Sweating it up in Cuba

Ah BsAs, what a fab time we had together. It was a great last hurrah to South America (albeit so different from most of the rest of the trip) and now it was time to turn our thoughts northwards, to that little thorn in the US’s side, Cuba. We knew we were in for a change, but still I don’t think we were quite prepared. The first thing we had to adjust to was the climate – it was really, really hot and so friggin humid. The sweating would begin as you toweled yourself after a cold shower and would continue to the next cold shower. We were wondering if we’d all end up the size of a jockey, but apparantly our bodies can leak out loads of water without affecting our general shape.

And so it was hello Havana. Our casa particular (private home offering guesthouse service) was in a slightly dodgy area and on our first morning as we made our way through the narrow, dusty streets I think we suffered a bit of good ol’ culture shock. The streets were filled with locals hanging out, sizing us up as we did them. A few streets on we came to more official tourist parts of the city and the edginess dissipated immediately. Instead there were al fresco restaurants with bands playing tourist favourites. We sauntered around, and kept making our way back to the stunning Capitolio which had a lovely outdoor balcony bar that overlooked one of Havana’s main streets and a rank of fab big old taxi cars. We had a ride in one of those beasts, the driver was a laidback old man who was happy to talk about life in Cuba. Generally he thought things were fine, which was interesting as we’d met some other folk who complained about the tough life and about Fidel. Speaking of Fidel, John – with his beard growing ever more large – was told a couple of times that he looked like Fidel. We’ve got a photo of him with appropriate hat and cigar and the likeness is uncanny. John didn’t know whether this was a good thing or bad thing when walking the streets. We took that old taxi to the Place de la Revolution where Fidel works and where the face of Che covers a huge building.

We were hoping to find a kicking bar in Havana that wasn’t set up for tourists but didn’t have any luck. Cuba seems determined to keep clear distinctions between tourist and local life. Separate money, separate places to stay and eat. We were always delighted if we found a place to drink that had even a couple of locals in it. Very strange. The main way of talking with the locals was either in the street – where the talk was inevitably leading up to a ‘you want to buy cigars?’ or in the casas particulares or the cars we hired.

After a few days in Havana, we started to make our way east. We decided to start off by treating ourselves to a resort stay in Vedado for a couple of nights. We stayed at an all-inclusive which was a strange experience indeed. Big buffet meals, a few different bars, games and activities all payed for once you had your wristband on. People dressed up for dinner. We felt a strange mix of horror and humour but made the most of it for the couple of days. And the beach was stunning. I don’t think I’ve seen such clear aqua water before. It really made up for the tackiness, plus Maryanne and i really enjoyed our salsa lesson.

It was a relief to get back to buses and casas particulares, though, and for the next two weeks we townhopped our way across to Santiago de Cuba. We visited Santa Clara where Che is buried along with the other revolutionaries who fought with him in Bolivia. From Cienfuegos we made a trip to the Bay of Pigs to check out a museum dedicated to this event. We hired a car to drive us down that couldn’t go much faster than 60km/h. This meant our time in the museum was a bit rushed, but, really, travelling in those old cars is an event in itself. We had a quick dip in the bay where we were made a fuss of by the locals, particularly the children, although i think lollies – or pens – were their motive. In Camaguey we had the best meals of the whole trip in our casa particular. Can’t remember your name, fella, but you were one helluva cook. From holguin we visited another beach, Santa Lucia, which wasn’t quite as stunning as Vedado but which was pretty much deserted. How cool. And finally Santiago de Cuba, definitely the most sociable part of our stay. The family in the casa were lovely, we had salsa lessons with the inimitable Fernando and we made friends in a bar with a trumpet player called Pastor and also with some rasta-type characters in a city square. These were genuine folk who weren’t out for money (we were always waiting for the ‘gimme money’ line). Well, I have to admit that one of the sons of the casa family did invite us out for a drink and then expected us to pay. He wouldn’t have been able to go where we went unless we paid for it, so twas fair enough but still a weird cultural difference. The trumpet player was a class act. We were having a drink in a bar, and Maryanne and I were rocking away in some rocking chairs (as you do) when he walked in. He stopped in his tracks when he saw us and in moments had each of us up for some salsa dancing. The guy was 50 years old and had the moves. He then shared a cigar with John and kept asking us to go back to his house. We finally did and we shared some coffee with him and his wife while they showed us some photos. Rations of coffee are miniscule so it was so generous of them to offer us some. There were hugs all round and this was definitely a highlight of our time in Cuba.

