Friday, January 02, 2004

New Years Day in Barca I slike NYD anywhere else – everything’s shut…except KFC, where we ‘dined’ for lunch. Our evening meal was at Mum and Ken’s hotel and was pretty good (again).

After a non-specific technical fault and huge delay we eventually took off at just after 1.15 local time, some 3 hrs 10 mins late. We were given no explanation and the plane we boarded looked suspiciously like a reserve plane (oil marks all down it, non-eliptoid engines, my skewed logic dictating it must be…) but so far we are doing OK. Somehow we fluked an upgrade so our 36th and final flight of our trip was in Business Class. We are about an hour from home at the moment. Jen’s parents are coming to pick us up and we might even venture out to buy a car this afternoon. So our trip has ended. It’s weird to think that a year ago today we wer on our way back from our skiing trip to Canada and about to embark on a year that would not only see us visiting places we’d only dreamed about previously but a year that would also change us deeply. Never again will we prejudge nationalities (except the Spanish), we will treat the environment more kindly (but still won’t throw our loo roll in a bin…it HAS to go down a toilet), and most of all we will live each day as if it’s our last (and not get chained to our new jobs….honest!!)

We spent most of New Years Eve in bed, not getting up ‘til lunchtime. When we did surface we hurried over to the airport to meet and greet Sandeep and Rachel (Jen’s sister & boyfriend). Their plane was nearly an hour late and by the time we got back to the hotel it was late afternoon. A beer on the square and a couple of cocktails at Hard Rock followed before we all met up with Mum and Ken at 7pm. After a quick pint at an extortionate Irish Bar (45 Euros for 8 drinks, that’s about 4 quid a drink) we headed to a square full of cafes with outside seating. That’s the good thing about Barca at New Year, although it’s not boiling hot it’s warm enough to sit outside at night, a far cry from home at this time of year. So we found a spot for eight and got Mum and Ken involved in some drinking games. First up was drink while you think which saw Verity drinking and thinking progressively more as the game went on. Ken’s ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ was by far the poorest attempt at a celebrity. The best game we played though was the animal game. Basically everyone assigns themselves an animal, and then an action for said creature, and then you take it in turns doing your own signal and then someone elses. They then have to do theirs and someone elses…ad infinitum. Ken struggled a bit to be fair, although Sandeep (drinking on Rachel’s behalf) seemed to put away more red wine than anyone else. We ended up at the restaurant at about 9pm, to find they had put us in our own little alcove. Agut D’Avignon is known as one of the nicest, poshest, and most expensive restaurants in Barcelone, specilaising in traditional Catalan fare. Another couple of bottles of cava washed our starters down, and our mains duly arrived. I have it on good authority that the lamb was wonderful. My steak was fantastic too, in fact everyone’s food and the service was exceptional. The food bill came to about £30 a head which Mum paid for. We paid for the drinks…47 Euros (35 quid) for 4 bottles of wine…BARGAIN! By this time it was nearing midnight so we headed out to La Rambla once more and made our way north to Placa de Catalunya. There were thousands of people, and some unfortunate ones in cars. They were jostled, sometimes rocked, and some lost a tyre or two thanks to the amount of champagne bottles everywhere. Funniest was an old bloke in a BMW 5.40 whose tyre made a loud hissing sound as it deflated much to the onlooking, and pointing crowd’s glee. His face was a picture…if you’re stupid enough to head to this part of town on New Year’s Eve you got what you deserve pal! We just about made it to the square to hear a couple of chimes, although we lost Mum and Ken, and Rachel and Sandeep in the process. We tried to eat a grape for every chime (a Catalan tradition) but soon realised this was no easy thing without the seedless variety…I managed 4, which I think was as good as anyone else. A few minutes later we found the other 4 and stood and watched the hoards of hammered people dancing, drinking and singing. The police turned up a bit later, and made their presence felt, although without being heavy handed. The crowd started to disperse around 1am and by the time we walked back to the hotel (1.10) you wouldn’t have known there had been thousands around just over an hour previously.

Back at the hotel they offered us a glass of champagne and even put some chocolates in every room, a nice touch. We finally hit the sack at around 2am, thoroughly exhausted after a fantastic New Year celebration.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

We tried to go for a Chinese but found that the one we had chosen (Swan) had stupidly (about 10 quid) expensive main courses…so we popped next door to the George and Dragon, which is an old Englidh George and Dragon pub. No pictures of dogs playing snooker though…

I have, though, remembered the main reason for this particular entry…the Spanish. From Knifeboy in Arequipa to psychosexual policeman in Madrid we have been singularly unimpressed with the Spanish…I am afraid that Barcelona has just confirmed everything we thought. They are the most arrogant, self centred, lacking in
spatial awareness, group of cretins we have ever met…OK so picture the scene you are walking down a street and you bump into someone you’ve never met before with more force than is required to uproot trees…what do you do a) walk away with your head down looking ashamed; b) say sorry (a hundred times) and offer to pay some form of compensation or c) turn round, glare at the person you just hit, implying they were in the worng, and then cock your head arrogantly before tutting and walking off.
If you answered a) you are normal. If you answered b) you are Biritsh, and ifyou answered c) well, I guess you know the rest… We have been bumped, cajoled, and almost rugby tackled by so many Spaniards now that I have genuinely started to believe they were all born with a complete lack of spatial awareness and they don’t even realise when they are nearly decapitating their fellow man. It got so bad on the metro today that we took it in turns to ‘tread on a Spaniards foot’, and barge them all out of the way. So there we have it…a year away and the prize for the rudest, least accommodating, most spatially unaware people…the Spanish. At this point I do want to say that our theory about there being nice people and complete arseholes from every country still rings true, as we met Pilar on the Galapagos boat and she was lovely.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Pat, Mum and Ken arrived a couple of days ago and we spent most of Sunday just walking around town. The most amazing sight was the sheer number of people milling around a town centre that was completely closed. It was almost like watching 10,000 people turn up at the Trafford Centre on a Tuesday, at 4am.
Literally everything was closed, all the big shops, even bars and eateries. We can only imagine how strong the Spanish economy is that they turn down footfall like this. On Sunday night Mum and Ken treated us all to a lovely meal at their hotel and we came up with a plan for Monday and Tuesday…

Monday started with an amble down La Rambla and a visit to the local produce market. It was a good fun way to start the day even if the local McDonalds didn’t stock breakfast items…we finished the morning with a trip to the Dali museum, which was well laid out but disappointing as nearly all the exhibits were prints not originals, it was expensive (8 Euros, about 6 quid) and their was little or no explanation of any of the exhibits or photos accompanying them. After lunch at the Hard Rock CafĂ© (fantastically lardy) we headed to the Palace of Catalan Music which was fully booked for the day before wandering round the Barri Gothic for an hour or so. We eventually found a cafe and stopped for a drink before we had our own siesta. In the evening we managed to find a semi-decent tapas bar and indulged. Afterwards myself and Pat went to the airport to pick Verity, Pat’s friend, up. Her plane was delayed by nearly 40 minutes and by the time we got back to Plaza de Catalunya (midnightish) we were all too tired to sit in a bar so they headed back to their hotel, and me to mine…

We were up early on Tuesday and met up at La Sagrida Familia, Gaudi’s work in progress. There is some conjecture as to whether they ever want to finish it (work started some 130 years ago) as it is almost as famous for being a building site. What is complete is spectacular, and the views over the city from one of the towers equally so. It is due for completion in around another 25 years, but if the complete lack of activity today is anything to go by it will take considerably longer.

