Hi from Banos, Ecuador!

Hi from Ecuador

Yep my pilgrimage is almost complete.  I love love love Ecuador.  And the people love me.  They smile, they wave – you´ll understand why this is so important if you keep reading.

And there´s loads and loads of grass.  It´s so green, and my 2 fav. animals are everywhere.  Yep there´s cows and piggies everywhere.  The pigs are so cute, although I´m not as big a fan when they are dead.  They have them whole, dead and roasted sitting outside people´s houses.  People must come along and buy a bit for lunch.  The cows I´m loving alive and dead…

Finally to make Ecuador complete there´s ice-cream palors everywhere.

What more could I want…

UPDATE 5

NAZCA – MORE ON THOSE LINES & LOTS OF DEAD BODIES

I recovered from that bloody plane flight to go out to the cemetery of Chauchilla.  Because the weather is so dry the mummies here are really well
preserved.  Many still have hair and some a little skin.  Unfortunately a
lot of the skin rotted off the mummies when they had the El Nino rains, and
they had the mummies sitting out in the weather.  Now at least they have built a bit of shelter over the graves to try and protect them from El Nino. Our guide here was really good and explained to us how the people lived.

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When you think of South America you think of Incas and Spanish, but some of these earlier cultures were around for so much longer and are far more interesting.

We also stopped at the look-out tower for the Nazca lines.  From the tower you can see the “tree” and “hand”.  I hate to admit it but you really do need to do the plane flight because from the tower the lines are so unimpressive.

SANDBOARDING AT HUACACHINA

Now this was cool!  Although I sucked at it.  One of the guys in our group could stand up and surf down the dunes.  The rest of us decided that going down on our tummies was a much safer option, but I still managed to have a big spill.  You have to wear long pants and boots because the sand is so hot (as I discovered when I fell off.)  You sort of use your feet as brakes to slow you down.  If you want to go fast you keep your feet up.

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My spill happened when I accidently dug one foot more into the sand than the other.  Suddenly I was off the board and rolling out of control down the dune.  I had been going down with my eyes closed and when I opened them I could see my board still hurtling down the dune.  I eventually came to a stop and lay there for a minute just checking that I was all in one piece.

All I could hear from the bottom of the hill was “oh my god she hasn´t moved”, “is she  okay”, “are you alright Alison”.  It was at that point that I got the giggles, and then they didn´t know if I was laughing or crying.

When we got back to town we met up with a guy that had been on the tour with us until Cuzco.  He had gone sandboarding the day before and had stuffed his shoulder, and now couldn´t dress himself, let alone carry his backpack, and needed help getting to Lima.

PISCO – LOTS OF BIRDS THAT POO ON YOU

Not a lot to report here.  I was so excited to be going to a beach side town, but the town and beach are very ordinary.  We took a boat out to the Ballestas Islands which some people loved.  But I was like I can see these seas lions at the zoo, and the penguins (well not this particular breed, but something that looked similar) at Philip Island, and as for all these birds, all they are doing is pooing on us.

LIMA – DESERT, GUNS & CLOTHES THAT DON´T FIT

No one told me there would be so much desert in Peru.  It´s all I´ve seen for the last couple of days.  You go to sleep on the bus, and you wake up a hour later and you´re still in the desert.  Occasionally there will be a fertile patch of ground, where they have irrigation, but it was pretty much desert all the way to Lima.

My first impression of Lima was I´m not walking around here by myself, but we went to Miraflores (a nice seaside suburb) which was much nicer – it´s like you´re in a totally different city.

I did end up wandering around Lima on Day 2.  I actually quite enjoyed myself.  I think it is just one of those cities that you chose carefully where you go and how you get there.

The main plaza around the parliament building was full of army tanks and army dudes and police with big nasty guns.  They had blockades up around the plaza and were only letting tourists in. The locals were kept out. Apparently they were trying to prevent protests.

In Lima I also tried to buy some swimmers.  I decided that full bathers would be impossible to get, and I would be lucky if the biniki tops even covered 1/4 of me, but I thought I had a chance of getting some bottoms. No hope.  I couldn´t even get 1 leg into them.

I´ll seriously throttle the next person that says “don´t worry if you forget anything – you´ll be able to buy it over there”…

I decided that men´s board shorts might be an option.  The department store I was in seemed to have a few Aussie surf brands.  I had no idea what size I would be, so I took a heap into the change rooms and ended up being the biggest of those sizes.  It was quite depressing to think that I was possibly the biggest size in the entire store.  I hunted furiously through the racks until I managed to find a few sizes larger.  Phew what a relief.

I didn´t want to be the biggest size in the whole of Peru!

Other things that have been impossible to buy are hair bands (at least ones that don´t look like they´re from the 80´s) and soothers or something similar for a sore throat that I developed after the Inca trail.

HUANCHACO – MUD BRICKS & RUINS GALORE

About half the tour group finished in Lima.  There are 6 of us heading up to Quito, and another American guy is joining us once we get to Ecuador. Actually only 5 of us ended up leaving Lima.  We had to leave 1 guy in hospital on a drip.  The doctors think he has typhoid fever.  It doesn´t sound good, but he is still hoping to catch up with us in Ecuador.

If anyone is coming to South America and you love history, DO NOT STOP in Lima, keep coming up North, as there´s so much more to Peru than the Incas.

