Friday, 14 December 2007

La ultima semana

As I enter the final week of my stay here in Perú it feels like I have judged it about right. I have sort of run out of things to do without traveling 10 or more hours by bus and this is not to my liking. Equally, I am beginning feel in need of more direct contact with family and friends and to pine for a few home comforts.

That said the week has not been without interest. Bruce Perú as an organisation has continued to bemuse me and whilst I have enjoyed my volunteer experience I need some time to reflect on its value to the children and general situation in this fascinating country.

I have begun to feel impotent as to the varied needs of the children and families and this was brought home on Tuesday when we visited the mother of Jobita and her younger sister. The family lives across the valley necessitating a tough descent and climb to some adobe houses high in the adjoining hill. The house was small comprising one room and a yard - there is a mud floor and several cuy (guinea pigs) hiding underneath the two beds. In the room Jobita's mother was lying in some pain. Evidently she has recurring stomach problems and had been passing blood. We found a taxi and took her to our helpful doctor who diagnosed a severe infection in the reproductive organs and we transported her to hospital where she was admitted for bed rest, tests and treatment. It turned out her husband has a drinking problem and Jessica, the teacher reproached him forcefully with his failings towards his family and he was duly contrite;
Unfortunately, the next day the mother discharged herself against advice and we are now unsure of what to do.

Lessons have been going OK but I have become increasingly concerned as to the lack of reading material and today bought several books to begin a class library. I also snapped individual and group photos which I have had printed, one for each child, and tomorrow I will take in a cake and say my goodbyes.

Otherwise the week has been without incident except Ivette the volunteer director fell on her face getting out of bed and seriously bruised her nose. She also went to the doctor but thankfully nothing was broken. Also today, Mia Mullarkey from Ireland turned up – she had been a previous volunteer director and had returned to collect some luggage. Maybe she is a distant cousin and by further coincidence she will share with me the same flight to Madrid!

Last evening we went to a great restaurant to say goodbye to Hailey the most longstanding volunteer, a charming 19 year old. The restaurant also has some volunteer projects attached, mostly for children and had a marvelous decor something like a children's wonderland with masses of soft toys and some great models suspended and periodically diving down from the ceiling. The top floor was a mass of cushions apparently for those with more amorous intentions!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Shopping, shaving and cycling

Shopping is never my favourite activity but today I began Looking for Christmas gifts. My first stop was at the weaving centre in Avenida del Sol. This offers authentic traditional goods and promises to support the local craft traditions in in remote communities in a sustainable way . There is a museum and and each article depicts the name and photo of the artisan and where he or she works. I bought some items here - they are somewhat more expensive thanusual but I managed to get a 10% discount for a cash sale. After this I explored the Artisan outlets further along the avenida. These sell lots of product and by bargaining you can achieve up to 50% reductions on the opening price. Prices are in any case quite cheap but the quality is correspondingly less high.

I also went for a haircut, taking advantage of the cheap and excellent barbers. This time I had a wet shave as well, my first ever, and a real experience. The chair was a bit like an old fashioned dentist chair and I was tilted back almost horizontal. In fact I was shaved twice, firstly with a razor blade fixed to a cut throat type frame and then with a cut throat razor. The result was outstanding and I emerged with face smoother than I can remember.

On Sunday I hired a bike, another Scott. My plan was to ride out to the East of Cusco to Tipon where there are some extensive ruins . The first part of the ride was easy, riding out through the Cusco Suburbs on the main road to Puno. This road is normally very busy but on Sundays less so. On clearing the towns there is a marginal lane for cyclists and about a 3% downward incline making for some fast riding. Eventually I turned left onto a track that headed up steeply for 4 km to the ruins. I had to push the bike a few times but received some applause from tourist cars coming the other way.

On paying my 10 soles entrance fee I left the bike and climbed a series of terraces with clever irrigation channels. At the top I was rewarded with some great views of the ruins and the community below. It was almost lunchtime so I enjoyed the exhilarating downhill ride with the expectation of finding a restuarant below. There were many but they all turned out to be cuyerias, or guinea pig bars and I decided to pass on this and and pushed on further. It was another 20 km to Urquos, a substantial town with a Sunday market. I found a Polleria that allowed me bring my bike into the restaurant and I had fried chicken and chips.

Afterwards I explored the market a bit and then found a bus to take me back to Cusco. In all I probably did 70km and found I had used 2000 calories with a new maximum heart rate of 150 bpm, still somewhat short of my usual high water mark.

Finally, after a shower I opted for the local English bar, the Real McCoy which has wireless, good local beer and apple crumble!! Hey!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Los ultimas semanas

I guess I have begun to look forward to going home but I am still enjoying Cusco and I know I will miss its bustle, strong sunshine, friendly people and different lifestyles. It will be great to flush toilet paper again though!

At the beginning of the week I had some stomach problems but I recovered quickly receiving some good advice and medicine from Inka Farmacia.

The Hostal has been full of girls this week, two from Ireland, and one each from England, Hungry, Australia and the US. This has meant that meal times have been fun and Maria Terese from Ireland joined us at Hauncaro making an immediate hit on the children, the girls in particular.

