November 3, 2007
Paru Parte Dos: The Sacred Valley
Cuzco is the heart and beating soul of the tourist scene in Peru. It may be covered in hordes and every second store on the plaza may be an aplaca shop or a tourist agency, but the town is still has its moments and if you peel back the layers it is possible it can show you a side of itself that is really gorgeous.... It just might be hard to see past the number of pizza shops or tourist buses sometimes.
When the Spanish arrived at Cuzco, dizzy with gold fever, they demolished the temples and the town Saqsaywaman up hill and hauled all the large stones down to reconstruct the Inca capital in Spanish style. Eventually they got bored and 15 years later the capital was shifted to the new setlement of Lima. But what a 15 years! The huge Catherdral is a marvel and they plonked it right on the original palace and temple to make sure the heathens werent going to be worshiping any more savage gods. The inside is covered with plundered gold and silver and so ostentacious you wonder seriously what Jesus would say, had the man who threw the rich/money lenders out of the temple seen what is being made of his image these days.
The cobblestone alleyways lead through mazes of 500 years old buildings, all on orginal inca bases. Large pot hatted woman in large colourful traditional dress bump and mingle with the gringos or settle on the streets selling vegetables or knick knacks brought in from the countryside. (That, or they carry baby llamas and charged stupid gringos for photos.) And its usually grey and fucking cold.
Once settled, we bumped into old friends from Colombia and on their recommendation booked a 3 day rafting trip in the nearby valley. Rafting was a real treat. Descending out of the mountains the sky became clear, the temp rose and the canyon which we wound our way down into was beautiful with huge vertical walls. The rapids were 4-4plus with some super technical parts that we needeed to walk through. The sandflies were murder on my legs but the trip is highly recommended. We even managed some standing wave surfing. Rafting is going to be something i ll try and make a habit of when I get back home.
After I was back in Cuzco and we d had our fill of milling about the old city, we went to explore the old ruins of the nearby Inca cities sacked by Spanish conquest. Ollytaytambo is an incredibly cute little pueblo still laid out in traditional Inca planning with huge 500 year old stones forming the basses of gorgeous slanted houses arranged in straight, narrow cross sections and long alleys. Apparently it is the oldest continuously lived village in S America. It actually kind of reminded me of ancient Japan. And towering above on the mountains the actual old city and citadel that the Spaniosh destroyed. This was the one city where cunning town planning and defenses funneled the Spanish invaders through tight passes and the Inca defenses wreaked havoc on Spanish forces and they suffered numerous defeats before finally conquering the natives.
We stopped at Pisac another ruined hill top city with a thriving colourful sunday market in the small pueblo below. We ascended the 4 km uphill trail late and by the time we were atop marvelling at the sheer size and height, most of the tour hordes had left and we had this wonderful old ruined mountain top to ourselves. Very special indeed. The Incas developed highly intricate aqueduct systems and huge terracing for agriculture that could spill 100s and 100s of ms downhill to sheer cliff drops. Why on earth such vast cities were erected on top of mountains instead of in the warmer and more agriculturally friendly valleys I have no idea.
Because of our tardiness on top of the mountain exploring the ruins, it was dark by the time were back down in the town and fist fights were breaking out for the last precarious positions crammed inside the few remaining buses passing through the town. After an hour of waiting and watching world records broken for most human beings crushed to death in a tiny van, we took the sensible option and taxied it back to Cusco.
