ciento volando

travel, stories, and other flights of fancy


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PERU & BOLIVIA

To: People on the old mailing list
Subject: Peru and Bolovia (but mostly Peru)
From: jean

Hola a todos! I hope you are all well :-)
I´m currently in La Paz, killing time, the tour’s over and I fly to Rio tomorrow morning! Goodbye altitude, hello sunny beaches!!

so…the tour…

PERU

  • won me over in the end! I had high expectations after beautiful Ecuador, and wasn´t immediately taken with the dry and desolate north west, but as we moved further south into the highlands it became more and more STUNNING.
  • despite being so dry and desolate (which i suppose is the point of being a desert), the deserts were quite spectacular. they looked like the scenery from star wars minus jawas
  • the food was not exactly decadent, but often quirky! any type of stuffed pastie/empanada/mystery roadside treat would be sure to contain 1 black olive and 1 bit of boiled egg
  • my favourite meal was “Choclo”, giant white corn on the cob, with kernels three times the size of our inferior yellow corn!
  • most of the buildings are unfinished, missing stories and have huge wire spikes sticking out of the rooves (roofs? looks funny). this is because 1. the people run out of money 2. they leave room to build a second story for the next generation to live upstairs, and 3. if a building is technically still in construction, they only pay 10 % of the taxes. Apparently there is a building in central Lima which has been ¨in construction¨ since the 17th century!
  • the ¨Peruvian hairless¨ dog is the ugliest creature Ihave ever seen
  • it was Fidel  Castro day when we were in Cuzco, and they were all marching around shouting ¨down with the Yankees¨. The Spanish accent makes it sound like ¨junkies¨, so i was confused (but glad to be neither american nor junkie)
  • being on The Gringo Trail, people were out to scam us wherever we went, trying to get in photos and then charge us for it (but i can spot the iPod headphones under ¨traditional dress¨a mile off!)
  • the locals aren’t crazy, but they are often foaming at the mouth! it took me a while to figure it was the bi-carb soda they use to masticate coca leaves.
  • we learned all about the coca culture, had coca leaf tea every morning in every hostel, and visited the Cuzco Coca Shop where they put coca to a thousand legitmate uses, and gave us a spiel along the lines of hemp vs marajuana. (though given the energetic, rattled brilliance of the guy giving the very emotive spiel, i´m guessing the parrallels aren´t really there…)
  • what else. we went in a little aeroplane over the Nazca lines, had some beach time, saw in-progress archealogical digs of a pre-Inca canniballistic culture, went to the catacombes under the San Francisco monastery, drank Pisco in Pisco and went to the distillery, i got lots of mosquito bites (i can only wear 80% DEET for so long mum), saw more colonial churches, went to the Colca Canyon (saw a Condor in flight and was awe-struck), saw some snow and walked around in it a bit, went to a big big club with palm trees inside it on NYE, went canoeing, had a homestay and cooked traditional quechua food and wore funny clothes, tried to learn some quechua before the homestay but it was the wrong dialect, went to the floating islands on lake Titicaca, and hiked the Inca Trail

THE INCA TRAIL

was the absolute highlight of the trip. we were blessed with the weather, and even though it was wet season we only had one morning of light rain. the hike was pretty tough, mostly due to altitude and bad ¨physical condition¨ (from sitting on buses eating fried potatoes everyday). but the challenge was well worth it! by the time i got to Machu Picchu (after 4am wakeup) i was so exhausted and deliriously excited it was like wandering into a dream or back in time..

BOLIVIA

  • didn’t get to see as much of it as i had hoped (should probably have read my trip notes a bit closer). we had half and hour in Cochabamba for lunch, and only 2 full days in La Paz. so i´ve been filling in the gaps by reading my lonely planet cover to cover and also ¨Marching Powder¨, a fascinating account of life in San Pedro, Bolivia´s most infamous prison. I now feel qualified to say that Bolivia is an incredible country and you should all go there if you have the chance!
  • Anyway! despite Bolivia being the poorest nation (and probably the most corrupt) in South America, there’s something about the ¨vibe¨ that i love! perhaps its because its so remote – even though our hotels on the main tourist strip in the capital city, its nothing like Peru was, taking photos is frowned upon and not nearly as staged
  • The beer is served icy cold here with frosted glasses (after over a month of luke warm beverages in Peru and Ecuador i nearly cried with happiness)
  • we visited a ¨witches market¨ which was kind of like a Bolivian Diagon Alley, they sold lotions and potions and dehydrated llama foetuses and toads and pornographic pacha mama (earth mother) talismans and antique silverware from the old slave mines at Potosí.
  • there have been heaps of protests, flares, road blocks and crazy propaganda everywhere, against the (until recently) popular president Evo Morales (left leaning ex-coca farmer, very anti USA, ¨coca yes, cocaine no¨). He intends to make the presidential term life-long (does he want to be assasinated?). Theres a referendum on jan 24th, after which the real chaos starts…

oh yeah and THE GROUP

lots of doctors and nurses= HYPOCHONDRIACS!!! everyone kept getting sick and anytime someone so much as sneezed they´d get five different people offering them every kind of anti nausea/anti altitude/ antibiotic/ gastro stop/ wee bag/ sleeping pill they could get their little disinfected hands on! As the over the counter situation has been quite “liberal”, my personal opinion is that over medication was the root of all motion sickness, (just as hyper-sanitation is responsible for such feeble immune systems).
So yes, 36 days was a long time to be in the constant company of 15 strangers, mostly because i was out to enjoy myself but it seems that many of them were not. (if you plan to be in bed before midnight on new years eve- DONT BOTHER GOING OUT!!). there really were alot of whingers which kind of drove me insane, especially if you had to sit next to them on long bus trips and the batteries on their iPods had run out or whatever (look out the window!! there are llamas and mountains everywhere!!!). i honestly dont know why some of them even bothered to go on holidays