Huanchaco is a seaside village (quite a nice one with yummy fish), where they still fish using the totora reed boats.  But what was really amazing was the nearby ruins of the mud brick city of the Chimu people, Chan Chan, and the temple of the Sun and Moon of the Moche people.  So far Peru hasn´t been too good with protecting their historical sites.  For example at some point in time they´ve built a main road slap bang through Chan Chan, but at least they were busy trying to protect the ruins from the El Nino rains.

The temple of the Moon (which is actually 5 temples built on top of one another) is older than Chan Chan, and archaelogists are still digging.  We were looking at painted walls that were only uncovered a month ago.

WHY WON´T ANYONE SMILE AT ME???

It was at this point in the trip that I realised that none of the locals smile.  Well they smile and laugh with one another, but they don´t smile at me.  Even the kids playing at the beach would just stare at me when I smiled at them.  And old ladies on buses who smile at me back home didn´t smile at me here either.  I know life has probably been hard for them, but they could at least smile at me…

I was also increasingly being called a Gringo.  Which is an offensive term for a whitey!

On the way to our next destination I decided to try a test.  I decided to smile at everyone that I made eye contact with during the day.  I reckon I gave out 100´s of smiles.  Do you know how many I got in return.  Three!  3 lousely smiles for the whole day!!!

THE LORD AND OLD LORD OF SIPAN

Has anyone heard of these dudes?  I hadn´t and really anyone interested in history should have.  These guys rival Tutankhamen.

On the way to Mancora we stopped at Chiclayo to visit the amazing Sipan Museum (my new favourite museum).  It´s great because unlike many sights in Peru, the main tombs remained untouched by grave robbers.  Well they did get at some of the tombs, but not the main ones – the Lord and Old Lord of Sipan.  The museum contains the treasures found, the bodies and there are pictures that show how archeologists found the graves, and you get a real insight into how much work has gone into restoring the jewellery, clothes, etc.

The tombs (in an adobe pyramid) were only discovered in 1987.  The last two days have shown us that there are so many more treasures and history waiting to reveal itself in Peru.

MANCORA – MORE SUNBURN

Mancora is basically a surfing touristy village.  We had 2 nights here and a day of chilling out on the beach before heading to Ecuador.  It´s a good place to spend your left over Peru money on cocktails.  I seem to have a thing for sex on the beach (the cocktail…)

I also keep getting sunburnt in the weirdest spots.  I put sunscreen on, but I just seem to miss a few spots.  Currently my chest is pealing.  Not a good look.

I´M HAVING GRASS WITHDRAWALS…MORE DESERT & RUBBISH EVERYWHERE

We´ve basically been travelling through desert since Arequipa and it´s beginning to be quite depressing.  I´m really missing green grass and there´s so much rubbish littering the desert.

GETTING SWINDLED

The last thing that happened to me in Peru is that I got ripped off by the money changers at the boarder.  They have a really bad rep.  So we were all carefully checking our US money to see that they weren´t giving us fakes. But what the mongrels did was short change us.  The others managed to get the money owed to them, but the dude I was dealing with had conviently disappeared by the time we had finished checking for fakes and had worked out what had happened.  It wasn´t a heap of money, but it was the principle of the thing.

So that´s the finish of my time in Peru.  This email has actually been sitting in my drafts folder for about a week or so.  I will be in touch when I´m on my way home to let you know about the jungle and whether my love affair with Ecuador continued.

Lots of Love
Alison

P.S.  Rhyden, I think I´m going to miss your birthday as well.  Have a fantastic one!

And thanks all for the birthday wishes…

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Hi from Nazca, Peru‏

Welcome to update 4 from South America.  I´m currently lying under a tree
beside a pool trying to recover from the flight over the Nazca lines.

I´d like to tell you that the Nazca lines were amazing, but I was too
focussed on my stomach to give a four XXXX about the lines in the dirt below
me.  It was a 3 seater plane and I´d never been in one that small before.
Within 2 minutes I had broken out in a big sweat – a sweat like a fever.  I
knew I was in trouble when the pilot turned and asked whether I had seen the
first picture, and then reached for some smelling salts and took his hands
of the controls to try and open them.  They didn´t help…  Before long I
had reached for my sick bag and threw up the contents of my stomach, luckily
I hadn´t had breakfast, so all I had in my tummy was water.  I tried to take
an interest in the pictures, and I did take a photo or two, but I then
developed a pain in my guts like I´ve never had before.  So I just closed my
eyes and focussed on getting home.

Once on the ground I had to be assisted from the plane.  They kept trying to
give me smelling salts and I kept saying “bathroom, bathroom”.  It would
have looked all very dramatic to those waiting to take a plane.  I was
hunched over in half in pain and had to be assisted through the turnstiles,
depositing my sick bag in the bin in front of the waiting people.  It didn´t
stop there.  After I got to a bathroom I had to be assisted back to the
hotel and to my hotel room.  The worst thing is that I didn´t tip the poor
pilot and he was so nice.  I think that will be the last time I will get in
a plane so small!

AREQUIPA
We arrived in Nazca early this morning after taking an overnight bus from
Arequipa.  Arequipa is the 2nd largest city in Peru, and far wealthier than
most of the cities we´ve visited.

It is a volcanic area and rich in minerals and exports a lot of cement to
the rest of South America.  It was strange seeing such a moon like landscape
after the green of Cuzco.

