A Stunning View and Some Floating Islands

For the first time since arriving in Peru, we turned up at our hostel at a sociable hour. Marlon´s house, located near the centre of Puno, is a really comfortable and quietly social hostel, with only two minor niggles. The first was our room, which was on the fourth floor, and required us to traipse up what seemed like endless flights of stairs. This would not normally be a huge problem, but we were at a rather high altitude ( 3827 meters ), and every time I reached my room I felt like I was going to pass out with exhaustion. The second “niggle” has been a constant battle: freezing cold showers! Despite claiming to have lovely, hot water, I was left shivering and goose-pimpled every time I stuck my head under the godforsaken shower head.

After a nice, long sleep, we woke up bright and shiny and decided to visit the Islas Uros (Floating Islands) on Lake Titicaca. For only 20 soles (about five pounds), we floated along the calm and beautiful waters of Lake Titicaca, surrounded by colossal mountains and dramatic cloud formations, towards one of several floating Islands. The Islands, and much of their contents, including houses and boats, are made with reeds. The Islands themselves are about one and a half meters thick, and are constructed by tieing together thick blocks of mud and criss-crossing reads. Each Island is normally inhabited by two or thee families.

At the first Island we visited, Emma and I donned some brightly coloured traditional Quechua clothing, which looked rather fetching if I do say so myself. After this, we boarded one of the reed boats, which take about a month to construct, and were taken to another of the Floating Islands. The boat looked something like a banana, and silently floated towards the second Island as we basked in the blazing sunshine, feeling very serene.

At the nest Island, Emma was immediately drawn to a handbag at one of the stalls, and having purchased this we spent the next half an hour talking to the woman who ran the stall. Her name was Marisa and she was very beautiful, dressed in brightly coloured traditional clothing. She told us that bright colours signify a woman as single while darker colours show a woman is married. We talked a lot about marriage and life on the island. Interestingly, traditional values of marriage have changed somewhat due to its representation on TV. For example, women over the age of 27 were considered unmarriageable until quite recently. Now, women have much more independence and are able to travel to Puno and go to University if they do so desire. Also, in the past it was the bride´s father who decided who she would marry whereas now she can choose her partner for herself.  Once the women have found a marriage partner, they can move to his Island or he can live with her, depending on what they decide as a couple.

After some time on the Island, we bid farewell to Marisa and were taken back to Puno. We spent the afternoon wandering around the city. Honestly, I thought Puno was rather uninspiring and very dirty. There was little to do and we ended up going back to the hostel early in the afternoon. The evening was far more interesting as we went for a meal with Tia, who we had met in Arequipa, and her friend, Kiera. After a couple of Pisco sours, we got into a very heated discussion over the relationship between Britain and America (where Tia and Kiera lived). Shockingly, Kiera was under the impression that England is very fond of America and was rather taken aback when we told her this was not so. We came to the conclusion that although many British people liked American people individually, England feels that the collective American population are infuriating and deserving of their mockery. Although I try to avoid making generalisations, it is difficult not to when discussing Americans.

Later that evening it was time to pack for our final stop before our flight to Lima: the exciting and archaeologically rich city of Cusco. Here we were to stay in one of the infamous party hostels of the city, Hostel Loci. Never could we have quite prepared for what was in store for us.



One Noble Steed and a Puppy

Having arrived in Arequipa at 2:00am, we got off to a rather slow start and did not manage to leave the hostel until midday. Despite our brief stay in this particular city, it was clear that the Wild Rovers Hostel was a very friendly place, although as per usual I was forced to have a cold shower despite the promise of piping hot water.

We made our way to the main square and Emma needed to withdraw some cash. Unfortunately, after several attempts at using the ATM, Emma received a text from her bank claiming she was the victim of fraud and her card would be cancelled imminently unless she called them immediately. This was easier said than done as her mobile refused to make phone calls and the payphone was being very unhelpful. After a tense half our, Emma managed to sort out this particular dilemma and we decided we would reward ourselves with some lunch. We ended up eating at “Foray Fay”, which apparently translates into “Forty Five”, and turned out to be a rather delicious seafood restaurant.

Feeling replenished and ready to do something with my day, I decided to sign up for horse riding at our hostel, hoping it would allow me to meet some people. This turned out to be one of my favourite activities so far, not only because the scenery was phenomenally beautiful but also because I succeeded in meeting some really fun people. One of said persons was Ryan, who I discovered went to Bristol University, is still living in the city and lives just down the road from Emma. It is indeed a small world! Having spent the best part of an hour trotting along the beautiful countryside and sauntering through an idyllic stream, we bid farewell to our noble steeds and made our way back to the hostel. I should mention that before we left, we met the most divine puppy which could sit in the palm of your hand, and would (and did) melt the hearts of even the most manly of men.

