care centre in Sydney where the parents wouldn't let their kids walk two blocks home in broad daylight it was very strange to see little girls as young as 6 putting on their backpacks and walking out into the dark streets for a 40 minute walk home alone.

It was sad leaving the centre at the end of this week but hopefully we will return for the Birthday Party which is for every child that goes there. Being so poor these kids miss out on things like birthdays at home so the centre had picked a special date where everyone can pretend it's their birthday - even me and the little Katty.

The gayest city in South America

Being a Sydney girl you can imagine my suprise and delight when I arrived in Cuzco to see the Gay Pride flag out n proud all over the place, hanging outside shops, in the square, outside the town hall - I was just about ready for some Mardi Gras style action when I discovered that this flag is actually the Cuzco city flag. For the trainspotters amongst you, the Cuzco flag actually has the colours the other way around. In a land of staunch Catholics I can't help but smile a little at the coincidence.
Getting into the Cuzco spirit in the worlds campest hat

Even the alpacas look gay (note the perfectly coiffed afros)

Cuzco Cuzco

With the Beaver Fever vanquished for the time being I've finally been able to enjoy the gorgeous rather funky city of Cuzco this week. It's definitely my favourite city in this crazy country that is Peru. Cuzco is the oldest inhabited city in Sth America and you can really tell. Tiny twisty little cobblestoned streets, whitewashed buildings with inca stonework on their bases, indigenous ladies leading llamas around and hundreds of silly looking tourists decked out in ridiculous multicoloured beanies with earflaps, ponchos and of course the ever present beige coloured pants with zippers. Yes the people with the zippered pants are the scourge of the travel world I think......why is it that people who probably dress perfectly normally in their own countries have the urge to dress in beige trousers that can zip off at different lengths, puffy jackets in bright colours and carry weird things like walking sticks when they are simply walking around the streets of a different city on holidays? Some of them look like they are ready to be sent up into space - I mean, it's only a different country not a different planet.

But as always I digress.....Cusco. My favourite things are: the amazing buildings, often half inca half spanish. The Incas had the most incredible way of building, huge blocks of grey stone placed together like a jigsaw puzzle with no mortar, cement, nothing. The gaps are so tight between each block it would be near impossible to even slip a piece of paper between the joins. This amazing engineering has ensured that these building have survived numerous earthquakes. The blocks also look great as they are so big and chunky they are almost Flinstone-ish. Then when the Spanish arrived topped the bottom of these Inca Palaces with elegant whitewashed buildings with ornate wooden balconies - it is a strange but lovely combination. Apart from the archiatecture the ambience is great, lots of artists live here so there are just hundreds of gorgeous shops and restaurants.....and the food, don't even get me started on the food.....after 4 months of rice and potatoes it has been a real treat to devour everything from green curries to japanese.

But of course being ever practical - instead of being "inner cusco" dwellers with all the other discerning travellers Eduardo and I have taken ourselves off to live with a local family in the burbs, where our lovely glamorous hostess Linda has been stuffing us silly with local cuisine, (that means heavy on the carbs and the salt and lots of it) and we've been treated to the wonder of an electric shower which delivers a mild electric shock every morning when I use it. We have also been studying spanish again for the week and I think I have finally learned how to speak in the past tense (funnily enough, it's kind of necessary when you have a conversation with someone) and in keeping with my current clean living, early to bed, non drinking lifestyle (thanks beaver fever) I have been volunteering at a little after school place for poor kids who live in Cuzco.

So it's been a hectic week, school was fun the kids were ever more fun - if a bit naughty. Ed taught them to juggle and I got to play more games of checkers than I ever wished.

Next stop of the Kate and Ed Sth America show is the sacred valley - and then to Machu Picchu.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Peruvian Mystery no: 5

Australian 80's shlock rock lives on. Not a day goes by in this fine country when I don't get to hear Men at Work's "Land Downunder" and Dragon's "Rain" at least once. Be it in the streets, blaring out of cars, in shops, cafes, bars....the Aussie 80's is mighty popular in Peru.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Beaver Fever

I haven't really liked to admit it to myself or online but amognst all the happy snaps and blog entries of late for most of our time in Peru I have been feeling sick as a dog, or, more accurately as I discovered yesterday...a Beaver.

After succumbing to yet another bout of vomiting, lethargy and other unspeakable problems that necessitate a lot of time in the bathroom I finally cracked and headed to the doctor. A peruvivan medical centre is an interesting place, rather complicated and involving lots of visits to different desks and windows to fill out lots of paperwork. After a few rounds of red tape I was finally assigned a doctor who looked about 18 whose name translates in English to Dr Shoe.