Arequipa had 2 of the best museums I´ve visited in South America.  The first
was the Santa Catalina monastry.  Janice you would have loved this!  Wealthy
families used to pay to have their 2nd daughters (ie you) enter the convent.
Good thing you didn´t live in Arequipa back then.  I couldn´t see you in a
convent!  You could however take your maids with you, and Mum & Dad would
have given you 25 gifts, usually beautiful furniture and china, so maybe you
could have survived.  Eventually a strict nun came along and changed their
cushy lifestyle.

The other museum was about the mummies they´ve found on the nearby
mountains.  The most famous of these is Juanita.  She was a child sacrifice
by the Incas, and was only found when a nearby mountain erupted and caused
the ice of the mountains where she was buried to melt.  She´s famous
because her shin, hair and organs are still intact.  Unfortunately I didn´t
get to see her, as once a year she has to go back into deep freeze in a lab
for preservation, but we did see one of the other mummies and it´s pretty
freaky to think that these kids younger than me were sacrificed in the
belief that it would please the mountain Gods.

Another funny note about Arequipa is that I kept hearing this tune.  I can´t
exactly remember what it was now, maybe it was Greensleeves or Fur Elise.
Anyway I was all excited because I thought it was an ice-cream van.  It
ended up being the rubbish trucks.  What a let down – especially for an
ice-cream addict.

COLCA CANON – THE STORY OF MANCHUS
From Arequipa we visited the Cola Canon.  This is the second deepest canon
in the world.  The trip was pretty amazing.  At the start the scenery was
sandy/desert like, then it became rocky, then occasionally you would see a
couple of cactus type plants and then suddenly you came around a bend where
there were fertile crops growing.  This was a tiny area they were farming
because of irrigation.  Makes you realise how rich the land must be.  I
suppose it is similar to the volcanic farmland back home, the difference is
that we have water and they don´t.

We stayed in a valley near the Canon.  It was a little oasis after the moon
like scenery we had passed.  It was a tiny little village and the view
reminded me of Tuscany in Italy.  I don´t think it´s always that fertile,
it´s just that we were seeing it at its best in the rainy season, and the
crops were yet to be harvested.

We sat down to lunch and I decided to try the Alpaca, which they had just
cooked on the BBQ.  I was chomping it down when a beautiful fluffy alpaca
looked in the window and stared into my eyes as if to say how dare you eat
my brother…

The alpaca was called Manchus and was about 9-10 mths old.  After lunch we
went for a walk up a nearby hill and Manchus decided to come along.  He was
so cute trotting along after us and I was feeling so guilty for getting his
kind at lunch.  By the end of the walk I was ready to take the butchers
knife to him.  He decided that just walking was no fun, so he would run up
behind you and bite you on the bum.  Then he decided that jumping up on
people would be even more fun.  It was quite funny until he knocked the gym
manager dude from NZ to the ground.  It was at this point that the rest of
us decided that Manchus was no fun anymore and walking behind him might be
safer.  But I swear he knew what we were doing.  He would stop and wait for
us to pass him before walking again.  I know he was just wanting to play,
but he really took it too far when he bailed me up against a wall and was
biting my legs.  Any vague thoughts I had of becoming vegetarian soon
disappeared.

After our traumatic walk we veged out in the nearby hot springs before
ending the night by playing poker.

At dinner one of the women had told us the story of the ghost she used to
live with.  When we turned out the lights we heard this “OHHHH”.  Both Nat
and I stopped and listened and we heard it again.  We thought the boys were
playing a tick on us until I got up the courage to look out the window.  Our
ghost ended up being a bloody cow mooing right outside the window.  The
night ended with a typical Alison laughing fit…

Finally before I go I have a heap of birthday messages…

– Happy Birthday Mel for the 25th
– Leanne can you please wish Justin Happy Birthday for the 26th
– Happy Birthday Mum for the 29th
– Happy 30th Sarah for the 3rd
– Happy 30th Lucy for the 4th

Thinking of you all.  I hope you all have a lovely birthday.

Lots of love.
Alison

P.S.  Can someone apologise to Larissa if she is not getting these messages.
I keep getting bounce-backs from her address.

The Inca Trail

Here’s the long awaited update 3.5 about the Inca Trail.  Sorry I haven’t
been in touch for a while, but I’ve been a bit busy.

Was the Inca trek the hardest thing I’ve done?  NAH…no where close.  Sure
I had my moments, but the hardest physical and mental challenge would still
have to be that bloody Round the Bay in a Day – the year it poured with rain
and I was praying to God for my bike to get a flat tyre so I could catch the
bus home.  I think everyone on this email list could easily do the trail
(well maybe not Mum and Dad) and most of you could do the 8 day version.

The biggest problem our group had was the attack of the dodgy tummy.  We had
visited the Sacred Valley the day before and stayed the night in
Ollantaytambo.  We awoke the next morning to find out that two of the girls
had been throwing up and running to the toilet all night.  One of the girls
was supposed to be doing the trail, while the other was supposed to catching
train up to Machu Picchu.

The one doing the trail was a tough little Irish girl and she was determined
that a dodgy tummy wasn’t going to stop her, but less than a hour into the
trek she had to be taken back to Cuzco and was so weak they had to call a
doctor.

Luckily I didn’t have any tummy problems.  The thing stressing me out was
the 5kg limit we had on the duffle bag of stuff we could get the porters to
carry.  I had all these thermals and in the end had to limit what I was
taking because they were weighing our bags.