Later that evening, we went for a meal with a group of people from the hostel and Emma and I shared the most delicious meal so far in Peru. This consisted of three portions of grilled meat (Alpaca, Cow and Pig), mashed potato, Ratatouille and a selection of mouth-watering sauces. I was particularly taken with the Alpaca! The waitresses  must have felt we had some growing up to do as they gave us all paper bibs, much to our amusement and glee.

We decided to have a quiet night as we were to leave the hostel at 3:00am in order to take the one-day trip to Colca Canyon to see the condors. However, the prospect of such a horrendous wake-up did not stop us from having a couple of cocktails at the bar, including a rather delicious White Russian. Here we were introduced to an American ex-Minister (also called Ryan) who had given up a life serving God as he no loner felt it was possible to have one religion and one God in the whole of the World. After a year of feeling lost and uncertain, he had decided to travel the world and was currently sampling the splendors of South America. Eventually at about 11:00pm, we decided to call it a night, and managed to squeeze a few hours of sleep before the screech of my dreaded alarm.



Nasca Limes and Fanny Jam

We arrived in Nazca at Midnight and jumped in a taxi to the Nazca Lodge, which was to be our hostel for the night. We were greeted by a lovely lady who helped us call the flight agency for the Nazca lines . The hostel seemed empty but had a nice, homey feel to it.

After a refreshing sleep we made our way to the airport, I began to feel a little nervous when I saw the size of the planes which were to fly us over the Nazca lines. They were only big enough to carry around ten people and did not exactly look sturdy. The flight company with whom we had booked our flight were one of four government-authorised companies for the Nazca lines; this made me panic slightly less. We handed in our tickets and paid the airport tax. We were warned it could be a couple of hours before take-off due to the waiting list. This was the perfect excuse for us to wander down to the market stalls opposite the departure lounge to barter for some Peruvian goodies. Unfortunately, about ten minutes later a women came running outside shouting our names and warning us that our flight was about to take off. This is quite typical for me.

We boarded our own teeny-weeny plane and were welcomed by a smiley tour guide who told us a little about the history of the Nazca lines. The Nazca culture created striking pictures on the dusty ground in order to appease a particularly grumpy god who felt he was not appreciated enough. The lines were created so that they could only be seen by this formidable god, and it wasnt until the early 20th century that us lowly humans were able to appreciate them too.

The Nazca lines were indeed amazing to behold and I was particularly taken by the fabled astronaut and the hummingbird. We were very fortunate, it was a beautiful day and visibility was excellent. However, I would warn anyone who travels over the Nazca lines to brace themselves for some seriously dizzy moments. The plane flies around in circles. Many times. Despite this, the travel sickness was well worth the chance to see these incredible designs firsthand.

After a couple of hours, feeling a little dazed from the plane ride, we went back to the Nazca lodge and got chatting to a couple, Richard and Nicola, who had been travelling for the last year around South America. As we seemed to be the only people in the hostel, we decided to join forces and find somewhere to eat for lunch. We ended up sitting in a restaurant that was absolutely covered in graffiti, with words of affection covering all available space on the walls (of course we could see a couple of penis drawings, which seem to pop up everywhere). Although the food was tasty, the service was rather abysmal and after an hour and a half Richard had still not received his chips.

For some bizarre reason, I ended up talking about my time on the dig last year and mentioned that we used to eat sandwiches everyday with “Fanny Jam”, a food brand in South American which just cracked us up. In fact, Richard and Nicola found this so priceless we ended up walking to the nearest supermarket to take some photos. It turned out that as well as fanny jam, you could also eat fanny mustard and fanny peaches if you felt so desired. By this time we were in hysterics and the other shoppers were probably wondering what the hell we found so hilarious.

In was in this supermarket that we bid farewell to our fanny-loving friends as we had to catch a bus to Arequipa. This was to be a long ride (ten hours) but fortunately there were several films to keep us amused. Less fortunately, one of these films was The Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic tale involving the last bible, ominous sepia lighting and a lot of crying. I have to admit I was less than inspired. However, we were sitting opposite some very French-looking Frenchman who insisted we watch a comedy. We ended up watching the sequel to Night at the Museum and it actually wasn’t too bad.