And then it was back to Havana for a couple more days before we were leaving the Americas and heading on to Europe.  Cuba is definitely like no other place we’d been to and it was hard work. We did witness all the romantic visions of Cuba too (big cars, big, crumbling colonial buildings, big, worn revolutionary murals, good cheap rum) but with big doses of heat (I can’t tell you enough about the heat!), and the usual tourist hassles.

It was a bit odd to think we were heading to Europe next. No more egg-shaped coco taxis hooning around the place, no more Daddy Yankee blasting through the airwaves, no more violent american movies dubbed into spanish as the entertainment on bus rides… Ah but surely Europe wouldn’t be so hot…

Everything up to Argentina

What happened after Cusco? I can’t remember…wait a minute. I think I remember. We might move fast here folks, to catch up on some lost time…

So, we said goodbye to the beautiful Cusco and Machu Pichu and headed by bus to the sunny but cold altitudes of Puno on the Peru side of Lake Titicaca. I can’t remeber what I ate on the first night, it might have been a pizza, I think Fion had trout…Any way we got a hotel and the next day went down to the dccks to organise a tour of the Uros reed islands and to find out about a boat trip to, and overnight stay on the island of Taquile (a must do on the lake).

We found some folks, or they found us, who could take care of our boating needs and so we headed off there and then to the Uros islands for a 3 hour tour.

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The islands are man made, and are constructed by piling layer upon layer of reeds on top of each other. Every 14 days a new layer must be applied as the islands slowly rot from underneath. The Uros people (about 30 families) have lived like this for a few hundred years. Well, our little boat flitted from island to island, stopping just long enough for us to consider buying some crap on each island. The people also make boats out of the reeds and eat them too. Here are some pics…

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At the end of the trip we were introduced to the captain (a shady and untalkative fellow standing under a wide brimmed hat) and the sturdy vessel that would take us to his island our overnight stay with a local family followed by a trip to the famous Taquile island.

So, we went home, ate, slept and returned in style for our trip.

After 4 hours puttering across the sunny lake (and a short stop at the Uros to buy some crap)…

dscn0504.JPG…we made it to our island (can’t remember the name).

The lake is so big that it behaves like the ocean and often the water stretches all the way to the horizon. Its huge, its blue and its about 4000 meters above sea level.

When we landed, none of the tourists (a few Italians, some Czechs, two Kiwis and us) really knew what was going on. There were supposed to be families on the dock that we could stay with. It turned out that we were all staying at the captain’s house (nice little industry they have going there). So we settled into our musty room on the second floor (the room below us was a guinea pig pen with wild eyed GPs scampering around in the dark. Of course this room was also the kitchen.) In the evening we played dress-ups, we danced and we listened to a very bad little band. Some pics:

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In the morning we got back on the boat and headed out for the famous island of Taquile, where the purpose of mens existence is to knit red hats (Simon Hobbs’s line).

About 15 min from dock I look back at our Captain as he crossed himself, kissed a handful of coca leaves and threw them to the ocean. 5 min later someone pointed out that there was some water coming through the floor boards in the front of the boat. The 1st mate leaped into action (sort of) and started to do a bit of casual bailing of water from the hull. Standard practice. Then someone pointed out that threre really was quite a lot of water coming through the floor coards in the front of the boat. We were still close to the island, but the cptn looked a little nervous. Very soon we had all cut the tops from our water bottles , formed a human chain and started frantically bailing water from the cabin as we desperately tried to make it to a place to dock. Ha ha good times. Of course, like all tourists worth their salt, we interupted the rescue mission to make a little vid of the event. (vid available at www.myspace.com/familymule)

We sat on shore for 2 hours being asured that another boat was coming. (Who would have believed that Fion had packed travel scrabble!! and that Maryanne could spell Epoch Epoque and get away with it. I’m not bitter that I lost.) After 2 hours we were told the boat was fixed and we could get back on. A multi-lateral diplomatic mission consisting of 2 Italians, an Australian and a Kiwi were deployed to tell the Captain: No.

So after some wrangling and walking we got another boat, got to Taquile for 1 hour and got back to shore at Puno, where our Captain was waiting to make certain we were okay.

