Sunday, August 28, 2005

Pile of old rocks on a small hill

Machu Picchu, the Lost city of the Incas, now well and truly found by the hordes of tourists, but even that couldn´t take away from this truly awe inspiring place. We went there prepared to be dissappointed by the overhype but even us cynics had to grudgingly agree this place was absolutely awesome.( to steal a line from our beloved American cousins). We arrived in Agua Calientes, the small pueblo next to Macho Picchu very late the night before by Train. The scenery there was truly spectacular but unfortunaetly we didnt see a thing as it was dark. The Peruvians are milking the place for all it´s worth.... expensive train journey in, crappy albeit expensive hotels, and high entrance fees. For this reason we were on the backpacker special, last train in, arriving at midnight.

Now you may be wondering why us lazy buggers didn´t attempt the Inca trail. Well, firstly it was very expensive as you have to go with a tour. Secondly, you have to book a couple of months in advance, Thirdly the trail is one long stretch of gringos complaining about the cold and finally you end up in Mach Picchu too buggered to take a good look around the ruins with the sole thoughts of bacon and egg roll and hot shower needed immediately. Speaking of bacon and egg rolls, quite unexpectedly we found the world´s tastiest example here at Machu Picchu. We were prepared for crappy Peruvian tourist cuisine but somehow they have managed the impossible here... huge fresh roll, 2 eggs and 4 pieces of crispy bacon. I´m sorry if this is boring but It was truly a spiritual experience, especially after our 5 am start.
Arriving at dawn we were greeted by a spectacular mist that shrouded the ruins in the evocative magical quality that someone like Bryce Courteney would wax lyrical about for far too many pages. (we were also greeted by the hoards of smelly Inca trailers).
After the Bacon egg roll we headed up to Waynu Pichu, the famous curved mountain in the background. A steep one hour walk up some Inca steps made for tiny feet afforded amazing views. The ruins were built from abour 1450 until 1570 when the Spanish finally subjugated the Incas, forcing them to build a plaza de armas in every town, introducing them to horrible marching band music and gaudy religious art. They have a lot to answer for those Spaniards. Fortunately for the 1 million tourists that visit every year, the City was deserted for 350 years until a couple of Peruvian farmers decided to make it their home in 1901. Then along came an American archeoligist who claims he discovered it and the rest of the story is history.
We fluked one of those amazing 4 seasons in one day days. Mist, sun, storm, rainbow, then sun again. We felt like born again christiansAfter the rain storm, most of the tourists left leaving only a handful of us Indian Jones types wandering around the ruins with our llama friends. All in all a magical day and the highlight for me of the trip so far. And for the fans out there of shapes in the rocks, check out the Inca face that is Machu Pichu. Turn the picture of Machu Picchu on it´s side and you have the face of an Inca.... freaky man

The Valley that is sacred

After leaving Cuzco on monday, we headed off on a 5 day tour of our own making to the Sacred Valley. It´s a world of Incan ruins, very large hills, very colourful albeit touristy markets, great views, no rain and a spectacular salt mine.

A very salty river, not the kind to find when your thirsty in the desert, has been diverted to form these salt mines in Salinas. We could walk around the place at leisure dipping our fingers into the Charlie and The Chocolate factoryesque landscape albeit with a savoury edge. Unfortunately I got very thirsty and had to purchase the very overpriced water at the shop afterwards.As you can see from the toilet above the Incas were in fact giants with very large bottoms. Further proof of this can be seen in the picture below.... look closely for the face in the rock

Nobody knows if the Incas carved the face or if it just appeared naturally...or maybe the Gods themselves carved the face. The above photo was taken at Oleyteytambo, and the building to the right of the face was actually for storing grain.
The Incas were very good builders and even better movers of stones. All the giant rocks were moved from a quarry 6 miles away, where they even managed to divert a river to get the job done. Good on you Incas! Many Inca walls are still in tact around the Sacred Valley like the one below in Chinchero where many of the locals still enjoy a spot of knitting

Dancing den of the drunken Grandmas

Take 8 toothless grandmas, a mud hut full of guinea pigs and a huge barrel of fermented maize and you´ve got a recipe for disaster. We were in Oleyteytambo, site of the last Inca stand-off against the Spanish and it turned out to be our final stand off against some utterly plastered old ladies. All along the Sacred Valley in Peru are houses and shops with a broomstick sticking out the front covered in red plastic. This means that they are serving chicha, the drink of the Incas and which is basically fermented maize. The taste is a bit of a cross between very cheap wine, very warm beer and purple corn and is served up in a huge plastic container which both hands are needed to hold. So there we were exchanging pleasentries with a few septogenerians when we decided it was time to go and catch our train to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately our lovely old ladies had other ideas.... My hand was grabbed, the music was turned up and beforeI knew it I was doing the dance of the last Inca.... No problems here... but this was followed by another dance and another dance and my hand was being grasped so tightly that the only way to pry it loose would see me up for assault. Then it was Kate´s turn, whose previous uncontrollable laughter had now turned into uncontrollable fear.... we were seriously never going to get out of there, This crazed drunken woman was never going to let go of us no matter how much we pleaded. She couldn´t care less if our train to Machu Pichu was leaving soon. Finally after the joke was at least 40 minutes old we managed to break out and vow never to trust a group of drunken Peruvian Grandmothers ever again

