10 Funky Facts #1PERU

It crept up on me, without me realising what had happened until it was too late.  The weird and wonderful things that just two months ago had seemed so alien had suddenly become normal.

Here is a Top Ten of things that you may not know about Peru

washing up 'liquid'

washing up ‘liquid’

1.  Washing up liquid comes in solid form in plastic tubs. It looks like the 1kg margarine tubs that you would buy in the UK, although its green colour and very strong bubbly smell will ensure that you don’t ever mix the two up.  To use, simply swipe the dish washing sponge over the green gloop and take care to rinse thoroughly or you will be tasting it for days.  Fairy liquid eat your heart out – this stuff dissolves grease by the bucket load: – and fingernails.

2.  Cute and tasty.  Don’t be fooled by the cute little guinea-pigs which you see scampering around in their cages.  Bubble, Sqeak and Gertrude are not pets. They are dinner. And they will arive at the table looking rather like their former breathing selves but undressed and sort of, well, flat. They sprawl across your plate with eyeless sockets and their itsy bitsy ears. It is as fiddly as hell to get the tiny morsels of meat off their tiny bones, but it is worth it, so swallow your inhibitions and get stuck in.  Unless of course you are a vegetarian.

3.  All babies and children and I mean ALL babies and children without exception in Peru are stunningly cute, adorable and basically all look as if they should star in the baby ads. They have the longest eyelashes and rarely cry or grizzle. The young ones are often plugged into a breast while mum goes about her daily business but why oh why are the new borns carried and covered under a blanket. It s hot here in the summer so why do they risk cooking their babies?

4.  Driving could have a blog entry all to itself. In fact, I think it will some time in the future, but here for now, is a little something to consider.  Many people will only have ten minutes behind the steering wheel of a car before being issued with a certificate so it is little wonder that the roads resemble scenes from Whacky Races.  If you want to turn left, logic surely says that you should get in the left hand lane and if you want to turn to the right, stay on the right.  If you are at a red stop sign there is no need to honk your horn and if I have just got out of a cab why on earth would I want to get straight into another one?  I love that rules don’t count for anything here although I do wish that one-way street signs would be observed as that gets a little hairy.

something fishy

something fishy

5.  Uncooked fish.  I like my fish and meat cooked so cebiche was an unexpected hit for me. Raw chunks of fish are ‘cooked’ as they marinate in lime juice. The result is surprisingly unfishy as they explode in your mouth accompanied by a cloud of fresh citrus and finely shredded onions.

6.  Walls. Walls are built for the sake of it and in the desert with no visible habitation for miles, somebody will have built a wall. Or to be more precise, four very long walls in a rectangular shape enclosing nothing but empty sand. And then people come and paint the walls white and often add some political slogans  in red paint and three foot high letters. The amount of bricks in some of these walls could build a small hotel. I just don’t understand the time and effort put into the walls.

7.  White dog poo . Only people over a certain age will appreciate this weird fact. White dog poo.  Why is it white and why can it no longer to be found in the UK?  No need to dwell any longer on this one. It’s white and on the Peruvian pavements. Fact.

8.  Numbers. Shops and public spaces generally have two posters displayed. One shows where the safe area is should there be an earthquake. The other indicates the maximum number of people who should be inside the establishment although I don’t think that the two are linked. The old fashioned barber shop around the corner from me may contain five people. The supermarket several hundred. I don’t know who counts you in and out because the security guards just stroke their guns and try to look cool, but short of an earthquake I can’t think what harm cam come to person number six who decides to join the queue for the barber.
Numbers do not count at all however in cabs or combis. Basically you just keep on shoving until limbs pop out the windows and the conductor is hanging out of the door on the bottom step.  Two in a front seat and two in the boot are quite normal in a cab and anything less than five on the back seat is luxury.  In the country near Chiclayo people travel on the roof of combis (garishly coloured camper vans) and the man in front of us had a bag of live chickens (including a crowing cockerel) on his lap.

