Home! (via London)
Arrived home today.
Spent half a day in London with a tube travel card, visiting some sites I haven't seen in about 4 years. Most places look the same, though Brick Lane was an unpleasant surprise. Most of the curry houses seem to have been replaced by trendy cafes and restaurants. The whole area seems to have been "cleaned up" at the expense of the underlying gritty Bangladeshi atmosphere that I used to love wandering through. A lot of people in Britain seem to dislike having other subcultures present within our own. Actually scratch that - other south asian subcultures within our own... of course there's always a justification to be found. Those two young men were speaking Arabic on the plane - they must be terrorists! (What do you mean they were speaking Urdu? Ahh it's the same thing anyway)
Oh well. I'm sure there are curry houses further out in the 'burbs somewhere. At least the East London Mosque is still there, though one thing I noticed about everything in London was it all seems a bit smaller now, coming back. I guess I was a little intimidated by the big city, straight after finishing Uni... moving there and living by myself in the middle of a place I had no idea about, really.
Not to say I don't want to go back there, though - in fact, the opposite. It was a nostalgic experience, and strange in some ways: coming out of the tube into Liverpool St. Station was like going through a time warp - I got my samosa just like I used to 5 years ago after finishing work..... but it was good to put the city in perspective, get rid of some of the cobwebs from my memories!!
A pleasant surprise on returning home to Oban was an extra cheque waiting for me, again from AMP. Not as big an amount, but apparently a final payment from work that hadn't gone through when I started my DASP going, so a nice little surprise. Plus my adsense cheque is here! So I should be ok for funds while I job hunt...which starts tomorrow.
Back to normal life. But it has its perks - a comfy seat, a pair of slippers, limitless cups of tea.
I still miss my sis though. All the best to you, Sal: may your buses never break down and your hammock swing true, and may you find a million sunrises.
Hello from Pïsco!
A night bus saw us sadly departing Cusco for the small town of Nazca, in the middle of the pampa, an arid plateux covered by mysterious lines left by the Nazcan Indians 1000 years ago. Unfortunately we were ripped off by the old "its high season now" excuse (we were quoted $45 by the tout in Cusco, then told it was actually 55 when we got there after being picked up and taken to the airport), but we decided to go ahead anyway and did the flight. Expensive but worth it, seeing the Nazca Lines from the back seat of a tiny Cessna as it banked and bobbed in the clear midday air.
Somewhat surprisingly, I found the geometric lines were more impressive than the animal geoglyphs. The animals were actually quite small, and while not anti-climactic, they werent as big as I thought they were. The lines and "runways" however, were mind bogglingly huge, stretching out to the horizon - the horizon from the air! The whole pampa is covered in them. A video we were shown before the flight theorized that the lines were shamanistic or ritual procession ways, with the primary purpose of asking for more rain during a 40 year drought during the "nazca 5" phase of their society. The lines are so long though it doesnt make sense people processed along them. They also dont match any particular astronomical system.
So what were they for? While the animals can be answered by looking to shamanic out-of-body rituals, the geometric lines still seem to remain a mystery.
After Nazca, we took the bus to Ica, which was refreshingly short, and stayed in the Huacachina oasis just outside of the city. The oasis is pretty awesome, a small lake surrounded by the biggest sand dunes Ive seen yet. Sal took the opportunity to go dune buggying and sand boarding today too, so she got to see them from the top - I was a bit jealous when she told me what it looked like, but I was more in the mood for chilling out by the hostel pool and doing a bit of writing than sand boarding again, so I wasnt too fussed... it would be really cool though to hire a 4x4 and go driving up and down those dunes, as they were incredible.
Leaving Ica we saw more of this landscape: the huge rocky mountains of the distant Andes at the horizon, with massive waves of sand on both sides of the bus in the immediate distance. Eventually patches of farm land came into sight, and the first stop outside of Ica was a bit distressing, one of the worst looking shanty towns Ive seen in South America. It looked more like a prison camp than a community, and I really felt for the people who got off the bus to go home there - nothing but dillapidated brick and tin roof shacks, wire fencing, dust and sand.