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Last ride of the Chevy

All great Chevy´s must come to an end and we were to lucky enough to be privy to this one´s last great journey. Cruising along at a hefty 28 kilometres an hour there was a sudden lurch to the left and a huge grating sound.....Yep there goes the wheel...and our poor old driver wasn´t to be fixing that one for a very long time

Sexy Woman

To the linguistically challenged it´s indeed called sexy woman but to those anthropologists out there suaccassyhuaman is I think how it is spelt. In the tradition of the name of these Incan ruins close to Cuzco I took two of my own sexy women on a quick visit. (well three if you include Kate of course). The two sexy ladies are our Spanish teachers and this was our last lesson, a field trip. As you can see I am an extremely tall man

The Inca´s of course didn´t muck around when it came to building blocks. In fact they were the great Lego builders of the last milennium, with some of their blocks weighing in at an amazing 300 Kilos.... thats a lot of llama muscle if you ask me. They were also very skilled in the non use of glue as all their blocks somehow fitted very nicely togethor
Sexy woman was also the site of the last great battle of the Incas.... With a good 20,000 warriors against the 70 Spaniards they almost pulled off a triumphant victory.... but almost aint good enough... guess they should have stuck to building blocks

Friday, August 19, 2005

Cuzco Times

After 5 days of eating miso soup, potatoes au gratin, Italian pizza and Thai green curry, we decided to deny ouselves the culinary feast that is Cuzco and head to the land of the cold shower, bland food, and uncomfortable bed. Yep we´re back staying with a local family, zapping ourselves on electric showers and making Spanish smalltalk about how many kangaroos we Australians eat in one year. This time we´re staying with an older family, our host mother is a slightly younger ZZar Zar Gabor look a like who works in beauty parlour and wants to travel to the Miami for 6 months so she can earn more money than in her entire lifetime.
We´re doing a week of Spanish School as well, 4 hours a day, one on one instruction, in a lovely little school in one of the trendiest areas of Cuzco. In the afternoons we´ve also been playing with street kids in a school that has been set up as a sort of homework club where westerners can volunteer. So Kate and I are real do gooders at the moment. Can you believe I couldn´t even beat the little girl below in a simple memory card again...Cuzco is the most beautiful Spanish colonial city I have seen in all of the America´s. Most of the buildings have an Incan base and then Spanish buildings on top of this. Cobblestone streets, amazing restaurants, and every kind of badly dressed tourist you can imagine. Do notice the Cuzco flag behind me in top picture, you may recognise the gay pride colours. This is pure coincidence and our family assures us that any homesexuals here have the piss taken out of them and their families. If you don´t mind saying "no gracias" every 5 minutes, Cuzco is the kind of place you could really live in. (Except that it is really cold here and I wouldn't recommend it for marathon runners or surfers being 3300 metres above sea leve)l.
We´ve also met up with Carmen a friend of my sisters from Sydney who aside from starting up Cuzco ghost tours is teaching the latinos how to dance. Being one of the featured dancers in the olympics opening ceremony she is having a ball putting the machistas in their place on the dancefloor.
Monday we start doing our tourist thing again and head off to the Sacred Valley to view a few old buildings and purchase some silly coloured cotton things to put around our ankles. Oh yeah we thought we might go to Machu Pichu as well.... by train of course, The Inca Trail is so last century... what with all that rubbish and us being Spanish learning, charity working, clean living make you sick pain in the arse smug, superior travellers...

Friday, August 12, 2005

Flight of the Condor

Paul Simon tried to immortalise this amazing bird in his rip off what seems to be the Peruvian national anthem but I don´t think anyone can quite capture how beautiful it is to watch these creatures fly. The American next to me tried with perhaps the quote of the trip so far "How can anyone believe in Evolution when everything is so hand crafted... look at those houses down there for instance" In my opinion an absolute corker up there with the time when I was at the Pyramids and an American next to me remarked " These are just like the ones we have in Vegas"and in a close third comes the American looking starry eyed at the Sydney Opera House "Wow, so they built this for the Olympics did they" But back to the Condors, we don´t want talk of stupid Americans hogging up the blog. The Condor is a very large bird. Infact it can reach a height of about 5 feet and have a wingspan of about 3 metres. Condors are scavengers so basically they cruise around the skies waiting for an animal to die, once they spot one they hover for about 3 hours waiting to see if the coast is clear. Finally they descend down for a bit of neck in eye socket.