9.  Puddles of Blood.  Long distance buses will often play a film if they have televisons and decide to ring the changes from ear splitting salsa music,but there is often little concession for children. Horror films are avidly appreciated and blood and guts abound.  The front pages of the newspapers usually display the previous night’s body count with little privacy afforded to the poor victims.  Perhaps the idea is to shock and discourage crime but I reckon it is just an acceptance of life and death – and a love of the gruesome

10.  Full volume.  Life is conducted at full volume but nobody complains because nobody notices. From the marines who jog around the city centre at six thirty in the morning chanting marine chants as they stomp through the streets, to the fireworks which are set off at any time of the day or night – it is all perfectly acceptable. Somebody doesn’t answer the front door? Shout. Dogs bark and music blasts out from homes, buses and cars  and from our next door neighbour’s ridiculously massive speakers which play all night. But I find the noise strangely comforting and I am learning to sleep through anything.

The above is by no means a conclusive list – I could have added the adult slush puppies, the complete unawareness of the concept of personal space or menus which just about everybody eats for lunch and cost just a pound.  But after just two months here my senses have readjusted and this is the normal

Machu Picchu and Christmas

The town of Cusco centres around its main square the Plaza de Armas and radiates upwards and outwards on three sides. Deep red terracotta tiled roofs march up the steep hillsides whilst dark skinned small people stroll around bent under their heavy loads. Everybody seems to be carrying something on their backs stuffed into brightly coloured blankets. Babies, shopping and firewood are tied tightly in place and women with oversized bowler hats perched on top of long hair tied back in plaits stand or sit on street corners and stare as life passes by.

Moray

Moray

We spent a few days getting our bearings and then me, G, and now H and C – our new band of happy travellers set off early one morning for the Sacred Valley.  We had hired a private taxi and set off for the Sacred Valley.  Once we got him talking, Ronaldo turned out to be a real gem.  He took us to Moray first.  Moray consists of three massive terraced amphi-theatres set deep into the hillside.  The bowls are suspected of being crop laboratories where the Incas would have experimented, growing different crops at differing altitudes in little micro climates.  The bowls were very simple structures with nothing fancy to see, but were strangely interesting, carved into the mountain.  Our next stop was supposed to be the Salinas – a terrace of salt pans but Ronaldo assured us that they were not very spectacular at all now that the rainy season had begun and instead of the sparkling white terraces, they would be brown and yellow.  We followed his advice and instead he gave us a bespoke tour of the Sacred Valley, stopping at view points to point out the history, geography and nature of the area.  A couple of days later I was chatting to a Korean in our hostel who showed me his photographs of the Salinas.  Ronaldo had been quite correct and they were not especially spectacular.  They would not have compared to Pamukkale in Turkey where the blinding white calcium deposits spill down the hillside and the iridescent ice blue water glimmers in the sunlight and which I had paddled in a few years ago.

Aguas Calientas

Aguas Calientas

escape route map

escape route map

Ronaldo dropped us in the small town of Ollyantambu where I would have loved to explore the Incan streets but a more pressing need was for breakfast.  We sat in the sun for a time while the sleepy town woke up and then we rolled down the hill to the train station.  The train was packed with tourists and it rattled along the tracks for nearly two hours along the bottom of a steep ravine.  I have to admit to being slightly nervous as we gained speed – wondering if the next corner would be the one where we tipped into the frothy torrent of a crazy river which was running alongside us.  We did however survive and we got out at the very strange town of Aguas Calientas.  The four of us then found our hostel – who were not expecting us – but finally sorted out our rooms at the top of the narrow steep building.  There was a moment of hysteria when we discovered that the bathroom door in the boys’ room had no panel and whoever was in there would be in full view of the other, a moment of panic when the largest hornet that I have ever seen crawled up the curtain in the room that I was to share with H and a moment of despair when we found out that our tour operator back in Cusco (never trust a man who operates out of a cupboard) had not reserved our tickets for the bus the following morning.  The issues were all soon resolved – I eventually plucked up the courage to swat the hornet out of the window and our landlady sorted out the bus tickets and covered up the missing door panel with a curtain and some newspapers.  Poor H was suffering with severe altitude sickness – I could totally empathise with her as I succumbed a few days later, but we were all so excited to be heading up to Machu Picchu the following day.  Aguas Calientas may have a place in the guidebooks as the arse-end of the valley but it has scope for some hilarious people-watching.  The town is sited on a very steep valley with the river boiling through it.  Porters wearing welly boots transport all sorts of goods around on hand carts and can be seen everywhere, puffing and struggling to push the carts uphill, or else standing in front of them and straining back against them to prevent them from running down the hill.  They are invariably forced into a run and in some sort of sick way you are forced to watch, perhaps wondering if they might trip and be run over by their own carts.  Two small boys wandered up the main road swinging huge machetes around their heads and then to our horror had an impromptu sword fight with them.  They couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old, and next a tiny toddler hurtled down the main street on a little push-along tricycle and ended up wedged underneath the back of a bus.  I was concerned that the bus may start its engine but his mum just wandered up with not a care in the world and fished him out.  Trains rumble slowly along their tracks on the main street, whistling as people and dogs walk in front of their path and everywhere are large posters and signs indicating the escape routes should a flash flood or a mudslide envelop the valley – BBC News