Dr Shoe poked and prodded and asked some questions which Ed and I answered in very rough Spanish. Ed told him I had been sick for 3 years instead of weeks and I did a lot of face pulling and pointing at my stomach. Dr Shoe nods, takes a lot of notes and then sends me to the laboratory for tests. The bossy laboratory lady produces a cup and points at the bathroom. Urine test? I ask hopefully. She shakes her head no................................oh my heart sinks. I will spare you the details but lets just say that later on trying to explain to Dr Shoe in my bad Espanol that I wasnt able to, well, produce anything was one of the less sparkling moments in my life.

Fortunately plan B was a blood test where it was ascertained that I am the lucky host of the Giardia virus, which I then discovered is also known as "Beaver Fever". For some reason having Beaver Fever sounds a hell of a lot more fun than giardia and I cheered up immediately - or maybe it is the motherload of drugs I've been put on......but what I want to know is where did I meet that mysterious Peruvian Beaver and why dont I remember it?

Friday, August 12, 2005

The cutest baby ever

This little fellow is only 21 days old and in my opinion is just as cute as a button. Although I do love llamas and alpacas I just dont think you can go past a baby donkey in terms of adorable.

Eduardo and I headed off to the Colca Canyon for a couple of days on a tour. For the train spotter types amongst you the Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world (The deepest is 1oo odd metres deeper and is up the road). A beautiful place filled with tiny villages, Vicunas (the wild relative of the Llama and Alpaca) and best of all Condors. Condors are a seriously big bird, and weighing up to 35 kilos I discovered that these massive creature do not hunt live animals but merely eat dead ones as they are part of the Vulture family. Absolutely magnificent in the air these guys spend all day flying around hoping to spot something that looks dead, they then spend about 6 hours circling it to make sure it really is dead and finally land to go gorge themselves. Bloody tough gig I say. When I mentioned this to our guide and asked what kind of things they often find dead she said "oh mostly Donkeys, they often fall down." I hope my little baby is careful in the future.

And for those not into donkeys here is a baby alpaca - so woolly , so cute.

People Nice...In the world

It seems that Peru is out to compete with Japan for the most bizarre mangled english "Spanglish" t-shirt slogans. My two current faves are a t-shirt I spotted in Huaraz proclaiming "People Nice!.....In the world" and the other spotted in the jungle by some Canadian travellers which simply stated "When its time to party I............ GO HOME!".
Couldn't put it better myself.

Angelic Arequipa

After the horrors of Nazca and the night bus we had to catch afterwards - (9 hours in a tiny cramped chair in the dark with a homicidal driver and a smelly toilet) we arrived in the beautiful city of Arequipa. With colonial buildings made out of sparkling white volcanic stone, little alleyways and a lovely square my sanity and love for Peru was restored.

There are two major highlights in this town - one is the little "ice maiden" Juanita, a young Inca girl who was sacrificed to the gods on a mountain top and survived almost intact in her icy tomb gfor 50o years until a mountain climber discovered her in the late 90's. Still wrapped in beautiful fine cloth and surrounded by little gold trinkets Juanita now lives in a little freezer / display case at a local museum.

The other highlight is the amazing Santa Catalina Monastery - over 400 years old and like a tiny city within a city. This monastery was actually built for Dominican Nuns who live in silence, solitude and can never be seen by the public, this is strange enough but the monastery was also home to a heap of very wealthy young ladies who chose to go and live there to avoid marriage or were put there by their parents at a young age to ensure that they remained guaranteed virgins until it was time to marry them off. These ladies built houses in the compound, had black slaves, entertained visitors, had parties all other kinds of very un Nun Like behaviour which was tolerated as long as they didnt leave the compound and kept giving lots of money to the Catholic Church. Today most of the place is now a museum but 21 die hard Nuns still live in one quarter of the compound, never speaking, never seeing outsiders and praying 8 hours a day. When I asked our very catholic guide who they are praying for she said "They are preying for those who have no religion, those who will go to purgatory" - guess that means me, thanks nuns!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Bad Times on the Nazca Lines

Made our way down the derserty coast for 8 hours from Lima to the unremarkable town of Nazca for just one thing - to see the Nazca lines. Those spooky lines, shapes and animals sketched into the ground that are only visible from the air - odd thing seeing that they were sketched out over 1000 years ago.

What do they mean? How did they know what they were doing? Were aliens involved? As the infamous crazy Erik Von Danniken surmised.........I dont know but all I know is that ever since I was 7 and snuck into my sisters room to read her Cleo mags and take a look at her books (Von Dannikens 70's corker Chariots of the Gods was one of em) I have dreamed of seeing the lines.