On Monday we took Braulio to the doctor to have his stitches taken out and this went well. The rest of the week passed quietly with a good result at the pub quiz on Monday and on Wednesday we had drinks in Mandela's but not enough attending for a quiz. I tried a Chillout which is a cocktail with rum, cointreau, lemon and chilli so slept pretty well!

On Wednesday we made kites at school and although the educational content was fairly meagre the children really enjoyed the experience and a couple of them actually flew a little. The Christmas curriculum has also kicked in with colouring in of Papa Noel and making decorations!

As usual Friday was wash day for the children and afterwards we played a little volley ball and football. Earlier in the morning I had gone with the teacher to make a home visit to the mother of a girl who hadn't turned up that day. The mother was unwell and had kept her daughter, Nadie off school that day to help look after her baby. Unfortunately Nadia has some learning needs and we are hoping to get her an appointment with an educational psychologist, so her attendance next week is a must.

Marie Terese said goodbye to the class and she had made each of them a bead necklace as a parting present. This went well and she probably has enough photos to fill a book.

One evening this week I went to a concert at the town's main concert hall. This comprised about 12 duets of flute and guitar, mostly Andean music but some classical as well. It was pretty good and I particularly enjoyed a very powerful dance sequence at the end with brightly dressed men hitting each other with long ropes!.

This week I have continued my Spanish classes and I have found the continuous review of things that I have already covered has helped consolidated some of the rules but fluency and error free conversation is sadly elusive. I have been asked for links to schools that I can recommend. My school here in Perú, Excell, has been great but also last year in Guatemala at but email me for a chat for more detail.

Today I bought myself a Christmas present of a HUNA jumper made of baby alpaca. It was quite expensive but probably at least half the price of its London equivalent. Today, Saturday I will go Christmas shopping and I am hoping that I can find some bargains among the textiles but I need to watch the weight to keep within my 20 Kg limit. Tomorrow I may rent a bike and explore some ruins at Tipon, about 30 Km from here towards Puna.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Machu Pichu (and cautionary tales)

This weekend has been on the horizon for some time and by now I had a firm plan. The very first part of the journey was by taxi to the bus station for a bus to Urumbamba. The driver took me by a long route and charged me 3 rather than 2 soles but I couldn't be bothered to argue for the difference of 15p.

The bus journey was fine and I chatted to a tourism student who had just begun to learn English. At Urumbamba I changed to a colectivo (dormobile) for the 1 sol drive to Ollaytaytambo. This turned out to be a great little village with a nice square and some fantastic ruins etched into the surrounding mountains. I was enticed into a cafe by a young Scottish mother and her 2 year old daughter (Nina) who was becoming bilingual in 3 languages, not including Scottish. As and aside I have a good link to some podcasts about bilingual children at . I was I was introduced to Nina's grand parents, a retired couple, GP and Child Psychiatrist and we chatted about changes in UK heath care.

A little later I caught the train to Agua Calientes – it was full of backpacker and I read my book.

Agua Calientes is a horrible tourist trap full of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. I tried a hotel recommended in lonely planet and they wanted $100 for the night. Since it was 10pm and I aimed to get up at 5am this didn't seem sensible. A little ways on a man asked me if I needed a room and I looked it over. He was charging $20 but I found later that the shower didn't work, there was no hot water and the bed was rock hard. To add insult it managed to escape my attention that in converting dollars to Soles he had doubled the price!

I awoke to the sound of pouring rain but with some resolve made my way to the trail up towards Machu Pichu. Almost everybody else was taking the bus but I latched on to an amiable group of US backpackers and we climbed the 1 ¼ hours to the top. Even though it was a tough climb I enjoyed it but with the rain and jungle humidity I was both wet inside and out by the time we ascended to the ruins.

Sadly I arrived to be greeted by thick cloud and obscured views, but even so the ruins were impressive. Later I climbed Waynapichu to try and get a better view of the ruins and keep warm until the sun emerged - but to no avail. Eventually as I returned to the base the cloud mostly cleared and I had some great views of the impressive ruins and then walked to the Inca Bridge.

Finally on returning to Agua Calientes I sought out my hotelier and managed to shame him into giving back 40 soles which was all he had left of the 60 that he owed me. Then, after a beer I boarded my vistadome train back to Ollaytaytambo. I managed to find a great hotel, had an enjoyable meal and tried a couple of neat Piscos, retiring early and sleeping for 9 hours straight through.

The next morning I saw my Sottish family again and they drew me a map of a nice circular route along a mountain path to some ruins called Pumarca and then back to town by the valley track. This was a 4 hour hike and was very enjoyable. Finally, I got buses back to Cusco and quickly took to my bed.

I suppose that my overall opinion of Machu Pichu was that I would have enjoyed it more had I had my first sights of it with fewer tourists, but that said, in the low season I never felt too crowded and would not have wanted to have come all this way to Perú and missed it.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Daily routine

    I guess I am struggling for something interesting to write, so on the basis that the ordinary is at times as interesting as the extraordinary here is my daily routine here in Cuzco at the present. However today was slightly different because it was Nelly's (classroom assitant) birthday and we sang to her and showered her in coloured confetti. The children loved it.