We arrived here at Pisco a few hours ago and after a hiccup found our hostel, which has turned out to be awesome - a little expensive for Peru at 24 soles per night (4 quid) but it has a pool, a pool table, table football, a laundrette, a kitchen, and is overall really nice and clean. The toilet has a lid, the cistern has a lid, there is toilet paper AND soap, and the shower has hot and cold taps and a shower head. Mint!!}
Tomorrow we go for our tour of the Balestas Islands and the Paracas National Park, which apparently has abundant coastal wildlife. I reckon itll be quite nostalgic seeing things like seals. Itll also be Sallys first experience of the Pacific Ocean. Its awesome to be sharing things like this with her, and Im going to be very sad to leave her in three days.
The Inca Trail - more photos
Click on photos to enlarge them...
Sally on day 2, after Dead Woman's Pass
Snow capped mountains - the view from our lunch camp on day 2
At the top of the third pass, above the clouds of the Urumba Valley that winds around Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu base camp, with a stunning view of the Urumba Valley, a few km from Intipunku, the Sun Gate
Our group - Dave, Sal, Chris and Alison, Ramiro the guide and our amazing chef and porters
Machu Picchu, Old Mountain
, with Huayna Picchu standing guardian
The Inca Trail - continued
Me and Sal at km 82 (the 82nd km along the train line to Machu Picchu from Cuzco). The Inca Trail is 45 km long.
The first Inca ruin we saw, on day 1. It was abandoned, probably due to an epidemic of Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever or Malaria, before the Spanish came.
Traditional beasts of burden carry loads for local farmers! Note - llama is pronounced 'yama', and is a quechua word transliterated into Spanish...
Dead Woman's Pass, at 4000m. More pics to follow later or tomorrow...Echoes
The Spanish outlawed the Inca language, but now Quechua is Peru's other official language and the number of speakers is growing.
They destroyed temples and cities to get to the bronze and gold clamps holding the building blocks together, and to use the stone for conquistador forts, but today archeologists continue to discover new sites and interest in them only increases.
Spanish Catholocism was forced upon the natives, and the celestial gods of the Inca were all but forgotten. The common gods however, worshipped in the privacy of farmers' homes, are still revered today, and historians have uncovered the pantheon of celestial gods. The Chakana, the most sacred symbol of the Inca, is worn around the necks of many people in Peru today. Like Brazil's candomble, the people refused to have one religion forced upon them, and although many worship in Catholic churches, they also continued to follow the paths of the Inca deities.
They destroyed the ceramic records of the Inca people in Cusco, then said the Inca could not read or write. Today, we uncover the secrets of the Inca from old sources and new; from old Spanish reports of the indigenous culture they discovered in the New World, and from our archeologists, historians, anthropologists and architects. Some of Hyram Bingham's actions when he discovered Machu Picchu are questionnable, yet the tradition of rediscovery started by archeology and continued today by interest from tourism - a positive impact on local views of the Inca, a pleasant change from the norm - are invaluable.
The Inca Empire is well and truly gone, destroyed by the worst kind of European colonialism, yet the culture of Peru, a hybrid of European and native Indian, is strong, alive and vibrant, and the history of the Inca will never be forgotten.
There's so much to write about this. I'll talk more about the actual hike itself later or tomorrow when I have more time!! Later...
The Inca Trail
The daughter of Manco Inca lay sprawled on the terrace. The blood spilled by the conquistador's blade soaked slowly into the winter-hardened ground, as above a solitary condor soared, carrying her spirit to the overworld.
Father, I come to you now. Vilcabamba is a broken shell now, and little remains of Cusco's knowledge. Our people are sundered, our Gods scattered, our cities sacked. Our most sacred temples are razed by the Spanish, the holiest stones used to build forts to complete their desecration.