DAY 1 – THIS IS AS EASY AS ABC

Day 1 started off with rain.  I had my full wet weather gear on, but in 30
minutes it had stopped and before long I was down to my singlet top and was
applying sunscreen.  Actually on day 1 I managed to get sunburnt on my
shoulders.

It soon became apparent that doing the Inca Trail was luxury camping.  There
were more porters than people in our group.  We would plod along while the
porters ran in front of us and would set up a tent for lunch and cooked up a
big meal of soup, rice, meat, pasta and veggies.  Then they would run ahead
again and set up our tents for us so we could have an afternoon nap after
our walking.  Then we would get up for afternoon tea, usually popcorn,
before another huge meal for dinner.  Then we would play cards before
heading off to bed.

The walking on day 1 was fine.  A few uphill sections, a couple of downhill,
and a massive uphill section to the campsite.

By the end of day 1 we had another girl down with a dodgy tummy.

DAY 2 – MY BRIGADOON MOMENT

We were awoken on day 2 to our porters shaking our tent and offering us a
cup of tea or coffee.  I had frozen overnight.  All I could think about was
the thermals I had left behind in Cuzco.  My sleeping bag might be okay in
Aussie conditions, but it didn’t cut the mustard at altitude.  It is
supposed to have a rating of minus 2 comfort and minus 7 extreme, but I
think an eskimo who is used to the cold must have come up with those
ratings.  I slept with in a thermal bottoms, long pants, woollen socks, a
thermal top, another thermal top, a windbreaker vest, a fleece, woollen
mittens, and a beanie and was still bloody cold!

Day 2 is mainly a day of climbing.  I had purchasing a walking stick at the
start of the trek which was quite useful.  Day 2 is when you climb to
Warmiwanusca or ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’.  Is it hard? Nah, you just get into a
huff and puff grove that you can maintain.  (I think my huff and puff was
the loudest of anyone on the climb.)  The last part is perhaps a little soul
destroying.  You think you are at the top and you round a bend and see all
these bloody steps…  It was at this point that another girl in our group
had a crying fit.  I was actually a lot better at the uphill compared to
going down.  I think I was about 4th out of our group to make it to the top
of the pass.  We all sat up there and cheered everyone in our group as they
tackled the last of the steps.

We then headed down the other side of the pass.  I was completely left for
dead on the downhill section.  My poor knees just didn’t like the steps.  I
was also slow because it was a bit damp and I was worried I would slip.  I
soon found myself walking alone with only a lady with worse knees than mine
and our guide somewhere behind.  It was a bit depressing, so to keep myself
going I started dreaming of my nice dry tent and the popcorn that would
hopefully be waiting for me.  It was so annoying because I could see the
campsite below but it was taking me so long to get there.  Then the bloody
fog or cloud rolled in and the campsite disappeared from view.

It was at that point that I had a little Brigadoon moment (for those who
don’t know the musical Brigadoon this won’t mean anything).  I started
laughing hysterically at the thought that the campsite wouldn’t be there
when the cloud lifted.  Then I passed a waterfall and suddenly I needed a
toilet.  I was just contemplating heading off the path to do my business
when I heard voices through the mist, and before I knew it I was in the
middle of the campsite.  Just in time for popcorn…

Even the girl with the tummy problems had beaten me back to camp.  Although
by day 2 she was feeling better and had passed the curse of the Inca tummy
to her boyfriend.

DAY 3 – SNOW ON THE HILLS

It had poured raining overnight and it was still raining when we woke up.
We piled on our wet weather gear, and when we finally ventured outside our
tents we saw that there was snow on the passes we had walked by the day
before.  The rain cleared after walking for an hour or so and we were soon
applying sun block again.

Day 3 has the most stunning scenery.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Actually
it was amazing how often the scenery changed on the trail.  Because of the
rain we were actually walking on paths that were little streams of water and
I was grateful for my boots.  Some people were walking in runners and their
feet would have been soaked.  (Thanks Leanne for the two pairs of socks
suggestion.  I forgot on day one and had the beginnings of a blister, but
when I swapped to 2 pairs of socks I was fine.)

The last part of day 3 was again downhill and I was once again left for
dead, but there was something kind of spiritual about walking along by
yourself past this amazing scenery.

The reward at the end of day 3 was a shower.  You had to pay and there was a
cue, but it was worth it to get clean.

DAY 4 – SNORING AT MACHU PICCHU

We had to get up early on day 4 to get in line to leave the campsite.  For
safety reasons they don’t let people walk the last part until after 5am,
and it’s basically a race to get to the Sun Gate to watch the sun beam it’s
first rays over Machu Picchu.  We were lucky to get to the Sun Gate and have
a clear morning.  Often Machu Picchu is covered in mist and cloud.

We did the photo thing before our guide gave us a tour of the site.  They
don’t really know a lot about Machu Picchu.  All they have is theories and
it was funny to hear all the guides telling different versions.

After the tour I wandered around for a while, but it was sunny and I was
very sleepy, so I found a nice grassy section with a rock that gave me a bit
of shade and lay down to have a sleep.  Nat who was nearby said I started
snoring straight away.  Fancy coming all the way to Machu Picchu to snore!

So that’s the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu story.  Will email shortly with
the next update.

