Poll Star's Wonderings

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Gay Bar

Lima is set to be the scene of 2 different nights out: first up we're going to Vanessa's and she's going to cook for all of us, even the fad eater. Julio's in charge of the second night, so we'll be heading to a gay bar after dinner. There's been mention of a drag queen.

So after the night bus sleeping disaster I found it difficult to muster much get up and go for exploring Lima. Julio's doing a city tour tomorrow, which ruled out a number of options and it's Monday so a few places are shut. Almost by default 6 of us plumped for the Museo Larco-pottery, gold, textiles and erotic pottery involving men, women, skeletons and animals. I must have been out of my tiny mind.

It took ages to get the taxi driver to understand where we wanted to go; I got hacked off very quickly as it wasn't a language barrier-Museo Larco is a pretty basic request (the second listed museum in the LP, so ought to be well known); then the others ran back from their cab-he'd had no idea where it was; ignoring the warning signs, I rashly chucked them my Lonely Planet to help them navigate; we began to think our taxi driver had no idea where it was, then he tried to drop us in Calle Larco; I managed to remember the address which we had to write down; renegotiating the fare fired Laura's temper; when we realised we didn't even really want to go to the Museo Larco, we pretty much ranted the rest of the way; even then the cabbie was clueless-he tried to offload us at a random museum and a wine shop before we finally made it. We'd been 45 mins, yet the others only just beat us. After all the Met, Louvre or Vatican would have struggled. Museo Larco had no chance. It wasn't very good and was inexplicably expensive.

So, after porno pottery, lunch and posting my last blog, I felt a nap was in order. This may have been a mistake. I woke up just in time to go to Vanessa's confused by my surrounding and totally spaced out. I spent the next hour feeling like I'd just come round after being knocked out by Mike Tyson. Another roundabout cab ride didn't help.

It was a lovely evening: the food was fantastic and we met Vanessa's Mum, sister and cousin. Later the grandparents were roused to meet us. I had already met Vanessa's grandparents when Julio told me their bedroom was the bathroom. Grandpa said some gringo had barged in! He'd put his hat on to meet us. Once they went back to bed, the music got louder and the smoking started.

Julio's tour kicked off at the cathedral Pizarro built; Pizarro killed many indigenous people as part of the Spanish colonisation, but founding Lima and the cathedral has left him as a neutral character in Peru. The chapel for his grave is impressively mosaiced.

The choir was beautifully carved,

the museum of artefacts cult-like and the crypt creepy. After showing us a number of bones, the guide brightly announced 'and over here we have babies and infants' and led us to some tiny coffins. Just how long do you have to be dead before your remains become a tourist attraction? If the crypt at the cathedral was shocking, the carnage at the Monasterio de San Francisco was appalling. 10s of thousands were buried here, the bones have been collected, sorted piled and in one area used to produce a geometric pattern. I tried to imagine the meeting where they agreed upon this lunacy. The library was gorgeous-with no photography allowed. Then a quick walk through some of Lima's streets and plazas led us to the swanky hotel Bolivar and a very strong Pisco Sour.

I got the feeling Julio's tour got a touch abbreviated as we ended up in a mall for lunch and then got left to our own devices. The danger in this policy was evident when Laura and I headbutted each other while walking downstairs and talking. Still can't work out how that happened.

I can't remember if I wrote about shoes in Quito, but Lima reminded me of it, albeit on a lesser scale. The number of shoe shops is staggering; OK, I admit shoes is the one form of clothing that fails to even vaguely interest me, but the relative number of shoe shops to clothes shops seems way out. Only the number of shops selling chicken and fake DVDs come close. In Quito especially, the number of shoe shiners (men and boys) is huge. Obviously this is an attractive employment option for the terribly poor, but there does seem to be quite a market. In the main square in Quito, there's always someone having their shoes cleaned although offering to attack my action sandals is somewhat ambitious. I'm a touch unsure as to the motivation for this compulsive foot cleanliness. Ostensibly it's about being presentable, but watching so many of the punters staring down at the cleaner below, I felt there was a lot of 'look at me, I'm having my shoes cleaned' going on. A slightly strange status symbol.

And the gay bar? It didn't open till 11; we went out at 7 for dinner; I was still tired and reeling from the headbutt; Laura and I got through 3 bottles of wine. So I was a mess. At least I stayed clear of the vodka that Brett and Lorna had. We'd agreed that whichever bloke got chatted up the most would get a drink off the others-I don't think I really competed. Judging by my empty pockets this morning it wasn't a cheap place to drink.

