A Travellerspoint blog

August 2010

Rabid dogs and tourists

Arica - San Pedro de Atacama

sunny 20 °C

Hello everyone,

We´re now in San Pedro de Atacama in (predictably) the middle of the Atacama desert. We arrived here this morning after an eleven hour bus journey through the night. Fortunately, it wasn´t as bad as I had anticipated in that I managed to snatch a few hours´sleep, despite the best efforts of the Chilean authorities to keep me awake. We were stopped and searched twice: firstly, for reasons that are still unclear and secondly, to check we weren´t carrying any illegitimate televisions or electronic equipment (don´t worry - it´s a mystery to me as well).

As for our final day in Arica, we climbed up the grandly named El Morro de Arica (essentially a lump of rock overlooking the city) to see a 50ft Jesus and some facist memorials from the Pinochet regime. Although this was ostensibly in interests of ticking off something else in the one-size-fits-all-lonely-planet tour, it was also to escape a day that struck fear into my very heart: la dia de los niños (or day of the children). Yep, that´s right, as if Christmas and a birthday wasn´t enough, the Chileans have decided to devote the last Sunday in July to those adorable little scamps, meaning that every restaurant/shop/road is full to the brim with bawling kids dosed up on grease and sugar. As all the decent restaurants had been temporarily converted into creches, we were forced into a Chilean fast food joint called ´Schopdog´. Unfortunately, it does not do as the name suggests and serve up antidote to Chile´s stray dog problem, but trades in a rather bizarre version of heart-stopping fast food. Apparently, if you´re Chilean, fast food means a pile of chips, onions and various pieces of meat (probably offal) topped off with two greasy fried eggs. In addition to this was the continual stream of rugrats and their frazzled parents and the understandably stressed members of staff who, in some sort of cruel managerial joke, had been made to dress up in mouse costumes. And there´s the reason we found ourselves posing like a 50ft Jesus perched on an overrated lump of rock...

In fact, come to think of it, Arica has a large number of people under the age of 18. At some point, strolling through the pedestrianised area of Arica, we suddenly realised that it had been quite some time since we hadn´t seen someone with (a) a skateboard, (b) at least one piece of black clothing and (c) bum fluff. Try to imagine that George A. Romero had decided to swap zombies for skateboard-wielding goths and you get the picture.

Anyway, despite the slight disappointment Arica held, we managed to escape on a bus heading to San Pedro de Atacama (in which our fellow passengers were, you´ve guessed it, young people out of their head on white cider or whatever it is underagers drink in Chile). The shirt I was wearing that night still doesn´t smell normal...

However, it was with some horror that we got off the bus in San Pedro to discover that skateboard-wielding goth-zombies had been replaced by rabid dogs and tourists (don´t worry - I include myself in that number). San Pedro itself is quite a picturesque village and not unlike the sort of village you stumble across in a Sergio Leone film, with flat-roofed whitewashed villas and a dirt road. It´s also surprisingly compact for somewhere so touristy, but the effect is that hostels, restaurants and tour agencies have all been concentrated into a very small space, which mean that these places spool by like a (very short) reel of film: restaurant, hostel, restaurant, tour agency, hostel, restaurant, currency exchange and so on. However, we´re due to journey into the surrounding salt plains tomorrow so hopefully that will provide some variety.

And now, as always, it´s time for Patricia´s nugget of wisdom. This is Patricia´s nugget for today:

"I´m annoyed that I get all the illnesses in this world - my feet are falling off, my skin is peeling off, my nose is running away (??), my head is exploding and my stomach is falling through. Apart from that, I´m having a marvellous time. That´s the end"

There you go, folks - you heard it here first. I would keep my distance if I were you, particularly from her feet...

Speak to you all when we get back from the salt plains,

James and Patricia

Posted by Patriciah6 16:41 Archived in Chile Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Arica! Arica! (part II)

Lake Titicaca - Puno - Arequipa - Arica

sunny 16 °C

Hello everyone,

As promised, here´s the action-packed sequel to Arica! Arica!. Despite the fact that Patricia is currently on the telephone next to me in her usual quiet manner, I´ll try to cover all the things I didn´t have time to discuss in the previous entry. A couple of the more computer literate among you have told me I can put photographs on the blog as well - unfortunately I don´t have the necessary wires at the moment but I will attempt to do so soon. Until then, you´ll just have to use your imagination...