Second up on our second day’s touring was to be the Picasso Museum, but with the queue seemingly endless we decided to give it a miss, maybe manana…We headed to the chocolate museum only to find it was closed on Tuesdays, so instead headed to El Xampanyet, one of the ‘’best Cava bars in town where they well and truly ripped us off. We had a drink each and about 4 plates full of tapas and they charge us over 40 Euros…when I tried to ask him to explain, the prices he charged us showed no correlation to the ones on his price list, so we left more than a little miffed at the ‘tourist tax’ we’d just paid. The afternoon was much more fun though as we took a trip out on the cable car and over to the Olympic Stadium and surrounds. The cable car itself gives you a great view (at the end) of the port, which is nice if you are a ship-spotter but not great if you’re not. Barcelona is the exact opposite of Rio. You get up high and the city looks horrible, all highrise with no character, but at street level the architecture is a joy to behold, paradoxically, Rio is the most beautiful city in the world when seen from Sugar Loaf, but up close it is a hole.

The Olympic Stadium and surrounds, whilst not as spectacular or well kept as Sydney, was an interesting detour, and made you realise once again why London should never win the bid – there just simply isn’t enough room or infrastructure in the English Capital. Rachel and Sandeep arrive tomorrow so 6 will soon be 8…

Saturday, December 27, 2003

So here we are again, back on the road. BMIBaby were excellent, and we arrived on time in Barca. By the time we'd grabbed our ludicrously heavy (30KG) suitcase from the baggage reclaim and jumped in and out of a cab it was 11.30ish and we were fast asleep by…er…11.31 (ish).

Although it looks a bit dodgy on the outside inside Hostal Goya is really nice even though we’re paying a night what we were for a week in South America and Asia. It doesn’t have a telly in the room though which is a bit of a pain in the arse.

On first sight Barcelona is very similar to Paris, all boulevards and balconies (I seem to remember saying that about somewhere else ;) ). It’s also busy and full of rude people who barge in front of you/trip you up without even an apology. The city itself though is beautiful, and we have spent most of today (after Jen’s ridiculous 12.30 lie-in) wandering round soaking it all in. We have raided our wardrobe from home and don’t feel like scummy travellers any more, having worn the same clothes for the last 11 months you have no idea how nice it is to put on a Paul Smith or Ted Baker shirt again, especially as they seem to fit better than when we went away in January.

We walked down the famous Las Ramblas, which is reminiscent of the Champs Elysees, but it has a pedestrian walkway in the middle, sorely lacking in Paris where if you so much as step foot on a road you are likely to be, at best, maimed by a passing 2CV. It had it’s fair share of those weirdos who cover themselves in silver/gold or dress as an ape and then expect money for doing nothing. In my mind they have taken over from clowns as chief nightmare givers to young children. There were a couple of those 3-matchbox/pea con-artists and it was good fun to watch them con a few gullible Americans…

We eventually pitched up at the museum of erotica, which was quite interesting. Having previously visited the one in Copenhagen last year, which was effectively 4 floors of hard-core porn we were expecting much more of the same but instead got an interesting view of erotica through the ages. It was almost educational (!) and was an interesting way to spend half an hour or so. The best bit was definitely the cinema where they showed movies from the early 20th century that were almost like some sort of bad comedy porn. The actors were all fat with bad facial hair, and that was just the women. Although it was quite amusing there was something intriguing in the naivety and naturalness of it all, a far cry from the silicone-enhanced splatter-fests of the 21st century.

Our tour of the Barri Gothic took us past the Cathedral that, unfortunately, is covered in green mesh at the moment. You could just about make out the beauty of it behind the renovations. We will be going inside for a look around in the forthcoming days.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

It's amazing the difference a few days makes. First up we had a couple of days relaxing chez Lynn (Jen's Mum) who fed us up in considerable style. She even did us a roast dinner on a Wednesday...We found out one of the best things about being away. I have lost nearly a stone and a half (10 kilos) and Jen has lost half a stone. Although these measurements were taken pre stay at Lynn's.

We are now back in our house and have spent a couple of days sorting through things. Although nothing from the loft has been pinched we are minus a desk and were minus a Sky Receiver too until one of the tenants remembered it was 'in a cupboard'. Not sure why he put new batteries in the remote control if it was in a cupboard...never mind we've got it now but don't have any telly as we're awaiting a new viewing card. There is also a massive red-wine-esque stain on one of the carpets and one of the curtain tracks is broken. Apart from that the house (and neighbours) are all in good nick.

My brother stayed overnight on Friday and we went for a couple of pints, it seems he is the only person in the world who has had more happen to him in 6 months than we have, but I'll leave it up to him to tell you all about it!!

At the moment it's great to be home, although we really enjoyed our time away we were ready for PS2s, CDs, and wide screen tellies again, oh but the weather, Christ it hasn't got above 1 degree yet...

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

And so here we are, some 11 months (and 3 days!) on. We have just had a lovely night's sleep and a bacon and egg roll for breakfast. The journey back wasn't without incident however, oh no siree! We arrived at Madrid after our 14 hour flight from Quito (stopover for 2 1/2 hours in Guayaquil) only to be confronted by the police from hell scanning all bags as you enter the country. We tried to explain that our hard drive had been corrupted once by a scanner in an airport so could we please show you that it works and be on our merry way. Oh no, said Mr. Police Brutality 2003/4 it has to go through. After a few minutes, realising if we didn't we would either lose the hard drive or not be allowed to get our connection, we relented and he couldn't wipe the smug grin on his face as he said 'we are the best police force in the world, and we never let anything through' at which point I eplained (in hindsight somewhat foolishly) that he hadn't scanned either our cellphone or the medicine Jen was carrying so they couldn't be that good (or words to that effect)...and he snapped...he grabbed my passport and bundled me into a room (leaving Jen in the corridor) and told me to take my cap off (bizarrely this point I thought I was about to hear the twang of rubber gloves being put on) and sit down. He then proceeded to shout at me in Spanish for about 5 minutes the gist of which was 'I am God, you do what I say, I can make you miss your flight, I'm still having pshychosexual problems due to my incredibly small member, and thus feel the need to shout and bawl at members of the public' that kinda thing. I then tried to explain why I had kicked up a fuss and he would only let me do thisin Spanish. Oh how hilarious it would have been for an outsider to hear me going on about 'el hard-drive a corrupto, kaput' that kind of thing. At one point I swear I managed to use 4 languages in one sentence ('Je suis mas fatigue, me hard-drive es kaput'). Eventually he let me go, without any internal examination I hasten to add, and we were on our way. Jen mumbled somethign about police brutality and we should complain, I thought better of it, and decided descretion and all that...and kept me head down until the connection to Barcelona. From Barca we had a 6 hour wait at their incredibly scruffy airport. We couldn't decide what the issue was, as there was srcaps of newspaper allover the floor, everywhere. Either someone had strong feelings about the press, or it was some kind of bizarre new Xmas decoration. The fcat of the matter was though that the cleaners were on strike and had obviously come in late at night and covered the floor with the news.

So eventually, after some 28 hours traveling, we made it back to East Midlands airport (via BMIBABY who were excellent) to be greeted by Lynn, Richard, and Rachel - a welcome sight. As we made it to the car it was clear one other special person had come to see us - OSCAR! I opened the boot of the car and he jumped on me, seemingly having saved a years worth of licks. He seemed to remember us (good start) and came and sat at our feet when we sat in the lounge last night.