Our next point of interest was Macchu Picchu and being unprepared, as Juliet and I tend to be, the inca trail was of course out of the question. Every allocated spot on the well heeled trail books up months in advance and so we instead opted for an alternative downhill bikingslashhiking option which proved probably much more pleasant and easier on the knees than the traditional route. We decided to go with my rafting company because they were so professional and well prepared , but a dodgy office assistant without the very reputable managers notice bumped us onto another tour group which was plauged by ill-maintained equipment, crap hostals and bad food. None the less, our guide was awesome (if somewhat an alcoholic -each night after discharging his duties he consumed something akin to 9-10 long necks and still made it up fresh and spritely each day by 7) and the scenery rocked. After the huge downhill biking descent on dirt roads into the valley, it became warm enough to remove jumpers and we got harassed by sand flies. We trudged a few kms uphill along some terrifying cliff edges and then followed the river to a natural hot springs spot and spent the night there. Our group was large, but everyone got on well and despite reservations about her fitness Juliet charged ahead of the group , which I put down to her introduction to cocoa leaves, but it may have just been the drop in altitude. The third day we followed the valley further up stream and as we entered the Macchu Picchu sanctuary from the north, the rough, rocky mountains suddenly gave way to lush jungle and greenery that clung to towering vertical cliffs. It was as if the Incas had chosen the only lush and most breathtaking corner of the valley for their Summer city get away. We followed the train tracks from their termination near the hydro project and the forest grew closer and richer as we approached Aguas Calientes, the disgusting tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu. Overpriced and jumbled with tacky souvenir/hotels this town is a definite low point on the whole Macchu Picchu experience. And its a real shame as the location is stunning.
So early at 4 in the morning we began the one and a half hour hike to Macchu Picchu, hoping to get the sunrise and beat the hordes of tourists that arrive once the tour buses start up. And with low expectations Macchu Picchu before the tourists was stunning. The ruins are extremely well preserved and the floor/terraces a lovely blanket of green grass kept in check by resident llamas.
Different levels of the city house different structure and despite being incredibly well preserved , you can tell theyve done a bit of patch up work: as in the Incas did a much better job with foundation blocks and structural integrity. A couple of years ago a film crew filming a beer advertisement smashed the main shrine area when a crane fell onto the old stone work. The patch up job wasnt quite as authentic.
No one still really knows the purposes of Macchu Picchu or why the city was abandoned before the spanish arrived, but speculation runs rife. As our tour guide told us when he found it difficult to come up with any real hard fact and referred to each area he pointed to as an idea or theory of use. Frankily it must be quite entertaining guiding tourists around MP and just constructing wild and illogical theories for the remaining structures and city.
The heat was kind of oppressive and once the hordes of tourists showed up, we cut our losses and headed back to the tourist town below for the train back to Cuzco. The next day we met the same friends again who reaveled a horrific experience they had had on the Inca trail with a very expensive company who failed to provide water and three square meals, and so we drank to their losses but scooted quickly off to a bus we had to catch that was making its way to Arequipa
Arequipa is Peru´s second largest city, but is by far its prettiest. The weather is far milder than chilly cuzco and the volcanic porous stone work dotted about the plaza is quite pretty. Juliet in particular loved the city, but I think it was just being back in sunshine and having a little "civilisation" at her finger tips again. Due to time restrictions we gave the nearby Colca Canyon a miss ( I have already had a far share of canyons on this trip thus far) which was reportedly quite pretty and dotted with places to see endangered Condors, but noneless very similar to Canyons I had seen in China. It is aparently the deepest canyon in the world, but I guess it will wait for my next visit to Peru.
We plunged back into the chilly mountains again to cross the border into Bolivia and stopped at the Lake titicaca town of Puno. The lake is heavily commercialised and the amazing reed floating islanders have practically given up traditional lifestyle in order to occupy their time with souvenir selling. The Floating Islanders have lived on reed islands they have to replensih themselves for hundres of years, but the coming of tourists in the 80s has pushed tourism ahead of their traditional fishing activities.Its still an amazing site to visit, but once youve come to grips with the island itself, things become a little monotonous. Our unreliable boat conking out for and hour and a half didnt help things either. So late in he day we said Adios to Peru and would our way along the Giant lake to Bolivia, the country both Juliet and I had been hungry for.
September 10, 2007
Colombia Pt 1
Sex Drugs and Football
I´m starting to dread writing these things now. I think I´ve forgotten how not to make thing sound uninteresting.My travel journal entries sound boorish, impersonal and threadbare. Despite intentions otherwise they limp badly between unoppinated and being beaten into a travel checklist. They arent even half acceptable generic travel articles which I used to be good at.
so it´s late now in this sad little internet cafe on Gringo street in Quito and I have to be up early for my first of many spanish lessons. I ´m a little worried. languages were never my forte. Amazing how far miming and weak smilies accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders can get you. At any rate, South America so far has been beautiful. Colombia in particular is a country of passion, where friends, soccer and pushup lo-cut tops are revered and food is deep fried, even if you´re eating cereal. It´s a country where people are imensely friendly and any kind of weird association with it being a dangerous place (along the gringo trail at least, )just makes it less over run and the people more insistent to welcome you to a country they are very proud of. There´s more to colombia than Coke, FARC and gabriel garcia marquez, but i´ll deal with them later on too.