After the fascinating trip to stay with a local family on Amantani, we arrived back for one last night in Puno. I´m only mentioning this because while we were waiting for our dinner in downtown Puno, Patricia noticed another dog wearing a jumper and ´suggested´ that I wrote about it in the blog. She also made some razor-sharp satirical remark concerning dogs, clothing and Paris Hilton, but it escapes me.

Some other things Patricia wants me to mention on the blog:

1) The proliferation of plastic bottles and rubbish in general. Obviously, being from a country that is so advanced in recycling, this bothers her. A lot.

2) The amount of dogs in general. Apparently this is because South Americans find it distasteful to cut the cojones off any animal, and therefore dogs procreate like rabbits. Or something like that. Anyway, there´s always a pack of mangy mutts roaming around somewhere in every Peruvian/Chilean town, barking, pissing and almost being run over by all manner of transport.

3) That I´m not too cynical about the family on Amantani. Which I wasn´t, was I , readers? Anyway, what she sees as ´cynical´, I see as ´wry´. Answers on a postcard please.

Anyhow, enough of this. Whose blog is it anyway?

We arrived in Arequipa after the hair-raising bus journey (see the last blog entry). Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and we were thankful to be below 2500m again. However much coca tea you drink, I´ve found that you still don´t feel right at 3000m and above, as well as being on the verge of collapse everytime you walk up a gentle rise. It makes me glad we didn´t do the Inca trail (although as I write this, I can hear Sam snorting derivatively at our collective apathy...). Arequipa itself is quite an advanced city, boasting the first pedestrianised street I´ve seen since I arrived (even Lima has yet to make such leaps in pedestrian technology) and such luxuries as coffee shops whose definition of coffee goes beyond a teaspoon of Nescafe immersed in tepid water, and juice bars (which Patricia promptly dragged me into) where the serving staff offered Patricia a copy of the Peruvian OK! and me a car magazine (?!) to read while we waited for our food (what happened to conversation? Clearly the waitress was concerned I might become too feminine in the company of a woman and that looking at pictures of scantily-clad women draped over shiny new cars would help redress the testosterone balance).

Feeling like this was probably too much high culture in one day for us, we went to the Convent of Saint Catherine, a massive citadel-like collection of buildings that is also incredibly peaceful, despite being located in the middle of the city. Unfortuantely we didn´t spot any nuns though. However, the highlight of the day for me was another scantily-clad woman in the form of Juanita, a 500 year-old Inca girl who was sacrificed at the top of a 6000m mountain called Nevada Ampato. Due to a neighbouring volcano erupting in 1987 (if I remember rightly), the snow that is usually permanent on the top of the Nevada Ampato melted, revealing sites of Inca sacrifice that had previously been frozen. So Juanita is in very good condition, having been frozen for 500 years, and it was fascinating to hear about the sacrificial rituals surrounding this girl´s death. So that´s my recommendation if any of you find yourself in Arequipa with a couple of hours to spare...

Early the next day, we left Arequipa on (thankfully) a comfortable and clean bus for a six hour journey to Tacna, near the border with Chile. Once in Tacna bus station, we fought our way through the crowd of touts to find a colectivo taxi to take us across the border. The problem in Peru is that even the official means of doing something feels decidedly unofficial, so you never know whether or not the way you´ve chosen is the ´right´way. And seeing the battered old Ford in the carpark, it definitely felt more unofficial than official. This wasn´t helped when the driver disappeared with our passports (and came back with a visa form telling me that, in under five minutes, I had changed nationality from British to Irish). Anyway, despite these misgivings, the ride over the border was uneventful, although Patricia had to smuggle through some jewellery given to her by an Ecuadorian shaman that was made of dried fruit. I´ve so far resisted the urge to contact Interpol...