  • 7.00 rise shower etc. We still don't have a shower tap and resort to pliers to regulate the hot water - not surprisingly I will look forward to not going outside to the bathroom and kitchen – it is a tad inconvenient in the rainy season!

  • 7.30 Sonia our cook and cleaner arrives and brings bread roll which we then butter and fill times 35, either jam, cheese or luncheon meat. We also prepare fruit and drinks, usually something with milk and some vitamin rich grain.

  • 8.30 We take a taxi to Huancaro choosing the small cheap taxi and negotiating a price of 3 soles or less.

  • 9.00 We arrive at the school usually to be greeted merrily by several children – we open the school room and sweep it out.

  • 9.15 we wash hands and faces of the children, get them seated, distribute food and drinks say prayers and have breakfast.

  • 9.45 we clean teeth

  • 10.00 begin classes

  • 11.45 after classes we wash hands again, distribute fruit and dismiss class

  • 12.15 take a taxi back to the town.

  • This routine doesn't change much until Friday when we go to the stream to wash hair and treat for nits!

  • 1.00, Sonia prepares lunch for us and we write up logs of the day.

  • 2.00 In the afternoon I usually go to South America Explorers and check emails, research journeys, update my blog and photos and call my family and friends.

  • 5.00, Usually I don't have dinner but head off for a cake and coffee but from Monday I will do 2 hours more of language classes each evening to keep topped up for the last 2 weeks of my trip

  • 8.00 2 nights a week we have a pub quiz but on other evenings I might go for a drink have a glass of wine in the house and watch old Friends DVDs from the 2nd and 3rd series. Nex week I hope to get to some local music venues.

  • 10.30 or 11, to bed.

Probably this all seems a bit mundane but this weekend I will go to Mach Pichu and I gues I am into Christmas present hunting now.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Various ramblings

Nelly my new classroom assistant friend has proved to be an asset and she plugs some of my language gaps with the children and has been quite proactive in finding materials for the them. Today for example she brought some work sheets on families and I found some postcard pictures of local people and got the three older children to start a piece of imaginative writing – they responded quite well to this but are unused to creative writing and I probably need to find some texts on which they can model a description or narration. As usual we scrub and feed the children and here they are cleaning their teeth!

I also made a bead number line and they took to it immediately now being able to overcome the shortage of fingers for counting. Most of the maths is calculation based but the children are not really secure in the basics of number and I am trying to do more practical stuff with them. Elsa who is 13 doesn't understand place value and I am stretching my memory and ideas to help her with it.

Last night we did another quiz night at Loki and made $100. Loki is a backpacker meca but don't go there if you want to sleep at night because it is noisy and most of its inhabitants are there to party. Tonight's quiz is at Mandela's bar but last week we didn't get any punters so I am uncertain if it will run.

I have booked a further 20 hours of lessons with my teacher which will start on Monday after my trip to Machu Pichu. I will catch up with her this evening with the aim of helping her master Skype so that maybe we can keep in contact after my visit is over.

Yesterday I went spinning again and still find this very difficult due to lack of oxygen and I am unsure of my fitness. he photo demonstrates mor pain than gain!. I think I will try running up some steps later this week. I weighed myself and am below 12.5 stones, having maybe lost about a stone. I am pleased about this and hope to retain my weight loss over Christmas – some hope!

Monday, 26 November 2007

El fin de semana

Friday night is poker night in South American Explorers so I joined a group of about 8 others and although I had some winning hands I lost my stack which amounted to £5, had a few beers and finished the evening chatting with a David the Perú representative for Imaginative Explorations a Suffolk based , He is from Granada, Andalucia and we shared the equivalent of a Macdonald's type meal at the Peruvian equivalent, Bembo's. Earlier I booked a river rafting tour for Sunday for $40 inclusive of transport, wet suits, lunch etc. It promises 2 hours of rafting at level 3 on the Ruambamba and it is raining now so I guess the water will be quite fast.

Saturday Morning we got up early and I accompanied Ivette, our director, Sonia our cook and her sister to the Huancaro Market. The market is huge and we focused on the vegetables and fruit buying for the week. Ivette turned out to be in her element. She is a vegetarian so was quite excited by all of this and loved haggling with the vendors. We bought all kinds of veg and fruit, soya flour, cheese and I bought some coffee and very weired fruit that looks like a giant string bean and contains fruit covered pips. Eventually we turned to fish and meat and I bought some John Dory Steaks and chicken breasts. The chicken part of the market was a bit gruesome because the live chickens are slaughtered, bled, blanched, de-feathered and then laid out ready for purchase.

We bought some chicken breasts which were filleted for us there and then. Finally we took a taxi back and I had a siesta and the others reviewed the purchases.

