October 31, 2007
Peru Parte 1
I must be one of the rare few who dont get excited about the prospect of peru when people mention in quivering anticipation of how it or amazing macchu picchu could be. For many tourists Peru is S America and Macchu Picchu the reason for the long haul to the continent. Everything else takes a backseat and travellers get glossy eyed and make a dash for Peru s archeological jewel and miss out on what else Peru has on offer. Which I´ll give Peru credit, is a wide variety of cultural pockets and extremely diverese wild life and environs... but when it came down to it, Peru just didnt get my engine revving like other SA countries. It seemed like perhaps overall I had just been going through the motions of another andean nation and in the process dealing with the bulk of the surly Andean tourist industry. Doesnt sound enticing? Well read on... perhaps who ll find the odd glimmer of excitement and wonder hidden behind my cynical take on tourism centred around the Sacred Vally and M Picchu.
After coming from Ecuador and Colombia , Juliet and I were a little taken aback when emerging bleary eyed from our bus at the station in Piura we were told by the guard how perilously dangerous it would be for us to walk out in the street with our backpacks, despite it being manically busy and 8 in the morning. This was Peru, the most touristed of the countries on the continent. And this is a little disconcerting as it seemed improbable, but when a number of locals tell you this with nothing to gain themselves you start to second guess and get slightly uneasy. But we hopped in a taxi to another bus comapy merely a few blocks away and werent robbed before travelling another 3 hrs again and repeating the process and getting the same warnings.
Peru´s bus sytem is terribly organised with the hundreds of different companies occupying there own stations spread around town , usually in some of the dodgier areas. It also means that comparing bus prices ) which vary widely= is a real pain in the ass and requires a day of prep before disembarking..
So we coasted down The Pan America and saw nothing but dark grey sandy desert disappearing to the mountains on one side and being swallowed by the ocean on the other. Cheapily errected brick mortar squats ornated with rusty steel girders protruding from the top intersped the bleak expanses of sand before arriving at the next city. Each city is centered around one of the few places on the coast with a river making it from the mounatin to the ocean and providing an oasis of sorts with cheap mortar and brick fences and rough crops crowded around it. The barrios of modern Peru possibly constitute the ugliest construction site I have been privy to view.
This bleak expanse of desert stretches from its border with Ecuador to Chile in the south and despite the proximity to the equator and the sea level altitude, it is for some reason fucking cold too. The sky is dulled a depressing grey and the everything seems a tad unexciting and like purgatory. Yet numerous pre Inca civilisations thrived here and built empires which were eventually subsumed, destroyed or disappeared into the sand.Heavens knows why such a place would be the centre of so many locations.
Finally we ended up in Trujillo a town founded by Pizzaro in 1500 and what not on the coast , a little osais in the great expanse of desert splattered with quaint brightly painted colonial buildings and close to the nearby ruins of the huge Chan Chan which pre date anything Spanish by a good 1000 years. We bunked down in a nearby fishing village town crowded with seafood restaurants, surf shops and local fishermen who use reed bots to "surf" back into the shore with their catch. We wandered around the massive ruins, which were nothing more thangiant crumbling walls with some interesting carvings still visible and stumbled across the sacrificial pit at the nearby temple of the moon which was severed down the middle by spanish looking for gold.
Another 16 or so hours of bus down the Pan Am and giving Lima the slip, we passed Pisco, the town devestated by the recent earthquakes. The town was a mess and rubble littered the streets. Most of the residents had been moved into tents and as our bus drove through children ran after us, their hands out for money. I remember CNN or some other terrible news agency reporting the devestation by hightlighting the lack of water and electricity... which didnt actually exist in many of the houses anyway pre quake. The shabby building practices certainly hadnt helped things in nearby Ica where we were headed, but they looked to be coping much better. We drove to the neighborhood desert oasis of Hucachina where a few buildings, trees and tourists crowded a lovely little lake that is dwarfed by surrounding dunes of amazing magnitude. Sandboarding is the hightlight here and we spent an afternoon trudging up ridiculously high dunes and plumetting down only to fall on our ass 20m later.