At about two in the morning we finally arrived at the Wild Rovers hostel in Arequipa and were greeted by a rather flamboyant Mexican called Jay. We decided to call it a night as we only had one day in Arequipa before we left for Puno!


Lima Lima Lima

After a rather pathetic but refreshing couple of hours sleep in the Casa Bella, we emerged from our beds at around 10:30am and decided to take full advantage of our all-inclusive breakfast. We only really had time for an afternoon of sight-seeing and decided to book a tour around some of the most famous sites in Lima. The tour ended at the Lima Lorca museum, an enormous private collection of material culture of the ancient civilisations of Peru. The collection includes the infamous erotic pottery of the Moche (or Mochica), which made me especially excited as I recently did a presentation on Moche erotic pots for one of my modules at University (much to the amusement of my coursemates).

Having eaten a delicious meal of pain au chocolate and an orange, we boarded the tour bus and were informed by our tour guide, Elyana (apologies for the wrong spelling) that we were in a group of eight people. We arrived at a rather swanky hotel to collect a friendly Columbian couple, who thankfully spoke decent English (compared to my rather abysmal Spanish).

The other group to join us were a family of all-American Californians and I confess that their accents were enough to make me feel like less of a tourist. The wife was certainly the friendliest of the bunch, and asked us a lot of questions about the archaeological dig. However, the rest of the family were rather uninspiring, and the daughter did not speak a word to us until the journey back to their hotel when she started going on about how green the cars are in California compared to the rest of the world, and how she couldn´t stand the exhaust fumes in Lima (snore).

We donned our deliciously touristic headphones and made our way to Mira Flores, the sight of El Parque del Amor (Love Park). The park contains a huge statue of lovers embracing, and we were told that many married couples come to the park to copy the position of the statue, thereby cementing their love forever. Incidentally, there is also a bridge in sight of the park which is infamous as a popular suicide spot, possibly for jilted lovers. At its worst, the death toll was about 300 deaths a year, but fortunately this has now been reduced to no more than one death a year since the construction of huge barricades around the bridge.

After visiting the park we drove around some of the city, and had a glance at some of its archaeological sites such as the Huaca Pucllana, a rather large ceremonial construction dating back to the Lima culture. This structure is composed of literally millions of adobe bricks (a type of mud brick). We also drove into San Isidro, the wealthiest area of Lima, and admired the numerous (but dwindling) olive trees. All the people who live in San Isidro are given a kilo of olives every harvest for free!

Our next stop was the main Square in Lima, which contains a number of very grand and heavily guarded government buildings. There are five different types of police in this area as well as numerous gun-toting guards, who keep the crime level to a minimum. We walked out of the Square and into The Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of St Francis). It is legendary among the tourist populace for its enormous catacombs containing thousands of bones of Franciscan monks and wealthy citizens of Lima who had donated large amounts of money to the church. As a Catholic country, those buried under a church were especially blessed as they were considered closer to God. The catacombs themselves were a sight to behold. As we walked through the dust-ridden and eerie corridors under the church, there were human remains (mostly skulls and femurs) everywhere we looked. The remains had been counted and sorted by archaeologists some time ago, and had been arranged in a sort of categorised pattern in the tombs.

Our final destination was the Lima Lorca museum I had been looking forward to this all afternoon. We bid farewell to the rest of our tour group and entererd the museum. It is an absolutely incredible collection, and there seemed to be artefacts from each one of the civilisations of Peru, depicting every activity imaginable. This included one of the gargoyle-like stone heads from the complex of Chavin de Huantar as well as two examples of the Inca Quipu , a series of knots on strings which were used as administrative records.

We also had a look at the enormous collection of ceramic vessels, over 40,000 pieces in fact, which were stacked in cases  eight shelves high. There was far too much to take everything in, yet we did manage to spot a few vessels which were beyond the bizarre, including a man who was picking his nose.

We were finally led to the building which filled me with excitement: that of the Moche erotic pots, including the rather baffling masturbating skeletons. There were also some eye-catching phallic vessels, which all had a suitably placed spouts which forced the drinker to perform fellatio while trying to consume their beverage (often Chicha which is thick and whitish in colour…)

We hung around the phallic vessels until closing time and then made our way back to the Casa Bella, with just about enough energy to ask the manager to order us a pizza before we collapsed into bed. Our next destination was to be Nazca.


… continue reading this entry.

The Joys of Spending 10 Hours at Miami Airport

At the unsightly hour of four in the morning, Ileft the rolling hills of Dorset, having bid farewell to the dogs and done a final panic check for forgotten items. As we sped along the motorway to Heathrow Airport in the newly serviced landrover, listening to Newton Faulkner, I contemplated the long journey ahead, starting with breakfast.

