Thursday, July 29, 2004

Alright, you all must be over this by now, so this is the last of the what I did on my holiday posts.  This has been kind of like show and tell, except I am too spaz to actually show you any photos so you just have to put up with the tell.

So I left you as we flew into the jungle...

Puerto Maldonado
We arrived to instant humidity and 30 degree weather, very big change from Cusco. (Note, I think I have previously spelt that as Cuzco, I don't know what is right.  It might be like Venice and Venezia, or else I might have made up the Cuzco spelling.  But then these entries have completely ignored all other grammatical rules, madly switching tenses and using incomplete sentences so inventing name spellings fits right in.  I apologise for all that and my next entry - not this one - will be grammatically correct.  Possibly.)
We took a brief bus ride around the town, viewing their two main attractions, the joining of two rivers, and the local market.  Rivers were big, market more interesting as it seemed to be the only place in town to buy anything so it sold everything from furniture to oranges.  Great local experience.  Also saw a demonstration by the local school kids outside the police station, turns out they were protesting that the police look harder for a missing school mate that had recently disappeared.    A bit sad really.
Oooh, finally, this is where the tarantulas fit in.  We left some luggage and things at the local office of the lodge where we were staying in the jungle.  The office was a open plan, mostly open walled design, with a soaring thatched roof.  Mr R glanced up at the roof and then took great delight in pointing out not one but two giant tarantulas sitting on the roof above our heads.  I freaked out and he laughed.  Then one jumped off the roof landing on his head.  Ok, well maybe that last thing didn't happen but I wish it had because he deserved it, and it makes for a better story.  In actual fact they just sat there but I kept an eye on them because you can't trust large spiders in the jungle.  Or anywhere else for that matter.

So it was with great trepidation that I got onto the boat that would take us up river for about 1.5hrs to the jungle lodge.  I mean if there were two tarantulas on the roof at the office - imagine what the lodge was going to be like.  On the boat trip up we spotted some red howler monkeys, first time I have ever seen a monkey in the wild.  Also saw a capybara grazing on some grass on the river bank.  I have loved capybaras since I read Cappybary by Bill Peet as a kid.  So excited I nearly tipped the boat.   Then on walk from boat to lodge we spotted some more monkeys.  Lodge was great but overrun with French Canadians in a large group for a wedding the next night.  That meant they were not all there for the wildlife, so were rather noisy, not great for animal spotting.  A question here, is it common for French Canadians to not speak English?  I always thought they were bilingual and could use both languages equally well, but I wonder now if I have no idea about this.  If anyone does know, leave a comment!

Rooms thankfully had mosquito nets, to keep out tarantulas and other crawling things.  There was one wall completely open to the jungle, so anyone could have come to visit, but thankfully all animals stayed away.  Careful roof inspection showed no spiders, so I was able to sleep.
Lodge has a 35m tower that you can climb to see above the canopy.  Pretty scary to be up that high with the tower swaying.  Other animals spotted over next two days include many birds, including hundreds of parrots at the clay-lick, more monkeys, butterflies and frogs.  I opted out of the nightwalk that spotted tarantulas - I really didn't want to know that they were out there!
The last night we had the most amazing torrential rainstorm, with thunder and lightning.  Next day we needed the gumboots supplied to wade our way back to the boat, but it was fun to splash through the puddles.  I cant imagine how they keep the place so nice with the environment they live in.

And then we flew back to Lima for our last night with people from the tour.  Lima grew on me a little that night, but still scares the crap out of me, wont be going back there in a hurry.