Lots of love
Alison

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Hi from Arequipa, Peru!

Hi All,

Welcome to Update 3 from South America.  This one will be in 2 parts, as I´m
a bit tired and don´t have the time to type out all my message.  I intended
to have an early night, as there have been a run of Birthday dinners and
drinks, but there was yet another dinner and birthday drinks tonight as
well!  Too many birthday cakes…

My bruises from the Lake Titicaca experience are slowly starting to fade.
Yep I was bruised on my legs, stomach and arms from trying to drag myself
back onto the boat.

Now before I start telling you what I´ve been up to lately I need to send a
few personal messages (which I forgot in the last email.)

Firstly HAPPY 30th Lyn for the 14th.

And HAPPY 30th Carms for the 13th.

I hope you guys both had great birthdays.  I was thinking off you.  Well not
really because I was too focused on a shower and massage after the Inca
trail, but I did think of you after that:-)

Finally I hope all the rowers had fun at Rutherglen.  I hope you had a glass
or two of sherry for me at the house, and that you continued the Alison
tradition with the green slushy stuff and wine.  Let me know how you went.
Had did the eight go?  Please tell me that squishing myself into that cox
seat was worth the effort!

Well I´ve completed the Inca Trail and I´m back in one piece veging our in
Cuzco before catching a plane to Arequipa.  I´m currently sitting on the
steps of the main plaza being harassed by little kids wanting to shine my
shoes, or sell me a postcard, or a doll, or a knitted finger puppet.  (I
usually write out my emails before getting to an Intranet cafe – saves me
time.)  One of the big differences that was evident as soon as we had crossed
the border between Bolivia and Peru, was that Peru was used to tourism.  The
people selling things (particularly the little kids) can be a little
persistent (well to be honest they can be a pain in the neck), where as in
Bolivia they just waiting for you to approach them.  Also in Peru there are
people dressed up in local clothes often with a lama on a rope saying photo,
photo, and of course if you take a photo you have to pay them.

MORE ON CUZCO
Last Sunday most of the tour headed off for the jungle.  The six of us going
to Ecuador remained in Cuzco.  I had a lovely sleep in before deciding to
get up and hit the sights.  When I got down to the main plaza there were
people everywhere.  There were marching bands and people marching around the
plaza in military uniforms with these big nasty guns.  It kind of reminded
me of Anzac Day back home.  I tried to find out from a few people what was
going on and apparently it happens every Sunday, but because I was at Machu
Picchu the next Sunday I can´t confirm whether it´s true.

(Just an update on location, I´m now at the airport waiting for the plane.
I had to give up on writing this in the plaza as the people with paintings
came to harass me to buy their work, and a homeless man decided to sit
beside me and make conversation. He was quite a nice guy, but I got a little
worried when he decided to kiss my hand, so I decided to give up on writing
and went shopping instead.  Great shopping in Cuzco.  But I´ve had to put a
ban on further purchases.  Everything wouldn´t fit in my backpack, so I sent
a box of goodies back home.  It cost me a fortune and far more than the
contents were worth.  Leanne – are you collecting my mail from the post
office?  There should be a box of stuff coming from Peru.)

Anyway back to Cuzco.  Some of the main sights here are the Churches, and I
decided to try and sneak in and see them when they were having Mass instead
of paying to see them at other times.  It worked for a few of them, but
others still wanted to charge me.  Oh my God the churches are completely
over the top, with gold, paintings and statutes everywhere.  It´s worse than
Europe!  What freaks me out are the statutes that are dressed up like dolls
with clothes and hair.  Very spooky.  I felt like they were looking at me.
It´s exactly like what you would see in Spain.  It´s funny because Cuzco is
the base place for visiting all the Inca sights, and I had thought I would
be seeing a lot of Inca buildings.  I had completely forgotten about the
Spanish influence and that when they came they went about destroying
everything that existed and built their own structures.  There have been a
couple of serious earthquakes in Cuzco and the early ones destroyed all the
Spanish structures, but the Inca ones remained standing.  So the Spanish
then decided to use the foundations of the Inca buildings for their own
buildings.  An interesting fact about the Inca buildings is that they didn´t
use any mortar for noble and temple structures.  The rocks were just cut to
fit perfectly, and these buildings or the foundations of them are still
standing today despite the earthquakes.

Back to the churches.  The most interesting one would have to be the
cathedral which has a painting of The Last Supper where they are eating
guinea pig (a local dish).

At another church I was at everyone had these dolls, and outside the Church
you could buy new clothers for your doll or a basket to put them in, or some
lace to cover them.  Everyone was holding their dolls like they were the
most precious item they owned.  I´m guessing that they represented Baby
Jesus, but to be honest some of the dolls were quite ugly and a bit freaky.
After Mass everyone surged forward with their dolls for them to be blessed
by the priest.

It was at this church that a man came up to me and told me off for having my
feet on the ¨wooden¨kneelers, or at least I thought that was what he was
gestering about.  I was so angry.  If I had been a bit quicker I would have
pointed out all the locals that also had their feet on the kneelers.

After the churches I hit the museums.  Many of these are also full of
religious art, and at times I swear I was seeing the same picture in
different museums.  There was also an Inca and Pre-Columbian Art Museum that
were quite interesting as well.

Before I move off the topic of religion I should mention that every South
American city I´ve visited so far has a big white statute of Mary or Jesus
overlooking the city.  The Spanish were certainly very intent on enforcing
catholism!