Nazca is a short bus ride away and we stopped in town briefly enough to take a cheap flight over the lines (a truly amazing experience, which left others in our plane with very green looking faces) and get some fill of chinese food which restaurants seemed to dominate the town. What struck me most about the desolate (there is that word again), flat plateau on which the huge geometric and animal images were carved, was not amazing precison or truly huge scale of the things, but the ravaged look of the landscape itself. It looks scarred and cut by water but then cruelly left dry for 500 years. This is what apparently wiped out the Nazca culture, long droughts , and resulted in possibly more glyphs as they tried their best to appease there merciless gods.
The bus route we then took wound its way up into the Andes and we experienced nightmare bus travel as the worst music we had ever heard was played at discoteque levels and the bus rocked us back and forth in seats midgets would find constricting. After numerous breakdowns and bathroom emergencies we arrived in Cuzco and the heart of the tourist scene in Peru.
Music: Battles, Nick Drake, Boards of Canada,
October 22, 2007
Why I hate Borat
Bland pop culture seems to be spread pretty thick at gringo cafes in South America, and among the muck of Red Hot Chili Peppers or Bob Marly that constantly seems to be violently asailing ones ears ( the true mantras of the wide eyed ,world traveller), the odd screening of pirated DVDs become a point of obvious attraction for those wearied by the road and in search of more gringo diversions.. ( from the actual country they are visiitng it can seem considering the number of these types of cafes or hostals and the frequency they are patronised). A popular movie in particular that travellers of all walks and countries seem to love and is perpetually on screen is Borat, and it is one movie in particular I loathe in contradiction it seems to popular opinion.
I remember working in England in a dreary grey winter of 99 and the pub hours were late but a particular ray of sunshine in my day was the finishing up in time for the Ali G show around 11. Ali G was a fantastic take on cynical comedic paraody and manged to get the best (or perhaps worst) out of people on their own accord. For the few uniniated, Ali G was a white jewish guy who dressed up like he was a black guy from the projects and had been given a youth focused program to help young people understand the issues of today. And the guests he interviewed went along with this tangential take on current affairs. They ignorantly took his stupidity, crassness and terrible ethnic stereotype for what was todays youth culture and became the joke themselves. It was funny because they so obviously couldnt see past this ridiculous parody and opened themselves up trying to bridge the gap of cross generations. IT was funny how ludicrulous out of touch politicians, PETA activists and academics were with "todays youth".
Then in the second season came Borat. And employing the same stratedgy, that of an alien host from a foreign culture, he managed to bring an even greater amount of horrifyingly honesty opinons and racism out of Englands gentry. Pretending to be Kazakstani and unaquanited with English customs he manged to get away with asking some horrifyingly funny questions and recieving even more disturbing answers. On one occasion he is talking to a participant on his horse about to partake in a fox hunt. WIthout a hint of sarcasm Borat tells the man how he likes to shoot animals because it makes him feel like he has "big balls". How it is fun to blow apart small animals. And the aristocratic hunter agrees, admitting quite confessionally how it makes him feel like a big man.
Once agin the joke was not on Borat, but on the interviewee who could not see through the thinly veiled bullshit or stereotype he presented. He exposed their racism and I took great delight in his episodical revelations of Englands willingness to accept what is presented to them.
TO me what made Borat genius was that he was not Borat. He was a white middle class jewish guy. Borat was a costume worn only for the interview to expose how pathetic it was that people could not see through his stereotype. Borat didnt exist outside of the interview. This is what disturbed me about the movie and made me hate it so.
No longer was Borat a jewish guy pretending to be a helplessly pathetic kazakstani, he was a full blown charcter with a back ground and life and took part in stupid skits without modern society on camera to witness. Suddenly he has a village, with a wife a (skanky ) girlfriend, prostitutes he visits and a poor backward village that become the butt of the jokes. He drinks out of the toilet . This in particular would be funny if it was to provoke shock from a person he was interviewing there in front of him who couldnt realise that everybody in the world has toilets and knows what they are for. Instead this is a cheap joke jabbing at how backwards Kazistanis are and done to appeal to college jock humour.