Father, the Inca will soon be no more. Their great steeds outrun us, their thundersticks fill the people with dread and confusion, their guile and dishonor twist and defile. Their power over us is irresistable. Yet we resist still. The Inca will die defiant, and one day our Gods, our tongue, and our culture will rise again.
We saw traditionally dressed farmers past kilometer 82, the start of the Inca Trail, Camino Inka. We saw an Inca town lying in a river valley, abandoned from epidemic. We saw a simple farm filled with healthy animals - chickens, puppies, pigs, donkeys, guinea pigs and an anxious lamb, where we were kindly hosted for lunch. We made camp early that day, and slept well that night.
We climbed on the second day, and saw Dead Woman's Pass grow slowly closer, as the air grew thinner and the path steeper. We stumbled but pushed on. Dizzyness filled my head as we neared 4000m above sea level, my steps slow and sluggish, breath laboured. Panting, we reached Dead Woman's Pass. We tasted an exhileration difficult to describe. We descended again, then climbed towards the second pass. We saw a small Temple high up the mountain, surrounded by the glory of the Andes. We reached the top of the second pass and found stone cairns, tributes to the sacred stone from which Apu Qun Tiqsi Wiraqutra created man.
We slept after a day of trial in the freezing cold of the high places, surrounded by the awesome beauty of the Andes, snow-capped peaks running behind valleys of rising cloud-forest mountains. On our third day we climbed to the final pass and began our descent down 1000m of steps of the Inca's long, winding trail, passing a huge terraced farming area before reaching our last camp. We saw another abandoned town, a maze of stone on the cut mountain side, eerily quiet. We imagined the Inca before the Spanish came, wondered if they were happy in this place. They were masters of agriculture, so were probably well fed with a variety of foods - the Inca domesticated more than half of today's vegetables. They were part of an Empire where there was no need for police or jails, because they were a socialist society where nobody wanted for food or shelter and everybody followed the basic laws. They lived in high places, protected by awesome mountains. We think they were happy, until the Spanish came.
On the forth day we walked a path climbing towards Intipunku, the Sun Gate of Machu Picchu, in the shroud of night's end. As dawn touched us, we saw from Intipunku the great sacred city itself, nestled on the saddle of a great ridge, Huayna Picchu soaring above it like a great guardian. We wandered through the deserted houses and temples, alongside a thousand others. We saw a city abandoned by its people, a city the Spanish did not find, lost to antiquity until a Peruvian farmer stumbled across it at the beginning of the 20th century.
We knew the Inca's glory, wisdom and humanity. It was overwhelming.
Horse riding and plans...
Yesterday was horse riding, and we had a great time! The horses were as expected - not thoroughbreds and kind of tired looking, though they weren't in too bad condition. Some of them were quite feisty - mine and Miguel's would regularly assert their place in the herd by biting or kicking nearby rivals as they went past each other! Deri's was the quickest, somehow maintaining the lead despite stopping to graze all the time, and Sal's was called Apache, a tall warhorse ... no only kidding ... it really was quite a steed though.
Anyway, so we rode to some of the Inca ruins including the Temple of the Moon. The ruins themselves weren't that impressive really, though the Temple of the Moon had a cool sacrificial altar. Altogether it took about 4 hours, and by the end we were pretty tired, and me and Sal caught the sun. We got the bus back to Cusco and found a nice chinese restaurant, which cost 7 soles (a couple of quid) and we had so much that me and Sal got doggie bags and just had chinese for lunch too - how's that for value!!
Bad news is we checked our tickets and discovered I'm actually coming back on the 23rd when I thought we were leaving on the 27th, so we have less time in Peru. So we're not going to be able to go to Lake Titicaca or Bolivia. Instead we're going to bus straight down from Cusco to Nazca, do the Nazca lines, then go to Pisco which is full of wildlife, then up to Lima to catch... our flights out of South America... damnnnnn!! I don't want to leave, really loving Peru but hey, when you gotta go.....