I distinctly remember the pictures on the news nearly four years previously in the rainy season and as these pictures from the BBC show, it is a wonder that more people didn’t die.  The river is a noisy, fast flowing beast contained by the steep valley walls and dominates the town.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

At four am the alarms woke us up and we set off to get onto one of the first buses of the day.  A convoy wound up the tight hairpins on the mountainside and then pulled into the car park at the top.  We queued up to show our tickets and our passports and then we were in.  My reliable Lonely Planet advised us to swing a left at the entrance and to climb.  We did, albeit slowly as we were all suffering from the altitude and as we rounded the corner at the top, we were rewarded with the classic view above the ruins.  Photographs cannot do the place justice.  If the ruins were placed in a field they would be special but set high on a plateau with towering mountains clothed with dense green jungle looming above, and the edges of the settlement scooping down to the river which looped far below, it is magical.

We had arrived before the crowds and could spend a good half hour sitting quietly and absorbing the energy of the place.  And it does have an energy.  I don’t know if it is because of the mountains which surround it or the remoteness of the place, but probably because it has long been my dream to visit Machu Picchu and Peru – I felt such an elation and achievement to have finally arrived.

The hut of the caretaker of the funerary rock

The hut of the caretaker of the funerary rock

As we sat and watched, a fog began to roll up from the river weaving like a spirit among the ruins, clothing everything with its grey shawl and casting even more magic around.  We had a tour guide who explained much of the supposed history of the place and then we were free to explore by ourselves.  Me and G wandered off to see the Inca Bridge.  This was just a twenty five minute hike away but it felt like a lot more in the rarefied atmosphere at that altitude.  The narrow path clung to the edge of a sheer cliff and ended with a large gap bridged with a couple of wooden logs.  It was now out of bounds because some adventurous tourist had plunged to their death from it but to be honest, there was no way that I would have dared to cross it.  The views were spectacular and we watched condors and eagles swoop around us before returning to the main site.  The soft grey stones of the ruins looked a part of the mountain, built in staggered rows and arranged so that none blocked the sunlight of another, and mirrored by the terraces below which looped around the impossibly steep mountainside. A pack of some eighteen alpacas quietly moved amongst the buildings, cropping the grass and unintentionally posed for photographs. As the crowds began to swarm around the buildings we found a quiet corner and sat in the shade. H had made her way down the mountain earlier but me G and C chose to walk down rather than taking the bus.  It was a long steep walk but we surprised ourselves by doing it in forty five minutes, flopping down the innumerable uneven steps and trying not to slip on the gravel.  Back in the town we mooched about for a bit until the return train arrived, did some more people watching and then set back off for Cusco in a downpour

selling medicinal plants

selling medicinal plants

The following day was Christmas Eve and the Plaza de Armas was converted into a massive street fair with hundreds of people flocked in from the surrounding countryside.  Stalls were selling the usual alpaca goods but there were also peasants from the country with piles of dried grasses (apparently medicinal plants) and men nailing together miniature wooden stables for people’s nativity scenes.  The poverty was tangible as women with grubby babies strapped to them squatted under the arches where they would later settle down to sleep.  Smoke from the many food carts hung over the square but even a sudden sharp downpour couldn’t put off the crowds as whole families came to buy their Christmas gifts.  I visited the Inka museum and later that evening a few of us gathered for a meal on the outskirts of the town.  A couple of the volunteers from the NGO were also in town for Christmas and were staying with their friend from their home town of Madrid who was living and studying in Cusco.  They had prepared an amazing meal of typical Spanish foods which we washed down with plenty of wine, the language swinging between Spanish and English.  At midnight on Christmas Eve families in Peru typically sit down to their Christmas dinner and let off a barrage of fireworks which resounded around the valley for the next hour or so.