Lima is very spread out and none too tourist friendly-there seem to be few sights and they're spaced out. The feeling it was somewhere to pass through was fairly universal. There's a distinct chance Lima's highlight was coming back from lunch and the taxi driver taking a short cut by going the wrong way up a 4 lane 1 way street. Coming up we've the Ballestas Islands (a mini Galapagos) and Nazca, where I plan to be brave and fly over the Nazca lines-another one of Dan Cruickshank's 80. Back on the bus then.

We stopped overnight at Paracas and I gallantly escorted Lorna back from dinner: she was still suffering from the gay bar and I felt an early night might be a sensible plan. Come morning, after a rotten night's kip, we breakfasted while dolphins cavorted in the bay and then boarded the boat for the Ballestas. For $11 and after the Galapagos I wasn't expecting too much. Katie, Rich and I all agreed we hadn't seen such densely birded skies on the Galapagos. Guano used to be Peru's no 1 export (fuel and fertiliser), oil buggered that up for them and now it's 50m deep in places. That much shit needs a shitload of birds

I hope if you click on the second pic, you'll see the rock's surface is just birds. Boobies (brown footed this time) abounded and I got some (Humboldt) penguin pics, something I'd not managed in the Galapagos.

Overall it ranked alongside a decent Galapagos outing. Still loving pelicans

I've stopped at a few wineries in my time, but this was the first in South America. Grapes may be used, but at 43% Pisco can hardly be called wine. I don't care how many times Marco, who showed us round, describes the pure Pisco as beautiful, paintstripper is much closer the mark-an impression the tasting did nothing to dispel. Naturally we bought a bottle to share tonight.

Pisco sour (paintstripper, egg white, lemon juice, syrup, bitters and ice) is the national drink of Peru. And Chile. I believe this causes some friction over ownership and whose is better. While the nations may bicker, more interesting is what such a drink says about a country. They're not drinking it to savour a fine beverage, from any pretension or for their health; they're drinking it to get out of their tree. It's brain rot.

So onto Huacachina for lunch and sand fun. This got off to a good start when I got more vegetables in my Arroz con Vegetales than I'd seen in the previous few days put together. Feeling a little stuffed, I headed off to the dune buggy. This is a 9 seater roll cage with some large engine on it: it closely resembles the vehicle driven by the mole in DangerMouse.

Some lunatic slams you round the dunes for a bit, then you sandboard a bit, then back to the loony and repeat. To quote old mother Lonely Planet "Dune-buggy drivers are notoriously unsafe, so go at your own risk."

Not for the first time I heard Laura screaming 'we're all going to die'-this time it had a greater ring of truth and was accompanied by plenty of regular screaming. We hurtled down some very steep dunes and got thrown around a lot. Spud protection was a popular pursuit for the gentlemen: the safety harness consisted of 3 straps-one over each shoulder and the third between your legs. I had hoped to board like a snowboard and although the boards looked right, our driver made us go down face first, lying on our stomachs. When the second group arrived they stood on their boards, but it was apparent the velcro bindings weren't up to it. Good laugh all the same, some fair speed, a pair of broken shades, a flip flop swallowed by the desert, but no chance of an action shot

As there were straps to hold onto, I didn't flip as in Kiwiland-still covered in sand tho. After we paid came the tray of complimentary Pisco Sours. Strong ones. And not that I'm competitive, but on the last run-the steepest, the longest, the biggest-I did go the furthest. While bleeding on the board. Rad dude.

On the way to the Ballestas yesterday I wonder if the candelabra would hint at Nazca

and in a way it did. The Nazca lines make no sense; or more accurately no one around today can explain them-they can only theorise. Maybe they're astronomical, or to do with the calendar, maybe they're just fun, maybe they're the work of aliens or students. Basically they are hundreds of lines over 500 km2, forming scores of geometrical patterns and dozens of animals/creatures. And they can only be seen properly from the air, despite substantially predating air travel. Which is weird. Oh and they were only discovered by accident in the 30s.

Or in summary, a huge amount of effort went into creating something for no understandable reason. We needed 3 Cessnas as they sat 5 each; Lorna, Laura, Is, Ian and I were in the last one up, so watched the others take off.