Then flew on to Argentina.  Buenos Aries is often called the Paris of the south, and in comparison to the other place we had been, was very european and much more civilised.  Not that the traffic was civilised, those people are crazy, apparently 400 pedestrians die in BA every year, so we did our best to avoid joining that stat.  Stayed in hostel again in private room - had obviously forgotten about Santiago.  Was actually pretty good, so no complaints.  Did usual tourist stuff, La Boca neighbourhood and tour of Boca juniors football club at insistence of Mr R.  I could't understand why we would want to tour a junior football club but was huffily told that it just a name - they were the Collingwood of BA.  So yeah, Maradonna and Pele both played there, stadium was nearly falling down, and thank your lucky stars for the quality of stadiums in Melbourne.  This one was like the old olympic stand at the 'G, except after demolition.
Tango dancers were busking in the streets, and I succumbed to the great leathergoods on offer and got a new handbag.  We also took in a Tango show (Senor Tango!), corny, but great dancing.  Saw the only English movie playing, Farenheit 9/11, which was hard to hear - I guess they are all reading subtitles and not listening!  Seemed a little imbalanced, MM left out some key players in Iraq, but thought provoking.  And I don't think you have to do much to make Bush look like an idiot.  Ate mountains (and that is literal) of steak, very good and not much else to choose.  Drank too much good Argentine wine, which is dirt cheap, including a grape called Syrah, for obvious reasons,  that I have never tried here but I think is like Shiraz.  Or maybe it is Spanish for Shiraz and we have no idea - looks like we have no idea, now I research and see that it is the same grape. Anyhoo, loved BA, and then before we knew it, it was time to come home.  30 hours later we collapsed back on our own bed, and well, it's nice to be back.

Hope to get an online photo album set up soon, so will post a link.  Does anyone recommend any good ones? 

Now back to our regular programming....


Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Phew.  Writing about this holiday is taking almost as long as the holiday itself.

So..back to the Inca trail
Day two,  our guides assured us was flat and easy.  To make up for yesterday's slack effort, we were to walk about 16kms.  The guides' definition of what is flat differs somewhat to mine, the path was what I would call undulating, often with steep climbs up and then steep climbs down.  The landscape is spectacular and it's hard to imagine a group of people negotiating the almost sheer sides of some mountains, many covered in snow,  in the days before shoes and gortex.  Yet again the porters run pass us on the trail, carrying huge loads and with calves of elite athletes.  I think Peru should enter these guys in the olympics.  We finally make it to camp and are treated like royalty.  Come to the conclusion that I am never hiking again without a porter.

Day 3 starts with a duffle bag full of ants being introduced into our tent by an unsuspecting Mr R.  I dive out of tent and hurt my toe.  Luckily ants turn out not to Sth American fire biting ants or I may not have been here to tell the tale.   I wake up whole camp with my shrieks.  Day 3 we do what is commonly known as the 2 day inca trail, all in one day (about 12kms).  Climb steadily for a few hours as views get more and more spectacular.  Just before lunch we get to Inca ruins of Winay Winya (the spelling is wrong but I can't be bothered looking it up) which consist of an amazing set of terraces set into a very steep mountain side.  Very spectacular and we have them to ourselves.  After lunch we join up to the high trail and continue to the sun gate, a walk done on traditional four day walk in the dark so you reach the sun gate by dawn.  Would be tough going in the dark, especially the near vertical set of stairs.  From sun gate we get our first splendid view of Machu Picchu (jeez, that could be spelt wrong too, and here I am normally a stickler for spelling!), in a word breathtaking.  Could be the climb perhaps.  Take too many photos and then continue down trail for another 40 mins or so to reach the ruins.  Take more photos and admire the view.  Take easy way out and get bus down to Agua Calientes for night's camping.  Day four we are up very early to be first at ruins for tour.  MP covered in mist, so thankful we were not at sun gate with nothing to see.  Tour the site, very pleasant until about 10am when the trains from Cusco arrive and the place is over-run with people that havent walked for three days to get there and therefore all look and smell much better than I.  Best moment is when obnoxious American child asks me if he can pet a Llama (I must look like a llama keeper).  I tell him I have no idea.  He gives it a try and llama spits on him.  My thoughts exactly.

Return to Cuzco that night via train and bus.  Have the best shower I have ever had.  Sleep in real bed.  Watch CNN to make sure world hasn't blown up whilst in wilderness.  Only Australian news we get is that Canberra residents have been warned to watch out for agressive kangaroos in search of water, raiding their homes.  No wonder everyone you meet when they find out you are from Australia says "Kangaroo?" and then laughs uproariously.  Kangaroos have a bad worldwide reputation.

Next day we do a tour of Cuzco, more Inca stonework is admired and photographed. Then some local market shopping in the afternoon.  Get nice silver necklace and lots of alpaca socks. 

That night we pack for the jungle in preparation for early morning departure....