So, then we caught a bus to Copacabana, Bolivia on the other side of the lake. HELLo BOLIVIA! We relaxed, we fought with the hotel about hot water, we visited some other islands. Then…

It was the weekend for our last night or two in Copacabana and it was also an annual religous festival that is celebrated with a vengeance. After dinner (I think I had steak, or maybe a cream pasta) we headed into the streets that were absolutely filled to the hat brim with people getting drunk, with processions of marching men and women in outragous uniforms all doing syncronised dances down little alleys while being follwed by 12 piece brass bands playing the one song over and over (vid available at www.myspace.com/familymule). The streets were raucous with big drums, tubas, trumpets, distant fireworks and shouting. We walked up to the main square and caught up in some street dancing to one of the many brass band troups that were wondering around town (about 15 in total). Later we followed the sound of the fireworks and found the place were all of the bands got together (there were over 100 more tubas, trumpets, trumbones and thumping bass drums on a hill side continually playing that same, rowsing tune). There were guys holding poles with fireworks on the ends of them, flying into the air and then back into the crowd, and their was drinking and dancing. We eventually headed back to the hotel, but the party went on all night and in the morning when we got up to catch our bus at 10am the bands were still processing down the street with dancers in tow.

Then what happened?

With only a little time in Bolvia we realised we needed to get south as quickly as possible. We caught a bus from Puno to La Paz, then realised we could get another bus from La Paz to Oruru, then when we went to the train station there was a train leaving in 15 minutes for Uyuni, our destination. So we got on it. In all we travel for 17 hours straight and arrived at Uyuni at like 2 am.

We went on a 3 day trip around the salt desert of the Solar de Uyuni. Here are some pics…

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Of course we visited a number of fascinating places as we weaved our way back up to the capital of La Paz. Some of the places we passed along the way include:

Potosi, where the mountain behind the town is a river of silver that was discovered by a fellow lighting a camp fire that made the ground bleed liquid silver (that must have been a big fire), where the silver was plundered by you know who (the Spanish) and where most of the locals start work in the mines in their early teens and their life expectancy is then only about 10 years.

dscn0693.JPG Potosi (with the mountain behind)

Sucre where we got the most amazing fresh fruit drinks in the little market below, where Maryanne walked into a tree branch and continued on with only one lense in her sunglasses without knowing and where I may well have hit travelling degeneracy by playing a couple of games of Tecken 2 in a Bolivian Pinnie Parlour (you know, comptuer games).

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But we made it to La Paz, bought a couple of fashionable hats, bought juice on the street (fantastic, I may set up a wondering juice cart when I get home and only make juice for myself, no customers) and still had time to earn a free-ish t-shirt for completing a ride down “The World’s Most Dangerous Road”. As you can see in the pics, the road is small and on the edge of a mountain but the main danger is the fact that this is the main transport route between Bolivia and Brazil. So there is a lot of traffic and lots of buses and trucks squeezing past each other. The ride itself is not really that dangerous but the metholated spirits you are made to drink as an offering to who knows what, at the beginning is life threatening as Fion and Maura found out. Oh, I also had to wear Fionn’s pink sunglasses all day because I had broken my own. For this reason I can’t show any pics from the mountain ride!

Then we flew to Santiago in Chile again for some fine, fine seafood soup and to return Fionn’s watch which had stopped working since she bought it there 2.5 months earlier.

Then we got on a bus into ARGENTINA! We stopped at a town called Mendoza, which sounds like a comic book super villain (did I spell that correctly?) but is actually the wine making capital of Argentina. So we went on a wine tour on our bicycles and now we won’t drink anything that isn’t a roble. That means aged in oak. Well, until we leave Argentina where the wine is very cheap and very nice, then its back to the rot gut.

So then we went to Buenos Aires where we rode bicycles, bought clothes at markets, went to an Argentina soccer match at River Plate stadium and made our mark at the local Parrilla. A parrilla is a restaurant that has a big charcoal grill BBQ where they roast all sorts of steaks, ribs, chorizos and offal meats. Indeed, as Argentina is reported as producing the best beef in the world Fionnuala decided she had better try it. So she chowed down on a char-grilled Bife de Lomo (like a porterhouse but bigger) that was washed along with a fine bottle of Malbec, roble from the Mendoza region. Actaully, she liked it so much she had another a few days later, and then a third! But don’t tell anyone.

Today the girls have flown to Iguazu falls on the border with Brazil and I am updating the blog. Go figure…but that takes us up to now.

love John

Cuzco, egg burps and Machu Pichu

Thanks John for that seamless crossover. So, an overnight bus from Arequipa to Cuzco somehow left me with a lot of gas. I was doing burps that tasted like egg. Sulphuric, right? Icky.

 df This may or may not be a picture of Fionnuala, sans friends after an egg burp.