Bogota was an interesting though somewhat grey city we never really got the chance to explore. Thanks to many of the travel frightened people we met in New york we were filled with horror stories of the certain muggings, kidnappings and knifings we were surely in for once touching down in South america. This was of course as far from the truth as could possibly be. In fact Colombia turned out to be one of the safest countries you could visit as long as you used your head. But it meant we didnt venture very far into the night the first few days. Compounding thngs, most people start their S American journeys in Argentina and head northwards and so everybody has a horror story of some kind by the time they hit Colombia and Juliet was ravenous for them. She got very nervous, yet like a cankersore kept prodding.We wandered around the old district, went bowling at a non-automated bowling alley (!), looked at a lot of Fat people Botero paintings (yay!) and when we got bored we headed North to a Villa De Leyva, a little colonial town that looks so similar to a quaint 1700s mexican setting that even film crews had turned up to pay homage. And throughout our 2 day stay we were subjected to men in ragged blue coats and fake muskets storming the main church while fake cannon fire kept the whole town up all night. The town with its cobblestone alleyways and whitewash was very pretty but at the same time very boring, so we rented some horses and rode out to a pre inca astronomy site and a very bad winery for some of the worst tasting I had every experienced. Colombian wine is not something to be taken lightly or... perhaps even at all. So we headed north to a superquaint yet busy little town called San Gil and camped down there for one of our most fun weeks in Colombia. We got on Famously well with the Australian owner and hence spent nights plotting RISK maneouvers and world domination or drinking with locals in the square. Colombians are a friendly people but San Gil locals took it to a new level. With pushup bras and slick moustaches they would come stumbling over to pour bottles of a horrid aniseed drink down our gringo throats and wrap their arms around everyone and we would fall about grinning and laughing about what I dont know as my spanish was non existent. During the day we managed some spectacular walks up to some amazing waterfalls or basked in the botanical gardens by the river which were drenched in spanish moss and fell about into the river. We also did some grade 4 rafting and paragliding over tabbaco plantation which i managed to crash into when i landed. The local night clubs also proved incredibly hideous and Juliet and I got staggeringly drunk and while the place was overflowing with people a weird couple tried some seedy dance moves on us and then tried to suggest we go back to their house. After a trip to the nearby quaint colonial town of Barricharra we were itchy for the carribean and the warmth. By this time I was beginning to tire of every meal consisting of fried stuffs. Colombians deep fry everything. They also like to dress in particulary skimpy clothes which can sometimes result in some obscene fashion statements with tummys and asses falling out and over too tight 80s pants and boob tubes. I never quite understood the esteem that colombian girls were held by foreignors..The gringos we would meet would fall overthemselves describing how hot the girls from Cali and Medellin were, but I never got it. It´s certainly the centre of silicon injections and plastic surgery spruce ups but I was never enamored. We arrived at the gravel beach fishing village of Taganga and were shocked at the amount of gringos holed up there. Particulary Israelis. Israelis I learnt are pack animals. They gather in large groups and crowd a place and suddently, bam! they are all gone. A group of 40 or so people leaving at once. It´s weird. Anyway this crummy little beach community was a dive and a half and crowed with these weird backpackers professing the beauty of the beaches and laying about for weeks on ended smoking and snorting too many drugs. I immediately head into the jungle with a couple of friends to hike to the Lost city of the Tayoronas while Juliet stayed behind to do the Dive course I had given her for her birthday. The lost city was a three day hike away through thick jungle mountains, across a mulitude of rivers and amongst a mess of mosquitoes. It was a awesome trip and the city of stone terraces hidden in the jungle is huge. Apparently ridge top city was only discovered as recently as the 70s when word got out of a lot of murders happenning up in the mountains near Santa Marta and a lot of gold began coming onto the black market. The local Tayrona people had secretly worshiped there since the city was abandoned and were anxious to protect the sacred gold relics hidden in the stone platforms that grave robbers had got wind of. Up at the city the Mosquitoes were positvely violent and many came down with more bites than skin.