On Sunday Morning I met up with 3 others in the Plaza and we took a nice bus towards Puno for nearly two hours. My companions included a post grad couple from Oregon and a guy of about my own age from Bristol. We seemed to get on well and on reaching the the river we took group photos. (I will add these when I receive them from my companions)

River rafting is new to me. Freddie, our instructor was at pains to ensure we were properly prepared and in the first few minutes taught as the 6 key instructions, “forward, back, right back, left back, stop and inside”. We practised these and when we met our first rapids, level 1, he shouted “forward tigers” and we paddled for our lives. The river gave way to increasingly severe rapids and by level 3.5 the front of the raft was being submerged and we were dropping several feet over walls of water. It was great fun and quite exhilarating. At one point I was thrown out of the raft but got back in again in only a few seconds. By the end we had gone some distance for nearly 2 hours and we eventually joined the road to be met by our bus and finally to enjoy a relaxing roadside picnic lunch.

In the evening I chilled out at the Real McCoy a British restaurant where I had steak and onion pie, mashed potatoes and a Cuzco beer called Perkas which was really worth drinking. I also invested 5 soles and bought the Comercio Sunday paper which is like the Sunday times or Observer and has several sections to read including some world news and magazine sections on arts and body & mind. A great and peaceful conclusion to the weekend.

Machu Pichu is on the cards for next weekend.

More of school at Huancaro

The next day at school I grassed to the teacher that I had been disappointed with some of the behaviour the previous day. She went a bit into overdrive and we had 30 minutes of why they needed to show greater respect and care for the 'animalitas' and me. The 2 older girls got the brunt of it and eventually cracked under the pressure making public apologies to me and giving me an I am sorry kiss on the cheek. It was all pretty emotional, for me as well but I think we ended up better for it and at least they now know I won't ignore poor behaviour. One older boy, Julio was very vocal on my behalf and castigated the girls as well as making his own apology to me – but I don't really know what for! Also, that morning, I gave Manuel, the smallest boy in the class a new pair of trainers and he was visibly amazed and so obviously pleased by this gift.

Following this I began the daily breakfast and hand washing ritual but soon notices that Brulio, a 10 year old was in some pain. It emerged that yesterday he caught his foot on a nail and had a gaping wound that would need stitches – It was already very dirty and in danger of becoming infected. We decided that I would take him to the emergency clinic and Julio came with us to assist.

On reaching the clinic it seemed a little disorganised, lots of people coming and going past reception and the odd dog sleeping in the entrance hall. But, we were seen quickly by someone managing admissions. He mad a quick inspection and gave us a prescription for the farmacia where we bought gloves, local anesthetic and surgical needles. After this we were asked to pay for treatment and then passed quickly by a doctor who gave the nurse authority to stitch the wound. Brulio was quite brave through the cleaning process but was in agony when the local anesthetic was administered. The wound was carefully cleaned, stitched and dressed and the nurse was very careful about minimizing risk of infection. Lastly we were given a third prescription for anti-inflammatory and anti-biotic s and finally I put the boys in a taxi and sent them back to school probably just in time for the last 10 minutes.

On the way back to the Hostal I got chatting to Neli a mother who lives near the airport and she offered to volunteer at the school so we will check her out with our social worker on Monday and hopefully start her with one of the schools.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Huancaro School, Bruce Perú

Huancaro doesn't really exist on the maps that I have but it lies 25 minutes by taxi to the north west outside the main city, costing 3 soles or 50p each way. It is quite high and the area comprises untidily fashioned streets most of which are mud tracks. The area marks the outer limits of Cuzco and terminates in a rubbish tip and cemetery. Our unmarked school is situated just before this abrupt end is is no more than a largish living room attached to and existing house. We pay 40 soles a month or about £6.50 for its use and it is basic with no running water, an outside toilet in a yard which is in turned shared by chickens and dogs. (not the toilet)

There are 15 children on roll and the most I have seen so far is 13. They mostly wear bright green Bruce Perú tracksuits and they range in age from 5 – 13. The day begins by sweeping the classroom, washing of hands and faces from a bucket of cold water and is followed by a breakfast of bread with either meat, cheese, honey or jam and a nutritious drink all of which is prepared by the volunteers and brought to the school. Sometimes wee clean teeth as well.

In truth the lessons are somewhat disorganized and while there is a general plan many of the children are not able to engage fully in the activities. I have been working with some older children and have had some success in introducing counters and number lines, practicing repeated addition, telling time and some work with fractions. I also introduced thr game Connect 4 today which was an immediate success with the older children. Most of the children are well behind in their progress and some are functioning as much as 5 years below their chronological age.

Today was different because the teacher had to leave to take her baby for some medical attention. She decided I could be in charge and take the children for a hair wash. So we set off for the river some 15 minutes away, passing through the rubbish tip, descending a steep embankment and crossing a stream by way of some randomly situated stones. On the way we stopped for breakfast sitting on some grass.