Cuzco is actually a very cool city to hang out in.  Sure it´s touristy, but
I was so excited to have some more people that understand my English,
although I have to admit my Spanish is getting better.  I am very good at
asking ¨how much¨…  The restaurants here are fantastic, the pubs are great
and it´s just got a nice feel to it.

I even attempted getting a hair cut here the other day.  The hairdresser
didn´t understand me, but we looked through some pictures.  She pointed at a
picture and I thought okay you´re comfortable with doing that one, so let´s
see how it turns out.  It´s actually quite okay, a bit boofy and my fringe
is a little short, but the final outcome was fine.  It doesn´t matter what
country you are in, having someone wash your hair is just devine!

Now I´m sure what you are really interested in hearing about is the Inca
Trail and Machu Picchu.  But I´m afraid that will have to wait for a day or
two.  It´s 11pm here and the Internet cafe is closing.  Tomorrow we are off
to the Colca Canon.  I may have a chance to finish this when we get back to
Arequipa.

Take care.  Speak to you soon.

Lots of love
Alison

Hi from Cuzco, Peru!‏

Welcome to update 2 from South America.

I am currently chilling out in Cuzco before tackling the Inca Trail later in the week.

I have quite a bit of spare time here, because I´m not visiting the jungle here in Peru. Instead I am going in Ecuador. There are 6 of us from the group of 18 that are travelling all the way up to Quito (capital of Ecuador). But I think there may also be someone else starting the tour from Lima. There were 8 of us that joined the tour in La Paz, the other 13 have already been travelling on a tour from Rio. It´s a little weird joining a group that´s already established, but everyone gets along really well. There´s a couple from NZ, 5 from the UK, and the rest are Aussies. Dad, you´ll be pleased to hear that they are addicted to 500´s. (And before you ask, no they don´t know how to play Solo.) 

MORE ON LA PAZ

I spent Tuesday wandering around the streets of La Paz, mainly visiting the many plazas and markets including the Witches Market which sells all sorts of weird and wonderful herbs and potions including llama foetuses.

I also went to the Coca Museum. Chewing coca leaves is part of life here. The Spanish and catholic church originally tried to ban the chewing, but they soon realised they could get much more work out of the locals, particularly those working in the mines, so they allowed it again. Growing coca leaves for the drug industry continues to be a big industry for Bolivia, despite the USA providing millions of dollars in an attempt to eradicate the coca industry. Coca leaves are also used to help with altitude sickness. You can have coca tea, buy coca candy, etc.

Weather in La Paz was so changeable. When it was sunny you would be walking around in a singlet top. Then suddenly the sun would go behind a cloud and the temperature would drop dramatically and you would be reaching for your fleece. Then the clouds would roll in and there would be a massive downpour. Luckily it didn’t rain too much, but there was an awesome thunder storm. It was funny to see the women with plastic bags over their bowler hats. 

LAKE TITICACA, PERU – swimming, rowing and dancing…

On Wednesday we left La Paz for Puno in Peru. As we drove towards Lake Titicaca and the border, we passed a lot of farm land. It struck me that rural life in Bolivia looked so much cleaner, and a much better lifestyle than living in La Paz.

Another thing that amazed me was all the gum trees. The bloody things were everywhere, and they’ve increased since crossing the border into Peru. At one point we passed some gum trees and a windmill. If I took a picture you would swear I was in Australia, not South America.

When we crossed the border into Peru the thing that struck me was all the stone walls on the farms. It’s like Kolora and the Stonyrises – only multiplied. Where there aren’t fences the cows, pigs and sheep and pegged or tethered into the ground, and have a bit of rope or lead which allows them to eat the nearby grass.

We stayed Wednesday night in Puno, which is on the shore of Lake Titicaca – the highest navigable lake in the world. Puno is a city of half-finished houses. Actually most of the houses I’ve seen in Peru have been like this. They all have big rods sticking up from the roofs. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe they are going to build a second floor when they get the money. I know I’ve seen it in other countries. I think people leave their houses half built in Greece because when they are finished they have to pay taxes. Not sure what the reason is here, but seriously I wouldn’t want to build another story on many of these places. A decent earthquake would flatten the place.

On Thursday we took a boat out on the Lake to visit the floating reed islands. These are man-made islands of reeds that people actually live on. Now it’s a bit touristy, but it’s amazing to see how they lived. I even got to row one of the reed boats (I have pictures to prove it). Hard work at altitude with an old wooden oar. You really have to put your back into it!

We visited the Amantani island (this is a main island – not floating) where we were assigned a local mama. Our mama cooked us a local lunch (soup and omelette) and then we went and played a game of soccer with the locals (again hard work at altitude). We climbed a big hill to watch the sun set, before heading down to our mama who cooked us dinner, and then her daughter dressed us up in her traditional clothes and took us dancing. We stayed the night with our local family. It’s the best sleep I’ve had so far. They then woke us up for breakfast and then it was back on the boat. (Leanne everyone was jealous of your headlight. Our local families had no electricity, and the headlight was great for the toilet. It meant you had your hands free for the toilet paper and bucket of water for flushing.) Finally we visited the Taquile island where the men do the knitting. 