but fortunately they weren’t really all that bad, and i hung out mostly with a couple of exhaustingly cheerful and sporty girls from Kiama, and we did our best to overwhelm the others with our grating optimism! and my roommate for most of the trip was a really nice irish chic, who talks more than anyone i have ever met in my life, and who i still can’t figure out. she´s engaged to a peruvian guy she met doing volunteer english teaching, and shes moving to Ghana next year to do more volunteer work as a ¨human rights educator¨, is absolutely determined to live and work in third world countries but is an absolute princess!! wakes up at stupid-o-clock every morning to wash and blow dry her hair, do her make up, curl her eyelashes, and has more luggage than anyone else on the tour. but she made me laugh lots so i wish her all the best!!

OKAY

now i have written probably too many Bolivianos worth of travel notes (trying to use up coins i cant exchange but think i broke the next note dammit!) so goodbye amigos! hasta proxima vez…

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx jean

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ECUADOR

To: People on the old mailing list
Subject: ECUADOR
From: jean

hello everybody!!! its jean and she´s OVERSEAS

i’m writing a group email because its more economical and i am time poor and selfish, and postcards take 2 weeks to arrive and fit about three sentences on them.

I’ll try to be concise but in case you cant be bothered reading the lot, HAPPY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEARS AND BEST WISHES TO EVERYONE

so.
MY TRIP: South America 9th Dec 2008 to 3rd March 2009
FLIGHT IN: Melbourne-Auckland-LA 15hrs-Panama-Quito. survived.
TOUR: (12th Dec to 16th Jan) Ecuador, Peru (including Inca Trail), Bolivia
AND THEN:17th Dec fly La Paz-Lima-Sao Paulo-Rio De Janiero. meet up with Bec D, spend approx 1 week in Rio
AND THEN: Make our way down to Argentina via Iguassu Falls. Our tour was cancelled so make it up
AND THEN: Arrive Buenos Aires early Feb. Spend time there and maybe take a week to go to Chile (Santiago and Valparaiso) and back. Bec D goes home 15th Feb
AND THEN: Chill out in Argentina until hometime
FLIGHT OUT: BA-Panama-LA 21hrs-Auckland-Melbourne!

MY TOUR GROUP is a lovely bunch. Consists of 14 people between 18-30, of which there are 4 doctors, 2 nurses, a med student, a nursing student, a physio student, and a ridiculous amount of first aid paraphanalia. We are therefore currently all in good health!
However we´re at a slight cultural deficit with one (1) music student, and a BIG language barrier. Other than our guide, only two of us speak ANY spanish, and a disappointing few are even attempting to learn the basics. We have four blondes, who are lovely people, but it screams “GRINGAS!!!” wherever we go (which screams alot louder than “Gringos”)
Fortunately everyone gets along and there are no noteable tensions, however i am finding the group dynamics a fascinating social experiment!!! 36 days is a long time, its already day 10-ish and i already feel i´ve been away for ages and have known these people forever.

WHERE AM I NOW?
we arrived in Peru yesterday. I am in Mancora, a desert beachside town which is very touristic. There is a stray cat sleeping above my computer and it is very very noisy and the keyboard is shite.
so mostly i have only seen Ecuador so far.

STUFF ABOUT ECUADOR

  • i already miss it!! it has beaches, mountains, and volcanos, and is mostly very lush and fertile and green
  • there is a lot of crazy fruit (and the most remarkable fruit juices), an abudance of fresh produce and everything is available pretty much all year round cos they don’t really have seasons
  • most meals (even steak) are accompanied by banana, fried or otherwise
  • if your meal is not served with banana, it will almost definitely come with avocado or kidney beans.
  • everyone pays (USD) cash for everything, but the change situation is ridiculous, there simply isn’t enough coin or change and every transaction is a struggle. notes above $20 are unusable and even a $5 bill is enough to make a storekeeper groan and have to run outside to swap money with people on the street.
  • despite the fact there is no change, you can still buy individual pills from the pharmacy or single cigarettes from a pack
  • the people are tiny and i am a giant!!
  • the bootblack trade is thriving- they are everywhere! i guess most people cant afford new shoes, but many have enough cash and pride to indulge in the upkeep of what they have
  • Early in the morning, everyone is out sweeping! inside, outside, shopfronts, the road, and all with really good brooms that seemed much more effective than stupid leaf blowers (that or the people working the brooms actually put in some effort).
  • The indigenous population is proud and healthy, even the very elderly are physically super strong and have jet black hair. The merging of cultures and religions seems to work, and Ecuador is fortunate because the land is so fertile. The indigenous also have a lot of political influence and are much better represented than in many countries.
  • There is still a big divide between rich and poor but apparently its getting better and the current president is a top bloke and not nearly as corrupt as the last bunch (12 in six years or something crazy like that), who were mostly helicoptered out and now live in mansions in the Caribbean…
  • Toilets are generally foul, you often have to pay to go and you can´t flush the toilet paper and it all sits in open bins. but what i find most disgusting is that people sell food inside grotty public toilets ew

WHAT DID I DO IN ECUADOR?
Lots hiking, tubing down a river (got caught in whirlpool capsized bashed toe on rock not fun), went into the amazon, learnt indian cultural stuff like how to make chocolate from cacao and beer from yuca, long bike ride up down many hills on very dodgy bike, bungee jump swing thing over river, swam in waterfall, sat in thermal springs, lots time on bus, ate weird food, drank cheap cocktails, learnt salsa, went to many markets (animal one was crazy), saw lots of churches and colonial buildings etc.

i think that is all for the time being.

lots of love

jean