Warmth can be found in the coldest places

Published: May 9th 2008
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Hi, sorry it´s been a while, as expected, I´ve been in the middle of nowhere for a while. Freezed my arse off and felt my skin boil 10 minutes later. My musical horizons have been expanded, though not in any sensible ways and I´ve worked out how survive 10 days solid sat on my bum. Having a cracking holiday.

Nice touristy town. More money floating about so most of the houses are finished. Larger percentage of tourists than I´d seen to date. All either looking excited for the walk or lookng knackered but pleased with themselves at having done it.
Arrived here before and after the Inca Trail. Before, the pririty was
shopping. We all wandered round looking for the basics that would keep us alive for the following 4 days. Gloves, waterproofs, water bottles and holders, walking poles, head torches so we didn´t step in anything unpleasant when we crawled to the loo in the dark.
Post Inca trail, we got to explore the city properly. Had a couple of good lie-ins obviously, and evenings where mostly spent oçin the nice hotel either watching daft movies with wine and pringles or playing cards, with wine and pringles.
As the original centre of the Incan empire, the place was bubbling with history. Endless supply of ruins to explore in the city and nearby. Unfortunately, the Spanish got everywhere. A beautiful old Incan temple had an enormous ugly church dumped on top of it. Thankfully, there was enough left of the original structure so we could tell what they´d done. Interesting to see the variety of architecture betwen modern Peru, the Spanish and the Incas. The Incan architecture was much more impressive. Grander without being fussy. The Spanish church had a model of Jesus on the cross, wearing a frilly gold skirt. Killed off the image of suffering and made him look camp.
Went for a couple of nice meals while in Cuzco. My activity for the day after the Inca trail involved taking laundry to the hotel reception, by which time, it was lunchtime so walked down the road to the nearest cafe. Spent afternoon chatting and drinking. Much needed day off. One night we fancied a proper meal out so 4 of us wandered round looking for the local speciality to share. Have finally eaten Guinea Pig. Tastes revolting, very fatty with unpleasant after taste. May have been better if served in a stew, with something overpowering the flavour. Really didn´t help that it´s head was still attached and staring at us. Paws splayed like it had just been run over then fried in the sun. Thankfully we had all ordered our own meals so we covered the head of the road kill with a basket, to great amusement of the waiter, and were allowed to enjoy the charming resturant and the balcony overlooking the main square.

Saw little of Puno as on bus all day. Impressive views out the windows of the Lake and Mountains. About 6 hours on the bus leads to lots of yawning and little sight seeing. Pizza for tea that night very welcome.
Next morning, we headed to the docks on little man powered taxis. Poor bloke riding bike behind us, encouraged to race the rest of the group until he completely ran out of breath. Large buses, trucks and ordinary cars compete for space on the roads and, as normal, have no respect for each others right to live. Great fun and terrifiying at the same time.
After Lake Titicaca, we returned to Puno for an afternoon. Had aimless wander round. Nice enough place, not a lot to do besides shop. Once I´d used up my spare Soles, back to nice hotel to crash. Nice evening in watching trash tv, playing cards and eating chicken and chips from a plastic box.
I´ve discovered why most towns have maybe one or 2 completed houses. They don´t get mortgages for their homes, just pay for them as they build them so can take a while. In such hot climates, can get away with only building 3 walls of top floor and creating a patio. Don´t have to pay taxes until house complete so why bother adding the last roof or window. Was starting to wonder why Puno, like Lima, Arequipa, Chivay had a large number of houses with big gaps in the roof and walls. Pisco had the earthquake as an excuse and is far worse, but a lot of Peru has unfinished housing. Cuzco the same, but they´ve painted more of the spare walls.

Lake Titicaca
Highest navigable lake in the world, largest lake above 2000m, is absolutely vast. We saw one small inlet and ´thought that was it until having been in the boat for 2 hours, it opened out as far as the eye can see. We stayed on the Peruvian side but we could see the enormous glaciers on the far side in Bolvia. Stunning.
Stayed on 3 islands, Taquile, Amantani and the Uros islands.

Taquile Island
A well organised island in which you´re given hats and belt to wear to indicate whether you´re married or single and looking or not. It depends on colour and the position of the bobble hanging off you hat. Superb system, if someone hot walks up, you keep your bobble on the left, if he´s ugly, quickly flip it over to the right to show you´re not interested.
Actual island was quite nice, though had to walk up lots of steep steps to get up to the resturant and most quickly started moaning and slowing to a pathetic crawl.