Putting Borat on screen with a story and background ruined the whole concept of Borat. the ignorance of the populace is no longer the joke but the character of Borat and his cheap pathetic costume which wears very thin when not involved in interviewing the so called powers that be. The whole idea of Borat as subversive has been turned into potty humoured drech. Its a great shame, because there was a time way back in my late teens when Borat made the sunine on the dreaiest of Winter days.
October 4, 2007
I returned to Australia from 2 years of self imposed exile in Korea and I was told my best friend was dead. He wasnt exactly my best friend. Not anymore. There had been too much empty space. Too much distance. I didnt even know his phone number anymore. The last time I had seen him was years ago and we didnt know each other anymore then. I already had it in my head he was going to die. I just chose to ignore it.
I was told unhestiatingly and she gauged me carefully unsure of her delivery of news. I was surprised at my lack of shock or feeling. I guess I was expecting it, but I had pushed him out of my life so i´d never have to know. I was even thinking of going back to his house in Nedlands, the huge house where his wealthy family of 5 brothers lived, the house whose bedroom window I used over a hundred times. The house where i spent my summers in my late teens. The house where his mother banged on his door after he came out of the clinic and we were trying to snort ecstasy to make him feel better. That night his mother lost faith in me. That night his other friend warwick got thrown out of the window by Peter. Warwick was desperate too. We snorted what was left in a park later that night without bush and didnt say anything else too each other. Warwick died from a heroin soon after. Died or lost his shit and ended up in jail or something that erased him from Bush´s circle.
I first met Bush on New Years Eve. We took tabs of Acid and we bonded. We were so alike. He was so fucking smart. The smartest person I have ever met. He was enraptured by physics and found explaining it far easier than botheirng with lectures. He was also the kindest person I had ever met. He always thought of others back then. I guess that was because he was a little self concious. He had a healthy appetite for drugs too which helped with the self-conciousness.
On New Years eve we took acid and listened to music and got lost in philosphical pondering and Bush introduced me to real Indie Rock. He played me pavement. He played me Archers of Loaf. He played My Bloody Valentine. And we and others got lost in the cemetery and had a blast of a time. I felt for the first time comfort and ease. I felt like I had people who I could understand.
The rest of that summer we did a lot of acid and smoked a lot of weed. We would come back from parties and talk way late into the night, expounding theories, playing music and when the drive became too much we´d wander around nedlands or go over to Julians and get some more extascy. It was a fucking great Summer, that 96/97 one.
We started Uni together in the same course a year later. On orientation day we missed the Deans morning speech as we had some speed and Bush shot up in the English dept stairwell. It was the first time I had seen anyone use a needle. I was a little shocked. It was about now that Bush´s intake of drugs gradually pulled far ahead of mine.
Later he got a presciption for dexies and we consumed a lot of them. We werent enjoying uni much and didnt go as much as we should. Dexies made allnight papers a matter of routine. I think I learnt most of my courses by consuming a bottle of dexies in the two weeks leading up to exams. I had decided by that time I needed to go.. I needed direction... and half a year later i took my savings and went to Europe for a year.
Bush at this time had finally a girlfriend he loved. Things were happy in his life. Girls had depressed him beyond anything else and he was more afraid of not ever having someone than anything else. 4 months later I got my first and only email from him. He´d fucked up.
He was getting wasted late at night with this girl Marjle who hed once had a fling with and her boyfriend and ´they were popping valium and wine. At about 4 the boyfriend ( who was in the process of trying to kick smack, as was his girlfriend) had an argument with Marjle and stormed off out of Bushs bedroom window. Bush tried to comfort her and one thing led to another and soon they were fucking. An hour later the boyfriend came back through the window and saw them naked together. He went crazy kicking and screaming. He kept kicking Marjle in the stomach and he pushed her out of the window. Bush was trying to pacify him. He kept saying it was his fault. A friend of Bush´s big brother came out to help. He tried to pull the boyfriend of Marjle and he bit his eyebrow off. Took all the skin off. He needed a skin graft for his ass after that.