SWIMMING IN THE LAKE

Before getting back to Puno a few of us (6) decided that jumping in the freezing waters of Lake Titicaca would be a good idea. It was a nice sunny day and when are you going to get the opportunity to again say that you’ve been swimming in the lake. A few people had come prepared with their bathers. Unfortunately my bathers are one of the things I forgot to pack…So I stripped down to my undies and took the plunge. Oh my God it was cold! And to make matters worse my daggy black cotton undies almost came off as I went under. It was so cold that the air was sort of knocked out of your lungs.

The hard bit however was getting out of the water and back onto the boat. There was no ladder and you sort of had to hull yourself back on.

Lana ( a girl from Melb) and I just couldn’t manage it, and so the boys had to hull us back onto the boat. I think it took about four of them to drag me back on. Once on the ledge you then had to wiggle yourself back onto the boat.

Oh my God I would have looked like a beached whale! All I could think of was that this was not the best view of my backside and undies. To make matters worse I think the contents of my nose were no longer in my nose due to the cold water. They were sort of hanging out…

Not my most flattering moment! Oh well, a good way to get to know everyone. 

DANCING WITH THE LOCALS

Friday night we spent back in Puno. I am sharing a room with Nat – a 30 year old from Brisbane. She took a redundancy package from her work and is travelling around South America and Europe until the money runs out.

We decided to go out and see what the local night life was like in Puno. The first bar we visited was very keen to make us welcome. Once they found out we were Australian, “I come from the Land Downunder” came on. It was at this bar that we met Carlos and Lewis (not sure that was his name but it sounded something like that). They took us out dancing at a local discoteque, which was hilarious considering these guys only came up to our shoulders.

I decided it was time to go when Carlos started whispering “I like you, I love you, I love you” in my ear, and then started singing to me!

I have the phone numbers and email addresses of two local Puno guys if anyone wants them… 

Well I think that brings gets you up-to-date. Next time you hear from me I will hopefully have completed the Inca Trial and visited Machu Picchu.

Take care and lots of love.

Onto La Paz

I had about 2 hours sleep (probably less) as I had a 7am flight to Bolivia on New Years Day. I had organised a wake-up call and taxi through reception. Taxi was for 5am. Wake up call was for 4 am. Alarm 2 was set for 4.10 and alarm 3 for 4.30. (The time I intended to get up.) The bloody taxi arrived at 4.15! What the hell is a taxi doing arriving 45 mins earlier. I got ready in record time and ended up at the airport before 5am.

In the que for tickets I ran into a British couple who are doing the same tour as me, so we shared a taxi from the La Paz airport to our hotel. La Paz is like nothing I have ever seen before. In the guide book they have pictures of women in shawls and bowler hats. Guess what – it´s really like that!

La Paz is the poorest capital in South America, which is quite evident. It´s also the highest capital city in the world at 3660m. Many people suffer from altitude sickness. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, diziness, loose bowles, insomina and loss of appetite. I am happy to report that I´m doing fine. I reckon it´s all in your head. If you think it will affect you it will.

Yesterday I slept and slept and slept. The only thing keeping me awake from time to time is the damn sunburn I got in Santiago. Unfortunately it´s in a spot on my back that I can´t reach with any gel. I´m also eating the most decent meals I´ve had since being in South America. Mainly because I´ve been going out for meals with the British couple. He has a bit of school Spanish, so I am finally able to order food. YAH!!! If I had of kept going like I was I would have faded away. In Santiago I had a grand total of 4 bananas, 2 nectarines and a handful of dry biscuits for the 2 days. Mainly because I hadn´t worked out how to order any food. All I had been able to cope with was the supermarket.

The only funny thing I have noticed about being at altitude is that my tubes and bottles of cosmetics seem to have expanded. Most of them feel like they are going to explode. I´ll leave it up to you science types to explain that one to me.

Anyway, after a day of rest I´m off to explore this amazing city. We meet the others on the tour tonight. There are 8 of us joining here in La Paz, the other 10 have already been doing a tour from Rio.

Next time you hear from me, it will probably be from Peru.

Lots of Love

Alison

PS

LANGUAGE
You have probably picked up that I´m struggling a bit with my lack of Spanish skills. Last time I was in a Spanish speaking country would have been Spain in 2001, and I had to make snorting sounds to indicate I wanted a ham sandwich. Things are heaps worse over here, there´s hardly any English. I really wish people would stop jabberling away to me in Spanish. I get so frustrated that I can´t understand. Here in Bolivia I clearly stand out as a tourist, but in Santiago I seemed to blend in, probably because of my dark hair. I even had people coming up to me and asking for directions in Spanish! My phrase book is working overtime.

COMMUNICATIONS
I´m getting your text messages. Sorry but so far I haven´t been able to reply, as that capability doesn´t seem to be supported by the networks I´ve been on so far. Don´t let my lack of replies stop you sending them through. Happy New Year to everyone that texted me and thanks for those that sent me good wishes before I left.

Santiago, Chile – A city of green parks and stray dogs

The first stop on my stay was Santiago, the capital of Chile. I was so exhausted and deprived of sleep that I thought I would have been head back, mouth open, sound asleep, dribbling and drooling all the way over here. Surprisingly enough I didn´t sleep a lot on the plane, and I only caught myself drooling once. I did however do one of those embarrassing jump things. You know when you are fast asleep and you kind of wake yourself up by lurching out of your chair (or is that an Alison thing…). There was nothing else remarkable about the plane trip. I flew LAN who were really good, but I was so disorgansied for the trip that I didn’t realise there was a stop-over in New Zealand.