Amantani Island
As close as I´ve come so far to living real Peru. The island is unusual in that it´s an island so the communties are very close knit. (The knitting is pretty continuous, we were lent woolly hats to keep our ears warm. They missed a trick there as didn´t need to buy one) Walked up to Pachpapa (surprisingly tall hill - high altitude so slow going) to see the sunset over the lake. Bit cloudy but colours still stunning.
Back home for tea. We were staying with a Peruvian family. 2 of us per family, tiny cold rooms in farm style homes with outside loos. Door to our rom was max 4 foot high. Never felt so tall in my life. Basic accomodation but lots of warmth in the family. Our "mum" for the night was called Selma, she cooked us a wonderful vegetable soup followed but rice with pasta and potatoes. Eaten in small kitchen with her and her 9 year old son, Eduardo. Strange atmosphere as my Spanish is still pretty poor, my room mate´s Spanish is ok but basic. Selma´s first language is Quechua so even with a sheat sheet of polite Quechua and a Spanish phrase book, we mostly resorted to pointing, smiling and yummy noises. I attempted to teach the kid snap. Without a word for pair, or even card, it took a while, not much success. Kept him amuses watching me struggle though.
The evening was spent in the local communtiy hall, dancing. Mostly with my "mother" and the rest of the group. We were dressed up in traditional Peruvian clothes for the occasion. The blokes got it easy, a woolly hat and a poncho. I had 4 layers. (left walking trousers and top on underneath to avoid hyperthemia) An intricately paterned long white shirt, odd white under skirt (petticote I think) huge red Skirt that fell just below the knees, fat belt tied up just under my ribs, cutting of any chance I had to breath and very pretty shawl that was meant to be put over the head then hang off your back. The only way I managaed this was by using my head torch as a head band. Not exactly what she had in mind. To be honest, I felt less of a prat dressed in wig, cape and hobbit ears. Fun evening though. Lots of dancing, mostly round and round in a circle as I failed miserably to learn what I was meant to do with my feet.
Pancake for breakfast after good nights sleep under my 6 thick blankets. Back to the boat quite early to continue the adventure across the lake.

Uros Islands
Floating Islands, made from reeds. They use the roots of the reeds in blocks as foundations and just piled up dried reeds on top as their floor. Houses made from reeds and reeds to eat (given some to taste, yuck). Few birds chained to the floor as luxury food but standard of living looked pretty basic. The island we visited was set up for tourists, small stalls selling what they spend their days making. Anything possible you make mke from wool or reeds.
A few of us opted for the trip on the reed boat. The women in the village waved us off with a well rehearsed "asta la vista" that made us all cringe. Laid out watching people row us round the islands, looked at a few more of the islands, and laughed as one of us, the enormous kiwi, tried to row with much greater power than the tiny man on the other side. Having gone in circles for a while, we headed back, sadly back onto the main boat and back to the mainland.

Border town, nice introduction to Bolivia. Sweet little town with few stalls and cheap resturants. Had an hour to waste so while a few opted for a resturant, most of us settled down in the park to enjoy the sarnies we´ve liberated from the breakfast buffet that morning. Rest of the day spent travelling, mostly in cramped coaches

La Paz
Death Road
Well I wanted to do Death Road. It wasn´t cost or common snese that stopped me. Chose Death Road over a day shopping in La Paz. 60km downhill road, largely unused by traffic, though still a few trucks on it. 3.5m wide at narrowest point. Descend 3000m. Sounded wonderful, only $70 for a full day. Ok, so ih has earned its name. A kid died there only a few weeks ago. His was going a bit fast, his tyre burst at the wrong moment when a truck was coming the wrong way, both went over the edge into the valley below. I made it all the way to the office before turning back to the hotel.
Can´t think of a polite way to put it. I spent the day vomiting and crapping. After having reaching the point of retching with nothing left in my system to throw up, the rest of my body joined in and started to moan in pain. By far the worst day of the holiay. (well since I´m so rarely sick, stands out as one of the shittiest day of the last 9 years - not including family illness and Meat Loaf getting ill, again)
We met our new tour guide that evening. Got rid of the nice but distracted Eric, we got a sweet girl called Paula who´s superb. Very organised, gave us a detailed itenary and spent 90 minutes explaining the trip through Bolivia and Brazil down to transport, optional activities and availabilty at each stage of internet, laundry etc. Fantastic, exactly what we need and had been lacking with Eric in charge. Would have enjoyed the meeting far more if entire body wasn´t exhausted and aching. System empty by then so didn´t have to keep running to the bog as had done all day, but spent most of the day with my head in my lap desperate for my bed to colapse into.
I wasn´t the only sick one. 4 of us had spent the day puking, though by the sound of it, I got the worst of it. Only 2 of us were continuing the tour with Paula. Felt very sorry for her. Must have wondered what she was getting herself into. Has soent the last week looking at me with very sympathetic eyes, without getting too close, much like the rest of the group.

Dull day followed that one. 3 hours on a bus followed by 9 hours on a train. Just what you need with a dodgy stomach. Arrived into Uyuni about 11pm to the heavenly smell of Pizza. Hotel doubles as a wonderful Pizza resturant. The best in world according to Paula. Gee thanks, nice to know what I´m missing anyway. Came back to Uyuni after the Salf flats, got to watch everyone eat pizza again. Chunky tomato soup almost made up for it then, almost.

