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.