We have had the best nights sleep for ages, no noisy neighbours, no worrying about stuff going missing, no having to get up to check out...and I slept through until midday (!) and had the best tastign bacon and egg sandwich I have ever had for lunch. Our plan is to sort stuff out here in Nottingham (we have sent an incredible amount of stuff back - at least 11/12 boxes) and then head over to Glosspo for a few days before coming back to Nottingham for Xmas day. We fly to Barca to meet up with my mum and step-dad (and brother and Rachel & Sandeep, but we're seeing them in England first) on boxing day. They arrive on's hoping the cops in Barca are better (endowed?) than Madrid...

Monday, December 15, 2003

OK we´ve changed our flights and are on our way home...bit of a shock really to think we´ll be in the UK in some 40 hours. We couldn´t change our final Barca to Manc flight (the original one that meant we couldn´t get home for Xmas) so have bought a return with BMIBaby from Barca to EMA and back, we will still have New Year in Barca with my parents, borther and Jen´s sister as planned.

We have changed our plans for a few reasons...

We are tired, and more importantly tired of travelling and the hassle associated.

Both of us feel a bit under the weather.

We´ve just had the best week of the trip - it´s nice to go out on a high!

We´ve run out of cash (the flights were so cheap they amount to about 4 night´s accomodation in Madrid)

Jen´s Mum´s cooking.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Piccie time, there are far too many to title them so, after a few jungle pics it`s the wildlife of the the way my last bloody card has just currupted meaning the cutest of the cute seals and the Frigatebird piccies are lost forever...


Saved my fave 2 for last - yes that is a hammerhead...big isn`t it!

So we`re back...we`ve just arrived in Quito, after the flight back from the Galapagos, and what a final few days we had! Wednesday seems likes a lifetime away now but that`s where I left it so that`s where I`ll start. We started Wednesday near Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz) with a dive at Loberia, although the sea was rough we had a good dive and saw rays, turtles and sealions...still no sign of the elusive hammerhead though. On the way back onto the boat my mask got trapped between boat and dinghy and my mask shattered into a thousand pieces, glad it was a dive mask not a leg or even worse the camera case. We then headed to the Charles Darwin Research Centre which is effectively a breeding programme for giant tortoises. Each island has an endemic sub-species of tortoise, or should I say had, many of them have been wiped out through man`s exploitation of the area in the early 19th century. You see, tortoises can go for up to a year without water or food and thus make great meat for boats with long passages around the world as they don`t really go off. The really sad part is that of one sub-species, Pinta, there is only one tortoise left. `Lonesome George`is now 90 years old and reaching his prime for mating but has so far shown no interest in the 3 introduced females whose genetics are most similar to his. Despite our egging him on he didn`t get his shell over when we were there either.

After lunch we headed up into the highlands where we saw some wild ginat tortoises, although it seems a little funny describing them as wild as although they lived in the wild they don`t exactly tear around at Mach 3. We went backl tot he boat via a huge lava tube which has collapsed in the past bringing down stones the size of a cow. We didn`t hang about in there for fear of further collapses...

Back on the boat we met up with our new found colleagues, 5 Canadians (2 French Canucks, 3 living in America now). Brent and Lisa and father Gary all now live out of Canada (Brent in Hawaii), Gary is a dentist so he and Jen swapped (or should that be swabbed?) info. The two French Canadians, Chantal and Marie Jose were really nice too although neither spoke amazing English so we had to resort to French (again) at times.

Onto Day 5, Floreana Island, which is to the south of the archilpeligo. Our dive at Enderby Rock was excellent, we saw a number of Galapagos Sharks (like reef sharks but bigger), rays and some wonderful little pufferfish. After the dive we headed onto the island, past the resident sealions and to a lagoon where we saw about 30 flamingoes, the brightest and purest shade of pink you could imagine. We were also fortunate to see (via binoculars) a nest with 5 chicks that were an ugly grey colour. After walking to the other side of the island we entered a bay where we managed to get up close to mating turtles, and I got soaked trying to get a photo of the rays that washed themselves up into about an inch of water on the beach. 3 Penguins also flaoted by and it was a magical half hour or so. Next up was a snorkel at Champion Rock whilst most others dived Enderby again (we decided to stick to a dive a day). It was wonderful! We saw 14 cownose rays in formation near the surface but the best bit was snorkelling with the sealions. 2 youngsters and their mother spent at least 10 minutes swimming towards us and playing before it was time to head back tot he boat. Although on land they are clumsier than a dog with no back legs (which is incidentally what they look like when they walk) in land they are so quick and graceful. Our last stop for the day was at Post Office Bbay where a barrell stands in which letters and postcards are deposited. The idea is to look for people who live nar you and then take your post back with you. We left a couple of postcards and checked for people in NW of England of which there`s hoping some Mancunian turns up there one day and brings ours back! We finished the afternoon by watching the two boats` crews palying football which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Day 6 (Friday) meant Espanola, which is one of the best islands to visit. We were up and out by 6.20 and had landed on a beach, near the obligatory sealiuons some five minutes later. Our 2km circuit walk took us high up onto the cliffs and through colonies of masked boobies, repleat with either eggs, week old chiocks or slightly older fledglings. With a number of the nests built next to or on the paths we got a great opportunity to see everything close up - it was fantastic. After the boobies we walked through the resident waved albatross colony and their chicks. We were lucky enough to view the famed albatross dance where they made loiud noises before dancing as a pair and touching beaks...magical! The final area on the island was at the `airport` where we viewed all the different bird species flying, landing, tkaing off etc...

Our dive for the day was next - Gardners reef, and what`s more we saw our first hammerhead, some 3m (10 ft) long, and about 10m away. It was a real thrill, and coupled with the manta rays, sealions and other fish made it another memorable dive. We finished the day with a long sail north, but only after we had snorkelled with sealions and rays again...

Day 7 - yesterday, Santa Fe

Up and out early again we walked through a giant cactus forest (with some specemin over 200 years old and with trunks so thick you couldn`t get your arms round) before spotting a number of pallidus land iguanas. They were all yellow and black so I`ve renamed them the Cambridge United Land Iguana and they are subsequently my favourite animal in the world, amost, but at that point we hadn`t dived Gordon Rocks...and so to the dive site. To give you a bit of history about this site we found out about it from t`internet and booke dour whole trip to the Galapagos because Nemo dived there. With this in mind the change of itinery made it fitting we should dive there for our final dive. It is famous for a few things, the swirling currents, sometimes bad visibility, but mostly for it`s hammerheads, lots of them, and big buggers too by all accounts. So with a real sense of anticipation we donned our gear and dived in. Well the vis was good (about 10-12m) and the currents although bloody cold (my computer went from 23-19 degrees at one point) weren`t too for the sharks...well we saw one really early one, and it was huge, we estimated at around 3.5-4m. It then decided to circle us, about 5-7m away...and then promptly diappeared into the blue. We managed to circumnaviage the three pinnacles despite the strengthening currents before 2 eagles rays were spotted and the group followed them en masse. That is, the group except myself and Jen who decided to hang around near the back of the rock and see what was out there...oh my God did we have a shock at what we saw least 20 hammerheads, some seemingly in feeding frenzy less than 10m away. A couple decided to check us out and came within a few metres. Our reaction was a mixture of shock, sheer jubilation, and adrenaline (there are over 1,000 unprovoked attacks by hammerheads on humans every year) as we spent a couple of minutes watching them swim off into the distance. There has never been a hammerhead attack on a diver in the Galapagos Archipeligo, it is thought that the abundance of fish means that they don`t need to supplement their diet with neopreme coated humans.