High above Cusco

High above Cusco

Christmas Day in Cusco was bright and sunny (to begin with) and the now cleared square was host to some very bizarre sights.  Villagers had come into the town and were displaying their various dances, accompanied in the main by choirs of women and the odd musical instrument.  Costumes varied widely from village to village although there was a loose theme to the tune which they were all warbling.  This was the first year that the villagers had presented their stuff and quite a crowd of inquisitive locals and tourists had turned out to watch.  Walking around among them were people parading their little cribs containing dolls (Jesus) covered over with pieces of net curtain who were on their way to or from the countless churches and the cathedral. Me and C had a bit of a wander down to the artisan market where we bought a few little bits and pieces and then in the afternoon I took an open top bus tour around the city.  The bus climbed the hill high above the town and stopped for fifteen Peruvian minutes (thirty minutes to the rest of us) while we photographed the view and the large white stone statue of Jesus standing aloft in a similar but smaller way that the statue stands above Rio.  I didn’t visit the Incan site of SexyWoman (not spelt like that but it is how it sounds) as after Machu Picchu I was all ruined out but the next day I did spend a good couple of happy hours wandering around Qorikancha and the monastery of Santa Catalina.  Christmas night I blagged my way into a theatre and watched a performance of traditional dance after wearing down the man on the front desk.  In response to his continuing request for twenty soles entrance fee I continued to whirl my arms around like a mad women repeating ‘mis amigas, mis amigas’ until he eventually shrugged and indicated he was giving up and I should go in and find said amigas

On Boxing Day I discovered a quiet little backstreet vegetarian restaurant and I had a Mayan hot chocolate in the Cocoa museum – hot chocolate with honey and chilli.  I wanted to spend a quiet day alone as I had struggled a bit the previous day with the emotions of Christmas and being apart from my children and friends. I needed some time out to sit and think.  I have come on quite a journey but I think constantly of my children back in the UK and I would love to be able to share my experiences with them.

Later that evening I met up with M once again and together we headed off on yet another overnight bus for the border and our next stop -Bolivia

Reflecting on 2013

What an amazing year 2013 has been.  I still wake up every morning with a big wide grin. I have had some low points and some scary moments but overall I am having the most marvelous adventure.

I made this happen.  I quit my job, I sold the majority of my possessions and I am currently living besides the Pacific.  I know that I am very lucky and I never forget that much of it is down to my fantastic friends who believed in me and who gave me the confidence to spread my wings. Click here to remind yourself of just how far I have come

I have slept in bunk beds and spent nights in mixed dorms in hostels.  I have slept in hotels, tents and even on a veranda under the stars in Cuba.

I have eaten alpaca, llama and guinea pig (cuy).  I have tasted pigs ears and pigs intestines in Spain, and I love raw fish (cebiche) and trout from Lake Titicaca

I have drunk pisco and mojitos and gallons of tinto de verano (summer wine), danced in the moonlight and taken trains, planes and automobiles in seven different countries.  Here is a very brief round-up of the previous twelve months.

January  

I welcomed in 2013 in Spain, drinking cava and eating my twelve grapes as is per the custom when the church bells strike midnight.

My New Year’s resolution was to not let another year pass by without making concrete plans for my future and booking my flight to Peru.  Little did I know at that stage what adventures were in store for me.

February

Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral

I went off to Milan with BF.   The weather was bitterly cold but we warmed up with Apero Spritzers and climbed the stairs up to the roof of the Cathedral.  We came home via the Ice Bar in London and to blizzards in Brighton where  I fell in love with its bohemian atmosphere and the maze of Lanes and the Independent Quarter.

March

Old American cars are everywhere

Old American cars are everywhere

…and I was off on my long-promised holiday to Cuba. What a fascinating county with some fascinating people.  I went on an Explore tour which was full-on but so much fun.  We trekked in the footsteps of Che Guevara and the Castro brothers, visited a tobacco farm and danced salsa until the early hours.  Me and my Scottish room-mate chased, and were chased by giant cockroaches, downed countless mojitos, and we rode through deserted streets on a bici-taxi whilst laughing hysterically most of the time.

April

April was a strange month as I went round and round in circles trying to decide what to do for the best.  To resign or not to resign?  Well we now know the result of that one but I spent the month in limbo.  I knew what I wanted to do, but how should I achieve it. There was the constant worry that I may actually not enjoy travelling once I left although that was never really going to happen was it!