On reaching the end of a gully the children began washing their hair in the stream. For some of them we administered treatment for nits and some of the children played in the stream and I had to tell a few off for mistreating a tiny frog and some large jumping insects. On the return we stopped for some fruit and finally made our way back to the classroom – towards the end the children were more difficult to control and a few took advantage of my inability to use appropriate language. Notwithstanding, it was a good morning and I took some great photos but resolved to take up matters with misbehaving children the next day.

This weekend

The first part of the of the weekend was devoted to moving my stuff from my family's house to the hostal. Thankfully Cesar helped with this. Before we left I went out to the local market to buy Elizabeth a plant. After finding a great palm that I liked and agreeing a price, I then went to a plant pot stall and bought a large earthenware pot. On presenting this to the lady at the plant stall she asked for 2 soles to buy some dirt and returned with enough to pot the plant. It turned out to be a great looking house plant for only 36 soles or £6. I felt a bit cheap but it would easily have cost £40 in the UK and I had taken some trouble to select something nice.

After this my family took me to a typical restaurant out of town where I had trout. All of the cooking was on a wood fire outside and it was fantastic meal and a nice way to say goodbye.

I settled into my hostal and then hired a bike for a ride the next day. I headed off for Pisac on Sunday stopping at the Llama/Alpaca/weaving centre where I saw some very high quality but expensive weaving. It was a tough climb out of Cuzco. I also stopped at some Inca ruins at Huacacancha. Eventually I was rewarded with a fantastic descent into the Sacred valley – it seemed to go on for ever with the most magnificent views.

After Pisac I spent the rest of the day riding fast and flat along the valley following the river through Calca to Urabamba, probably around 50 miles in all. Then I found a bus and stowed the bike on top and returned to Cuzco where I spent my first night in the Hostal and prepared myself mentally for the first day of school on Monday.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Last week at school

It is some days since my last post and over the last week I have been consolidating my Spanish and enjoying some different experiences. Some of my time has been devoted to establishing the second phase of my visit – this has presented some problems which now seem to have been overcome. My voluntary project, has had some problems in that the previous volunteer leader allegedly made off with the cash and her Columbian boyfriend. Hopefully matters are now settled and I am due to move into the volunteer hostal tomorrow and begin working at a school on Monday. Hopefully this will all go well.

My school, has been great, well organised and efficient and I would be happy to recommend it to anyone who may be interested. I had a great teacher Maria Ines and learned a lot which hopefully I can retain. My home stay, also organised by the school was tremendous with lots of conversation, a warm and friendly family setting and comfortable accommodation.

Tuesday - as is usual I went out and about with my teacher, mainly to practise language in real situations. I had noticed a furniture exhibition/conference being held and we blagged our way in. Amusingly the conference hall was rather full and presentations in full throes and we were accordingly escorted to the front row where there were some empty seats. I think we were then mistaken for visiting VIPs but in any case we got a free lunch and I tried my first Inca Cola which wasn't too bad. After this we visited a furniture institute where apprentices are trained and were shown round by a technician.

Wednesday - I took my adopted family/hosts out to dinner – we had a great meal and I ate an Alpaca steak which was OK and we enjoyed the ambiance of our restaurant and its outlook onto Plaza de Armas, the main square.

Thursday – I went to a Peruvian food evening at where it was possible to try different dishes served up with pisco sours and Cusquena beer. This was a great evening and I chatted with several English people and bought a recipe book signed by Carmen our Chef.

Friday - I said good bye to my school and it was a bit sad but afterwards was taken by Cesar my host to some factory and jewelery outlets where I bought some Christmas presents.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Caminata A Lares

This was a 2 day walk organised by my school from just beyond Urambamba in the Valle Sagrado at 2,870M to Lares Balinearios (hot springs) taking a mountain pass at 4,900M to Valle de Lares and eventually by tourist bus back to Cuzco.

We set off from the school just after 6 am in a luxurious bus, 4 students and 1 teacher/guide. From Urambamba we took a track a further few kilometeres to where we met Paulino and some of his family. He brought a number of small horses to carry our packs, tents and food and one horse for Tammy who was suffering with some blisters, so walked some of the way and rode some too. Tammy is tall, about 6 feet and the horse was small so she was both concerned about its strength to carry her and how it looked.

We walked some way, always climbing and following a fast flowing stream along attractive wooded paths. On the way we met two children who told us that they traveled 2 hour to and from school each day. After some time and a bit of a rest we were joined by two others, a young couple from USA who were going the same way so we teamed up for company and continued on. We passed a number of sights including Inca ruins and waterfalls and we always had a spectacular view of the Sacred Valley receding behind us.

Eventually we reached some woods high in the mountains where we made camp, cooked and lit a fire to keep warm. That night was beautifully star light but freezing and we awoke to a ground frost, cooked breakfast and set off for the high pass at 4,900M just after 7 am. On reaching it we were greeted by spectacular views of the snow capped mountain range beyond, with the cloud base below where we stood. At the top was an Inca a shrine where we laid stones collected from the river below, one for each of our loved ones, for each of whom we made a wish.

We then began to descend and passed sparkling lagoons and mountains with small glaciers. On reaching a village about 1000M below we stopped for lunch in some school grounds and chatted to some children offering them sweets which we had brought for that purpose.