So, I'll leave that there, still without having got to the tarantulas.  I am thinking that I am building the tarantula story up to be rather big, so I must invent good story overnight!



Monday, July 26, 2004

Alrighty then, where was I?
Ah yes..

Quito to Lima (Peru)
Brief return to Quito for a night before flying to Lima.  Started feeling ill around lunch time.  By 7pm I was asleep on the floor of Quito's international airport waiting for flight to Lima.   Arrive Lima 12.30am, expecting deserted airport at that time of night.  Instead encounter the busiest and ugliest airport I have ever seen (in middle of renovations).  Have trouble getting peruvian money (ATM dispenses USD, probably because we pressed the wrong button, but possibly becuase it hates me) and have trouble finding bags.  1.5hrs after arriving we finally squish four people into very small taxi , after beating off other taxi drivers with a stick - well nearly.  Still feeling very ill.  Drive through horrible suburbs to hotel - past young children begging at 2am - to find that it actually wasn't our hotel anymore.  Finally get to right hotel.  Throw up. Sleep.

Lima to Puno
Peru tour starts next morning with another flight, this time to Juliaca and then bus to Puno on shores of Lake Titicaca.  Small tour group of 12 people from all over world.   All good except back at altitude, something like 3,800m.  Makes us all feel a bit woozy.  Think I feel well enough to eat lunch, and throw up again.  Woo hoo.
Next day is boat ride to islands of lake for indian homestay.  Rugged.  Very basic lifestyle.  Have trouble walking up hill to house of homestay, poor little indian gal "Celia" has to keep waiting for us to gasp our way up the hill.  Altitude sucks.  I blame my weakness on not having eaten for two days, and secretly start panicking about Inca trail.  Stay in room with dirt floor.  That night they dress us up for dancing.  As I am 5foot 11, and they are all about 4foot 2, I feel like giant in land of very short people.  But they are happy short people.
Return to Puno the next day via floating reed islands of Uros.  These people live on beds of reeds that float.  Not sure how they stop the islands from floating away, or how they go to the toilet.  But again, they seem to be happy floating island short people.
Puno is typically Peruvian in that all buildings are unfinished, something to do with tax breaks.  This means city resembles one large building site.

Puno to Cuzco
Next day have bus ride from Puno to Cuzco - 7hours.  Bus shows two movies on the way, "The Sixth Sense" (good, even on second viewing) and "Daredevil" (terrible, even with Jennifer Garner in tight pants.  Very close to the worst movie I have ever sat through, and if I had have had a choice I wouldn't have sat through it.  Briefly considered throwing myself from bus to escape). 
Arrive in Cuzco, slowly getting used to altitude as manage to walk around city without dying.  Perhaps there is hope for Inca trail.  Cuzco is freezing (as was Puno), two days before we arrived they had snow for the first time in 20 years, and even during the dry season.  How lucky are we.
Cuzco is gorgeous colonial town, many existing buildings built on original Inca foundations that have proved to be earthquake proof.  Those Incas sure know how to carve rock.  Go out for dinner and celebrate that I can now eat almost normally again.  Mr R tries the local speciality and tucks into Guinea Pig.  It's all I can do to stop from throwing up again, stomach still a little queasy and the view of those little paws and eyes and ears didn't help.
2am that night I think Mr R is regretting the guinea pig as he expels matter from every orrifice.  I too am unwell again.  Thus begins the unhealthy obsession of each member of our group with one another's bowel movements, as he is not only member of tour to fall ill overnight.  There are some things you just shouldn't share.  Next morning he manages to drag himself aboard bus for tour of secret valley, cause if he doesn't prove he is ok the guide won't let him do Inca trail next day.  That and he wont be able to find the secret valley on his own. Ha.

Stay night in Ollaytantambo after visiting Inca sites there and in Pisac.  Wow.  Wake up very early for bus transfer to Km82, start of Inca trail.  Get about 10 minutes down the road before stopped by landslide over road and train line.  Maybe nobody will ever get to Machu Picchu.  Many Indian Porters and tour boys get out of bus thinking they can move 10 tonne boulders.  Girls are smart and stay inside bus where they can't be crushed by falling rocks.  Eventually bulldozer comes to clear the way, and we drive through farmer's back paddocks (I kid you not) to km82 point to start trail.  It's raining - some dry season.  We buy wooden walking pole in hope it is going to get me over 4,200m dead woman's pass, and to stop the many locals from waving wooden poles at me.  Those things are dangerous.  I'm sure I'm not the first to think I am going to be the dead woman.