Juliet and I tried our luck in Tayrona national park where the beach was fronted by forest but it was crowed with backpackers and we didnt like the scene very much. We headed back to Santa Marta and bused it further west to possibily the most beautiful city in S America ; Cartahenga. As the prinicpal port for shipping Spains plundered treasures back to the old world , it propsered and the result id this beautiful colonial city with boganvillia strewn balconies shadowing bustling cobblestone alleyways. Here we strolled the old town, celebrated Juliets birthday in Cuban bars, visited a mud volcano and stayed at nearby white beach for a couple nights where we ate too much lobster and drank too much free beer
Books Read: Don Quixote, Vanishing Point
Music: Arcade Fire - Neon Bible, The Ponys, Mount Eerie
July 31, 2007
It´s a difficult place to talk about without having an audience who have been there. And if your audience has, it´s almost a pointless exercise. New york more than any city is a city you feel, all the way down to your bones, rather than describe or talk about it. Of course new yorkers do love to talk about it but I released how much i was missing out on till i was there.
Its an amazing mass of well ordered humainty criss crossing cement and skyscrapers on a tiny once thickly wooded isle in the flow of the hudson. And just being there and milling about is a lot of fun in itself.
New York was a return home for juliet and a dive into the epicentre of America´s cultural hub. An embrace of all the media imagery and preconceptions of Americas major finacial and cultural city mixed with large splashes of immigration from the far corners across the globe. The city itself likes to think of itself removed from America, beyond what the rest of the country is capable of... and in many ways this is true.It´s a strange kinda of town which lived up to all my expectations yet provided numerous surprises along the way.
We stayed in Grammercy, a fairly ritzy place round 20th street in a swank apartment of one of juliets highschool friends. It was perfectly positioned round the corner from the best bagel shop in New york, which on numerous occasioned i stumbled bleary eyed down to and experienced a hell of a lot of trouble understanding what the counter service was saying.
New york has so many different neighbourhoods that getting aquainted with them all requires a good 2 or so years living in NYC and even just a street you could miss could hide another different ethnic settlement or interesting new development. Surprisingly New York and it´s pop seemed far less pretenious than I imagined. I guess more down to earth than most movies have me believe.
We strolled through the natural history museum the MET and the MoMA, which though crowded was particularly amazing. Down in the east village we bar hopped a little, met friends, then friends of friends and ate mexican before drowning our food in countless frozen margheritas. We caught some shows in williamsburg, toured some 2nd hand shops strolled and napped in central park and ate a lot of amazing food.
Pizza, mexican, gourmet salads in the park and not to mention Bagels and coffee every morning. American sizes are huge and I´m told NEw York is paltry compared to the mid west.
Free shows abounded and we caught DFA at Ps1 in Queens, some bands at McLarren pool, Fujiya & Miyagi at the Seaport and danced at apartment roof top parties in Brooklyn on the 4th of july. I also saw a show by the polyphonic spree
We extended our stay by another 5 days and our so called budgets went out the door, but it was worth it, and even as we were leaving we were cotemplating how to involve a year living in New york into our future plans. A sleepless night from an afterparty and then Bogota.
June 21, 2007
My visit to Turkey was one of my most memorable from my 1999 tour of Med Europe when I was 19. I realised that Greece and Italy was just playing it safe and the fun really starts east of the Dardenelles. Turkey was lavish, romantic and steeped in history. It had been the crossroads of civilisation for a good 3000 years and seen an incredible array of empires come and go. Vast greek and Roman empires had errected cities of splendor up and down the west coast of Turkey. Much of Early Christian activity took place in Anatolia, including Paul's famous letter to the Euphesians and in the East Mt Nemrut (Where babyloinan kings errected monstrous effigies of fantastic artwork to inflate their egos) noah's Ark was supposed to have come to a rest after the flood. The Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire had flourished for a 1000 years after the fall of the Western Roman empire building the incredible Agya Sofia in 500 or so AD (and still as magical as ever). The Ottoman empire had from here conquered half of Europe and large swaths of the Middle East creating an Empire that lasted up to the first world War.
