Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bicicletas de MontaƱas

We decided to join the other tourist dudes of Huaraz and booked ourselves on a mountain bike tour. The great thing about this mountain bike tour was that it was all downhill. We got driven up to 4100 metres and it was all hold on to the brakes as hard as you can from there. Despite the the tens of dogs that tried to attack us on the way down and the reasonably sized rocks that tried to evict us from our bikes we had a fantastic day with spectacular mountain views everwhere we looked.
Tonight we head to Lima... home to 9 million people, a third of Peru´s population.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Trekkers or trekkies?

Last sunday I booked myself on a 4 day trek through the Andes specifically the famous Cordillera Blanca mountains. Like all good long term backpackers I booked myself on the Budget 4 day santa Cruz trek, believing that a hike thru the mountains is indeed just a hike thru the mountains. Now it´s been about 10 years since I´ve done a trek of the 4 day variety and it seems things have changed a fair bit in the camping world. For me part of the trip has always been out there in the mountains suffering a little with your powdered mash potato, raincoat rolled into a pillow and your own gear on your back over those mountain passes. But it seems the SUV generation has turned camping on it´s ear.
My fellow random tour members were 2 Belgian chess players, father Rudi and his son Thomas, 2 hard as nails Scottish ladies in their fifties, a spanish mountain man with his belly dancer girlfriend, a dutch couple and our Peruvian guide. Believing I was suitably prepared with my torch, sleeping bag, pocket knife and 3 chocolate bars (which I believed would make my fellow campers envious) I set off for the mountains. Upon meeting my fellow campers I immediately realised I was the only one without walking sticks. Yes the walking stick has been a very strange development in the trekking world. Virtually everyone has them. (at about 100 bucks per stick I might add). Most people also seem to have the 380 dollar goretex jacket, not to mention superdown pertex pants, 7000 series aluminium accessories, waterproof jackets with sleeve control, nylon pants complete with outdoor washed out look that turn into detachable shorts with one zip, miners headlamp torches, and a variety of other gadgets all worth hundreds of dollars and which will probably be only used on the Santa Cruz trek. All of which will be carried up by the poor old donkeys. When you think that back in the 1920´s some men climbed everest only with hobnailed boots, tweeds and canvas backpacks it makes one think.

As me and my fellow budget trekkers sat huddled behind a stone wall to protect ourselves from shivering we started to ponder the benefits of posh camping. Personally I find it a little insensitive tramping around Peru in 4000 dollars worth of gear you´ll wear once. Moreover some of the trekkers had all their gear carried for them, their tents set up for them , toilet tents, eating tents, cooking tents, shower tents, private guides, Red wine and restaurant quality food to eat. And paying up to 300 US dollars a day for the privilege of walking in the mountains. But isn´t the point of camping to rough it a tiny bit? The feel of that first shower when you get back to civilisation, that first meal, first beer. Having said that there wasn´t one of us that wouldn´t have jumped at the chance to join them if invited. I wonder what camping in the mountains will be like in another 10 years time...

The views of the mountains were quite spectacular and were exactly the same whether you were on the budget tour or not. We crossed a 4700 metre pass which was hard work but were rewarding with fantastic views and luckily the weather was clear for virtually our entire trek. Definitely worth 4 days of roughing it without the special altitude watch, high peak trekking poles, zyrtec oxygen cannisters, battery powered shower, brass whistle, disposable handwarmers, insect head net, GPS navigator and sock warmers.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Adventure tourism with a twist.

We´re currently in Huaraz, the adventure tourism capital of South America. This is where you can trek, climb, mountain bike, extreme ski, river raft, river run, horse ride, paraglide, hang glide and pick your nose with a fantastic view. In fact I´m off to do a 4 day trek tomorrow on the Santa cruz circuit apparently a very famous and reasonably hard walk crossing over 4800 metre passes. Yet, it´s not just about the above adventure tourism pursuits that has made huaraz famous. In fact just being here is an extreme adventure. In 1941, an avalanche hit the town flattening the city centre and killing 5000 of it´s inhabitants. Then in 1970 a huge earthquake hit killing 70,000 people in central peru, including 15,000 people in Huaraz where the city was flattened once again. But that´s not all. We just went up the road to a town called Yungay, where the above Earthquake caused an alluvion which buried the entire population of the city barring a few fast runners who made it to a statue of Christ on high ground in the cemetary. An alluvion is basically a huge wall of water often mixed with snow, ice, mud, rocks and other matter with sharp edges. The one in Yungay was about 30 metres high and 4 miles wide. The place was really quite eerie and all that was left of the town was the top of the church and a car. This from a large town that had a population of 25,000.
Little wonder the area around Huaraz is at the cutting edge of adventure tourism. well at least I´ll be taking a few thousand beanie clad tourists with me