With Bushs brothers friend screaming and marjle crying on the ground, the boyfriend ran off sobbing and jumped in his car and drove off. He crashed into a tree 5 min later. Marjle and her boyfriend were to be married in 2 months he found out later.
Bush debated for a 3 days without seeing her if he should tell his girlfriend. He knew he would never do it again, but he also knew he could never lie to her for the rest of their relationship. Against Marjle´s advice he told her the truth and she dumped him never to speak to him again. He took it badly.
After I reurned from Europe a year later , i was a far wider eyed man. I seen the middle east. Id camped alone in deserts and run pubs. Id grown up a lot. Bush was different. He was fat again, like he was in highschool before I had met him. He had depression and he had used heroin.
I was working late at a restaurant most nights but Bush was desperate. He would call me up before work. PLease. Please come over. I need you. And I would go after finishing work at 11:30, Id drive straight to his house with some dinner for him and try to help. We d usually end up drinking. or he d pop a couple of valium or he had some dexies. Hed try and pretend it was just as before. I went along with it. But it wasnt.
But I was there for him.
He was very depressed. He said more than anything in the world we wanted to be normal.Cliched boring life of job, suburbs, mortage. That was his dream.
He went into Perth Clinic and I came to visit him. He joked about how crazy it was to be in there. I saw a teacher from my high school there too. Onenight awhile after he was out he begged me to come over very late at night. I was about to go to bed but I went anyway. He was in a bad way he poured his heart out to me and smoked halfn a pack of winfield blues. He then said he couldnt help it. He needed to shoot up.... And did I want any? I didnt. But I wanted to understand. I wanted to know who one thing in the world could make it better for him. So I tied my arm and promised myself never, ever, ever was I to do this again.
It smelt metallic. I didnt really get it. It was soft and tiring. I smiled. Bush looked at peace. I could understand how dangerous this was for him.
One time he came over my house, just before I moved out and a hundred dollars went missing. Earlier during the night the pixies song gouge away was playing and he looked down into his arm with pained look and pretended to inject himself. he didnt think I was looking.
I had got addicted to travelling and the next summer I went away To Indochine. When I came back he told me he had almost died on New Years Eve. He had overdosed in a car somewhere. His arms looked messy. We wnt for beers. I still came over, but I no longer smoked pot and we stopped doing drugs late at night. Only occasionally. I began to see him less and less. We wouldnt click like we used to. He went into Petrth Clinic again and I saw him again in there.He didnt tell me what had happened to send him in. His friends had begun to change. At his house there were people who were users I began to meet. People who would joke about how they have Hep C. 6 months later I went to South Asia for 6 months and when I got back we were more distant than ever.
He had otherfriends who now filled my roll. Not drug friends. Good old school friends. But I let myself slip anyway. And one day I realised I hadnt seen him in months. I guess I gave up. I gave up on my best friend.
And 5 years later he is dead.
I dont know if I put this down because I´m working through it or because now I have supposed reason to emanate deeply, seriously. To use my fucking friend for a cheap fucking story. But I dont feel shocked, and strangely I dont feel sad. Just like every drugaddict cliche I knew, he had died a long while ago. But what had died in me to be so strangley empty and reciprocal to such tragic news?
This tiny little gem is the country that most people seem to bypass on a jaunt round the continent. Ecuador itself doesnt standout culturally like the brashness and vitality of Colombia or the traditional inca roots of Peru so you get a different kind of tourist. People that are here, are her for Nature. The kind of people who walk everywhere in hi-tek hiking boots and northface gear. The kind of people who think not about cost but simply exoticness. People who have spent the price of their airticket at camping stores before coming to Ecuador. And these kind of people have BUCKS.
The galopagos islands are a big business with crusies flaunted about all over Quito, and many are here just for that. Unfortunately they pack a punch to your wallet (I couldnt afford it) but there are also numerous other wildlife excursions I likewise didnt participate in. Whales and iguanas galore on the coast and an Amazon basin bursting with life and small towns like Mindo with all kinds of crazy birdlife. With all this Wildlife bandied about, it´s no wonder the cultural side of ecuador is a little overshadowed. And Quito, where I was based for my spanish course is a great place to begin sampling it.