After gorging themselves with rotten flesh they are unable to fly for about 3 hours ... They can fly at about 100 km an hour and put on a daily tourist show at no extra charge. We were lucky enough to see 8 flying at once which was quite spectacular considering they´re on the endangered list. Unfortuantely they do have very ugly heads. Which is why I´d rather be a forest than a Condor...yes I would, If I only could, I surely would

"I´ll have the Alpaca stroganoff thanks"

Must admit I was tempted, but in the end I didn´t succumb to the temptation of munching on these beautiful creatures(actually I lie, I did have a bite of someone elses Alpaca steak but importantly I have not contributed to an extra Alpacas death.... In fact I think it saved my relationship in the end, Kate being a vegetarian and all)

Right behind those two gorgeous individuals lies the Colca Canyon which is in fact the world´s second deepest canyon at 3191 metres. ( the worlds deepest at 16o metres more lies just a few hundred kilometres away). We hopped on an organised 2 day tour of the Canyon which was a whole load of fun not to mention quite spectacular in scenery

We got to pay a few locals to take their picture, dip in some hot springs, do a bit of Condor watching, view a few ancient skulls, pat an Alpaca, almost eat one and drink some beer with a few people mainly Italians who we enjoyed talking to in SpanitalianOne thing I didnt do was pay this guy for the photo as this only encourages the capture of local wild life. But being a moral hippocrite I couldn´t resist the photo opportunity
and I´d like a dollar for every church I´ve taken a photo of in South America. This one happenned to be particularly beautiful
Peruvian Polizia are currently looking for the fugitive below. Any information on the wherabouts of the individual should be forwarded immediately

It´s a nuns life in Arequipa

After a 12 hour bus trip on a bus with seats made for dwarfs and more Patrick Swayze movies than any sane person can handle we arrived in Arequipa, Peru´s second largest city. For the first time on the trip so far we really felt like we hit the Gringo trail. Foreigners in silly zip off pants, and stripey ponchos everywhere. But must admit they are all in Arequipa for a reason. It´s a beautiful city surrounded by 3 beautiful volcanos. Yes devastating earthquakes and horrific eruptions are common here too. The highlight of the city though is the wonderful Monasterio Santa Catalina as seen in the pictures. The place takes up an entire block and used to house 450 so called Nuns.
It was here that Nuns really knew how to party. Looking more like the prettiest streets of Cordoba or Sevilla in Spain, here the nuns had their own houses, slaves, visiting musicians and parties. Wealthy families wanted to ensure the virginity of their daughters to enable a higher dowry and the best way to do so was to send them off to the convent. They arrived with mucho dinero which ensured they had a good time on the inside.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Mysteries of the Nazca Lines

You may or may not be aware of a phenomena in Southern Peru called the Nazca Lines.Basically hundreds of geometric and ancient patterns of animals were etched out in the desert about 1000 to 2000 years ago. Unfortunately despite waiting a whole day at the airport for a flight in a very unsafe plane we didn´t get a chance to see these strange lines except from a local viewpoint which as you can see from the photos wasn´t quite high enough.
There are many different explanations for the these lines. The current prevailing theory is they were first created 10,000 years ago by Tom Cruise and his then girlfriend Katie Holmes, who through the use of shamanistic scientology rituals managed to unlock the mystery of time travel and communicate with ancient astronauts from another planet. Commenting on the egocentric geometric patterns Mr Cruise says ´´They´re my lines and nobody elses. I put them there and I don´t give a damn if you believe me or not.´´ Miss Holmes was quoted as saying ´´I agree with Tom´´

Hanging out with friends in Nazca

Meet Atahui, he´s doing pretty well considering he´s well over 1000 years old. Being a Nazcan and dying in a desert where it rains only ever 50 years or so helps as well.
These ghoulish delights we saw in a cemetary that had been raided by graverobbers in the 1930´s. The thieves just left all the skeletons and clothing etc strewn across the desert.It was quite remarkable to see how everything was so well preserved
and now tourists are lining up to see whats in store for the next 1000 years.
As you can see from the pictures some of these guys had very long hair and were buried with potteries, clothes etc they would need for their journey to the afterlife. Just hoping nobody finds me in a thousand years and starts taking photos... but then again the sick side of me thinks maybe it could be quite funny. These guys look like they´re enjoying themselves

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mystify me

Lima was discovered by Francisco Pizarro in the month of December, one of the great mistakes a city founder has ever made. He saw a a majestic river pouring into an ocean the perfect setting for a great new city of the Spanish Empire. Foolishly he didn´t hang around long enough to discover that betwen April to Novemeber the sun doesn´t shine at all in Lima due to the Garua, a coastal fog that blankets the city. That´s right, no sunshine for 9 months and 9 million LimeƱos are cursing that silly spaniard.
Contrary to pretty much every other traveller we´ve met, Lima is not that bad a place. It´s actually the gastronomic capital of the continent and we´ve been dining out in the top restaurants for the price of a cafe lunch in Sydney. Tomorrow we continue south to Ica the sandboarding capital of South America.