Arriving back at the boat we felt it was a real case of mission accomplished. The only animal we wanted to see that we hadn`t (apart from the red footed boobies that you have to go Genovesa in the North to see) was the frigatebird, the ones with the magnificent red balloon that they inflate to impress the ladies...we were promised those for this morning. I then managed to smack my head on the boom of the boat nearly knoicking myself out and giving myself a stonking headache. I muttered something ironic about knocking the wind out of my sails...

Our final trip of the day was to South Plaza Island where we saw more sealions (still not tiring of them though, they are so adorable, especially the pups), gulls, more land iguanas, and tropicbirds who have a distinctive long white, wispy tail.

Our dock for the night was near Seymore Island where we were up at 6am this morning for our final walk. First up we walked through a colony of blue footed boobies (and yes I did buy an `I love Boobies` t-shirt, when in Rome and all that) and then we saw the magnificent frigates, replete with red balloon and wing posturing to attract the ladies. The balloon itself takes 20 minutes to inflate and 10 to deflate and we saw some in various stages of pumped-up-ness. More land iguanas, and the three cutest and most inquisitve sealions yet followed before we headed back to Nemo.

Since then we have flown back to Quito and are now in two minds as whether to leave South America on a real high and head to Spain for a couple of weeks ro whether top head south to Banos and Cotopaxi. We are favouring the former as we`ve just had one of the best weeks of our lives and want to remember Ecuador by the Islands some 1,000km to the West of the mainland. We will, undoubtedly be back. We would like to visit the more far flung places, and do some more diving. Our week was truely on of the best of our lives, and we feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see what we`ve seen and interact with nature in the best possible ways. We were both gutted to have to return to the mainland and arrive back in dreary old Quito.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Who`d have ever thought that on islands famous for it`s flora and fauna they`d have t`internet. Well they have, XP too, and it`s bloody quick. So here we are, 3 days into our Galapagos experience. Rather than sum up how we`re feelign about it all now I will do that after a detailed run down of what we`ve done so far...

Day 1 - Sunday...First up was the change of venue, we flew to Cristobal not Baltra, due to the airport at Baltra being reaved or something. This meant we flew in a smaller Boeing 727-200 not the lovely snazzy new Airbus that TAME have. This plane was so old and decripid it`s previous owner was Istanbul Airlines (WHO?)...having said that we arrived safely so enough said...

At the airport there was a big sign stating the things you couldn`t bring onto the islands...soil, live animals, VACCINES... so with a lump in our throat when asked we said we were carrying medicine which is true I guess and they let us in...

We were greeted at the airport by Walter, a Galapagos resident, who was to be our guide for the 8 days. To our relief he spoke good English. To our further relief we were told that there were only 7 of us booked onto the trip for the first 4 days (5 more are joining us tomorrow to make a full boat of 12), and we were then introduced to 3 of them. Emma and George are newlyweds from somewhere near London (or was it West London, can`t remember) - George originally comes from up north. Both are IT consultants but we didn`t hold that against them. Pilar (anyone remember Eldorado - well she looks nothing like THAT Pilar...) hails from Madrid, and she`s told us where to go and where to avoid at Xmas. The two others, who had arrived a couple of days earlier to do some diving, were a Swiss couple, Erica and Chris, who have been in South America for about 14 months driving around in a Toyota Landcruiser that Chris souped up into a kind of weird campervan and then shipped over to Buenos Aires. He also works in IT so for once I`m not the biggest nerd in the group...all are really nice and we seem to be getting on pretty well.

After sorting our cabins out (double bed, hot shower, wardrobe (!)) we hung around on the ship for a while before heading back to Cristobal Island for our first look at the wildlife. Our bus dropped us at a beach and we saw a sealion colony of about 30-40 just doing their thing, except these were different to all the other seals/sealions we have seen in that they didn`t react to humans. Usually they will hiss and try to scare you away if you come within a few yards but not these guys, they just sat there doing their normal stuff, babies suckling, others playing in the sea. We also saw marine iguanas which are indemic to the Galapagos Islands, in fact they do not exist anywhere else in the world and help prove Darwin`s evolution theories. The have basically had a need over time to swim and have thus developed tails and a breathing system that allows them to do it. There were tens of them and although really ugly they posed more than happily for photos. Now Walter, our guide, has a laptop with him which has XP (yay), and also writes CDs (double yay) so we`ve gone photo crazy, but not as mad as Chris who has a really nice camera - to date he`s taken over 800 photos!!!! We finished the day with a check dive, which made up my mind that there was no way on earth I was going to dive with a hood on...

Day 2 (Monday) started with an early dive at Cousin Rocks, where we saw 4 sharks, a couple of marbled stingrays, and a turtle, amongst others. The highlight though was undoubtedly getting checked out by the sealions who then whizzed around us performing barrell rolls just for the camera! On Bartolomè island we took a long walk to the top, via a boardwalk where we got a good view of the surrounding bays. Hopping back in our dinghy we managed to find the rare Galapagos penguin posing on a rock, before we donned our snorkelling gear and went for a dip with the playful sealions.

After an amazing lunch (our chef is one of those amazing people who you just don`t notice but he makes the most amazing food on his own in a kitchen the size of a small toilet cubicle) we headed to Santiago Island, to Puerto Egas to be exact. This was probably the highlight for me so far...although it didn`t start too well. We landed on another beach with another sealion contingent (they are everywhere, in the ports they even sleep on the boats!), which had the saddest little sealion who looked malnourished. Walter explained that his mother had wither died, or abandoned him due to him being touched by humans. The smell of people on fur leads the mother to throw the kid out on the sand (as it were) and effectively leave it to die. Walter said there was nothing anyone could do, and the pup would be dead within weeks. It was really sad, but again evidence of survival of the fittest, kind of, or at least evidence of how man manages to bugger everything up...

Onwards and upwards though to more lava-y landscapes, and more marine iguanas, so numerous and so camoflaged on the rocks that we nearly stepped on a few, playing sealions, and hundreds of crabs. We sat and watched nature at play for about an hour, 2 sealion males fighting over territory, 2 others chasing an iguana and then playfully biting it`s tail, crabs trying to avoid the passing birds...before visiting the fur seal colony that is also on this island. We also saw a canary, an oystercatcher, and many many pelicans. We sailed onto Rabida, arriving just before midnight.

This morning we headed to Rabida where there is a red beach full of sealions (surprise eh?) where we walked to the top of a hill before skirting around the edge of the island. We saw a couple of mating turtles, the female definitely getting the raw deal, not only was she nearly drowning but she had to provide all the flipperage to stay afloat whilst the male was using his flippers to get a better grip...we also saw the bachelor sealion beach where all the deposed males go to get fat and then mount a challenge to the other males who previously deposed them. No bar or cable TV though.

Our 2nd dive (at Beagle Rock) followed, and despite seeing a Manta Ray (from afar) it was a bit of a disappointment, a bit currenty and poor vis, and also Jen`s mask kept flooding for no apparent reason. The dinghy ride afterwards, through the mangroves on Cerra Dragon, was excellent however, adn we got fleeting glimpses of sharks and rays in the clear water. The best bit though was getting close to the blue-footed boobies which have bright blue feet (never I hear you cry!). They are mean divers though and we got to see a couple plunging into the drink for their lunch.

