A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Patriciah6

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)

Yes, yes, I know...

Lima - Cusco - Aguas Calientas/Machu Picchu - Cusco

semi-overcast 20 °C

Hello everyone,

As you can see from the long list of recent destinations, it´s been a while since I´ve managed to get to a computer (and have long enough/not be too tired to write an entry).

Anyway, in order to get through what is quite a substantial backlog of events, I´ll sum up the things I remember about my short time in Lima. So, in no particular order...

1) The ubiquitous Mitsubishi vans that pass as local buses in Lima. Despite being relatively battered, which didn´t really inspire confidence, there was at least some attempt to deflect attention from this by their garish colour schemes and incongruous set of names (local streets mixed with what I would consider somewhat optimistic destinations - Santiago de Chile, Caracas etc). Despite this, the conductor still felt it necessary to hang out of an open side door, yelling the real destinations to any potential passengers, even people just waiting to cross the road...

2) That´s it. I´m afraid my memory really is that bad...

So, moving swiftly on to Cusco. After retrieving my bag at the airport, we flew to Cusco. Our flight was quick but held up in Lima by a mother who decided to stand up and make some milk for her bawling kid while we were on the runway. Her retort to the steward who told her to sit down was devastating in its simple logic: "but if I sit down, she´ll start crying again..."

Anyway, we arrived in Cusco to very warm weather and a distinct lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, I over-compensated by drinking far too much coca tea (that´s right, folks - nothing less than the unrefined version of the drug you may or may not hoof up your nostrils from time to time) and was out of action for the rest of the day. On the second day, we managed to walk around a bit, which definitely confirmed that Cusco is my new favourite destination in South America so far (out of two). We also managed to rack up a hit for local cuisine - feasting on Quinoa soup and stir-fried Alpaca meat (for those interested, quite a strong ´dark´meat that is tougher than beef but more tender/less gristly than horse) for the bargain price of 2 pounds.

Cusco itself is a lot more picturesque (but consequently more touristy) than Lima. There´s a strange mix of colonial architecture in the balconied buildings and grand churches that surround the square (which in turn have been built/adapted from original Inca buildings) and Inca walls that still line many streets, having been built with impossibly large stones). You´ll also be pleased to hear that Cusco boasts the highest Irish pub in the world and two German eateries (which Patricia ´co-erced´me into going to. Good Kasekuchen apparently...).

And so finally on to Machu Picchu. Despite the best efforts of tour operators/staff at hostels, we managed to get a reasonable train deal to Aguas Calientas, the closest town to Machu Picchu. Although works have meant the train journey was cut short (we started the journey at Ollantaytambo, roughly halfway between Cusco and Machu Picchu), it was by far the highlight of the trip, slowly travelling through Andean valleys in a special ´Vistadome´car, whose skylights helped to remind you that there was still some sky, however little of it, as well as the mountains towering up on either side. In some ways, it was more exhilarating than Machu Picchu itself, precisely because I didn´t expect to be exhilarated.

What was at the end of the line was far less exhilarating, though. Aguas Calientas is, in short, a shithole. We got off the train to be met by street hawkers and venders which continued ad nauseum until we found somewhere we could lock ourselves into. I don´t think I´ve ever seen a town so devoted to tourism in its tackiest, most exploitative incarnation. Anywhere you go, you have to repeat the endless mantra of ´No gracias, I don´t want an alpaca hat/three course meal/Inca doll´. We found a reasonable hostel away from the centre which, although cheap, meant we were in an area that resembled whichever country the US is bombing at the moment ("Mmmm, political" says Patricia). However, this isn´t to say I slept anymore than I would have done if we had set up camp in the middle of the artisan market, having to listen to some guide loudly tell the family next door about their tour of Machu Picchu the next day. Anyway, up at four to be greeted by crowds of people who had exactly the same idea, then queuing and more queuing, then bussed up to the site for about 6.30. Although many tours were loudly in full swing by this time, we found a spot away from the crowds and enjoyed the quality of the morning light (which, in all seriousness, completely transformed Machu Picchu). I was suitably impressed, although Patricia´s verdict fluctuated throughout the day, from describing this ancient Inca site as ´just a bunch of stones´to conceding that the craftmanship required to build it was ´quite good´. Although I think she´d agree with me that the highlight of the day for her was watching two Alpacas in the throes of passion (well, one at least - the other wasn´t so willing), then being able to stroke the perpetrator (no, not like that...you and your filthy minds...).

Anyway, time to go. If you want to hear me rant some more about Machu Picchu, then let me know. Otherwise ignore me and I´m sure I´ll tell you anyway. Off to Puno and Lake Titicaca (no sniggering at the back please) tomorrow morning - hopefully I´ll update this more regularly than before.

I´ve asked Patricia if she wants to write anything, but she´s turned away from her adoring public I´m afraid - just a "hello" to tide you over...

See you soon,

James and Patricia

Posted by Patriciah6 18:34 Archived in Peru Tagged travelling_with_pets Comments (1)

Wot a palaver!

Hello there.

As you can probably tell from the distinct lack of exclamation marks (apart from the one above), this is not Patricia speaking. I´m afraid Patricia isn´t available at the moment, having lost interest in blogging, claiming (in her words) that she´d rather "dance than blog". So, while she does an interpretive dance about eating street food in the corner, I´ll let you know how it´s been for me so far. It´s James, by they way.

My journey began in a typically upbeat fashion. Having had around three hours sleep the night before, I was looking forward to sleeping on the flight, only to find my flight had been cancelled because of mechanical problems. So began my queueing marathon - firstly three hours to change my reservations, where the hard-faced woman behind the counter told me that a flight would be leaving at about 1pm that day to New York, then another hour in order to wave goodbye to my rucksack, then finally an hour at the gate, being told at the end that the flight was full and I wouldn´t be able to get on a flight until the next day. And then two hours for hotel vouchers and four hours to not have my bags returned to me by the short staffed baggage handlers. So I spent my first night of ´proper´travelling in a cramped hotel room, listening to the thump of music at a nearby Hindu wedding reception.

I managed to get on the flight the next day. However, reader, I won´t bore you with the details of a boring flight, and boring stopover in Miami. Do you remember when I mentioned that I "waved goodbye to my rucksack"? Well, that took on a new significance at Lima airport at 4.30am when I discovered that AA had lost my bag and I was left to file a complaint about it entirely in Spanish, which went a little beyond my vocabulary of ´cerveza´, ´baño´and ´puta de madre´...(although the last phrase came in useful at a couple of points...)

Anyway, enough of these problems. My first impression of Lima was the weather; I always expected everything in South America to be dramatic, so was a bit taken aback when I came out to feel limp drizzle on my face, not unlike the kind in London on a Wednesday afternoon in November. Despite the flaccid weather, it was an interesting taxi drive through the less salubrious districts of Lima, watching the dilapidated buses go by and shadowy groups of men assembling on the street corners...

So here we are, at the uniquely named´Flying Dog´Hostel in Miraflores (the posh part of Lima that resembles a large building site...). Our room overlooks a small park, dotted with palm trees, and with a rather grandiose colonial style church adjacent to it. However, the traffic outside is probably the most entertaining thing to look at. Peruvians appear to have a rather unique approach to driving, particularly in terms of how aware they are of other cars and pedestrians, so it´s always fascinating to watch the considerable amount of near-fatal misses that take place in any given ten minutes at the junction below our window.

Anyway, the other travellers are becoming irate at me hogging the only computer in the hostel. So I better sign out before someone throws something at me or makes me drink a pisco sour...

See you all soon,

James (and Patricia)

Posted by Patriciah6 05:26 Comments (1)

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