Archive for the 'peru' Category

fringe benefit

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

one of the unanticipated bonuses of this trip has been becoming more comfortable with my looks. or, more accurately, becoming more comfortable with caring less about them.

at home, i’m a makeup-every-day kind of girl. not a lot, mind you, just enough to touch things up a bit and look slightly more pulled together than my usual rumpled self.

and (i am loathe to admit) i did actually bring along a tiny bit of makeup with me. i don’t know why – i guess i had some vague notion about wanting to “look nice” when we went out.

so i was surprised to find that i never even touched it (or missed it) after the first week of our trip. my fringe/bangs have been, by necessity, a d.i.y. job along the way. they grow at an alarming rate, and require trimming at least every two weeks. at first, i was understandibly trepidatious about taking the scissors to my hair, but i can tell you now: there’s a certain freedom in realising that they simply cannot get any more f-ed up than they already are, so now i snip away with abandon. mirrors along this trip are often tiny or non-existent; i can’t even remember the last time i saw myself full-length. and slowly but surely, the need to check them has gradually tapered away. in fact, on the inca trail recently, i went four full days without any type of mirror whatsoever (which, given the level of cleanliness after 4 days trekking, was probably a blessing in disguise) because i just plumb forgot to pack one. and you know, i didn’t even miss it.

now lest you begin to think i’ve let myself go to pot, rest assured: i still shave and pluck. i’ve dyed the roots more than once in a hostel bathroom. i’m still a devotee of deodorant and clean underwear.

but it’s been tremendously freeing to not have to think so much about how i look. it’s been nice to break my slavery to the reflected image. to be able to focus more on *doing* and less what i look like doing it. to channel more energy into feeling good rather than looking good.

i know this won’t last forever. once i’m back in a city full of polished people, the pressure to look “nice”, the need to appear “professional” at work, will ultimately require a little more effort than just toothpaste-fresh breath and a strategically worn bandanna. i know this.

but until then, i’ll just enjoy it while i can. chalk it up as a fringe benefit.

love, south american style

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

we’re here in arequipa after the longest day ever. we got up at 3:30 am on the morning of the 20th to got see the sunrise over machu picchu. we got back to cusco that evening at 9:00pm, hopped on a bus to puno at 10pm, in puno caught a connecting bus to arequipa at 5:00 am, and would have arrived at arequipa around 10:30 am except that we were witness to yet another bus accident on the carretera, if you can believe it. two buses collided, one nearly went over the edge of a cliff, and the other was a bus from the same company we were currently riding in. none of this is helping my nerves any.

anyway, we arrived at 2:oopm, then settled in to our hostel, had dinner and met up with emma and dave (who we first met on the uyuni trip and have been travelling in parallel with for the past 3 weeks) for goodbye drinks. they’re continuing on through peru, while we leave for costa rica tomorrow. and so, until we meet again somewhere, sometime… hasta la vista. we’ve promised to catch up for drinks back in jolly ol’ england if we’re ever in the same neighbourhood.

we’d originally hoped to be able to squeeze in a one day tour of the colca canyon (the deepest canyon in the world), but as it left at 1:00 am, there was just no way that was going to happen. so instead we’re relaxing today – and after the exertion of the inca trail and the non-stop travel, we definitely needed it. i’m also taking the time to reflect on our south american experience – there is so much i will miss here. here’s the top ten things i love about chile/bolivia/peru.

1. eating, like, 18 times a day. breakfast is just a roll and coffee, then elevenses is empanadas or saltenas or a similar snack. then there’s a big lunch, followed by a couple hours siesta (in some countries). thene another snack around 5 or 6pm. then a big dinner at 9pm. how they all keep from getting fat, i don’t know. personally i am in need of a diet right about now…

2. inca kola, “el sabor de perú“. it tastes like liquid bubblegum.

3. innovation and opportunism. at the scene of the bus crash yesterday, a resourceful guy started selling ice creams. or, just take a look at the gas tank on this bike. yes, it’s an empty cola bottle. people never say they can’t do something. they just find a way to get it done.

4. empanadas, salteñas, and all manner of pastry goodness. it’s a little meal in a pocket and it’s delicious!

5. people’s willingness to help. everyone was just so kind, even when we were being completely unintelligible.

6. the traditions which still continue, even in this day and age. traditional dress, traditional language, traditional ways. none of it is put on for the benefit of tourists… it’s the way they really live.

7. music. it’s *everywhere*. it’s the undercurrent of daily life.

8. español.

9. the chaos and improvisation that makes even small things an interesting adventure.

10. alfajores – little caramel filled, powdered sugared, stacked cookie sandwiches. actually, anything with the lovely dulce de leche…. yum.

trial…er, i mean trail photos

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

the weather wasn’t great for photos, but you can see more of them here. (yes, that is an actual real live tarantula…)

file under: bizarre

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

i know i mentioned before how the streetsweepers in kunming, china play “happy birthday”.

here in arequipa, peru they play salsa. a little more thematic, but still strange nonetheless.

why do they have to play *anything*?! isn’t it enough to provide clean gutters and sparkling pavement? they have to be entertaining as well?

walk like an inca

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

And then up the ladder of the earth I climbed
through the horrible thicket of the lost jungles
to you, Machu Picchu.