Laura sat up front and there were two rows of two seats behind so we all had a window seat. We put our headphones on and it was very cosy.
Initially it was all very pleasant and reminded I'd thought about learning to fly. It was about 10 mins to the lines, but the views over the mountains were lovely (I was looking out the window and breaking all my rules of flying). I thought it was like being a puppet on string-we wobbled a little from time to time, but it mostly felt like noisy floating. At the lines it all changed: so the people on one side got a good view, pilot tilted the plane so the wings were off horizontal. So the other guys got a good view, a sharp turn was needed. It felt like we were banking with the wings vertical. One time all I could see was mountain. I'm sure pilot knew what he was doing, but his passenger death stared him when he went hands free. Not long after the biggest (i.e. Scariest) turn, the plane dropped. Lorna grabbed at my arm, Laura lost her headphones, I'm not sure what happened to Ian and Is behind us, but I think we all breathed in hard. It probably wasn't a big drop, but it seemed fortunate to me that this didn't happen when we were turning. It was still quite alarming and I was grateful the weather conditions were essentially benign. Prior to the drop Laura and I had been exchanging worried/fearful glances during the hairier moments; afterwards the turning round stopped and she couldn't speak when we first got off the plane. There's the distinct possibility that the pilot used to drive sand buggies. In the usual way the misfortune of another helped us feel better: Rich threw up on his flight.

Anyway, it was very impressive, even if they didn't look quite as big as expected. The combination of the noise, headphones and a slight state of confusion meant I'm not too sure which Nazca line is which. I'll have to match them up in the future, but I got a few good pics.

And if there's something worth seeing, I'd do the small plane thing again.

I skipped the mausolem-the idea of more mummies didn't inspire me. As this was the only other sight of note, it was lunch and then a wander round. Lunch was a little strange, they wouldn't make me a sandwich, but I managed to buy a salad, plus cheese and bread. So I made my own. Brett and Chris ate half a chicken. Each.

In town I pounced upon the 7 soles (£1.15) Power Rangers Monopoly set. We'd been looking for monopoly for while as the money makes for easy to transport poker chips. It's possible it may have been an unofficial set: the board was made of thick paper, we had one dice, 4 coloured playing pieces, the property cards were smaller than cigarette cards and printed on one side. Oh and the money was photocopied onto coloured paper: we had to cut it up from sheets of 12 notes and each colour had two different denominations. Still, we managed a game.

A bit of gloom came over me as the night bus approached and I was told off for my poor mental attitude and dozing on the pavement while we waited for the bus. Despite my lack of optimism, I pretty much slept. It was another very nice bus and although you don't get full value for your sleep, it was a massive result for me.

The bus pulled into Arequipa, Peru's second biggest city. The feel of Arequipa is totally different to Lima and more like a good size town. I liked it as it's a walking town and full of attractive colonial buildings. We have one night here, then 2 in the Colca canyon and then we're back in Arequipa before heading to Cusco.

We visited the 2 main sights today. The Museo Santury is home to Juanita. Juanita was found a decade ago at the top of a volcano above 6,000m. She was 12-14 years old and had been sacrificed by the Incas to appease the volcano Gods. She'd been preserved in ice before tumbling free after an eruption. Eventually 3 more children's bodies were found lower down and scientists have concluded all 4 were sacrificed at the same time-soon after an eruption.

The Museo is based around Juanita and you get to see her tiny body, stored at minus 20. The museo was very well done, even tho I found it a struggle staying awake through the 30 min video, but I struggled with some of what was said. Some of the video re-enactment and conclusions lacked a bit of academic discipline for me. I couldn't see what facts supported the statement that Juanita went peacefully and joyfully to her death.

I felt there were 2 ways of looking at Juanita's end. She was fed little so that she would sleep more easily when drinking a preparation before a precision blow ended her life. Alternatively she was starved, marched up a freezing volcano, drugged and her skull was caved in. The Museo was on the former line-even claiming that in a way the Museo and our visit fulfilled the promises to Juanita that she would live on with the Gods after her earthly death.

I think my total lack of religious conviction is something of a problem in getting the human side of Peru and South America in general. Human sacrifices, at least initially, came from noble families. This was an honour. Try and imagine the strength of conviction that requires. Despite the corruption, child abuse, the near obsession with homosexuality (families still regularly ostracise gay children) and hypocrisy, the slightly odd, cult like version of Catholicism maintains a strong hold. I simply cannot forgive that Church's position on contraception in an overpopulated and Aids ravaged world. The African and South American churches would be better off listening to Desmond Tutu than Benedict. With due deference to my Catholic readers, that's my opinion. I understand the Church's grip is loosening on the younger generation: the 'do as I say, not as I do' practices may have taken their toll.