On top of this the country had amazing rock landscapesin which people had carved huge underground cities and beautiful forests with natural springs. Ballooning and Paragliding were cheap and some of the best in the world. The water an amazing Azure, and the food.... oh to die for. On top of all this the people were super friendly and it was cheap. Who wouldnt want to come back.?
We had only 8 days for Turkey which rushed things a bit, but turkey's cheap and easy going manner would make up for the longhaul bus trips we'd have to undertake. Unfortunately that wasnt to be. A lot changes in 8 years and in that time many more backpackers had crept over form Europe and brought with them Europe's prices. Hotels in Istanbul, Cappadoccia and Olympos had all inflated their prices 4 fold. Olympos, the gorgeous hidden little treehouse gem on the dirt road by the ruins on the beach was swamped with pensions, people and price hikes. Tourist orientated workers more apathetic and less sincere. None the less we soldier on...
Upon landing juliet and I set about exploring Sultanahmet and the Blue Mosque. We hadnt slept properly in 48 hours and this added to the magic of twilight flickering around the minarets. Istanbul is a very European city and juliet swooned about the place, in and out of St Sofia and the Grand Bazzar. We stopped in hidden courtyards where students and old men gathered to smoke shisha pipes and inter sped visits to the palace with doner kebabs frequent turkish coffees. lovely stuff.
We overnighted to Goreme, Cappadoccia after 2 nights in Istanbul and numerous arguements over food and wound up wandering round underground cities on our own the nextday. It was off season and nobody was about at the underground city we visited. This made the trip 50m underground in a labyrinth of rooms thrilling, yet also very very spooky. Persecuted Christians built an amazing underground city with defensives to live for upto 6 months of time without seeing the sunlight and just an hour was enough to give me the shakes.
Back in Cappadoccia we visited the open air museum to look at the carved churches and their frescoes. The area is dotted with weired rock formations and fairy chimneys with rooms cut into them. The sun was fierce and a short cut home through rose valley proved an unwise choice. We got lost, sat under an apricot tree with an old turkish man for an hour and then wound our way to another village where we clambered up a rocky outcropp so hollowed out with passageways and rooms it resembled a giant apartment block perched over the valley. A local 18 year kid took a liking to us and tried it on with juliet. It was funny.
Another overnight bus trip, another sleepless night and we moved along the coast from anatalya to Olmypos. Olympos is the site of an ancient city, once prominent in the lydian league and visited by hadrian during roman times. It is nestled in a wooded valley on the coast with a small river running through it though the city was abandoned long ago and the the trees have consumed this once magnificent city. One still feels like Indiana jones clambering through ruined archways and old ampitheatres half hidden by vines. The Chimaera is also nearby. atop a neighbouring hittop overlookng the sea natural gas spews forth and in ancient times mariners would guide by this. legend had it there was a fire breathing monster beneath the ground and so the pegasus bellophron myth was born.
by our last day in Olympos I was getting quite sick so we didnt do much aside from lounge in the huts and visit the acropolis. at 10.30 pm we were back in anatalya and on a bus back to istanbul. Juliet woke with a start at 3 and realised her passport was still in Olympos and panic set in as we were due at the airport 2 pm later that day.
A bit of wrangling and we managed to get the hostel to overnight it and change Juliet's ticket without penalty:Something we were not supposed to be ablt to do.
We also manged to lose juliets camera memory card and frankily my last 3 kebabs were well below par. not a great ending to what was our supposed stepping stone between east and west. i also bemoan the fact that we have yet to meet any other decenet travellers on this journey thus far who can converse in topics other than drinking achievements and that food options combined with juliets refusal to eat rice or any other carbs are straining our enjoyment and choice of food, our most important decision of the day. hmmm.. next stop.. Hungary
Still Reading: Don Quixote, Moral imperialism
Music: Tucker B's, RJD2, Pela, Boards of Canada, Jose Gonzalez
June 13, 2007
Dısclaımer: Although thıs may look lıke the recommencement of actul journal entrıes, the next couple of months wıll unfortunatey only be travellıng bufferoonery and lıght hearted cultural observatıons. If travel wrıtıng bores you (as ıt does most people), perhaps ıt ıs better you look elsewhere for truly engrossıng ınternet bloggıng. Enjoy!