I headed straight for bed while the others went out to discover the joys of Cuzco. They found a fabulously set city and an Irish pub, which would become a bit of a fav. But all up, a bit of a lowkey preparation for the Inca Trail.I was still egg burping when we were picked up way early on the first of the four-day trail. At our breakfast stop I raced down to a farmacia and the lady got me a bottle of bright pink alkaline liquid. I downed it there in front of a queue of people holding pieces of paper as the farmacia was also a thriving photocopying place. The liquid worked wonders and I was cured just in time.

So to the Inca Trail. My lordy, what an adventure. Whether you’re making your way with a spring in your step or heaving slowly up and up, convinced that the path can´t go any higher, yet it turns another corner and rises the same amount again, the surroundings are always truly amazing. Hoooge mountains to look out across to or close-up views of orchids or busy little (and never before seen) hummingbirds. It was hard work with lots of sweating (and no showers) but it was really ace to find your own pace and keep on keep on going.

We were a group of seven, us four plus Peter the Pom and mother and son Betty and Toby from Maine, USA.

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Our guide was Juvenal and there were 13 porters and a cook. The porters were mostly no more than shoulder height, with legs that were surely pure muscle. They carried big loads on their backs and raced ahead on the path to prepare our lunch or evening tents. On the first day we were all a bit horrified by the grandiosity (that´ll do as a word) of our meals. When we arrived at the lunch spot a tent with table and chairs was awaiting us and we were served a delicious three-course meal. The porters buzzed around making sure everything was ok and we couldn´t help feel a little like colonists, set apart, overfed and generally living the good life. By the next day, though, these guilty feelings had pretty much disappeared and we couldn´t wait to plonk ourselves at the table and devour what was set before us. Here are some pics (soory they are mostly sideways):

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There had been a landslide across the path right near the Sun Gate, so each day we had to walk a bit further than normal and on the third day we left the trail and walked along the train line to the town of Aguas Calientes, where we stayed the night in a hotel and got the bus the next morning to Machu Pichu. 

Machu Pichu. As we rounded the corner from the entry gate we caught the first glimpses of this little city: stone terracwa and bases of palaces and general hubbub houses. Amid quiet gasps were coos to the resident llamas — they were obviously unaffected by the reams of tourists. We sat and obediently listened to good ol’ Jube recount the mysteries of Machu Pichu while the sun began to rise over the place. Photos were taken and then we were left to our own devices.

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Maryanne and I were quite happy with the idea of leisurely lapping up the atmosphere of the place but everyone else seemed taken with the idea of climbing the mountain nearby to get an overall view of the site. More climbing, you’ve gotta be f%#king kidding yelled our thigh muscles, but we all signed up and headed up those fabulously upright stone steps. A few curses here or there, but it was definitely worth it. A picture-postcard view of the Inca city was had, leaving us all warmly chuffed.

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And with lunch in Aguas Calientes had, we bid adieu to our tour group, but, hey not to our newfound mountaineering skills. The next day we fabulous four decided to climb another nearby mountain, Putukusi, and this time with no guide. After asking directions, we headed along the railway track to the sign to the mountain. Next to the sign was a big sign stating that it was prohibited to enter. We figured we couldn’t understand the sign properly and headed in.  It was a single track site shrouded in plantlife. It felt quite isolated and the Indiana Jones feelings returned. Soon we realised why the prohibited sign was up. A portion of the track was obliterated by a landslide. Quite significant given the Machu Pichu sitch. We surveyed and decided it was ok to go on. Soon we were met by a makeshift (nay sturdy!) ladder. Done. Then another, twice the size. Then one that was friggen’ fuckin’ hooooge (huge).

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This climb was proving to be very exciting indeed. One of the ladders had a V-shaped tree trunk across it so you had to wedge yourself through the branch while stepping up a couple of steps. Danger Danger, what fun. After about half a dozen ladder experiences, the shrubbery changed and we climbed up amongst large rocks somewhat reminiscent of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Doo doo doooo. The path kept going up and up and our mood began to turn cranky. Just in time the top was reached and there was had the other, magnificent view of our old friend Machu Pichu. Twas all worth it. We love you Machu Pichu! We had the whole climb to ourselves and the view felt intimate. We lay on rocks, soaking in our luck, gobbling chocolate, fruit and water.