Peru ain't Thailand

Kate and I left Cajamarca on Wednesday and headed for the coast, the first time so far on the trip. Being only 5 degrees south of the Equator, Trujillo, Peru´s answer to Surfers Paradise was eagerly awaited. Unfortunately God was a bit tired when he created Peru and made a quite a few mistakes with the weather here. 1) it´s really cold and I had to wear a jacket most of the day and it´s supposed to be summer. 2) the water is about 15 degrees 3) it hasnt rained here since the last El Nino which was 7 years ago.
So much for our beach holiday. By the way half fallen down apartment blocks and millions of plastic bags don´t quite make it Bondi Beach. But I can´t really complain.
One thing they did have in Trujillo were these boats made out of cane papyrus which the locals use like surf skis and go fishing with. Apparently they have been using these boats for thousands of years.
Speaking of thousands of years there are some amazing ruins in Trujillo, from the Moshi and Chavin empires which both predate the inca empires by hundreds of years. In fact the incas only starred for about 150 years before the Spanish. These other empires left amazing ruins as well, not to mention incredible examples of human sacrifices. So our beach holiday lasted a day and a half before we took the night bus to the Cordillera Blanca, specifically Huaraz.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Cajamarca stove trek

We've just arrived back from one of the more unusual tourist trips I've ever been on, building a stove for a Peruvian Family. I met this guy Ben from Glen Innes in NSW who now resides in Northern Peru and runs stove building tours for tourists. So we hopped on a bus from Cajamarca and headed to a very remote community in the mountains for a spot of bricklaying.
Smoke from cooking fires is the 4th biggest cause of death in developing countries, in fact it kills more people than Malaria. Other than very smoky kitchens, headaches and lots of tears, the smoke can cause low birth weights, infant mortality, cataracts and cancer. For more info type killer in the kitchen in google.
So Ben has set up socio adventures to help local communities. So if anyone out there plans on coming to Peru I can't recommend this tour more
Not only do you get to help little cuties like the twins above, but you'll get that sense of achievment of actually having built something, not to mention the gratitude of the locals who quote "Will never forget you as long as they live". They also threw in a couple of guinea pigs( they were delicious), a chicken and a sack of potatoes for good measure even the kids lent a hand, they were particularly fond of washing bricks and eating our poporn
It was a great 5 days and the guy in the hat is currently writing a poem about us... The family were lovely and of course we ended up getting more out of the tour than they did.... Gotta love giving, it's so selfish

Australia is a weird shaped country to the East

We were invited by Jose to take a class in the local school. Kate had been rendered speechless by a sudden bout of diarrhoea which meant I was leading the lesson for a group of eager 9 year olds... in my very bad Spanish I might add. First it was a bit of geography and as you can see from the blackboard I'll never be an artist. Then followed a bit of hello, how are you?, My name is Gomez which I might add they all did very well with

Second prize in a beauty contest

One afternoon during the stove trek we found ourselves at the local fiesta and as important guests from Australia were invited to judge the local beauty contest. After a couple of beers and a few introductions to the region's important people we sat down in front of a large crowd and waited for the 3 beauty queens to arrive by horse.

Of course all great beauty pageants have some half time entertainment and we found ourselves at the centre of that as well. Here I am doing the region's famous hanky dance. Kate got extremely jealous when I was invited up by one of the beauty Queens

There's something slightly perverted about judging 12 year old girls in a beauty contest but we took our responsibilities very seriously. The categories were 1) overall presentation and entance 2) facial beauty 3) dress 4) ability to answer a question
and the result? well Kate, Jose the guy to my right in the top photo and me voted for number 2. Unfortunately the other judge voted very high for number 3 on the right and she was crowned the fiesta's beauty queeen and given 35 bucks for good measure.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Welcome to beautiful Peru

After 5 days of intensive travelling we have finally made it to Peru. Cajarmarca to be exact the place where Pizarro and 37 spaniards managed to capture Atuahalpa the Inca King and his 80,000 troops. I think the horses and cannons helped. And this place excepted, Peru is one almighty rubbish tip. The people are less friendly, out to rip you off, the landscape is bleak, desert with the occasional eucalyptus, and most of the world´s plastic bags seem to be stewn across it. Oh well lucky this place is beautiful or we would have turned around and gone back to Ecuador. We´re just about to embark on a 5 day stove tour. I met this Aussie guy Ben in Ecuador who has a company that organises tours where you get off the beaten track and build a stove for a local family whose little hut is full of smoke. Sounded like a great thing to do so thats where we are going for 5 days...... considering my very limited building experience consists of painting my flat and changing a few lightbulbs it should be very interesting....

South to peru

After visiting our family in Otavalo, Northern Ecuador for a few days we hit the road and the railways south. The highlight being the famous El Nariz de Diablo, Devils nose railway.

6 richety hours thru
spectacular mountain
scenery, with 200 tourist

cold but fun

Last day with the
family and the
St Bernards

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Doing the rumba in vilcbamba

We´re currently heading southwards thru Ecuador on our way to Peru. The internet is really slow everywhere we go so will be out of contact until next week. At the moment we are in a gorgeous little village called Vilcabamba. Will probably stay here 5 days before we head over the border to Cajamarca where we plan on building stoves in a local village. Hasta lluego