And here we are...after a five hour boat trip that nearly saw us seeing our lunch again (it`s getting a bit rough currently). Jen gave me my 4th injection (a rabies jab on the day we visited isla rabida - nice irony!) and we`re just about to head back to the boat for the remaining 4 1/2 days. To sum it all up so far for me it`s been amazing, yes some of the wildlife is a bit similar but we still go all gooey eyed at the sight of a seal pup, and diving with them is just incredible, a unique experience. There is enough variety in the islands, although all volcanic they have different hues, and fauna. Jen is getting abit cabin feaverish but is enjoying it too. Hopefully the 5 that join tomorrow won`t be like the gourp of Americans on the other boat whose itinery is the same as ours...obnoxious, hilarious dress sense, and no observing of the 2 metre rule (that`s how close you can get to the animals)...

Saturday, December 06, 2003

OK so this is it, here we sit in Quito again, just about to do another Lonely Planet walking tour. I have rather stupidly left the driver disk for my X Drive in an internet cafe so we`ve got to hang around a bit and wait for it to open (we`re in one across the road). We will not be on email now until at least Wednesday and probably not until next Sunday in all honesty as the Galapagos is omne of th eplaces still lacking in I/Cafes (Thank God!!)

Friday, December 05, 2003

Quito is another place that gets a bad rap (see Nazca, Peru). OK so it`s a big place and busstly, with a few scary people but it`s got a real buzz to it, especially with it being Quito day tomorrow... We have spent the afternoon wandering, buying books on the Galapagos (we are even more excited now than at 2.57pm when I wrote earlier) and people watching. The party buses continue by the way...many more with many more people, it can`t be long until the first serious accident...

Ok so I write something positive about an airline and then they break down on the runway and we´re stranded in Santiago for 2 hours...ho hum. Well anyway we´ve arrived in Quito and appeared to have landed on our feet in a big way. We were picked up by a really nice chap who is the great-nephew of the lady we are staying with, whose daughter owns the travel agency we´ve booked the Galapagos with. Confused about family ties, well we were until she got the photos out over brekkie and explained who everyone is. Her house is beautiful, we have cable, our own bathroom, own tabel and chairs and fridge, it´s like living in a palace...we found out this morning that her husband (who died 5 years ago) was a consul/diplomat, hence the beautiful house, furniture and surroundings. We managed to ascertain that they spent a few years in Paris, and thus we have found a mutual language, although mine is rustier than hers...

We met up with Latin-Tours today and any fears we had (very minor) were immediately expunged, they are so friendly. The boat looks even more amazing in their brochure than it does say we are excited would be an understatement...

Just spending the day relaxing and wandering around Quito. They are in the middle of their biggest festival of the year here so it gets to be a ´lock your daughter up´scenario at night apaprently. There are loads of people going round on big ´party´ buses. I hoipe the driver isn´t as pissed as the passengers. They were already leathered at 11 this morning...

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Very rarely do I write how good airlines are so I thought it was time to re-address the balance. LanChile are excellent, there I said it. They stored my medicine and cooled the cool bags and even brought them to me at the end of the flight. Here we sit in Santiago with 3 hours to waste...
OK, picture this, you[re at an official BCP desk (one of the biggest banks in Peru), and you are waiting patiently in line to pay your airport tax (what exactly does this 28 dollars a person go towards other than propping up the Peruvian economy?) and then your time comes. You have a few left over Soles (local currency) so ask to pay in Soles. You give the guy 250 Soles as you think roughly that should cover it and he gives you about 30 Soles change. Fine so far except than when you ask for a receipt you see you should have only paid 200 Soles and he's basically pocketed the other 20. You kick up a fuss and he eventually gives you your money back. CORRUPT OR WHAT? It wasn't just the fact that he did it, it was the way he took the Soles off me, to start with I wasn't even sure if I gave him 250 or 300, he just ssaid 'that should cover it'...a sour note to leave on really but there you have it. Peru is full of wonderful places, and mostly fantastic people, but, just as in parts of SEA, people still see tourists as easy prey for rip-offs, and it begins to wear you down. We're more than ready for Ecuador (although we've heard even worse reports here...)

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Why is it as soon as I don´t write anything for a few days people think I must be in some sort of danger...not like I was bitten by some flea eared mutt and then disappeared or anything.

So, we´re back from the jungle, and apart from the fact I´ve had Guns ´n´ Roses going round my head for the last 4 days (Welcome to the jungle We've got fun 'n' games We got everything you want Honey, we know the names - ad infinitum arghhhhhhhhhhhh!) On the whole it´s been great fun

On the evening before we left we picked up my rabies jabs and some sort of cooling container (that is supposed to keep everything cool for about 12 hours - it only manages about 6/7...), and then went for a great meal at Fallen Angel, kind of a bar cum restaurant cum club with some of the weirdest toilets (think broken mirrors and barb-wire) and tables (glass topped baths filled with water and fish...)...but the food was great.

So off to the Amazon, 30 minutes to Puerto Maldonado in an (Sc)Aero Continente plane from the dark ages. After arrival at PM we headed into the jungle by thatched bus (I kid you not) and boat. We made it to the lodge around 2pm. Each room at Pasada Amazonas has it´s own bathroom, cold shower et al, but no wall on one side so you can really feel at one with nature. At about 3am each morning we were woken up by the eerie sound of howler monkeys doing their thing (howling I guess). It was unique, I´ll give it that. Our guide, Tito - from Lima, was excellent and it was he who took care of us for our stay, waking us up at stupid o´clock (4am on 2 out of 3 mornings), and taking us on many excursions. On the first faternoon we headed to the observation tower, which is some 37m (120 ft) high and gives you a great panoramic view of the surrounding forest. We saw a couple of macaws and just generally took in the view before arriving back at the centre in time for tea. We had a bit of a saga with my medicine, the barman moving it from the fridge (his fridge) and leaving it on the side...we hope we got it back in before it got too cold...only time will tell I guess.

So to day 2, and up at 4.30 we were on aboat up river to a nearby Ox-bow lake. In this lake live a family of giant river otteers, and we were fortunate enough to get a glimpse albeit from a hundred metres away. Posada Amazonas has entered into a partnership with the local community aimed at preserving the natural area and has taken a commitment to view wildlife in such a way that it doesn´t interfere witht the animals themselves...unlike another lodge whose group came whizzing past, causing the otters to disperse and then blocking the rout eback to their nest, much to the fury of all on our boat. Eventually they retreated but the otters were not to be seen again.

Whilst on the boat a chap was filming for a program called ´World Report´ which airs in the US. We did our best point and look at the otters routine for him so I might be on 2 TV progs in a week or so!! On the way back to the river one of the guides managed to catch a yellow-bellied piranha and demonstrated how sharp it´s teeth were by putting something in it´s mouth...eeek, glad we didn´t fall in.

In the afternoon we visited a local shamen (no veras, or e´s for that matter) called Don Jose who took us round the tribe´s medicinal garden. We chewed on an anaesthetic plant, and rolled something or other around in our fingers until they turned purple but none of us sampled the Para Para plant. ´Para Para´means ´stand-up, stand up´...the plant being their version of viagara...

Just towards the end of the trip it started to rain ( - properly, think cats and dogs and then chuck in a few giraffes, hippos and elephants) and Richard was about 2 metres away from getting squashed by a falling branch...nonetheless, despite arriving back soggier than an incontinent babies nappy, we had had a good afternoon.

We also managed to go on a night walk where, apart from a few insects, one laying eggs, we saw bugger all....well it was dark I suppose...

So to the final full day and another early start to get to the macaw lick. We had watched a wildlife on 1 episode filmed at PA the previous evening (God it was so good to hear David Attenborough) and it had whetted our appetite. Now macaws eat alot of seeds and, due to the toxins in these seeds, they also eat clay, which apparently couteracts these toxins. I couldn´t help thinking wouldn´t it just be a whole lot easier if they just ate, say, Big Macs, but then remembered we were in the jungle, and Ronald was not to be seen for a few hundred miles...