Eventually, at around 3 we reached Lares hot springs where our Portadoras had set up our tents. We swam and bathed in the springs and enjoyed a meal in a small open air restaurant which was close by. The next morning after some further bathing and breakfast we were collected by a tourist bus and driven some 30 kilometres out of the Lares Valley along some white knuckle track with steep drops below, finally returning to Cuzco for lunch.

This was a spectacular walk with some of the best views I have ever seen. We were a companionable group and all felt the journey of some 35Km had been very worthwhile.

You can see more photos here

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Coming to terms with my limits

Over the last few days I have pushed myself quite hard with physical activity. On Saturday a group from the school went to a place that is called little cusco in Kechwa (Huchuy Qosqo). This meant a ride in a bus followed by a steep climb of about 1000'. At he halfway point we met a man on a horse. It was previously wild having been caught lat year and this was its first outing up the hill. Wen we reached the top and some ruins we were greeted by a very friendly young man who lived alone on the mountain. Retuning in a shared taxi we were frightened to death by our driver, particularly when he braked for a dog.

The next day I hired a bike and guide and we went to Moray and some salineras. Unfortunately I forgot my camera battery and missed some great photos. Moray is a huge, mainly circular set of agricultural terraces built by the Incas, said to be experimental with individual micro-climates at different levels. The salineras are about 1000 or more salt pans situated in a valley with a natural system of feeding salty water from a spring into wells with porous walls whereby the sun evaporates off the water leaving salty deposits for use in agriclture.

Some of the ride was easy but we went through some technical sections, both had impact punctures but had great fun. On returning we got off the bus above Cuzco for an exhilarating descent only spoiled by the odd llama feeding at the side of the road!

Finally, yesterday I found a spinning class near my house and managed a 45 minute session. Interestingly it was difficult to raise my heart rate above 80% due to shortage of breath owing to the altitude.

A tiring few days but probably good training for a forthcoming caminata to Lares some hot springs over a 4,900 metre mountain!

Monday, 5 November 2007

The Streets of Cuzco

Museums are interesting but life on the streets of Cuzco provides a greater insight into the lot of the people here. Most streets near and towards the centre are busy. There is a great deal of traffic, particularly taxis, usually very small Dawoos that speed constantly to and fro. If they are empty they toot as they pass a likely customer. The fumes from the traffic are strong and it is clear that many vehicles would not pass emission tests. You need to take care because cars don't slow down for corners and rarely signal - if you do get in the way they have fast reactions and rarely show annoyance. As well as taxis, combi-vans pass stopping at paraderos (bus stops) , occasionally a boy jumps out running to a machine where he stamps a card and dashes back. Combis are some where between buses and taxis in price but follow a set route.

Much can be bought on the street- there is a fleet of ice cream tricycles and others that sell general goods. Shoe shiners line parts of the street and girls stand on corners calling “llamadas llamadas” selling telephone credit. Money changers stand on Avenida Sol clutching a wad of bank notes and a calculator and nearer the centre girls call “masaje sir?”.

All kinds of food can be bought, most commonly, tamales, chicken soup and rice, sweets, pineapple cut into slices. today in the Feria near my house people were selling cooked Pork cut there and then from the bodies of small pigs and fancy bread either in the form of a hrse for boys or a doll for girls.

Many streets have people begging – this includes whole families sitting on the pavement, very old women, people with physical disabilities and sometimes families with animals and children in traditional costume hoping for photograph opportunities.

I have counted five kinds of police, national, local, transit, tourist and private and often they stand on corners in groups of three or four. They are invariably smartly dressed and yesterday I saw some security guards leaving a bank heading for a truck – they had packets of bank notes and there guns were drawn as they walked cautiously to the van.

I suppose tourists make up an obvious proportion of street life and we all look fairly out of place and obvious among the throng.

This is also a city of young people and children are everywhere often smartly dressed in uniform on their way to or from school. Largely they seem polite and well behaved. In the evenings the centre has many young people and night clubs stay open until 4 or 5 am, later I am told than in other parts of the country. Lastly, one sees quite a lot of young couples, often cuddling and kissing one another with a relative lack of self consciousness.

These are lively streets, a slice of life here in Cuzco, and with much to offer the casual observer.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

El fin de semana

On Saturday, after a jog in the non-existent park I headed into town to bag as many museums as possible from my boleto. I visited a series of small art and history museums none of which had a great deal to offer. I found a Novatel for lunch with a mixture of French and Peruvian fare. This wasn't like Novatels I have experienced in France – it had a real air of luxury and near perfect service – I dined on a Peruvian club sandwich and local beer enjoying the peace of an ample courtyard with a closed but windowed roof.

After this I headed off to another ruin, Quento, but got lost on the way and stumbled on The Temple of the Moon. This included a dark cave with an opening to the sky where the moon shone at certain times and an enterprising youth hid in the dark and frightened me as I entered. I chatted a while with a French Canadian girl who had arrived with a guide by horse and then found my way to Q'uenco. This included a large stone hill that had been bisected with zig-zag passages that offered opportunities to explore.