3 days solid in a jeep ranks, for views alone, as one of teh highlights of South America. The Salt Flats was amazing. Salt desert as far as the eye could see. Took lots of silly photos using perspective. Crawling into a pringles tin, standing on each others arms and riding on the back of an enormous brown cat. The cat was a bit hit. When he emerged, I got less looks of sympathy and more of "why has that 27 year old nutter brought a stuffed cat on holiday?" Very quickly though everyone wanted him in their photos. He started to enjoy the fame after a while, and got a very salty belly.
From the salt flats, we travelled far into the desert. Blue, red and green lagoons, flamingoes, erupting volcanoes, snow capped peaks, geysers, cacti... Last day saw us sat next to some hotsprings. Too cold to take one of 5 layers off so I wasn´t about to jump in. Those that did raved out the intense heat for 3 minutes then agreed it wasn´t that warm. None wanted to get out, and those that did hopped around freezing until they could rescue all of their warm clothes. I sat back an enjoyed the show with the other sensible people.
Accomodation on this trip made a tent feel like a 5 star hotel. Basic dorms no heating, no double glazing. Stayed above 4000m so really really cold. Needed 3 blankets, sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner, all wrapped tight around us all night so as not to freeze to death. 3rd morning, the cold followed us into the jeep. Got up really early to see the sunset, no heater in jeep and feet frozen stiff. Sat wrapped up in sleeping bag in jeep. Was given front seat in our jeep so didn´t have t move for first 3 hours till sun came out and warmed me up. Still good fun. Spent 3 days sat watching the wilderness pass by the window.
We had a cook with us on the cook so I got to watch people eat some wonderful food. Took me 4 days to complete half a bowl of soup. Fisrt 2 days of tour were spent nibbling my way through half a roll a day. No fair, free food, cant enjoy it. Also a tad irritating that I had no energy to run around the hills. Plodded slowly and earned more looks of sympathy.
Highlight of the 3 day tour came on night 2. Despite being -15 degrees, we were told to go outside, the brave few weere given a real treat. Being the desert, miles and miles from anything, the light polution is minimal. Never seen so many stars in my life. Milky way streaked across the sky in brilliant clarity. Could even see the shapes of the animals in it that the Inca´s worshipped. The shadow of a Llama was clear as day within the huge galaxy. Odd feeling to think of our ancestors seeing the sky in such brilliant clarity. Made much more sense to navigate with and worship the stars when you can see there are so many more of them than is possible to see from anywhere in the UK. Even, I´m sorry to say, New Zealand. Saw an amazing night sky from Opunake, but this eclipsed even that. Took my breath away (good job as breath had turned to ice by this point)

Journey to Potosi was the only memorable thing. 7 hours in seriously cramped local bus. Far worse than any journey I´ve done before. Outside world too dusty to have window open more that half a centimetre. Cow behind me kept stealing my curtain so blinded and boiled by baking sun. Very limited leg room, couldn´t store bags in overhead space at told they would be stolen. Not enough space anywhere. To be fair, there were people standing up for most of the journey but sympathy quickly waned. They apparently paid half as much as us, kept smacking the woman sat next to me with thiers bags and elbows for no sensible reason, and without wishing to sound too rude, most had serious hygiene issues. The bus smelled horrible. Then the kids got on.
One poor kid was very ill, sat for 7 hours staring at his mother willing to be put on her lap near a bit of breeze. Looked like crap. Threw up a few time to add to the delightful aroma on the bus. To finish it off, the same woman´s baby did what babies do and pooed it´s nappy. The mother actually left the dirty nappy behind when she got off the bus just before us. We were warned that the local buses would be a bit rough. BO, Vomit and Poo didn´t feature in the warning. The day ranks up there with my day in La Paz. Never been happier to get off a bus in my life.
Potosi itself was unremarkable. Smallish town, nice resturant almost managed to get me interested in soup again. School aniversary celebrations interupted dinner as a noisy parade walked past the door. Fun to watch. Happy to get out of Potosi in the morning. Only 3 hours to Sucre on a proper bus was a positive joy, even when the wheel fell off.

