Archives for the month of: June, 2008

First published 29th June 2008 on

My first day at the new school was interesting as there was a mass protest in Wancheq the local area where the school is (which is a pretty deprived area). This involved locals blockading the roads with rocks and trees (although they moved the rocks out of the way when a police car approached , and then replaced them after it passed), throwing rocks and marching down the road with large bits of wood (ooer). When we went for our break, the procession stroke riot was heading our way, accompanied by riot police, so we promptly changed direction. All the shops were closed and the shutters down, and the local taxi drivers burned their tyres in protest, although amusingly enough I spotted a riot policeman arriving late by, you guessed it, taxi!

Today was less eventful, but I got loads of exercise acting out present continuous verbs (my “flying a kite” was a tour de force!) and doing the heads, shoulders, knees toes song ad infinitum with energetic 7 year olds.

There’s yet more people squeezed into our guest house, and the middle bed from Lisa and my room has disappeared. We tried to convince Juan that this could be our own private party area, and got him to join us in a mini boogie, but he soon shuffled off, giggling in his high pitched Bela Lugosi stylee.

The other day saw excitement as fireworks were being let off in the Plaza de Armas, about a mile away, so I rushed to the very top storey of the guesthouse, hoping the occupants of the top room wouldn’t mind me and Lisa oohing and ahhing over the fireworks. When they’d finished about 30 minutes later, the entire Juan  family trooped out of the top room, where they’d also rushed up to see what was going on. Nice to know it’s not just me who hasn’t grown up.

Booked a trip to the jungle in Madre de Dios today – from the 13th to 16th July. It involves seeing giant otters, so needless to say I’m beside myself with excitement!

First published 27th June 2008 on

Yesterday morning Lisa and I rose at the frankly insane hour of 5am to get the bus to Ollyantaytambo and from thence the train to Macchu Piccu pueblo (Once called Aguas Calientes as it was famous enough in its own right for its hot springs, until the tourist board suddenly noticed a huge ancient inca citadel on a mountain behind the town).

The bus rose through the early morning clouds of Cusco, past makeshift houses made from adobe mud bricks and huge families of feral dogs (judging by the three types of dogs you get in Cusco (big black and lairy, sandy coloured and lairy, small and fluffy and lairy) there’s three dogs in Cusco that are just fucking anything vaguely canine) and into the back of beyond on the way to the sacred valley, with the views of snowy topped mountains getting more and more beguiling. Ollyantaytambo looks like a lovely town, almost alpine. You’d expect Heidi to be skipping down the streets if it wasn’t for the constant convoy of buses dragging tourists to the quaint train station there.

Ollyantaytambo Station: "Oh the Inca TRAIL... I thought you said the Inca TRAIN!"


The trip to Macchu Piccu pueblo was wonderful, possibly because it was about half as fast as the bus. Opposite us a spoilt looking American teenage princess sulked behind enormous shades as her embarrassed mum tried to chat to a Quechuan guide. I don’t think the kid cracked a smile all journey – rather sad when you consider the kids I taught were chuffed beyond belief to get half a cake each from me on Thursday. The train drew to its destination, and somehow, despite all the conflicting information we were given at Cusco, we managed to find the right bus and then our guide, a charming Quechuan lady called Ana Cecilia, who kept apologising for our English, despite the back it was heaps better than our Spanish and light years ahead of our Quechuan. All I can say about Macchu Piccu is – believe the hype – and go there yourself if you can. It is absolutely stunning and confounds all expectations.

Classic Macchu Piccu pose with Ana Cecilia our Quechuan guide

After a fantastic 2 hour tour in which we learned loads of interesting things including the Quechuan word for “duality” (jananta?), we got to stroll around, and despite the fact it’s a tourist destination, you get loads of space to explore and see things (including the friendly lizards and strange rabbity creatures (“bitsicas” in Quechuan I think) and the badass llamas), and got whistled at for trying to eat one of our empanadas (courtesy of our very smily local baker) by a guard in a funny hat.