Start of Inca Trail.
We check in for trail and get our passports stamped and take a photo of bright happy faces.  Our local guide talks to check in office, and then declares that the trail is closed because of the aformentioned snow, dead woman's pass is closed with 80cm of snow.  Oh no.  He offers alternative route that apparently follows the river.  We have no choice.  Our tour guide tries to convice us that it is for the best, but we are all dissapointed.  Day one we walk on the regular trail for about 4kms, including a pretty steep hill which our tour guide tries to convince us is just like dead woman's pass except that you have to walk up that for 3 hours not 10 minutes.  That made me feel better.  The upper trail branches off and we take the path of safety.  We do spot a condor that day, which is very rare, but it is a long way away so it is hard to appreciate it's size.  Lunch is our first clue of what an amazing job the porters do on this trip.  There is a dining tent with tables and chairs and then a three course lunch.  Delicious.  There are little short guys carrying full size gas bottles on their backs, that run past you on the track.  And that afternoon when we wander into camp (very easy day of only about 6kms) our tents are all set up and we have a three course dinner.  I decide I can handle hiking like this!

To be continued.. when I have some more time..I still havent got up to the tarantulas!!



Friday, July 23, 2004

A dot point summary of where we went and what we did and what we saw on our South American holiday - just so I remember on twenty years.

1.  Santiago.  Capital of Chile.
First impression was that of extreme smog, then got a glimpse of the snow capped mountains surrounding the city - wow.  Friendly hostel.  Noisy fellow hostel guests.  Raging hostel party on outdoor terrace outside our room until 4am.  Very dirty bathroom.  Lesson learnt - you are too old to stay in hostels.
Ate bad hot dog for lunch one day, white goo was some sort of cheese mayonnaise type thing.  Ate very good seafood at nice restaurant (ceviche - raw fish marinated in lemon juice, herbs and chilli - yum).  Lesson learnt - only eat in nice restaurants.
Saw Santiago, nice city, didn't get mugged, avoided park at night as advised by hostel owner.

2. Quito, Ecuador.  Over 2,800m in elevation, was a little breathless.  Stayed in new part of city - nice hotel after lesson learnt in Santiago.  Old town had much more charm, although guide book says to avoid at night.  I wonder how much of that stuff is true sometimes.  Day trip to Cotapaxi volcano, drove to 4,500m, now very breathless.  Look at short walk to refuge hut at 4,800m and decide it wont take long.  Over and hour later realise we had no idea and collapse in hut, thankful we were not blown off the mountain or lost in the whiteout as there were blizzard like conditions on the way up.  Now have bad headache and feeling rather ill.  Lesson learnt - don't underestimate altitude.

3.  Galapagos Islands.  Fly dodgy "Tame" airlines - pronounced "Tah-may".  Glad to arrive in one piece, worst landing ever.  First impression of Baltra island, barren and ugly.  Sky is cloudy, water is grey.  Sun comes out and it all looks a bit better.  Transfer to boat and am very excited to see sealion sunning itself on back deck of boat next door.  Five days later, sealions are so commonplace nobody bothers to point them out.  Visit Charles Darwin centre and see hundreds of baby giant land tortises.  They have a couple of hundred years to grow.  Take too many photos of tortises and land iguanas.  Be thankful for digital photography so we can delete later.
Very cool boat - 16 passengers, very good food.  Overnight sail very rocky, Mr R nearly falls off top bunk.  I am nice and snug on bottom bunk - shows who has the brains of the relationship.  Wake up to dolphins swimming around boat, wow.  Over next three days see amazing wildlife.  Frigates, blue footed boobies, albatross, pelicans, penguins, marine iguanas, land iguanas, crabs, fish, sharks, stingrays, sea tortises, and the best is to snorkel with sealions.  Get so close to wildlife you have to step over it.  Mr R has run in with baby sealion that chases him down the beach.   I fail my first "wet landing" where you have to jump from dingy into water and wade to shore, and manage to somehow land face first.  This makes me laughing stock of whole boat.  Food is good but sometimes unusual, eg the potato and pineapple salad with thousand island dressing.  Lesson learnt - four nights in Galapagos is not enough.