We arrived at the Terminal three short stay car park and spent the next fifteen minutes wandering through badly signed corridors in the hope it would eventually lead to our check-in gate. Up until now, everything was running smoothly but that as all about to change.

The flight centre, with whom we had booked our plane tickets, had failed to inform us we had to purchase a visa for our stopover in Miami at least 72 hours before check-in, despite the fact we were not even going to leave the airport. I was not sure who I was more angry with: the Flight centre for being so lax or the American authorities for charging us money, time, and in this case a side-dish of panic, for sitting in their terrorist-obsessed airport for nine hours. To my absolute fury, having applied for Emma´s visa on my blackberry, the visa waiver website crashed as we were about to make the final payment. we were informed that it could be a while before the website was back up and running and we only had an hour before the check-in desk was to close.

By this point I was absolutely fuming, ready to erupt at any moment, and was sorely tempted to give the Flight Centre a piece of my mind (thankfully I did not as (a) I probably would have been blacklisted and (b) would have felt terribly guilty once everything had been resolved). To my great joy and relief, an angel dressed in flight attendent´s clothing helped Emma apply for the visa online once the website started working again, and we managed to check in eight minutes before DOOM.

One thing I noticed as I reclined (well sort of) on the flight to Miami was the perkiness of the pilot as he welcomed us all aboard the plane through the medium of speakerphone. Not only were we thanked numerous times for blessing him and the rest of the crew with our presence, we were also informed we ould be experiencing the “miracle of flight”. I have to confess this made me giggle. I think even I, who has been described as irritatingly perky at times (thank you Sam Moodie), am far too British to take what he was saying seriously. In fact, it was downright hysterical. This may in part have been because I had not quite yet recovered from this mornings visa hysteria.

We arrived in Miami airport with the horror of a nine-hour wait for our flight to Lima. It took about two hours for us to go through security, where we were interrogated about our intentions in Peru. The airport security man, with a very serious look on his face, seemed highly suspicious about the archaeological dig and started quizzing us on who we were studying and from which dates did they live. Fortunately, we passed the test and went on to collect our plane tickets.

I will not bore you with the details of our stay in Miami airport. It was desperately dull and the flight was delayed for another couple of hours which was joyous. We finally arrived in Lima at about 6:30am, and fortunately, a taxi was waiting for us to take us to the Casa Bella bed and breakfast. Not so fortunately, our timing was so perfect that we hit rush hour in Lima and it took us almost an hour to arrive at our final destination. We then slept for two hours.

That is all!


There’s A Whole World Out there (and I will always get lost)

In less than two days, prospective travel writer and archaeology enthusiast, moi, shall be aboard a Boeing 777. Destination: Peru!

It is my second trip to this part of the world and this time I hope to spend more time writing and less time getting lost. Having said that, getting lost is part of the fun, particularly as I will be travelling with a close friend and organiser extraordinaire (commonly known as Emma).

In July and August 2010, I spent four fantastic weeks in a town called Nepeña on the Western Coast of Peru, not far from the (rather fishy) city of Chimbote. I was to spend my days taking part in an archaeological dig, not far from the derelict Moche temple of Pañamarca. It was here we uncovered a domestic settlement occupied around a thousand years ago by the fascinating Moche culture. For more information on this particular trip, you can read my blog at (http://peruviantreasuresandotherbanter.blogspot.com).

This year, unable to ignore the voices in my head shouting ‘RETURN! RETURN!’ I am to spend another 4 weeks digging in the dust, looking to uncover the secrets of the Moche culture. I am also to be joined by a couple of friends from University (including the illusive Emma) who are fellow course mates at Bristol university (we study Archaeology and Anthropology in case you were wondering).

I am also to spend a couple of weeks travelling around Peru, which I am sure will be an experience of a lifetime. We are hoping to visit Nasca, Cuzco and Lake Titicaca among other places, and I have full intensions of documenting my travels.

From my experiences of internet cafes in Peru, this is easier said than done. I once sat at a computer for an hour and succeeded in reading one email. However, I hope now that I am older and wiser (well at least older), I will have the patience to write this blog every couple of days.

For those who know me, I am sure you are well aware that I am somewhat clumsy, so I hope this blog will provide you with some amusement.

For those to whom I am just a stranger, I hope that you will feel as if you know me by the time I return home to England, a.k.a drizzledom.

For now, adios!