Paula had actually changed the itenary to give us 1 day in Potosi and 3 days in Sucre rather than 2 in each. Staying in 4 star hotel in Sucre, but worked out very quickly why she rushed us here. Given about 5 minutes to dump bags in luxurious rooms before she gave us the most important city tour of the holiday. Sucre has one big asset. Chocolate. We practically ran to Paula´s favourite chocolate shop. Blokes just looked bemused as all the women came out with big bags bursting with the most heavenly chocolate you can get outside of Birmingham and Belgium. (can´t beat Dairy Milk but this stuff gets pretty close) I think I´m the only one who hadn´t finished their bag before we got back to the hotel 10 minutes later. Rest of tour was just Paula making yummy noises laughing a lot.
Visited the most important attractions in Sucre. A interesting museum tour guide explained the history of the liberation of Bolivia and the interwoven history of South America as a whole. Could easily have become one big country, as planned by Simon Bolivar. Left to their own devices, they´ve enjoyed freedom from Spain, and long lasting friendship with most of their neighbours.
The other important sight in Sucre is the Dinosaur footprints. 6 of us piled into the Dino Truck and headed into the hills behind a concrete factory. One enormous wall, pushed up by the movement of the plates contains several thousand dinosaur footprints. Clear tracks running up the walls, the longest continous track in the world running along its length. UNESCO had made it a world herritage site and currently its protected so you have to view it properly through binoculars. When they´ve stopped the cliff eroding, should be able to get a bit closer. To compansate for the distance to the main attraction, they´ve set up a miniture Jurassic park with plastic dinosaurs making daft noises. Great fun. The 6 of us behaved like big kids for the whole trip.
Spent the evenings in Cuzco going to nice resturants. Had a wonderful steak last night. Cooked to perfection, wrapped in bacon and served with a delightful roquefort sauce. Almost managed to finish a meal for the first time in a week. There´s 3 people in our group who´ll finish everything on the table so I´ve been quite popular for a few days providing great leftovers for them to argue over.
Spending rest of the evenings chatting in rooms or in the courtyard. I´ve had my music taste pulled apart, as usual. Was sent to bed with someone´s elses ipod to listen to. My education continues. Enjoying the endless debates of Meat Loaf v Nirvana. Let me just say that if your music makes you so depressed, you take your own life what is it going to do to all the poor sods who buy your album.

Sadly losing 3 people from the group tonight. Down to 8. Will be a bit odd without them. Only been travelling together for 4 weeks but we´ve been like a little family. We look after each other when sick, carry heavy bags for each other when tired, cheer each other up and make light of even the most depressing situations. One the new guys, Keith, who joined us in La Paz, started off telling us he could cope with roughing it. He´s over 6 foot tall, looks like Bob Marley, London Motorcycle Paramedic, in theory used to dangerous situations. Squealed like a baby when he realised it wasn´t 5 star accomodation on the salt flats, refused to take a shower when it wasn´t boiling hot water and the floor wasn´t shiny clean. Fun bloke but total wuss. He needed a lot of cheering up when faced with the prospect of 7 hours on a bus with a smelly babies bum in his face. When you´re with people who can keep you laughing in these situation, what more do you need. Looking forward to having one of my best friends joining me soon, but will miss this lot when they spread off round the world.


10th May 2008

So let me get this right - in order to get you in skirt, we need to find someone to talk to you in a foreign language (with or without snap lessons), possibly feed you some rice and potatoes, and then you will be violently sick as a consequence? Sounds about right :) Sorry to hear you've been ill, but I guess if you're away for 6 months you've got a chance of coming down with something at some point! Just be glad you've got your one illness out the way. I guess all that's left to say is, thank god someone's making you listen to some decent music - going halfway across the world and listening to Hanson and the Backstreet Boys would be a travesty in itself ;) ;)
14th May 2008

Sorry you have been so poorly. Sounds horrible. Can't wait to see the photos of you dressed up with the torch round your head dancing. Pleased you have met such a great bunch of people. Thank you for making me giggle so much. Love it.
19th May 2008

I must be hallucinating - YOU in a skirt - I can't belive it. Right this may well be the start of something new for you he he!!!! Can't WAIT to get out there - handed in my notice and two members of the team kissed me. This could be quite worrying ie they are glad I am leaving or a gesture of affection....hmmm......grin!! Oh I meant to mention (I am sure you have already worked this out, but I am coming back on a different flight after all - same date and time as yours but 200 quid cheaper!!!) I hope you are feeling better btw nothing worse than not feeling like eating especially when everyone eats in front of you constantly, but sounds like you're over the worst of it if you are starting to fancy chocolate. Missing regular updates from you. Take Care Samantha xx
19th May 2008

Hi Lizzie, somehow I managed to miss this one! I have to say, this is you writing all this right? Because after about a minute of reading your post, it feels more like a novel - marvellous stuff, really enjoying it. Hope that you maanged to get better and enjoy the superb Bolivian cuisine. Keep writing and stay safe - Walsall is starting to feel very small! Craigxx
21st May 2008

how I agree with you about the Spaniards
I r ead a book written by a spanish civil servant. he was attached to the embassy in London but he was obviously a keen student of the history of the Spanish period and their control of the Incas. I think the book was called Heart of Jadeand I have never forgotten it. I almost wish I could forget it. Man's inhumanity is incredible

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