Well we didn´t have the best of luck...the macaws didn´t show early in the morning, and when Tito organised an additional trip for us later on that morning (at 8.30!!) we could hear them but not see them, they stayed high in the trees as they obviously didn´t fancy clay for lunch (but then who would?)

Tito would not be defeated however, and he dragged us to a Parakeet lick just after lunch where we were treated to a cacophony of noise and clay-eating the likes you´ve never seen. For a full half hour 300+ cobalt parakeets dined on the finest clay, screeched and flew as if there was no tomorrow. The fun finished about as quickly as it started, and dead on the dot of 3 they all flew off, seemingly startled by something (bet it was those bloody monkeys again...).

We headed off to the Kapok tree, some 400 years old, and ´the grandfather of the forest´, it was, again, very humbling to see something of this beauty and age. On route we passed a group of termites that had built it´s nest way up in a tree´s canapy, complete with a tunnell (on the outside of the tree) they had made from ´saliva, faeces, and dirt´, or ´spit, shit and grit´ to you and me... Just a little bit of fun left for the afternoon as I provided much hilarity doing a Tarzan and swinging on a vine. It held though, proving just how bloody strong they are, and if it´s good enough for Jonny Weismuller it´s good enough for me....

Tito spent the evening explaining how the project between PA and the local community worked. Many guides used to be barmen, the barmen used to be porters etc...and also explained how it is hoped that the whole lodge will be handed to the community within 15 years (they have already made an undertaking to that effect), lock stock and barrell, when it is hoped they will be better versed in how to run an eco-lodge.

This morning we got up late (6.30) and have now safely arrived back in Lima. The trip was great, although we were a little disappointed not to see more wildlife. Some of the wildlife we definitely missed were all the bugs that bit us, we now sport between 30-50 bites betweeen us despite wearing long shirts/trousers (tucked into our socks, we looked like cyclists for 3 days) and insect repellent. We did see a guy today who must have had more than a hundred bites on each leg so I guess you could say we were lucky.

Tomorrow we´re flying to Quito, Ecuador, which is only about 1,500 miles as the corw flies from here...the only problem is that we have to connect in Santiago as there are no direct flights using our RTW tickets...this not only means an extra 9/10 hours in the air but the prospect of the same airplane food twice in one day...

When in Quito we´ve got a couple of days to hvae a look round and hopefully get up to the middle of the world (it´s basically the equator guys...) where you can stand with one foot in each hemisphere, and as you know we never miss a photo op like to the Galapagos in 4 days, really can´t wait now!

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Piccies, from Titicaca, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and, of course, Machu Picchu

The Plaza de Armas in Cusco + Flags. A load from Titicaca.

Some of the sights of the Sacred Valley

Machu Picchu

On the way to the station we were approached by a BBC World news person who interviewed me about my experiences at MP. If I make the cut it´ll be on some program or other on or around 7/8/9th December.

Well as you know by now it`s impossible for us to have a normal trip without a saga and the train journey proved to be a saga of epic proportions. We started off on time, and we`d just commented on how good PeruRail were (apart from the ticket costs and uncomfortableness of their seats) when the train broke down, across two lines. The complete lack of information was unreal, speculation was rife;it was an electrical fault, it was the engine overheated, it was the wrong type of leaves on the track...eventually we found out that the power was buggered and as the lights went out people reached for their torches. Now the real drama began. They eventually sent for a new locamotive from Cusco (2 hours away) which would mean that it would take us about 4 1/2 hours to get back. The time by now was about 7.30pm...I was due for my second rabies jab at 9pm. The doctor had previously said I needed to have my shots within a couple of hours. Thus I was starting to get a little stressed. We explained the situation to the conductor who spoke a little English, with the help of a Spanish speaking American. They radioed my doc, who said I needed the shot `este noche` (ie before midnight) and we were left to panic for a few more minutes. Eventually a car turned up at the side of the train, seemingly following the train. We were informed that this car was being driven by the Director of Trains, and a few minutes later we pulled up to an abrupt halt at a level crossing where we were unloaded into said car. I eventually got the jab at around 11.20pm, relieved but absolutely knackered.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Things never go to plan do they? First we had the dog bite and then Richard came down with a chronic bout of food poisoning, stomach cramps et al...meaning that we`ve just finished our 2 days at Machu Picchu without H & R.

So off we headed at 6am to be greeted by Ruben, our guide, and the rest of our group. This time our group was a great bunch and consisted of:
Paul (or Pablo) a San Franciscan
Kris from Belgium who is about 12 feet tall and weighs about a stone
and sisters Emma and Jacqui from England (siblings not nuns) who are sitting just to my left right now so I can`t write anything bad about them....only joking! They are both lovely, one of them taking a year out the other taking about 3 months out.

Unfortunately as soon as we were together we were apart as we were all on different carriages on the train. We settled down for the 4 hour trip into the sacred valley and beyond, but only a few minutes in I had another seriously misjudged Cornwell moment. You know when train food comes whizzing by on that trolley and your mind flicks back to Philip Larkin and his bad pie, well I chose a bad sandwich and regretted it for the next 6/7 hours, more of that later.

We started our Inca trail at KM104, missing the two really high passes (4,200m, and 3,900m - you do these on the full 4-day trail) but still with 14km to trek in a day. The climb of over 600m wasn`t accurately reported in the agents when we booked and it proved to be a bit of a pain. Ruben started off by telling us his life story and to start with I couldn`t tell if he was just a bit of a nutter who wanted us to feel sorry for him to get a tip. I soon realised, however, that I had misjudged him and he was (and indeed still is...) an exceptionally informative guide, who maybe overenthuses on occasion.

So we started, the first half of our day was all uphill to Winay Wayna - the hostal where the 4-day trekkers and some of the 2-day trekkers stay. It was a hard walk with the sun beating down on us. Halfway up I felt really ill, presumably due to the sandwich, and genuinely thought about stopping and turning round at one point, but Ruben (and Jen) kept me going by persuading me to stop more regularly, and just generally geeing me up. We eventually made it to the hostal, via a cooling waterfall, now knowing we were only about 1 1/2 hours from the Sun Gate, the first time you get to see Machu Picchu . Feeling much better we made short work of the first hour or so and reached the bottom of the climb to the Sun Gate. The climb is 15 minutes of pure uphill via a seemingly endless number of steps. It`s as iff the Inca`s wanted to heighten the tension you are already feeling as you know as you climb the final stair and round the corner you will finally see the sacred site of Machu Picchu. Now I am pretty sure I have written about this before but some things we`ve been to see have lived up to or exceeded our expectations (Angkor, The Great Wall, Uluru, The Moreno Glacier) and others have fallen woefully short (The Floating Markets, and the Colca Canyon to name but 2!), but none have affected me like Machu Picchu did. As I climbed the final stair and rounded the corner there it was in front of me. My emotions got the better of me, and finally viewing this almost unreal city, some 2,500m up in the middle of the jungle, after the hardest day`s walking I`d ever done, after reading about it for so long, after seeing the pictures on TV and on thousands of postcards I shed a tear...a mixture of relief that the trek was over, and joy at one of the most amazing sights I think anyone could ever witness.

Just as we stood there admiring the whole area (we still had an extra half hour climb down to the site itself) it srtaed raining and we got the most beautiful double rainbow. The rainbow was sacred to the Inca`s and was a great sign, and it was so fitting that not one, but two should greet our arrival at their sacred city.