Malaya we entered on the 28th after a hectic time of wellwishing and partying and consquentily hgad little sleep on our side. singapore is a lush city withe charming colonial archetecture dominated by modern high rises and an alarming amount of crap budget accomodation.
The hawker food stalls help make up for the lack of really interesting things to do as you can eat different kinds Chinese, Indian and Malay food until you explode for well under 6 or 7 dollars.
I myself have a particularly soft spot for old british tropical buildings overgrown with green and stained by 100s of years of humidity perhaps it is the imperial fijian in my bloodlines.
After a night and a healthy dose of bed bug bites juliet and I high tailed it out of the city and bused over the border and up to melaka, another charming little port town dominated by crumbling colonial buildings but without the the press of modernity. The city is small and compact and a stroll up to the abandoned church of St Pauls on a hilltop and wander through China town proved very pleasant, albeit a little dull. once you stop marvelling at the quaintness of the place you're unsure of exactly what to do with yourself. Juliet and I had incredible satay cooked in vats of peanut sauce at the table and pressed home afterwards rubbing our bellys and moaning about our indulgence. Capitol Satay is well worth a gander if you're in the city. 2 nights in Melaka was more than enough and our mezzanie room at travellers lodge was stuffy and over heated. Paying actual money to see Pirates of the Carribean also left a particulary bad taste in my mouth and post dry retchıng we had to move.
It took a whole day to get top the Cameron Highlands via Kula Lumpur but the winding roads provided breathtaking views of thick dark green rainforest straddling mountain peaks as well as hegde rows of bucolic tea plantations. We sauntered through the jungle along old colonıals paths and stopped by a Tea plantatıon for hıgh tea and Cıgarettes before doıng a cheesy butterfly farm whıch had prayıng mantı as long as my arm. I do recall there were some butterflys as well. hmmm.
Penang was by far the most ıntrıguıng ans charmıng cıty we had vısıted thus far wıth fadıng colonıal era shop fronts and ventıan board shutters throughout the old town. A real aır of decay had hovered over the cıty wıthout relent sınce the late 1700s and ıt hasnt seemed to quıte get back on ıts feet. I took a bıke (whıch proved suıcıde wıthın the town ıtself) and Julıet and I bıked round the ısland stoppıng off for laksa aas well as blowıng a tıre. Dodgy ass rental places you shall rue the day! Penang was a great cıty to wander ın but we wanted beaches and waıted round a whole day for a late bus whıch turned ınto an overnıghtmonstronsıty wıth legspace that would have oompa loompas voıcıng cocern before beıng dumped at the pıer for a speed boat to the Perhentıan Islands.
Long sınce dıscovered the ıslands seem to have a healthy dose of backpacker ınfrastructure but we stıll manged to fınd a cheap beach hut (though Julıet's concern over the state of the outsıde bathrooms ıs duly noted hee.) However, wıth perfect turqoıse water and beaches domınated by a bacground of thıck green jungle ıts hard to feel bad about the world and your place ın ıt. We dıdnt do much for 5 days but swım,read, snorkel and eat. I even fıtted ın a couple of Dıves and caught a vıew of a gıant leather back turtle and saw a few bıg reef sharks. Truly amazıng Dıvıng.
Perhentıan Islands - Long beach
Truly amazıng lack of sleep got us down to Sıngapore ın tıme too met one of julıet's frıends and lap up some luxury at her swank apartment and a frıends bırthday party before leavıng at 3 am for a flıght at5 . All ın all 48hrs and barely a wınk of sleep.
Books read:Readıng Lolıta ın Tehran, Indıa's Bandıt Queen: Phoolan Devı
Stıll Readıng: Don Quıxote
Musıc: Deerhunter - Cryptograms, Mıssıon of Burma - Vs, Lots of Pıxıes, Tom Waıts - Raın Dogs