The other main sight? The Monasteria Santa Catalina. Arequipa really does provide a microcosm of the leading recent beliefs. There wasn't a great deal to really see, it was more a maze of rooms and streets, but it was quite attractive and nice to wander through. It would have been good to get some more history on the number of nuns at peak (about 30 of all ages remain today) and why they were so totally cut off from the outside world. Were the temptations so great? If you can't trust a nun? Although Laura reminded us one stole our taxi last week.

There was quite a lot of this kind thing.

Each nun's cell had some kind of shrine/altar and a kitchen. The view from the roof was my favourite.

We set off from Arequipa for the Colca canyon: like Fish River in Namibia this is making some claim to the second biggest canyon in the world. I think Fish River may have been 2nd for length, Colca going for depth-something over 3,500m. As well as a big fissure in the earth, the Colca river sees the source of the 6,792km Amazon-the world's longest river.

We made a few scenic stops on the way crossing a 4900m high point. Our guide Daniel, who looks like a guerrilla friend of Rambo, pointed out numerous volcanoes and their elevations. Still, I'm not convinced all these volcanoes (Peru has 402) are as high as I'm being told.

We had a quick afternoon walk to get a view over the valley. The hills have been widely terraced for farming and apparently this pre-dates the Incas by about 500 years.

Feeling a little weary (I think my sleep deficit is now into weeks rather than days), I settled into a hammock to gaze over the valley and watch the swooping eagles. By 5.15, even with hat and gloves, it was too cold to stay outside.

When you get up at 5.45 to see Condors, you want to see Condors. We did.

They seemed to come in waves; we got an early glimpse and then waited, wondering if we'd had our chance for photos. Then one appeared. Clearly conditions were favourable, for almost as fast as we could count there were six gliding, rising and turning. Wingspans reach 3m and their aerial swooping is very reminiscent of the Albatross (to whom I believe they are related). We looked down on them for some time as they circled repeatedly. Slowly they got higher, until one swept right over our heads, barely out of reach. The canyon edge was rammed with tourists, but the birds transported me out of the throng.

Condors-another for the magic moment list. We hiked along the canyon for a while with more condor moments and safe photo opportunities.

This really is a harsh environment: the ozone hole has brought skin cancer, the weather varies viciously, volcanoes rumble and erupt and towns are levelled by earthquakes-the piles of sand around Nazca were homes 10 years ago and one of the towns on the way to the canyon was reduced to rubble in 95.

When we got back to the hotel, Manchez the alpaca came to lunch, which meant teetering down 2 flights of stairs to the delight of the massed eaters.

Manchez back in the wild.

Lunch was another marvellous buffet, full of veggie goodies. There was no need for a big plate as there was loads of food. Best of all, the meat had been banished to the outside as it was being barbecued. Afterwards we had a quick wander round town and then hiked to the hot springs. After a look round some pretty run of the mill markets, the town trip was rescued by the discovery of the 1 soles surprise bin. We all tucked in on the condition that you had to wear what you got: pleasingly the rules were flexible enough for me to swap my earrings with Lorna. Tho it still left me wearing more dodgy jewellery. Having walked to the hot springs I realised that I was hot and didn´t fancy it; anyway, I´m not sure I could look at myself in the mirror again if I went to two hot springs in one lifetime.

On the way back to Arequipa, we stopped at the road's high point. Ian said it was likely to be the highest point he ever stood on the planet and at 4,910m that's far from unreasonable. However, it was odd to be at such altitude and still see mountains and the peaks of so many volcanoes above us. There was no sense of being at a summit-the vistas were on our level and above. The terrain was very barren, brown and rocky. The scenery had been changed and made interesting by a very human intervention. Wish piles of stones and rocks were everywhere (and hard to photograph).

Yes, I found a stone and made a wish. No, I'm not telling you what it was.


  • condors are basically massive vultures aren't they? (bald head, live off carrion... that kind of thing). Are they really related to the albatross?

    Anyway. They're very cool birds, and desperately rare now too. They mate for life, so every death (and hacienda owners still like to kill them, thinking they will take their cattle) is a big deal.

    You heard that some f*cker has deliberately poisoned the female in a mating pair of Golden Eagles. Why would you want to do that?


    All sounds very cool, although I reckon that only vampires stack stones like that. Wish stones my arse.


    By Blogger swisslet, at 11:28 PM  

  • oh, and incidentally, been very busy. More detailed email to follow.


    By Blogger swisslet, at 11:29 PM  

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