May

This month it was up to London to see the Killers in concert at Wembley and we stayed in a quirky home in West London courtesy of AirBnB.  Decision made, I decided to quit my job and my home and pack up my life as I knew it.

June

If you are going to go to a music festival, then it makes sense to choose one in the sun.  The Optimus Alive festival in Lisbon had a great line up – the highlights for me were Of Monsters and Men, Kings of Leon and Green Day.  We travelled overland on sleeper trains – good training for the plethora of night buses that would be experienced later in the year and rattled around the narrow streets and alleys of Lisbon on the ancient trams.

Lisbon tram

Lisbon tram

July

Me and BF spent two weeks working on a farm in the Algarve, planting sweet potato and lettuce and swimming in the eco-pond, although neither of us quite plucked up enough courage to ‘shwim with ze nature’.  There was a quick dash back up to Lisbon and then I set off by myself again and went house sitting in the mountains – click to read what happened in Portugal

August

Another flight on the smallest little plane returned me back to Lisbon where I met up with family.  This turned into a bit of a gastronomic fest, visiting little back-street restaurants each evening and where I discovered a preference for strong, black coffee.  I  had a brief spell back in the UK and then I headed up to Kent for phase two of my summer adventure

September

Beautiful Toledo

Beautiful Toledo

Back over the Channel – this time to Northern France to take care of my seven golfers in their gite click here to read the blog entry.   I should finally confess that I didn’t do too much cooking and cleaning but I did learn how to play ‘Chase the Ace’.  I then travelled on south to Madrid where I lived with an amazing family for three weeks and met up with several friends who happened to be in the area.  I loved the old towns of Toledo and Sergovia and I was very soon darting around on the Madrid Metro like a local.

October

The Alhambra at dusk

The Alhambra at dusk

As the weather started to cool I dropped even further south to Estepona where I was thrilled to have been invited to attend the wedding of some friends in Gibraltar.   That was followed by a mini road trip around Granada which found me and my mate Coops yomping through the streets in the dark at stupid o’clock so that we could visit the Alhambra

November

After planning for what seemed like forever, I said my final goodbyes to my best friends and family and I got the main part of my adventure underway.  It didn’t begin too well as I spent the first night throwing up in my hotel at Heathrow but a twenty four hour journey eventually found me in South America.  After a few days in Lima relaxing and acclimatising I travelled up to the northern city of Trujillo where I would be working with an NGO for the next three months

December

After three weeks teaching English in the poorest district of El Porvenir, we had three weeks holiday when the schools broke up.  I crammed loads in during this time – I visited Arequipo, Cusco, and Puno in Peru and then I crossed the border to La Paz in Bolivia.  The highlight for me was walking into Machu Picchu at six thirty in the morning and exploring the ancient ruins just a couple of days before Christmas.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

2014

This New Year’s Eve was spent dodging fireworks on the beach at Copacabana in Bolivia, greeting 2014 with BF, a Chilean stand-up comedienne and a copyright lawyer and wondering what the hell the next twelve months will bring.

If the last twelve months are anything to go by, it is going to be an absolute blast.

The Colca Canyon and a Christmas Adventure

The dancing kicks off

The dancing kicks off

Chocolatada kicked off my Christmas adventure. This occasion is the highlight of the year for many of the children in our NGO and for days leading up to the big event, volunteers had been wrapping presents and labelling goody bags, the volunteer house full of debates about how best to wrap a football or how to disguise a  doll.
Early on the Sunday morning a posse of mums gathered in the school yard to cook lomo saltado (beef, onions and peppers) in huge cauldrons over open fires.  Seven hundred bread rolls were cut and filled with this mixture, gallons of hot chocolate drink was mixed and stirred and as the sun beat down on the sandy school yard the huge metal gates were opened and families tentatively began to trickle in.
Volunteers wearing Christmas hats and tinsel-edged capes were joined by a Father Christmas (in flip flops) to form a welcome tunnel through which the guests would be cheered and whooped before taking their seats on the stone terracing around the stage and plaza.
Groups of children sang and danced and showed off their skills, a talented volunteer dressed as a clown entertained the crowd and certificates were issued to children who had tried the hardest. By now, most of us had a couple of children each sitting on our laps or pressing as close as they could to us, playing with our sunglasses and cameras and generally vying for our affections, until we gently shook them off and went and distributed the food and drink.  Somebody turned up the volume and there was some wild dancing all together in the sun with siblings bouncing younger children on their hips and a conga chain weaving through the throng.   After the bags of presents and food parcels were distributed everybody began to head for home, anxious to get back before it got dark; but not before queuing up to kiss and thank each of the volunteers.  Best clothes were shown off – the girls were adorned with bright hair accessories whilst many of the boys looked smart in what was probably their one decent shirt.