Upon arriving in Quito we settled in Mariscal, in the new town. The neighbourhood is awash with travel agencies, hostels, spanish schools a great range of international restaurants. Perhaps not the best place at first glance to mingle with quitonos. But the area is becoming much more upscale and the more well off young hipsters love to come down to hang out. The weird melange of travel agencies and traveller restaurants seem a wolrd away from the S America juliet and I knew.
I began Spanish lessons in earnest, struggling up at 7am for 5 hours of spanish classes which worked wonders as I markedly improved over a couple of weeks. Juliet explored the town while I was in class and weekends were reseved for side trips like Mindo where we hiked to Waterfalls, saw humming birds and flying foxed ourselves from mountain to mountain. After class we explored Old town together which has been beautifully restored over the last couple of years letting Quitos coloinal past glow.
My spanish school wasnt lack for activities either. Juliet and I tried some free salsa lesson where i learnt i should never ever be seen swinging my hips in public. Just before my time was over the owner actually took every guy apart from me and this german guy out for a "Noche de Hombres" at which they went ton a tour of the cities strip clubs. We also indulged in religious activites. Football.
Watching soccer is something akin to spiritul rebirth here. We went to a match in the National stadium to watch Ecuador slaughter bolivia in a friendly, and then very unfriendly punch each other out as the match ended. And this was great, but watching a soccer match on Tv, wow the annoucers take dexterity to a whole new level. They cram something ridiculous like a 1000 words a minute into their commentary, but manage to scream GOAL!!! for upto a minute (including pauses for breath).
We also debated the merits of seeing the amazon independently but ended up signing up for a tour and stayed at a lodge deep up the River Napo. It was high water season which meant less animals but managed to see lots of monkeys, dolphins and tarantulas. The water is filled thick with vegetation and the waterways criss crossed with fallen trees and submerged logs. The forest is thick beyond belief and you can lose yourself staring into it. Real heart of darkness stuff drowned in water. We got shown numerous uses of Jungle plants went for a long hike and managed some pirhana fishing (I didnt catch anything). We also visited an indigenous village and a shaman got rid of my bad spirits, (I still drink ), and gave me some Jungle juice. that night myself and two american worlds drank the horrid stuff and were throwing up out of the shack window while my spiritual guide was trying to deal with the two girls who were preoccupied with hollywood gossip . This is scary. When you are tripping very hard and other people arent and talking crap instead, its hard to sensitive to humanity. The trip lasted 3 or so hoursand was amazing. The local people use this stuff at least once a week when they have inner demons to wrestle with.
The next day after spotting some Caimans we took the motor boat back up the river for three hours doging swinging vines and sunken logs once more. The vastness of the amazon is truly overwhlming.
After finally discovering the tiny and emerging art scene in Ecuador we whisked ourselves off to the hotwater town of Banos. Aside from basking in natural hotsprings I partook in some canyomning down waterfalls and mountain biking. Beautiful yet unremarkable. The church however was fantastic, filled with all kinds of paintings of catastrophes and many people being saved from the bowels of hell in the local area. The volcano seems to stir to life every 20 years of so causing untold damage and death yet there is always one person with a picture of the virgin mary on his door whose house does not burn down.
After Banos went south to the lovely little city of Cuenca. The town is gorgeous with alleys of old colonial buildings and plazas and teeming with college kids. We didnt do much apart from stroll around getting lost in wonder and eating lots of coffee and icecream. Juliet smoked perhaps too much weed and blacked out walking out of the restaurant. Altitude sickness we learned is not solved by cigarettes and pot.
There wasnt much left to our trip apart from a stop in sleepy Vilcabamba where a little japanese girl took a shine to us and manged to follow us around the town all day squeezing ice cream and treats out of us while other backpackers eyed us and praised for travelling with a kid. I also hiked to the top of a ridge and then it was a night bus over the peruvian border.