Tall city of stones stacked up in steps,
at last a dwelling where what is earthly
was not hidden under slumbering clothes.
In you, like two parallel lines,
the cradle of lightning and humanity
rocking together in a thorny wind.

Mother of stone, spume of the condors.

Highest reef of the human dawn.

Shovel buried in the first sand.

This is the spot, the place where they lived:
here the fat kernels of corn were carried up
and fell again to earth like red hail.

Here the gold wool came off the vicuña
to dress the loves, the burial mounds, the mothers,
the king, the prayers, the warriors.

Here men’s feet took their rest at night
next to the feet of eagles, in the lofty lairs
of the meat-eaters, and at dawn
they trod with thunderous steps over the rarefied fog,
and touched the ground and the rocks
until they knew them in the dark or in death.

I look at their clothes and their hands,
the traces of water in the echoing hollows,
the wall worn smooth by the touch of a face
that looked with my eyes a the earthly lamps,
that oiled with my hands the vanished
timbers: because everything –the clothes, the hides, the vessels,
the words, the wine, the bread was
gone, fallen into the earth.

And the air came in with orange-blossom fingers
over all the sleepers:
a thousand years of air, months, weeks of air,
of blue wind and iron mountains,
as if soft hurricanes of running feet
were polishing the solitary enclosure of the stone.


Arise to birth with me, my brother.
Give me your hand out of the depths
sown by your sorrows.
You will not return from these stone fastnesses.
You will not emerge from subterranean time.
Your rasping voice will not come back,
nor your pierced eyes rise from their sockets.

Look at me from the depths of the earth,
tiller of fields, weaver, reticent shepherd,
groom of totemic guanacos,
mason high on your treacherous scaffolding,
iceman of Andean tears,
jeweler with crushed fingers,
farmer anxious among his seedlings,
potter wasted among his clays–
bring to the cup of this new life
your ancient buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow;
say to me: here I was scourged
because a gem was dull or because the earth
failed to give up in time its tithe of corn or stone.
Point out to me the rock on which you stumbled,
the wood they used to crucify your body.
Strike the old flints
to kindle ancient lamps, light up the whips
glued to your wounds throughout the centuries
and light the axes gleaming with your blood.

I come to speak for your dead mouths.

Throughout the earth
let dead lips congregate,
out of the depths spin this long night to me
as if I rode at anchor here with you.

And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.

Give me the struggle, the iron, the volcanoes.

Let bodies cling like magnets to my body.

Come quickly to my veins and to my mouth.

Speak through my speech, and through my blood.

“las alturas de macchu picchu”, by Pablo Neruda

we made it, in the end. and it was the journey that mattered.

jonno and i completed the exhillarating and gruelling four day inca trail. our guide kept inadvertently referring to it as the “inca trial”… which was often an apt malapropism. yet i wouldn’t have traded any of it. because without it, machu picchu would have been missing its mystery.

the trail is about building. it’s about testing and discovering. it is challenge interspersed with small miracles. it is said the incas used to take 2 weeks to travel from cusco to machu picchu – they knew there is merit in overcoming obstacles. there is wonder to be found at the top of a mountain you didn’t think you could climb. there is awe in coming around a corner into a clearing of majestic peaks as far as the eye can see. there is the heartening of hummingbirds that flit about like magic when you are gasping for air. there is the dew of the cloud forest that refreshes when you’re drenched in sweat. there is encouragement in looking back upon how far and high you have come. there is relief in reaching the end of an endless downhill. there is the music of the birds you can only hear at 4200 meters of solitude. there is the inner reflection that comes with long stretches of endurance. and the inca trail is all these things: wonder, awe, heart, refreshment, encouragment, relief, music, solitude, reflection, endurance.

and on the last day, upon arising long before dawn, setting out on trembling tired legs, surmounting the last uphill and finally, momentously arriving at the sun gate to take in that world famous view… upon seeing the mountains, the valleys, and the lost inca city of poetry bathed in mists and light… you realise that it is the mystery and magic you wanted all along. and it is the inca trail which gives machu picchu its magic.

and it *IS* magic.

t minus 12 hours and counting…

Saturday, September 16th, 2006

… until we leave for the inca trail. and i’m still puking my guts up. so much for my “stomach of steel”.