Inca Trail is tomorrow, we leave at 4am!!!! See ya on the other side of Machu Pichu!
Made it to Cusco and through some big coincidence sharing a dorm with the yorkshire lads, one of who thought it'd be funny to put sunscreen all over me while I was sleeping back in Rio then tried to kick off on me when i yelled at him.
Bumped into them earlier with Sal and had a long chat with Chris who seems cool. Just said "alright" quite loudly to Matt when I saw him. Still can't believe theye're in our freaking room, but they're leaving tomorrow to do a trek...
Bus journey from PM to here was a bit traumatic - no toilet and only a few toilet stops, so I ended up holding it in. I'm finally feeling like my stomach's almost back to normal now though, so things are good in that respect. Also me and Sal are thinking about doing a horse ride through some of the closer ruined Incan cities!! Really looking forward to that, and of course the Inca Trail itself! Met our tour guide operator today, they told us to come to a briefing on saturday.
This travel leg has taken its toll on us in its own way. Really looking forward to a good night's sleep, and our beds look wiiiiidddeee!
Right, time to surf the web a bit I think and try chill out.
Made it into the motorbike town of Porto Maldonado late last night!
The journey was quite gruelling but fun too. We flew down from Manaus to Porto Velho, then slept in PV airport till our morning flight to Rio Branco inside a wagon circle of baggage trolleys. Rio Branco was another hot, sticky town, bigger than I expected. We got the bus into town, then another bus to the Rodoviera where we discovered it was almost as cheap to get a taxi to the border as it would to get the 5 hour, no aircon bus journey. Somehow we squeezed all our bags and the 5 of us into one taxi, and drove to the border town of Assis Brasil (after getting our passports stamped at the federal police station in nearby Brasilea - me and Christian had lost our entry/exit slips and were told off by the police man). That leg was on decent roads and took about 4 hours.
The next leg was again by car. The guy makes the trip every day once a day when there are fares. His car was a corolla hatch 4WD and he drove it like a rally car. Luckily it was a wee bit wider than the previous car, but it still got a bit much with the 4 of us in the back. This leg took 5 plus (wait for the reason for the plus!) hours, screaming along dusty dirt tracks. Whenever we were less than half a mile behind someone, we'd be in their dirt cloud and visibility was almost nothing, yet the guy would rarely slow down much, and would overtake trucks on uphill sections. There were one or two, or maybe more, times when our lives flashed before our eyes!!!
We got there in one piece though, and arrived on the other side of the river from Porto Maldonado at about 9pm. There was one of those little 1 car ferries running (more normally run in day time when it's busier), and we were 2nd in line. Then the truck in front of us tried to drive on from a stupid angle, and to make things worse wouldn't stop when the ferry guys shouted at him to and ended up nose first in the river with only the boat stopping him slipping further in.
Much ado ensued, and after the combined efforts of perhaps 15 Peruvians and about a 45 min wait, they finally got the truck on the ferry. By this time a second ferry had come, so our driver easily drove our car up onto the ferry and before we knew it we were across, hot, sweaty and covered in thick orange dust!
Today was an early 7am start, so we could buy our bus tickets for Cusco. We ended up wandering around one of the markets which was great, first proper experience of Peru. Oh and we also used one of the many mototaxis jetting around, which are 125cc bikes with a windscreen and a trike back with a back seat for 3 passengers and a canvas canopy to keep the sun off. Everything is cheaper here, not just in terms of the exchange rate - Miguel and Deri got chicken with some nice rice and one of the jungle potato-fruit things for just 4 Sols, which is less than a pound, and the serving was pretty generous. After a small breakfast (well, mine was small - coffee and a banana!) we all got some fruit juice from one of the many juice bars in the market, which cost 50c and are served in a plastic bag with a straw!!
Very happy the bus journey doesn't in fact take 3-4 days (LP guide bombs out again), more like 15 hours. So should be in Cusco tomorrow!!!
Here's to 2000 varieties of potatoes. I like being in potato country.