On Sunday I took a bus ride int the Sacred Valley, to Pisaq. The bus was full and I had to stand both ways but the round trip of almost an hour each way only cost 40p. First we climbed about a 1.300 feet before descending a further 2000 into the valley. An elderly man with poor vision sang for tips. Arriving at Pisqa the Sunday market dominated the small town and apart from the usual stuff you could see the baking of bread in a large wood fired oven and view the cuy (guinea pig) in both their cute and edible forms. Keeping faith with my family I opted for vegetable soup, and then set off for about an hour's steep climb to the ruins, a hill top Inca citadel. The Sacred Valley is phenomenal. Through it runs the Rumbamba river. It is surrounded by mountains, some of which are neatly terraced for cultivation. At its base there is a large flat and fertile floor. The ruins are extensive but were spoilt somewhat at weekends by bus loads of kids that had come up via the road. One small group of young people insisted that I be photographed along side them – at first I thought it was some kind of scam but followed my instincts and I think they were just wanting to create a bit of Gringo interest in their photo collection. On the way down I met a Spanish Crystal Palace supporter- he even had a CP hat – how strange!

Finally I returned to the village for crepes and Ice cream and the whole day out, including some beads that I allowed myself to be persuaded into buying cost only 33 Soles or £5.50!

Sexy Woman

Lessons today were punctuated by the need to pose with my teacher for photos in a Pancho and sombrero. I complied obediently and as you can see managed to look quite silly! After this I went to the town hall to buy my 10 day boleton for the sights of Cuzco. This cost 70 Soles or about £11 which seems quite reasonable. After lunch I made my way to Saqsaywamán ( which means 'satisfied falcon') an Inca archaeological site high above the city.

Losing my way slightly I found myself on the longest staircase that I ever climbed. This went up through a fairly impoverished section of the city and groups of dogs eyed me curiously. Alighting at the top a very cheerful man chatted with me and told me to be careful because often the downhill cyclists used the stairs for a super thrill. Eventually I found myself at the site and along the way made friends with Tom a young Australian Biologist taking time of from doctorate studies and making his way through South America.

We really enjoyed the site which is constructed of huge tightly fitting stones forming a fortress comprising of the remains of ramparts that follow the contours of the hills, 300 ton stone and a king's throne.

Climbing the hill and various parts of the site made me realise that I was at least another week away from really strenuous exercise but I have now found a bike shop willing to hire out reasonably equipped Scotts and Giants for about £7.50 a day. I am told there is a group that goes out on Sundays so I will try and make contact and fix up a ride for next week. For now I plan a run in the park or around the Plaza, Saturday before breakfast and then have a day visiting museums and churches.

Returning from the visit Tom and I had expensive (well, 5 soles, less than £1) but very nice coffee in a swish café but we were bothered quite a bit by people trying to sell stuff – even though one politely declines they aways come back with, “well maybe tomorrow sir” – such is the nature of the Cusquenans.

We went our separate ways and shortly I saw a huge group of children in procession around the city centre with lanterns and followed by a cavalcade of cars festooned with balloons - I was told that this was an annual event – it seems that there is some kind of public activity every day. After this I enjoyed watching part of a fast and skillful basket ball game between two university teams in a small stadium off Avenida del Sol, and finally some traditional dance being practiced in the local Plaza near where I live.

I really enjoyed this afternoon. Cuzco is so rich in activities, really friendly and vibrant and so far, seemingly quite safe.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Venturing out

Yesterday as part of my class I was taken to a great market and saw all kinds of interesting produce including many different types of maize and beans. My teacher chatted with the stall holders and they were all very courteous and helpful. After that I joined South American Explorers, a not for profit organisation that helps travelers with information on planning their journeys. It seems like a nice place to hang out and has wireless which is the real reason I wanted to check it out. On Thursdays there is a open meeting, the next one explaining about Quechua which is the indigenous language – so I may go along.

As my body becomes acclimatized to the altitude I begin to feel more able to check out the various opportunities and possibilities. Last night's attempt at salsa left me in no doubt that my talents lie elsewhere. There was a group of 20 somethings and me and most of them had done it before. The teacher was quite patient and Macdud, my partner from Holland was really kind but I didn't get beyond the basic step which I had forgotten by the time I got home – still, trying something out for free several thousand miles away has something to recommend it.

Today, after class I walked up a steep path to see some Inca ruins called Saqsaywamán – this sounds a bit lie sexy woman so is easy to pronounce. I couldn't get in due to not yet having bought a 10 day pass for various sites – a silly rule considering that many people only visit for a day or two. However, I could see much of it from he next hill to which I had diverted to see massive white statue of Christ and with a great outlook on the city where was able to take some nice photos. On the way down I stopped in a posh hotel fo hot chocolate and was impressed by some life size stone puma heads in the lavatory which were really taps above the stone sinks. On my way back there were some young traditional dancers practicing in the Plaza near where I live where earlier there had been a Nestlé tent offering free nutrition consultations to he local people – this seemed like highly debatable multi-national activity but I suppose not surprising.