So here we are in Nazca - a nasty little town full of tourist touts. Basically they know that people just come here to fly over the lines and then get out so they like to hit us touros hard. Day One Eduardo and I thought we would draw out the anticipation of seeing the lines by seeing the nazca cemetary and mummies and basically chilling out leaving us a whole day today for the 35 minute flight to see the lines.

We were told by our lovely agent we would probably fly at 8 or 9 in the morning, so excited we are up and ready by 7am. Then we are told the weather is bad so we would try for 10 - fair enough. We are taken out to the airport. There is total chaos with loads of tourists waiting to be loaded onto tiny coffin sized planes - we wait and watch a crappy video about the lines. After 3 hours waiting and some asking around it seems like maybe our names arent even on the waiting list.....hmmmm..... Our "guide" tells us to go and get lunch. We do.

Later our guide turns up in the restaurant - so sorry she says - bit of a mix up but if you can wait til 4pm I can get you on another flight with a different company. Oh-kay. The new company has a tiny conrete building for its departure lounge and ONE plane. Lovely. So we wait for another 3 hours with the only entertainment being yet another crappy video on the lines and the point when I acidentally lock myself in the toilet which doesnt flush and stinks and I cant get out. 4pm comes around and things are looking good, the group before us hop out of the plane including one girl who promptly rushes to the toilets to be sick. So then we wait, and wait, the plane goes nowhere so we wait a bit longer - then the sun starts to set. Our "guide" starts looking shifty, and finally when Ed asks them whats going on it appears we wont be going anywhere due to "problemas". Our money is returned and after a facsinating day of sitting in a hot boring shed it appears we made the trip for absolutely nothing. I then bitterly and tearfully climb into a taxi who takes us to the "Mirador" which is a rickety tower where you can kind of see the lines. We make the journey racing the setting sun, I climb the tower and and can just make out the sketchy shape of some hands. All this for two days travel - But hey, at least we got to see the video (twice).

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Well I have to admit I wasnt looking forward to a visit to Lima. Afterall Quito hadnt really done much in terms of impressing me on behalf of Sth American capital cities - unless of course you dig on dirty, polluted and dangerous and plenty of people I have met told me Lima was pretty much the same.

So we roll into Lima, first impression is that it's bloody massive and covered for 8 months of the year by the mysterious garua - not quite fog, not quite mist. Seeing that Lima is on the coast and is really part of the desert to have this strange slightly damp weird foggy, cloudy thing over your head all the time rather strange. Apparently when the Spanish arrived and settled they did so in summer when it was glorious blue skied and sunny and then a few months later in rolled the garua which then stayed put.

But apart from that I really like the place, its smack bang on the coast and the ritzier suburbs like Miraflores sit on massive cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In fact Miraflores is quite the decadent place, when Ed and I arrived we headed down there for lunch. Lima is famed for it's food and after 4 months of rice, beans, salad and more potatoes than you can poke a stick at I went wild. Menus bursting with Italian, Thai, Chinese, modern Peruvian, middle eastern, French and much more.....I thought my mouth was going to explode from all the flavours I had been missing for so long. Naturally we had to top it off with a big bottle of Argentian red and some chocolate cake....and while we were pigging we were entertained by the spectacular views of the ocean and the crazed paragliders who sail off the cliffs and right over our heads while we were eating.

Following the pig session we went to the cinema, went disco bowling and book shopping - after 4 months in wilderness capitalism has never tasted so good.

However now I am sated there are plenty of other things to see in this vibrant and interesting city, great mud pyramids, catacombs and more museums than you can poke a stick at and apparently more cute n cuddly Peruvian dogs (thanks for the hot tips Grunter!)

All by myself

self portrait of a trekking "widow" by lake......

Yes in the best interests of both of us, Eduardo and I decided to go our seperate ways....for all of four days. Eduardo chose to walk in the cold mountains, sleep in a chilly tent with only a pair of Belgian chess players for company while I revelled in sleep ins, decent food and coffee and quite a solid chunk of work which I had procured from a Melbourne newspaper.

But all work and no play makes Kate a dull girl so I thought I'd bust out and take myself on a tour where I would see wonderous things and perhaps meet other travellers. The wonderous things turned up but I realised I was in for a challenging day when the rest of my tour group consisted of middle aged Peruvian men on some kind of business trip and a handful of Peruvian families.... yep looks like its another day on my own.

But we did vist the stunning Llangunco Lake which was just about made up for it all......