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Then another couple popped up, gasping for air. We knew it was our time to head down and face those ladders. As we headed down thunder started and added some urgency to our descent. We slid our way down and made it just in time for the train to Cuzco.

 As Cuzco is in a valley the train needs to zig zag it’s way into town, heading one way, then making its way back a bit, then heading the same way again…Cuzco is as pretty as night as it is in the day. And so, we rested ourselves and the next night we were up for a party. Well, we had some dinner with wine, a couple of canned guinness and some of us thought that was a party. As we headed home, Maura and Maryanne decided to rap on the door of a place emanating music. Racy girls, John and I thought, leaving them to it, but a few paces on we decided to check on things. What we found was a little shop with a couple of guys and our girls sipping merrily on beer. We were in, and there was only one place to head — back into town to the clubs. And man were they pumping! We found our possie and got on down, t’was the first boogy in ages and it felt great. A mixture of fab indie and grin-and-bear-it tunes were played but the clubs were jammed and twas super fun. But geez, those fellas were heart broken when the girls bid their adieus…

The next day we were all feeling a little quiet and headed for Cuzco’s perfect fix: bars with free movies (in exchange for a bought drink, even the beloved coca tea). Weary muscles and minds meant easy satisfaction and there was another day gone.

Santa Semana, Thievery and Colca Canyon

Now, where were we?

That´s right, we had just left Nazca under a hail of bullets. Indie was carrying the golden statue, but when he was hit by the taxi after trying to leap over the local woman selling tapestries, it meant that he was hurt bad. He had been a liability ever since the incident with the butter knife… but that´s a whole other blog.

From Nazca to Arequipa.

We actually left Nazca in a bus, a very plush bus with fully reclining leather seats. (I wish Indie was here, he always liked buses.)

Arequipa is a beautiful, old colonial town and when we arrived it was the start of Santa Semana, holy week, easter week, or, in the parlance of the pagans, time for chocy eggs. This is a time that is taken very seriously in the devoutely catholic South Americas. I mean, who would have guessed there were 14 stations of the cross. I had an argument with one of the very nice ladies that managed our hostal ( read: dignified, white stone, colonial house). I could have sworn there were 12 stations.

We visited a monastery that used to be a 16th Century party house for the daughters of rich Spaniards who became nuns. The nuns had slaves, visitors, artist types and booze for about 100 years until the Vatican sent over a Fire and Brimstone mother superior to clean the place up. (Script for a 16th Century fraternity movie anyone?) Very pretty though:

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And then on to the Colca Canyon for 2 days. Again very pretty, lots of high altitude and chewing of Coca leaves and the mind boggling site of a condor in flight.

Looking at the canyon:

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hanging with the guide:

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Those Condor things are so damn big. They are like the zoological equivalent of a B52 Bomber. They don´t really flap, they float on thermal air currents. We saw five I think, and a couple floated by, only 20 metres from the the viewing spot.

We stayed that night in a little hostal managed by little  woman of about 40 who took us on a 2 hour walk into the hills to see some pre-inca ruins. (For those in the know, she reminded me heaps of an older, Qechuan version of Madelin McMahon, she´s the short one in the background)

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In the town I was set upon outside a church by some local women getting drunk at 9am for Santa Semana and they cajolled me into drinking their toxic home-brewed spirit from an old 2 litre soft drink bottle, then their kids set upon me for 5 minutes (there was no help from the girls, the guide saved me in the end)

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I was also told that wearing a large eagle on your head was the height of fashion in Colca canyon, or that it was better to have a bird on the head than 2 in the bush. I can´t remember exactly:

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Some more pics of stuff in Colca canyon:

saf dfg y tt and fion next to a bicycle she may or may not have stolen from a child…

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Anyhoo. Back in Arequipa, the whole city is kind of buzzing for a week over easter. There are services every night and ceremonies in the city square. And I think it is on Holy Thursday that thousands of people throng the streets as they visit 14 churches in emmulation of the 14 stations of the cross (I know, I thought there were 12 too). So I got blessed a few times, then we went for a drink in a bar as the streets slowly filled with underage drinkers and people eating at street stalls. After a drink and on our way back to the hostal, Maryanne and I popped into one more church for a quick looking. We joined the mass of the devout and squeezed through the doors, had a squiz and when we went back outside, Maryanne realised she had been pick-pocketed. She was carrying a few Euros and here c.cards, so there was a bit of a panick. But luckily we got to spend the next day tied up in some more South American bureaucracy for an hour.