First day at School

Well Cuzco came alive today with bustling streets dodging cars and every kind of street vendor and tienda. Police of different types congregate on corners, shoe shine boys line the pavement eying your feet, elderly indigenous women sell chicken soup or bread from their blanket covered baskets and young girls sell telephone credit cards. There is an evident mix of the reasonably affluent and heartbreakingly poor. I saw a man walking on all fours with blocks of wood and knee pads to help him make his way alongside smartly dressed office workers and children in school uniforms.

The school made a cool welcome by setting me an examination and on completion the director of studies told me that I seem to have forgotten a lot of my Spanish! Ah well – I was assigned to my teacher Mariene and we spent a productive three hours covering quite a bit of ground and in an enjoyable way. I added my name to dancing lessons and short trek in the Sacred Vally but I understand these only happen if there are sufficient takers – there are other activities as well which include lectures and Peruvian cooking, so we'll see.

Finally today I managed to find an Internet café and was able to chat with my family and see them on Skype video – so now to my homework!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A bit of a mission

It is difficult to describe my journey I ways that are interesting – suffice to say that I survived its rigours and the result is I am now here in Cuzco and in good shape.

I now don't believe the hype by the UK airports about arriving 3 hours early for international flights. I got there to be greeted by a sign that check-in would open at 5 am for the 6.20 flight! I had arrived at Heathrow around 11.30 pm, courtesy of my family and touched by my daughter's tearful farewell. A long wait ensued.

Barajas airport, Madrid is very new and grand in every way so I enjoyed a relaxed and watchful breakfast then joined my flight for Lima. Two no-shows meant that they had to off-load some baggage and we consequently left an hour late, but we made up most of the time in a flight of 11 hours and 20 minutes. I was sat next to a very nice non-English/Spanish speaking Russian girl

who was joining her cousin to work in Lima and surrounded by some hyper-active children who had presumably been dosed up with tartrazine for before the flight! I was not impressed with Iberia airline – the flight attendants were diffident and lazy and information from the pilot was non-existent.

Lima airport was quite organized and as I emerged customs to a sea of meet-and-greeters who raised their placards in unison at my arrival - for a moment felt like a VIP. I identified my driver José and we went to find his car for a 40 minute drive across the city to my hotel in Miraflores. José was quite chatty but I preferred not to take his mind off his driving which was less than suicidal but fast and furious among the rush traffic. My eyes began to smart against the fumes as I marveled at his expertise in negotiating the tightest spaces when undertaking and overtaking other road users. We sped along the Playa on the Pacific beach and he commented that the water wasn't too clean!

We arrived at the hotel and after registration I ordered a hamburger and my very first Pisco sour. In consequence I slept well, until around 4 am and enjoyed a relaxed breakfast followed by a quick stroll around Miraflores noticing the dog walkers and hopeful car wash boys.

Leaving Lima was a more relaxed affair and José got me to the airport with the 45 minute journey costing about £7 each way. The airport was very organized and I joined my LAN flight and was further impressed by the flight staff who were without exception attentive and helpful, making an interesting comparison with the Iberia lot who seemed flight weary to a man. It did however seem curious that the LAN staff wore a USA badge showing that they spoke good English!

Arriving at Cuzco I was met by Cesar and transported to his town house with five levels where I have a great room with a panoramic view overlooking some houses and hills. I have been given lunch by Elizabeth his wife and told to rest and drink Mate de Coca to reduce the effects of the altitude. I am in the process of meeting the rest of the family and just now planning my siesta!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

One week to go

I feel quite hopeful for my forthcoming trip.

I have learnt that I will be staying with the ITURRI FAMILY: Cesar, (businessman), his wife Elizabeth (secretary), their daughters Vera Gabriela (21) dentist, Diana Valeria (8) and sons Cesar Andres (19) business student, Matias (9 months old). This seems quite an extended family but one that has good conversation possibilities.

I am a bit preoccupied with my journey - the flight from LHR at 0620 am presents problems that I am yet to resolve - will I arrive very early via public Transport or would it be best to take a cab in the dead of night - supposedly I need to be there 3 hours before my flight to Madrid!

The other worry is the possible problems associated with altitude sickness but I have checked these out and know to take it easy for the first few days.

Tomorrow I will pick up some local currency from the post office 'Soles' and I will have a booster jab for hepatitis.

The other day I received a nice email and photos from a Adele, a friend I cycled with in Guatemala - hopefully Perú will have some landscape to match this.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

12 days to go

In 12 days, 19 October 2007, I will be setting off for Perú for 2 months. I intend this blog to be a simple record of what I see and do. Postings will be brief but I hope to add photos.

I will be leaving by way of London, Heathrow, then to Madrid and on to Lima. From Lima I fly to Cuzco.

For the first month I will be learning Spanish at Excel.

After that I will be working as a classroom assistant and English teacher in a voluntary program called Bruce Peru.

Well, that's enough to go on for now!