waiting patiently for chocolate and a present

waiting patiently for chocolate and a present

After a quick tidy up there was the usual squash for taxis and it was back to the volunteer house for chifa – Peruvian style Chinese food – or should that be Chinese style Peruvian food?.  There were some sad goodbyes to those who would not be returning after the holidays and then at ten thirty pm I, with my fellow travellers M & G, set off to catch the ten hour night bus to Lima.

Lima
With a few hours to spare we mooched around on the beach at Miraflores for a bit before heading back to the bus station for a long sixteen hour journey.  Luckily, despite all of the horror stories that I had heard beforehand about the buses in South America, the long-distance tourist buses are actually extremely comfortable.  Yes, of course there are plenty of ‘chicken buses’ and rolling death-traps but for not a lot of money by UK standards, you can buy an almost fully reclining seat, an aircraft type meal and with a TV screen set into the seatback in front of you you can pass the time with films, music and games.

Arequipa
After quite an alarming ride swaying and rolling around the hairpins through the mountains in the dark we arrived at Arequipa. Known as the white city because of the colour of the buildings we duly bought our coco leaves at the local market which would hopefully combat altitude sickness and gawped at the mummified body of Julietta , a fourteen year old sacrifice victim in her glass freezer inside the Santuarios Andinos UCSM Museum.

The Canyon de Colca

The Canyon de Colca

what goes down, must go up

what goes down, must go up

Volcano Misti puffs smoke

Volcano Misti puffs smoke

The following day the three of us joined a two day expedition to hike into the Colca Canyon. It all began gentle enough, albeit at the alarmingly early hour of three am.  We breakfasted in a tiny little courtyard with snow capped volcanoes standing proud along the distant horizon – and yes – that was smoke puffing cartoon-like out of the top of one!

At seven thirty we were standing on the edge of one of the deepest canyons in the world, totally mesmerised by the massive condors which soared at eye level, floating majestically on the invisible thermals.  Although crowded with tourists and the inevitable souvenir sellers, the experience was amazing and a collective hush fell over the valley as the birds made their appearance.  The early morning air whispered of the heat that was to follow and the morning light bounced off the rocks with an amazing clarity.  It was easy to see why the ancient people revered the mountains and the entire region and how even now, they are considered sacred places.  And then an hour later we began trekking down into the canyon.

The canyon is nearly twice as deep at the Grand Canyon and as the sun got hotter and the track steeper we had to negotiate a very real, very live, happening at that moment, rock fall.  The guides anxiously scanned the slippage above for the tell-tale clouds of red dust and instructed us when it would be safe to individually cross the loose scree slope.  After a grueling descent there was to be no let up and we began the scramble up the other side, panting up stone steps, some of which were more than knee high.  Overall we would cover over eighteen kilometers in seven hours. There was a brief lunch stop and then we were off again, meandering up huge ups and steep downs whilst traversing along the valley.  The tracks presumably followed ancient pathways but there were rather too many ups that downs for my liking.  I was really feeling the effects of the altitude and plodded along in my own pocketful of misery, encouraged along by M, G and our amazing local guide Vanessa who didn’t even break out into a sweat. My spirits were revived when I eventually staggered – and I do mean staggered – into an oasis at the bottom of the canyon.

Lush green grass, butterflies, hummingbirds and a swimming pool were waiting. The evening was spent in great company eating and drinking cocktails and watching the full moon rise above a cleft in the mountains.  The glow worms and the fire-flies put on a magical display of little neon orange lights as they danced in the bushes and trees and with no roads in or out of the canyon the place was a true haven of tranquility.