And so we find ourselves in Arica, Chile, a relatively small beach resort with an unusually high proliferation of meat restaurants. In fact, Chileans seem to like meat in some form or another with very meal, and generally spurn fresh fruit and veg. Last night we went to a meat restaurant, where we had the option to have a Chilean mixed grill (can´t remember the Spanish name) which had beef hearts, beef kidneys, three different forms of pork, a quarter of a chicken and two steaks. Oh, and some potatoes (purely for reasons of health I assume). However, considering this cost 18,000 Chilean pesos (almost the same as our room in the hostel), I chose to have a steak which must have been the at least half the cow´s buttock, if not all of it. I can feel my arteries clogging up as we speak... My goal, though, is to have the one true ticket to an early death: lomo de pobre. This translates as ´poor man´s steak´and is a large steak topped with greasy fried eggs under a pile of salted chips. Oh yes.

Anyway, I should go now. All this talk of meat reminds me it´s lunch and therefore time for my next hit of beef. Tonight we take the overnight bus to San Pedro de Atacama in the middle of the Atacama desert where we might stay with another local community.

Oh no...someone is forcibly pushing me out of my chair...

it's ME!!!!!!! Patricia! the one with the many exclamation marks!

so guys, I am absolutely loving this trip. James is far too cynical about everything...I don't want to go home so I suggest you all come here! I will write more about my experiences and my trip in general once James is gone and he won't write you his long sophisticated essays anymore... then you have to read my confusing short stories with lots of exclamation marks again... so long... un beso, Patricia

Sorry about that, folks. I´ll try to keep her under control next time but, as you know, it´s quite a difficult task...

Here´s hoping they have internet cafes in San Pedro. Speak to you soon and take care,


Posted by Patriciah6 09:05 Archived in Chile Tagged foot Comments (0)

Arica! Arica!

Lake Titicaca - Puno - Arequipa - Arica

overcast 15 °C

Hello everyone,

As you can see, I didn´t manage to keep my promise about updating the blog on a more regular basis. Anyway, with lots to report, I better get on with it...

After a long but not uncomfortable bus journey (that took me to the highest point I´ve ever been to in my life - around 4000 and something metres - and probably will ever go to as I don´t harbour any plans to go mountaineering in Nepal just yet...), we arrived in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca (one of the highest lakes in the world, fact fans). But before I go on, just a short note on long distance bus journeys in Peru.

I feel, after having been on a number of long distance bus journeys so far, that I can speak with some authority on the subject. Peruvian buses are something of a mixed bag, and the quality and comfort of the bus you get on is usually down to pure luck. I was lucky on the bus to Puno as it was comfortable and relatively punctual. However, after discovering we´d been charged double the ticket price by the nice travel agent in our hostel, we decided to buy direct from the bus station. Bus stations are not the most picturesque of places wherever you go, and Peru is certainly no exception. So, in a bid to get in and out as quickly as possible, we went to the first desk (where the man was advertising his services by yelling "Arequipa, Arequipa, Arequipa!" very quickly) and bought a ticket for 25 soles (just under $10) for a journey on the sparkling and luxurious coach the man showed us in a picture. Job done, we thought and we chuckled to ourselves as we thought of all those naive travellers getting fleeced for the same bus journey by nice travel agents in hostels.

We arrived at the bus station early the next day and sorted out the departure tax (in Peru you have to pay money not only to travel on a bus, but also to get on it in the first place), then walked to the gate where, in the place of the sparkling bus in the picture, was a rickety, scuffed version of something that probably once was a luxury coach, but certainly wasn´t anymore. The huge crack in the windscreen and scrapes on the wing mirror didn´t really inspire confidence about the ability of the driver either. We went upstairs, past the baño ("only urinating" a sign pointed out) to our seats (we had rather stupidly chosen seats right at the front - "where you get the best views" the salesman had assured us) and gingerly sat down on two stained and threadbare seats and looked out of a window that hadn´t been cleaned for a while. And by a while I mean years. Decades even.

And so we set off on a journey that is probably the closest I´ve ever been to death. Not only was the outside shabby, it seems the workings, particularly the suspension, was also in desperate need of repair. Everytime we went round a corner (and there were lots of them on the road to Arequipa), the whole carriage leant over against the direction of the turn like an over-zealous sailor tacking in the wind. Did I mention the road wound its way through the Andes? And that it rarely had barriers between us and the bottom of the mountain? Oh yes, indeed it did, and we got to witness every single moment of it due to the excellent view we had. This was accompanied by an omnibus of Spanish dubbed Nazi films screened for the duration of the journey (The Counterfeiters, Inglorious Basterds, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and Valkyrie if you´re interested) and the snoring of the rather large Peruvian slouched in the seat next to us. On arrival in Arequipa, I prised my fingers from the handle in front of us and stumbled out, tired, shaking and with an unusual desire to form a facist dictatorship...