things fall apart

Friday, September 15th, 2006

we’re currently in cusco peru at the moment. peru and bolivia have really been wonderful to experience (although bolivia got short shrift because we couldn’t make it to copacabana with the blockade). we arrived here yesterday after an agonisingly long bus ride from puno on the shores of lake titicaca. i would just like to add to my previous observations on bus travel all over the world that an interesting phenomenon always seems to occur. the foreigners all buy their tickets in advance, select their preferred seats, and settle in with enough drink/snakcs/entertainment for the duration. inevitably, ten minutes after leaving the station, the assigned seating and prix fixe system breaks down into chaos, as locals hop on/hop off, sit in the aisles, drag on 8 metric tonnes worth of luggage, and the “direct non-stop” route has more detours than you can shake a stick at. how i am still surprised by this every time, i have no idea. but it irks me to no end.

other things which seem to be crumbling…

my poor ipod seems terminally ill ever since i foolishly tried to turn it on in sub-zero temperatures on the uyuni trip. bah humbug. makes a long bus journey even longer. surprisingly there aren’t any apple repair shops in peru.

the day after tomorrow, we embark upon the inca trail and i was ill last night for the first time in this entire trip. like blowing chunks, ill. considering that we’re still at altitide and i felt particularly weak today, this is not a good thing. more bah, more humbug.

also, my usb card reader seems to be broken. no idea how. which is a pain in the tuckus, because now i have to waste my camera batteries to upload my photos every time. blech.

my packing system seems to be breaking down… what with picking up odds and ends and just generally not caring anymore if things are neat. which is just laziness on my part, but makes for crazy mornings when i can’t find what i want/need and then accuse j of hiding them. not the best start to the day.

still – we soldier on. tomorrow i will feel better. the day after that will be amazing. so really, it’s not so bad. i’d be a miserable old bitch to complain really, so i’ll end here.

snapshot from a bus window

Thursday, September 14th, 2006

we sit on the bus in juliaca, waiting to leace for cusco.

dirty stray dogs fight raucously in the dusty streets. carts selling homemade soups out of 5 gallon plastic drums, fresh blender juices and ceviche do a brisk business as the early afternoon patrons pull up a stool, eat, and head off to the market. the soup is ladled into ceramic bowls which are then rinsed and dried; the fruit smoothies are poured into plastic bags and tied around a straw for portable drinking. vendors board the bus hawking every conceivable notion – cups of gelatine, blankets, notebooks, fruit, socks, crackers and drinks. the dust rises and falls and rises. empty brightly coloured pedicabs roll up and down, plying passengers in a lonely way. a vegetable cart with a loudspeaker ambles through, shouting his tomatoes. insistent music sounds a refrain from the tent selling mixed tapes. women with their giant bundles make their way slowly home under the weight, and bicycles and minicabs wend their way lazily around. the sun is dry and strong and hat brims are pulled forward. the ice cream man arrives with a tinkle. exhaust clouds and dissipates. old men on a nearby bench carry out animated conversation in their faded and tattered clothes. a woman carried a basket of fresh tamales, the aroma wafting up. two young girls hop on the bus nd begin unwrapping their cloth bundle on a ledge in front of our seats, take out a roasted lamb carcass and a machete, and begin hacking off juicy greasy pieces to wrap in brown paper and hand to the eager customers. the dust continues to rise and fall. the vendors move under shade.

finally, the bus coughs to life, and in a plume of smoke and rattle, we’re gone…

in praise of pachamama

Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

pachamama is the quechua nme for “mother earth”. it’s a concept you hear a lot about in these parts. there are tributes and offerings in many forms. mother earth commands the utmost respect around here. and much of that is because so many of these people owe their entire existence to her benevolence. showing pachamama thanks is not something that’s taken lightly.

we just visited some of the island communities of lake titicaca – communities which have been around since pre-inca times. and they, more so than most, rely on the generosity of the earth for their most basic needs. for example the uros people live on floating islands within the lake – islands made entirely from reeds. they live on reeds, build shelter with reeds, cook with reeds, and eat reeds. they’ve lived like this for ages, and their environment is one of continual renewal. the people of amantani island practice agriculture in much the same way they have for hundreds of years. they eat what they farm, which generally means potatoes and grains for breakfast, lunch and dinner. what they don’t eat, they trade (for fresh produce or fish) and what they support (sheep) is used for clothing.

these people *make* things. they grow and harvest, they build and maintain, they weave and wear, they cultivate and care. they have an intimate experience of where their meals come from, and they never take from granted that they will continue to be able to provide. and so they thank pachamama often, from the heart. they honour and revere her in ways big and small.

in our everyday “modern” lives, almost everything we consume is bought, with little to no concept of origen. we buy houses, we buy bread, we buy soup. we don’t think very much about where it came from or how it got here. we’re so intent on the easiest, fastest thing, we never make the connection. and we are connected. we are just as dependent on pachamama as any traditional tribe. we simply fail (or refuse) to see it. it takes too long to think about. we’re so disconnected from what sustains us that we can barely be bothered to cook most days.

spending time with the communities of the lake is a humbling experience. to eat their food and dance their dances reminds us of the tie, the connection. what we’ve lost or ignored for far too long in favour of computer games and microwaves.

pachamama provides. and it’s not so much to stop for a few minutes to give thanks.

more photos of our days and nights on the lake here

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