Ok - this is taking much longer than originally anticipated, given that I am a week into the trip!  To be continued - stay tuned for exciting tales of homestays in indian villages and run ins with tarantulas.


Thursday, July 22, 2004

One great thing about travelling is those small observations you make about the crazy way that the locals do things, in contrast to how they are done at home.  I sometimes wonder what it is that we do in Australia that a traveller would notice enough to comment on.  

I imagine them going home and having conversations like:
"Well you wouldnt believe what they do in Melbourne.  They have this bizarre turning system where they turn right from the left hand side of the road in the city.  I think it has something to do with trams, but man, it's so confusing!  You never know if you have to turn right from the right lane or the left until you get to the intersection!  It's amazing there aren't thousands of accidents cause of that weirdo rule."

South America had it's fair share of unique and often crazy local things, too many really to recount.  But for now I will tell of one particular Argentinian practice that left us somewhat bewildered. 

We had been in Buenos Aries for about a day, and had boarded a local bus to La Boca neighbourhood.  After one or two stops, a man gets on the bus and hands everyone on the bus two foil packages.  All the passengers take the foil packages and hold them, most still looking blankly out the window.  The man then does a little speech, I guess about the contents of the foil packages becuase my Spanish is a bit rusty.  I managed to get "triple" and "chocolate" out of his speech.  As he is talking, we are looking at each other with puzzled looks, and one of my friends almost opens one of the packages to see what is inside.  The man then finishes his speech with the only other words I understood, "dos pesos".  Ok, so he wanted us to buy the things for two pesos (they were some sort of triple layer chocolate biscuit as I discovered later when I saw a billboard advertisment with the same packaging).  He then proceeds to go back around the bus collecting the packages and putting them back in his box.  Nobody bought anything, nobody refused to hold the packages, nobody really even acknowledged the man.  He just gave out his goods and then collected them again. 

This made me wonder why you would actually buy these biscuits, when they had no doubt been handed to five hundred other people before you.  It's not like it is difficult to find snack foods given that every corner has a street stall selling food of some kind.  I wondered what the strike rate for this guy would be - how many people actually bought this stuff? 

As we travelled around the city over the next few days this type of strange "hand out the goods" selling technique was comonly practiced.  Eating dinner in a restaurant would usually mean a visit or two from someone selling magazines or pens or tissues, and they would wander through the restaurant handing out goods and then wander back collecting them.  I never saw anyone make a sale, but I also never saw anyone refuse to accept the goods.  The locals would just kind of ignore the person selling, but still let them give them the goods that they were trying to sell, and then just give them back again.

I wondered if it was considered rude to refuse to accept the goods (although we started to do this - there are only so many times someone can give you a pen to hold without being tempted to stab them with it!)  Maybe this is something that the better off Argentinians tolerate in the face of the country's economic problems.  Or maybe this is just something they have always done, so do it without thinking.  Maybe this is the way that everyone buys their pens and magazines and chewing gum and triple layer biscuits.  Maybe we do it wrong in Australia. 


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Home again, home again jiggity jig.
I think that the poem about the little piggys that went to market ends with 'jiggity jig', cause thats what you feel like doing after 30 hours in transit.
And whilst I am happy enough to be home that I am doing a jig, I am also a bit sad that the holiday is over. 
We had an absolute ball, and whilst I cant tell tales of poison dart wielding pygmies, there is plenty to tell.  Once I have slept some.  And got my body clock back in order.  And read through the 500 or so emails in my inbox.
For now, here is a quick list (you know I like lists) for posterity of the 10 things I missed the most on my South American holiday in no particular order ( and assuming future generations have any interest that is)
1. Milk
2. Vegemite
3. Water that you can drink from the tap
4. Cereal
5. A toilet that you can deposit paper into
6. My bed
7. A place where motorists obey traffic signals
8. Lettuce
9. Cheese
10. Aeroplane companies that have planes made after 1970


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