So we took the slippery walk down to the Hut of the Caretake of the Funery Rock, where all the postcard shots are taken from. It was clear that the rain had scared most tourists off as there were only 2 people left that we could see, and a half dozen llamas. Incidentally llamas got their name from when the Spanish arrived and having never seen llama before asked the Quechua speaking Inca`s `Como se llama` (what is the name) and the Inca`s mused `llama, llama` as they didn`t speak Spanish. The Spanish thought thanks very much and named it the `llama`!

We spent half an hour taking tons of pictures before heading to our bus, tired but utterly elated.

When we got back there was just time for tea (average) and internet (slow), before bed (welcome).

Today we were up at sparrow`s fart again (5.30am) and made our way to Machu Picchu for a guided tour of the site by Ruben. He has learned all he knows from numerous books on MP but also from the Quechua people, from whom he is descended. This meant we got alot of info that may or may not be 100% accurate, but it sounded fesable, and certainly added another dimension to the speculation from various anthropologists. In 1533 the Spanish reached the Sacred Valley and it is thought the men from MP left to help the fight but with no food reaching MP from the valley there became a serious food shortage. MP was then abandoned in favour of other sites, Villacobamba (100km NW, and ironically the site Hiram Bingham was searching for when he stumbled upon MP) for one. MP itself was discovered by locals in 1901 and Bingham used their help in re-discovering the overgrown site 10 years later. The complete excavation took some 37 years.

After Ruben left with a generous tip in his pocket (and he deserved every penny) we tried to find shelter from the rain and eventually emerged as the sun shone once again. We took more photos before heading back to Aguas Clientes where I am writing this from.

The choice on how to `do` MP seems a really logical and easy one for me. Do you a) walk 45kms over some stupidly high passes, getting soaked when the tents leak, and possibly if you are very unlucky, altitude sickness, only to arrive at MP at 6am with it covered in cloud...or do you b) walk a tough but demanded 14kms, still see all the scenery preceeding the site itself, enter the site when the cloud has generally lifted and have the site to yourself, and then have a guided tour and the best part of a day to see the area at your leisure. Oh and pay 100 USD less...? For me there`s not really a choice to be made. I think the thing with the trail is that there`s a hell of alot of bravado, last night at the hostal the 4-dayers didn`t speak to us, obviously believing we weren`t worthy, as we hadn`t had to suffer like they had...I always thought they called it using your head. Now finally, and we`re shamed to say it, but as the mist stayed around MP for most of the morning and the 4-dayers saw little or nothing we couldn`t help but feel at least a little smug.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

To say yesterday was a bad day would be like describing the second world war as a bit of a punch up. It all started at our first port or call, Pisac market. Jen and Helen were nogotiating over some hats when I made the mistake of getting a little too close to the owner´s dog, who decided to go for me. The result was a bit on my right wrist (about the size of a pin-head where it broke the skin) in South America´s rabies hotspot country. I asked the guide (who, incidentally was excellent) if I needed to see a doctor and he said, no, no worries, no rabies in this area, or words to that effect. So we went on to finish the day´s tour (more of that later) before logging on last night and reading from some webiste or other...

Rabies: There is a higher risk of rabies in Peru than in other South American countries. Cases of human rabies, usually transmitted by dogs, has increased but the exact incidence of human rabies is not known. Two outbreaks of rabies, transmitted by vampire bats, claimed 40 lives in 1989–90.

So we contacted a doctor as recommended by our travel agents. Eventually we saw him after he saw ´yet another stupid Englishman who didn´t take altitude sickness seriously, here look at the pulminary something or other x-ray...´ and he explained that the old system of injections (1 a day for 2 weeks injected into the stomach muscle with a (in my case very) long needle) had been superceded by a new one where you 5 injections; one on day 0, and on days 3, 7, 14, ans 28. Day 3 is fine, day 7 however we{re in the jungle, day 14 we´re in the Galapagos, and day 28 is Xmas eve and we´re in Madrid...ahhh I hear you cry but Jen´s a dentist, she can inject you can´t she. Yes this much is true but the problem is with the vaccine, it has to be kept at between 2-8 degrees C, which might be a little tricky in the middle of the rainforest, on a boat, or after a 12 hour flight. We´re working on it, and will let you know. On the positive side the Cusco area hasn´t had a reported case of rabies for 4 years (although presumable some go unreported in the outlying areas), the dog only just broke the skin (and he seemed non-frothy and fairly normal, by the way the first question the doc asked me was ´do you have the dog with you´hahahaha, yeah I just picked up this biting little bundle of hate and put him in my rucksack), and we´ve caught it early. Will let you know if I start foaming at the mouth...

The day´s trip to the Sacred Valley itself was really good, starting at Pisac market, and then heading to the ruins that tower above the city. We did some training for our assault on Machu Picchu by climbing up and over a pretty big hill before exploring the ruins. There were about 500 people that lived here in the space for about 50 houses, you got the feeling the houses only had one room too...there was an old ornate sundial too.

Secondly we headed for lunch at another non-descript, pan-pipe filled tourist buffet hole. Nothing else to write about that place. Ollantaytambo was next and it did not disappoint. It used to be the starting point for the Inka trail, and you can still start here but it becomes a 5 rather than 4 day walk. The ruins are above and alongside some of the best preserved agricultural terracing we have seen, and are all overlooked by an image of one of the Inka God´s - a rock formation on an opposing hill. This was the last settlement anyone knows anything about as it was the last place the Spanish got to. Very little is known about Machu Picchu for this very reason, the Spanish never found it...

We headed back via Chinchero which was very similar to Taquile island, lots of locals doing their thing (and selling to tourists) and a church with a wonderfully ornate ceiling. The suinset over the snow-capped peaks was devine and we stopped for one last photo.

Monday, November 24, 2003

This morning we went about paying for everything we booked yesterday, and what a fun time we have in store. Also, after musing with a beer overlooking Cusco`s wonderful Plaza de Armas we worked out that at the end of the trip the 4 of us (us 2 & H & R) will have spent about 56 days or so in each others company...quite remarkable really.

The following programme is now booked and all very exciting it is too.

Today - well I`ll come to that in a minute.
Tomorrow (25th) - All day tour to the Sacred Valley
Wednesday (26th) - Taxi to Sacsayhuaman, and 8km walk back via loads of other Inka ruins.
Thursday/Friday (27th/28th) - The short (2-day) Inka trail to Machu Picchu look at the link here
- we come in on the 3rd day, and do 6 hrs walking and then MP itself on day 2.
Saturday (29th) - Day in Cusco, or if the weather`s bad in MP on Friday, another day there.
Sunday (30th) to Wednesday (3rd) - 4 day (3 night) trip to the Amazon rainforest to stay at Posada Amazonas. Click here for more info.
Wedneday 3rd Dec we fly to Lima, on the 4th we follow that up with a mammoth day of flights, Lima to Sanitago, and Santiago to Quito (Ecuador) - which we have to do due to the vagaries of our ticket. It menas we get an extra 4,000 odd air miles.
5th and 6th of December will be spent finalising the Galapagos trip, going up to the equator and standing with a foot in each hemisphere (we are such tourists) and going to Otavalo market.
We then have a week left (15th to 21st Dec) when we`re going to have to find something to do in Ecuador, before we head to Madrid, and then Barcelona...

It`s going to be a hell of a few weeks...

As for today we`ve had a really good day exploring Cusco. We started just after lunch with the Santa Catalina monestery, which was founded in 1605. Only 45 years later a huge earthquake rocked the buildings and most of them had to be rebuilt. In doing so a number if Inka treasures were discovered, the colonialists built the church over the walls of the Acllawasi, the palace of the Inka`s handmaidens. There is a wonderful courtyard complete with well, and many religious pieces of art from the last four centuries.