But that wasn´t until later. Right now, we´re still in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Puno is slightly less touristy, and therefore rougher round the edges, than Cusco. The advantage of this is it´s relatively cheap, but the disadvantage is that it´s not long before you stroll into some insalubrious neighbourhood. For me, the jury´s still out on Puno, but Patricia enjoyed it. "It feels more authentic" she said. And if by authentic you mean being barked at by emaciated dogs and picking your way through rubbish- (and possibly sewage-) strewn roads, then yes, it is more authentic than Cusco. Anyway, as we wanted to go and see the variety of islands on Lake Titicaca, we booked a two day tour with what seemed like a responsible travel agency, in terms of not exploiting the indigenous people of the islands (and which turned out to be true - we had a guide who was both knowledgeable about the islanders and concerned about not exploiting them, as well as paying the islanders directly for our overnight stay rather than handing the money over to the travel company).

The trip itself is currently still the highlight of our journey. It started off with a visit to the Uros, a community of people who live on floating islands made from totara, or reeds, that occur naturally in that part of the lake. When you first set foot on the island, it feels spongy as there is no solid ground beneath you. In fact, the islanders are continually ´rebuilding´the island by covering it with fresh reeds as the old reeds beneath become rotten. The effect of the relatively recent links to the mainland (and subsequently tourism) is also evident in that cultivating connections with the Aymara community has led Uros, the language of these islands, to die out. The last Uros speaker died in 2007, and now the people only speak Aymara and Spanish. In many ways, this dilution of their culture through tourism and links with the mainland is necessary for their survival. As they don´t pay tax, the Peruvian government refuses to fund their communities, therefore the only income they receive is from tourists. However, this creates something of a negative impact on their way of life, and I certainly felt this in the practised routines of Aymaran songs and traditional dress we were treated to. Anyway, enough politicizing...

After spending some time with the Uros, we carried on by boat for three hours to Isla Amantani, where we were going to stay the night. When we arrived, we were "assigned" to different families - our hosts were Vielete and her eight-year-old daughter, Betsy. They took us to their home where we had lunch before a long walk up to the temple of ´Pachamama´ (mother of the universe) on the top of the island´s mountain. It was facinating to see how this local community live - Vielete, for instance, lives in a small house made from mud bricks that has no electricity and no running water. The main room is the kitchen with a stove built into the walls and a few chairs and a table. In the evening, we ate by candlelight while Vielete´s father told Patricia how the island only got their first motorised boat in the 70s (before that, it took them around 24 hours to row to Puno). The isolation is still apparent - Vielete´s mother for instance only speaks Quechua, and spent much of the time, like me, not understanding what was being said. I also had the pleasure of being comprehensively beaten by Betsy at ´Jacks´, one of the few games she owned.

The next day, after waving goodbye to Vielete and her family, we travelled on to Taquile, the next island. This was far more touristy than Amantani, as evidenced by the ´traditional´hunting dance put on for tourists in the main square. The locals didn´t seem to mind though, as each break brought another crate of beer to share (and this was at 10 in the morning). Even I felt slightly sick at the sight of them swigging from water bottles full of what looked like vodka. They didn´t seem to mind though... We then went to a restaurant at the top of the island where the difference between how the islands have connected with the tourist trade was evident; lunch here cost 20 soles, whereas board with lunch, dinner and breakfast cost us 25 soles on Amantani. After lunch, we got back on the boat for a three hour trip tha took us back to Puno.

Right, that´s about enough from me. I´ll try to write ´part two´tonight about Arequipa and Arica but, as you´ve probably guessed, I can´t really promise anything...

By the way, thanks to Sarah and Steve for your message - Patricia´s feet certainly look less diseased now (we went to see a doctor in Cusco) and thankfully I managed to get my bag back after a couple of days. I won´t be flying American Airlines anytime soon though...

Speak to you all soon,

James and Patricia

Posted by Patriciah6 09:09 Archived in Chile Tagged seniors Comments (0)

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