I arrived in Santiago, got my bags and headed through immigration, where my profession of librarian seemed to cause a few problems. It appears that the immigration officer I had didn´t know what that was. After some discussion with his fellow immigration friend and some further questions to me (none of which I understood) we eventually agreed that I worked in a libreria. A check of my phrase book later told me that libreria was a bookstore. Opps what I should have said was biblioteca. Oh well…

I got through customs only to be confronted by those annoying men saying taxi, taxi, taxi. It was at that point that I wished I had taken up the offer of the airport transfer. I´ve never used those transfers before, not because of the cost, but because it is such a huge sense of achievement to make your way successfully into a foreign city without being robbed or murdered. I figure if I can manage to make it to my hotel I can manage anything.

I went to the info desk, but that was only an airport info desk. Apparently I had passed the tourist information before I came through customs. Bugger… Eventually I gave into one of those taxi men that had “official” on his badge, and had a walkie talkie thing in his hand. I still felt a bit dodgy about him, and when I got outside I hesitated, and he kept pointing to his badge saying “official airport information”, etc etc. I looked to a few people nearby and a local women sitting on a seat with her children shook her head a me, and another man also shook his head. Okay, obviously the wrong decision. Headed back to the terminal, and to the ladies toilets where I could get away from those annoying taxi men. Referred to the lonely planet guide (which I was beginning to distrust, as it had said the fee to get into Chile was US$34. It was actually US$56. Checked the copyright date, okay a few years old.) Went outside and bought a ticket with a company I had read about in the guide. I wanted to catch their bus service (similar to the Skybus), but they ended up talking me into a bus service that dropped you at your hotel door. Glad I did that because my hotel ended up being a 1.5 hour walk from the city centre.

When I got to my hotel it looked like the place was closed down, the only two people I saw were painters. Eventually I was checked it and shown to my room. It was at this point I realised my lack of Spanish may be a problem over here. The guy showing me through the room was lovely, but the only words I understood were “ahh” and “okay”. We seemed to get by through facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice. I managed to pick up from him that the hotel wasn´t on the lonely planet map and I needed a bigger map from reception.

After a brief nap I decided to venture into the city. I got myself the bigger map and off I went. At this stage I didn´t know it was a 1.5 hour walk. It was a lovely warm evening. Singlet top weather. YAH!!! I passed through many parks where people were riding bikes, walking dogs, couples were lying on the grass making out and young families were playing. It was such a nice atmosphere. No water restrictions over here. Lots of green grass, tree lined streets and fountains. It was kind of surprising, because the land around Santiago was so dry and arid when we were flying in.

Santiago is apparently more like a European city than a South American one. Everything is very orderly. Most of the streets were one way, and the green men come on automatically to tell you when to cross the street, which is such a relief after China where crossing the road was a life threatening exercise.

A quick note on the Chilean sense of style. They don´t appear to have any…Everyone is just dressed in singlet tops and jeans or 3/4 pants. And jelly bellies rule. It´s not that people are obese, they just don´t have any tone. I fitted in like a glove. Also of note are the stray dogs. There weren´t really any where I was staying, they just seemed to be in the city centre. Janice, I think there may have even been more than Samoa, but unlike the ones in Samoa these seemed quite friendly. I never once felt like I was going to be bitten, well maybe one time when a female dog was unsuccessfully trying to excuse herself from the attentions of a male dog.

Day 2 in Santiago was spent visiting a really interesting pre-columbian museum and visiting more parks. On day 2 I also discovered the train system as I had developed a blister on the sole of my feet from all the walking around in thongs.

I really enjoyed my stay in Santiago. I felt completely safe wandering around by myself, even walked home at night by myself. My hotel was really nice, a little bit too far from the city, but it was off a main road, and very close to the metro (train system). Another great thing about Santiago was the gelati shops. They were everywhere – a city after my own heart, but a day or 2 is enough to see everything you need. 

NEW YEARS – FIREWORKS, FIREWORKS and MORE FIREWORKS

It was a funny New Years, I felt like I celebrated it 3 times.

I awoke in the morning, just in time to see the fireworks in Sydney on CNN. I then celebrated New Years in Santiago watching the fireworks with thousands of others. They had a band and had blocked the streets around where the celebrations were. Boy do Chile know how to do a good blockade! They had police everywhere. I had to walk blocks and blocks to get around to where the people and band were.

People were drinking straight from champagne bottles, but they didn´t seem as drunk as what people are in Australia at New Years.

What I found most amusing was the people selling bags of hold punched bits of paper. Like confetti, but seriously just hole punched white paper. I had visions of them hole punching, hole punching and hole punching for days before the event. There were people every couple of metres selling these bags of dots or ghastly looking hats. At midnight the hole punched pieces of papers were thrown into the air. There were all these stray dogs running around that were covered in white dots.

A note about the fireworks – Chile obviously believe in quantity, not quality. They seriously went for ages and ages, but there was no real ohh and ahh to them.

I couldn´t work out what bus I needed to get home and they were packed anyway, so I walked home and eventually got back to my hotel at 2 am! Just in time to watch the New York celebrations on CNN.

(Mum – don´t panic about the walking. If it wasn´t safe I wouldn´t do it, and besides there were families everywhere still out at that time.)