its a long way up.  Straight up

its a long way up. Straight up

The narrow, stoney track

The narrow, stoney track

The following morning, after a deep sleep in our little cabin close to the roaring river I agreed that it would be wise to follow the advice of our guide and to hire a mule up and out of the canyon. The route out of the gorge was a steep three hour climb up a series of tight, narrow switchbacks, gaining over one thousand meters in altitude.  I was initially VERY nervous when the two mules ridden by me and G began to jostle on the narrow path for first place but I soon relaxed when it became clear how sure-footed they were. I did wonder why they had to sometimes choose to stand on a pebble literally on the edge of the precipice and I  would shut my eyes and hold my breath at that moment, the deep silence only broken by the clatter of sixteen hooves and the constant calm murmuring of Rafael as he whispered to his beloved animals.
Reaching the top long before M and the intrepid hikers, me and G sat in the early morning sun.  I shared a packet of chocolate biscuits with three local ladies who proudly posed for photographs for me in their colourful skirts and bodices. They chose one lady to be their main model and turned her embroidered waistcoat inside out to display the clean, fresher colours and fiddled with her hair and her skirts, then giggled excitedly and babbled away in their quechua language when I showed them the pictures.

Friends relax and chat in the sun

Friends relax and chat in the sun

The rest of the day was spent travelling in the minibus, stopping for an hour or so to cross a horribly swaying rope and plank bridge and visit some hot thermal springs at Chivay where we slowly boiled ourselves in the waters, Once over the mountains we stopped for lunch and later shrieked with excitement when we caught sight of our first wild alpacas and dainty vicuñas (their deer-like relatives) grazing on the vast sweeping plateaus,  before shivering at the highest point where countless travellers and pilgrims over the years had built small sharp cairns of pebbles. We then had a quick, much needed freshen up back at our hostel in Arequipa.  The incredibly friendly owner of the Hospedaje La Posada del Kuraka had not only held our main rucksacs for us, but he supplied us with clean towels, a hot shower and a room in which to change, and then we were off to the bus station for yet another overnight bus, this time to Cusco and for Christmas.

(I apologise for the incorrect spelling of Canyon – it should be spelt Canon with a squiggle over the middle ‘n’ but I can’t seem to fathom out how to do that within this template)

Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year

children of El Porvenir

children of El Porvenir

Christmas is approaching fast but it all seems so far removed as the sun here in Peru is getting hotter every day and plans are afoot for a three week break from our work.

By the time you read this I will be on the road, although I am not entirely sure where I will end up.  These plans are fluid and subject to change, but coaches and flights are being booked, hostels researched and ideas swapped.

I will have attended a ‘do’ to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the NGO and I will have experienced Chocolatada – the main Christmas event for the children and their families.  Nearly four hundred presents will have been wrapped and distributed – a humbling experience when you consider that the football or that doll may be the only toy that the child receives this Christmas and the gifts of panetone and milk to the parents may be rare luxuries. Many of the volunteers are planning to travel throughout South America over the holiday period, some are returning home to the States and sadly some will be moving on from the NGO or returning home.

I have only been in Peru for five weeks but it seems like a lifetime.  Despite the complete chaos that is Peru, the language barrier and bombardment of different food, culture and customs, I am loving it.  The children at the NGO are all adorable, I love the street food (plastic bags containing hot quails eggs for breakfast are a staple on my walk to work through the parks) and of course, pisco sours.  In the few weeks that I have been in Trujillo I have met some amazing people and I will be very upset to say goodbye to them.  The volunteer house crackles with emotion and drama (think of it as an international Big Brother), and living is conducted at high volume in several languages but I know that I will remain friends for life with some people here.

I have tentative plans for a VERY long road trip with a couple of friends, first to Lima and then onwards to Arequipa from where we hope to trek into the Colca Canyon.  Christmas day may be spent in Cusco – from here it is a train ride up to Machu Pichu, then from there possibly more buses to Puna, Lake Titicaca, over the border into Bolivia and La Paz, but all of this is subject to change.

I will travel as light as possible so I will be leaving my net-book behind.  I will bring you up to date in the new year with my adventures and experiences, so please excuse my absence for a while.

Thank you everybody for taking the time to read my blog and I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a very happy, peaceful New Year from South America.  To my family who have mastered Skype, thank you for your love and continued support, to BF, what adventures we are having in our respective countries and to my VERY best friend and your family whom I love as my own, a million million hugs and kisses – and yes Father Christmas DOES manage to squeeze down there!