Next, fion and the amazing trek to Machu Pichu.

Love, John

Lima, sandboarding and Nazca lines

I won´t begin by mentioning the aforementioned bag loss, as we´re just about over it. Really, we´re moving on, know that the most important things are still around etc etc.
So, to Lima. We had heard awful things about the place so we approached with the same sense of anticipation as we had Quito. Although this time it was mixed in with the major excitement of meeting up with one Mezza Twomey and one Maura Lucey. We´d organised an airport transfer (first time having my name held up at the airport – fuh-nee) and were whisked through crazy traffic to a fancy part of Lima called Miraflores. All grand Spanish colonial houses and trees. Not the Lima we´d expected. Mez was at the hostel waiting for us (met Maura at the airport) and it was hugs and beers all round. Now we were a gang!

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Next day walked down to Miraflores to check out the beach.

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Plenty of surfers and we couldn´t figure out how polluted the water was from our view up on the hill. Miraflores gets covered in a full-on smoggy mist, almost looking like rain. Couldn´t figure out how polluted this was either.
We´ve all agreed that supermarkets are a fascinating place to visit while travelling. The one in Miraflores was hoooge and so bright and exciting. We hung out there a bit.
And then to central Lima, where we were sure we´d find evidence of the horribleness of this city. Alas, we found ourselves grand buildings and squares, a yummy cheap lunch and big Pisco Sours in an old 1920s hotel bar. John and I even visited a black market area to try to find our stolen goods (how sad) and even here the dodgy levels didn´t come close to, say, John´s ever-growing beard (though we did see some ´numchuckas´ for sale). Our experience of Lima was just, kinda, nice.
But onwards bound and it was amazing how quick the landscape turned all deserty heading south from Lima. We were heading to Huacachina, 4km from Ica, a tiny oasis town set around a lagoon and surrounded by massive sand dunes. Sandboarding is the thing to do. Hard friggin´work! I tried to stand up and at most went about three metres before falling on me ass. Or my face. One time i fell forwards and went face first into the sand. I have no idea what my hands were doing, but they didn´t save me.

Then we went on a dunebuggy tour. Crazy fun. Like a rollercoaster on sand.

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There were seven of us in the buggy and we raced up and down sand dunes, flinging from side to side. Plenty of involuntary squealing and oohing and aahing (not from john ed.).

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We stopped a few times for everyone to board down big dunes. Nearly everyone went down on their bellies, and you just zoom! (we have some vids we can email but they are between 5 & 7 meg, so let us know.)
And now we are in Nazca, and today we did a flight over the lines in a tiny five-seater plane. The experience of the plane tried to eclipse that of viewing the lines. We swayed heavily left and right so that we could all see the cool designs on the desert floor. I was glad i´d skipped breakfast. We flew over a dozen or so of the designs (the whale, the monkey, the hands etc etc) plus heaps of straight lines. We´d watched a doco on the lines as we waited for our plane so our heads were filled with all the various theories.
Then in the afternoon we were escorted by a larger-than-life driver (in a very large American vehicle called a dodge) on a tour to the Cemetery de la Chauchilla, containing tombs of the ancient Nazca people. Pretty ghoulish stuff. You look down into about a dozen open tombs and there are mummies in various states of decay sitting in there. They buried their dead in the Springy-squat position (or as the guide probably more appropriately called it, an (upright) foetal position), facing towards the east in readiness for reincarnation. All pretty fascinating, if a little weird perving on dead folk. Lots of little baby mummies too. The graves have all been robbed by bandits, as there´s no security at night – even today.
And now here i am in the internet cafe, waiting for our overnight bus. I´d normally be terrified of an overnighter but we´ve booked a fancy shmancy sleeper, that apparantly allows you to lie right down. And breakfast is served. We´ll see.

Not so good bits: poor Mezzarella. In Lima she sprained her ankle bad and has been hobbling. Then in the past couple of days she´s had an upset tummy and a fluey type thing. She came on the Nazca lines flight but had a little spew (bless her, it was done in a very demure fashion) and has spent the rest of the time in bed. It´s been damn hot in Nazca which can always be a little trying, but we´ve been mostly keeping things nice!

Cuenca, Guayaquil and Peru

Well, we thought it would happen eventually. We knew it would happen. We started to think it might not happen. And why would it happen to us. Then, it did happen.