We followed this up with a trip to the fabulous Inka Museum. It is really well laid out, chronicalling the first Inka`s through to modern day descendents who still roam in the countryside. It is home to a collection of everything from pottery though to weaponry, and also a small but to scale model of Machu Picchu, and some really interesting photos of the site as it was when it was discovered in 1911 by `Hiram Bingham, an American anthropologist.

Our final stop for the day was at the Cathedral that sits on the north side of the Plaza de Armas. It is a wonderful building, which has enough silver and gold to enable every Peruvian to live a life of luxury were it equally distributed. It also has a beuatifully carved cloister and chapel.

Cusco is certainly turning into a `favourite place´ although the constant hassle from shoe-shine boys, postcard sellers, and kids with lambs (!) is beginning to get to us.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Well last night we successfully found a good trip to Machu Picchu and jungle tour. We then went to find a reasturant recommended to us and wentg down "gringo alley", which we will not repeat again. apart from being touted and almost dragged into every doorway we settled on a mexican. The problem with said Mexican has been found out this morning, the chicken Jen felt that smelt off...was, in a big way and we´re both suffering for it now. Helen and Rich have arrived, have felt the altitude, and have agreed a course of events which´ll mean another 10 day haul together. We´re heading off to the jungle after a 2 day trek to Machu Picchu and a couple of days in Cusco...should be fun.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

For starters well done England, and what a mach. I managed successfully to not wake Jen up until about 2 minutes from the end of normal time, so I`m not really in the doghouse either...back of the net.

This morning started well (ruby) and went downhill from there. Jen woke up with a migraine, and then the twat behind the desk at the hotel thought the 100 soles note we paid for the room with was a fake, and the 2nd one i offered ,a nd the 3rd and 4th...eventually we made it into a cab with him cursing us. I got the notes from the bank last night for Godssakes, and if I was going to go into large scale money faking it wouldn`t be with Peruvian Soles...

The bus journey to Cusco was a nightmare, the bus stopped everywhere (despite climing it was direct with no stops), the air con wasn`t switched on (contra to their promises pre-departure) and one guy (a Peruvian surprisngly) had his bag nicked. Top that off with the length of time it took to go 350 kms (7hours) and you can understand why it was a nightmare...however, every cloud and all that...

Cusco is lovely, yes, it`s touristy but that has it`s bonuses, shedloads of great restaurants for starters. Also we don`t get hit upon by hawkers as much as we look a little like scabby backpackers (well I do at least, no hair cut for 10 weeks and counting) compared to all the tour groups here to see Machu Picchu. No idea of our plans as yet, we´re off to talk to some travel agents now. H & R arrive tomorrow, should be fun being back together again (God I sound all whistful...)

We managed to find a great Italian restaurant for our tea, and, sated, we headed back to the hotel. After a nice breakfast we headed to the bus station. We had another goodbye kiss, a few waves, at on point I thought she was going to cry. Again, I reiterate, if you stay in Arequipa you MUST STAY HERE, it´s wonderful!

Our bus was scheduled for 9am and as we arrived at 8.45 it was clear there was a problem...apparently there had been some demonstrations in Puno a couple of days back which resulted in them bricking the Ormeno they put ours back 5 hours in the hope the protests would have subsided...after hanging around the station for the full 5 hours (we figured if we left they would almost certainly bring the bus forward just to spite us!!) we boarded, and got through to Puno without inncident. Well, the only incident was me getting a nose bleed, well it is very high here I guess. The guesthouse we booked into is nice, no cable though,a d they told us last night that no hotel in Puno has we founf this to be a complete lie, but more of this later. We felt the altitude on climbing the stairs, OK so I´m not the fittest bloke in the world but I don´t usually pant for 2 mins/nearly faint after climbing the stairs...maybe those steaks in Argentina are having an effect. Anyway with our tour for today booked we headed out for a great Calzone, the nicest thing we´ve had in Peru by far.

Puno itself is not a nice place, one pedestrian mall is flanked on all sides by scary alleys and scary pople, it´s a definite walk back to the hotel with chest puffed out looking hard kinda place (not that I´m very good at that...)

So to today, we were picked up at 7.20 (!) by our guide, Percy, WHO SPOKE PERFECT ENGLISH!!! We headed to the port where we boarded the worlds slowest boat...all in all today we spent 6 hours on it, I could have swam faster. However the trip itself was excellent, which was a pelasant surprise. The first port of call on Lake Titicaca was the floating villages of the Uros, just 20 mins (about 100 metres I think) away. Although heavily touristed (on4e island per boat seemingly) we got a fascinating insight into how they live. The islands themselves are about 2m thick and are made of reeds, the same reeds they use to make their houses, boats, and even eat! They tether them in the shallow parts of the islands although ain heavy storms the islands often break their moorings. We met a couple who were 19 and 17 and already had 2 kids, they marry at 14/15 apparently. The man does manly stuff like fishing and the woman does the cooking etc...although for some reason Percy claimed this was feminism working...not sure on that one old chap...

We then got treated to all their crafts/handiwork and although we weren´t under real pressure to buy it felt a bit forced in the way it happened, kind of, here´s our culture now buy...

As you know by now we are the ultimate tourists so we took a trip in a reed boat, driven/piloted/captained by Julio who I´d recently not bought somehting from. He was a big lad, and when he demanded (not asked for) a 2 soles ´tip´we all obliged...

So onto Taquile, an island made of rock and the like where we spent 3 hours wandering round getting a real feel for the Peru of say a couple of hundred years ago, although they have finally now got electricity and within 2 years over 80% of homes have got TV...the locals wree all dressed in traditional clothing and you got to see many knitting hats, tending to flocks of sheep, or just doing they´re thing. It was fascinating. Percy told us all about the knittin ghats ritual and it goes something like this. All the 14/15 y.o. boys have to knit hats and when they are courting the hats are taken home by the girls who then pour a load of water into them. The theory goes that the boys that work hardest and thus produce the better quality, no corners cut hats, have hats that don´t leak. The workshy fops on the other hand have leaky shoddy ´Friday afternoon´ hats and do not make as good suitors...I guess if Darwin had landed here not the Galapagos (pretty hard as it´s a landlocked lake at 12,000 feet) he may have worked out natural selection on this basis eventually too...

On the way back to Puno it cropped up in conversation that our hotel had said nowhere in Puno had cable...I asked the ever knowledgable Percy and he said that was complete and utter bollocks (not his words) and that a number of hotels did. We, are now firmly esconced in one, but it doesn´t have ESPN2, the channel we need...however I think it is being shown on TV5, a French channel, which we do have. So I´m going to have to settle for the match in French, with a 4am kickoff. I am under strict, turn the volume, brightness, contrast down instructions, and under no illusion that if I wake my better half I will be a dead man.

So off to Cusco tomorrow, we´ve got high hopes for the place. Helen and Rich are arriving on Sunday so we´re going to try to arrange the Machu Pichu thang with them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Some photos from today...the hotel where we´re staying has got free broadband (and they´re wonderful, one of the nicest, friendliest places we´ve stayed all year - Las Torres de Ugarte click on their website here , they even gave us a kiss on our return!!!) so these may be the last til after Machu Picchu, oh and while I remember Helen and Rich have changed their plans and we´re all set to meet up in Cusco...bring it on!

First off, some piccies of the canyon and us, some arty ones and the terraces.


Some hots of locals doing their thing...and one of the ubiquitous show...