For my children, where ever you are, I send you heaps of love and I hope that next Christmas I can send you more than a card.  Stay safe, be happy and live your lives to the full.  It is too short and too fragile to waste on hate or bitterness. My greatest wish is that you will forgive me and allow me a second chance during 2014

Trujillo and its surrounding area

Plaza de Armas, Trujillo

Plaza de Armas, Trujillo

The Plaza de Armas – the main square in Trujillo is a stone’s throw away from where I am currently living in a home-stay.  The massive square is dominated by a large central sculpture with fountains and statues and is surrounded by vividly coloured buildings which squat around its perimeter.  The sky blue and white of the town hall vies with the glaring gold of the magnificent cathedral in the opposite corner.  Terracotta, royal blue and eye-searing whites add to the palette whilst multi-coloured flags and palm trees flap in the strong breeze.

Casa de Urquiaga

Casa de Urquiaga

Casa de Urquiaga is a compact but beautiful museum (free entrance) which is housed in a curious location.  People queue to gain access through tight security to a courtyard off which is housed an outlet for the Banco Central de la Reserva del Peru.  After showing my passport I was allowed past the bank and through to the inner sanctum where a series of small courtyards are surrounded by a small number of rooms stuffed with dark brown wooden furniture and paintings.

Casa de Urquiaga

Casa de Urquiaga

I usually whizz past any displays of pottery in a museum but the small collection of pots and jugs here really slowed me down.  They were collected from the various regions of Peru and were mostly in the image  of little fat people or strange creatures and were oddly endearing.

The bare brown mountains form a backdrop to the square, rearing up out of the strange hazy mist that appears to sit over the entire coastal area of the city and the whole square reverberates to the din of traffic horns and sirens.

A Moche pot

A Moche pot

Image of the mountain god

Image of the mountain god

On Sunday I went with a couple of friends to visit the complex at Huacas del Sol y de la Luna (the temples of the sun and the moon) which was a bone shaking taxi ride a few miles outside the city.  The Cerro Blanco mountain dominates the dusty sandy landscape, rising out of the desert and towering over the surrounding desert and the two temples.  It is an excellent museum containing shed-loads of the little terracotta pots which I had so fallen in love with and it occupied us for a good hour.  The pots were all in pristine condition and excellent and interesting wall posters explained and described how the artifacts which were on display portrayed the Moche way of life.  The Moche society had its heyday between 100 and 800AD and was a society ruled by priests.  As leaders they structured the lives of the population around the temples, performing many human sacrifices to appease the mountain god who they believed controlled the weather (among other things), with the sacrifices ramping up during periods of increased el niňo activity.  We then had a guide around the Temple of the Moon – in Spanish – and were shown initially around clusters of adobe (mud) bricks.  We were then taken into a covered area where we saw mosaics and frescos on the walls.  The colours were so bright and fresh it was hard to believe that they hadn’t been touched up at all.  There were large portions of the wall painted with repeating patterns of the mountain god and then behind the whole structure, the entire gable end was decorated with murals and scenes.  My photographs simply don’t do the colours or the size justice.  You really should come and visit and see for yourself.  The Temple of the Sun is currently closed to visitors due to on-going excavation work but that in itself is an impressive sized sandy hump.  Between the two temples you can see the outlines of what would have been the buildings of the town traced out in patterns of excavated bricks on the desert floor.

mosaic wall at Huacas del Sol y de la Lunes

mosaic wall at Huacas del Sol y de la Lunes

There was a lovely little artisan market in the courtyard selling replica pots, jewellery and clothing and also one of the Peruvian hairless dogs was lying in the sun.  This one was an eleven month old puppy.  The breed has no fur but the skin of the dog is amazingly hot – they were bred and kept in part to keep people warm in winter or would be cuddled so that the heat would relieve arthritis.  This particular dog only had two teeth and its owner was proud to show it off.  I couldn’t establish whether the lack of teeth just related to this particular dog – but I have since found out via good old Wikipedia that lack of teeth is a characteristic of the breed.

On the other side of Trujillo over by the airport, Huanchaco beach sprawls along the coastline.  This beach resort has its obligatory parade of shops, hostels and restaurants, a pier and a good little craft market tucked away down a tiny alleyway.  There is a pier and it attracts surfers and travellers from all over the world.  Racks at the back of the beach contain dozens of reed canoes which are propped up to dry out in the sun.  These boats date back to pre-Inca times and were first used by the Moche culture.  The people of Huanchaco are the only ones who still know how to make them which is just as well as each boat only lasts a few months before becoming waterlogged.

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