We waz robbed.

Last day in the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca. I was having breakfast in the quiet hostal where Fion and I were the only patrons. It was our last day.

Fion had gone to the net cafe 3 doors down. I was finishing my coffee and intently reading the Cuba book. I was the only person in the dining area. I had my back pack on the ground against my chair. Because it was our last day we were going to doa blog before heading off. The camera that is usually in my jeans pocket was in the bag. Fions MP3 player with all the photos that I had just the night before sorted into (slightly retentive) folders according to country and city, was also in the bag.

Four men walked into the hostal and asked at the counter about some rooms. I didn’t pay too much mind – happily reading about Cuba. One of the guys walked past my table semmingly looking for a bathrooom, then back tothe guys at the front and they left.

2 minutes later I finished my coffee and grabbed the bag to go meet fion at the net cafe. Of course, the bag was no longer there. Nor was the camera. Nor was the MP3 player. Nor were a few books. They were all in the bag you see.

The day then turned into a bureaucratic run around.

So, now we are in Peru and hanging out with Maura and Maryanne, which is very nice. Trying to apply for insurance over the net. Not very nice.

The guy didn’t even stoop, bend or stop. I’ll be buggered if I know how he grabbed the bag without a sound. I blame the Cuba book.

We are going to the black market in Lima tomorrow. We expect to find our own camera etc.

Love

John and Fion (but mostly john’s fault)

p.s. sorry about the lack of photos in this post, you can understand why.

THEY WONT TAKE OUR DIGNITY (although I do feel a little quesy after that salami today)

Devil´s Nose to Quenca

So we left Baños cos you can´t stay in Baños for the rest of your life (there was a sign saying as much when we first got to town).

So what does one do in that situation? I am not sure, but we two caught a bus to Riobumba, stayed the night and got up at 5.50 in the morning to catch a train.

The train is called the Nariz de Diablo, which means The  Devil´s Nose. I don´t know how they picked that name. Anyway it is a train that you can ride on the roof as it winds its way from Riobumba to Alausí in 7 hours. It is very cold when the train starts off (full of westies with their Lonely Planets in hand). Very cold..

Cold Train 1

Indeed, it is so cold Fionn was a little delirious…

Cold train 2

The train winds its way through some pretty impressive terrain. And all the scruffy country kids come out and wave to the train as it passes and we all buy lollipops from a guy on the train to throw to the kids.

There appear to be two schools of thought amongst the kids on how to deal with this.

1.The kids are very clever about it. They stand there and wave and ignore the lollipops that land near them (playing it cool), they just keep on waving to the train until the last carriage has passed (thus encouraging more lollipops to be thrown) then they scamble like crazy to collect all sweets in the vicinity.

2. The second school of thought seems to be to clutch, scramble and run for anything and everything in a frenzy of sugar lust. This theory is prevelant when one or more kids are together and therefore there is competition for the falling lollipops. (Namely, if you play it cool, encouraging more lollipops, you will most likely get none as those around you "lutch, scramble and run for anything and everything in a frenzy of sugar lust" as described above.

I wonder if a threory of economics could be based on this study?

Here is a pic from the roof of the train…

Train

and one with us…

 posers

After the 7 hour train ride, was a 5 hour bus ride (it was a long day of travelling, from 7am to 7 pm) to the pretty city of Cuenca. Full of colonial architecture it is the perfect place for us to continue our "Park ´n Church" tour of Ecuador.

The "Park ´n Church" concept is that, in every Ecuadorian town there are a number of town squares that have a church on them. So, of course you have to visit everyone of them. We even went to one town (Ibarra) on a 50 minute bus ride just to taste their famous ice-cream (very nice and 80c for a bowl of 2 flavours). Of, course you can´t travel that far just for the ice-cream and there were about four town squares with churches in this little spot. So, we saw them all. Which was the launching of our great cry of this trip so far: not another "Park ´n Church".

It makes sense if you say it fast.

Here´s a picture of a park ´n church to help you get the drift…

parkn

Well, so far Cuenca has been good food (for $1.50) and I am finally getting a little bit of drinking in, what with martini night at the Eucalypt café and the bar strip we just located.

Things are going really well. I even found a group of local musicians to help me record the afro-cuban Family Mule album I´ve been thinking about for so long…

  band

 Unfortunately, they all work at the museum and are made of wax.

 John and Fion (but mostly John)