All in all it was fantastic, and we sort of got home in one piece too, after a mad Canadian lady giving us a huge sales spiel on some cure all fruit juice from the Phillipines she’s marketing which apparently cures everything from gum disease to tumours (she gave us free samples – they tasted weird and probably had crack in them), some crazy bus seats being nicked shenanigans and having to follow round the bloke from the bus company (Bus Lucy) as he grabbed our tickets and buggered off.

After a relaxing mojito and my first taste of guinea pig (a wing?) – it tastes a bit like chicken of course, we crashed for the night. My only gripe was that Teresa (the lady of the guest house) had pressganged us into letting her book the trip for us saying it would be cheaper than anywhere else, but when we saw the tickets for everything about 40 US dollars was unaccounted for – I know everyone is trying to get by – but I guess it would have been nice to have been told of her markup beforehand (and perhaps for her to not have made such a fuss about my dollars having a slight crease in them when I was having a rough night), but it’s probably best just to chalk it down to experience, not say anything and forget it – after all I have 2 more weeks staying in her guesthouse – and she’s welcome to the cash – especially after such an amazing experience. So it’s forgotten! If I go again – after all I have to take Mr Hazel  (missing him loads at the mo) – I’d book it all myself and stay in Ollyantaytambo, and wake at 6am to go herding goats (or eating them for breakfast – not sure which).

Lazy day today, buying pressies for people and watching Spain beat Germany. Was disappointed that we were the only English people supporting Spain in the bar, but it made the result even sweeter. If Spain can break a 44 year curse, then maybe next world cup”. Nah I’m not even going there!

Starting at the tough school tomorrow. Wish me luck.

First published 26th June 2008 on

Well it’s been a full few weeks in Cucso, with almost every day including some sort of mentalistic fiesta. My kind of town then.

Flying into Cusco airport is like a brown trouser version of an (entertaining) Indiana Jones film, as the plane suddenly loses height and the wing scrapes the odd mountain, whilst the couple next to you ever so subtley grip each others hands, trying to disguise the fact that they’re shitting themselves with a loving gesture, and you uncharitably wish your other half was with you so you didn’t have to die alone, until you notice the stewardesses are still nonchalently strolling around and this is all apparantly normal procedure.

Some of the many mountains around Cusco.

I was met after a refreshingly hassle free trip through the airport, by the kindly señor Ochoa and his wife Teresa. Mr Ochoa is a Peruvian version of Bela Lugosi, with a 70 year old twinkle in his eye and a high pitched schoolboy laugh. Mrs Ochoa is a warm but no nonsense woman with gypsy good looks for her age. Despite the fact they’re both devout Catholics I bet they were right go-ers in their day. As opposed to the Lima lodgings, the Ochoas are lovely, and despite our mutual lack of each others language it’s hugs and kisses from word go, and they whisk me off to their guest house, fill me full of coca mate and insist that I rest in case I get soroche (altitude sickness, a real risk as Cusco is 3,500m above sea level – although to the annoyance of some of the other volunteers all I’ve had is a slight tingling in my ankles for a few minutes on my third day). The guest house is basic and sweet, right next to an internet cafe (yay!) and a phone that occasionally steals my money (boo!). I’m sharing a room with a chirpy Aussie teacher called Lisa, who’s working in a different school.

Lisa and I with the lovely Ochoa family.

The first day at my school is an eye opener, as no-one really seems to know what is happening with Carole my fellow volunteer and I at first. We end up trailing after the head of English who knows hardly any English, preferring to teach my native tongue by screaming at the kids in Spanish, turning her back on them to scrawl vast tracts of verbs on the board which they struggle to copy, or just leaving the room entirely whilst the kids run riot. It doesn’t seem to bother her when some kids don’t bring their study book, and she just leaves them to their own devices at the back of the room. The study books correspond with a cd, and this school actually has a cd player, but talk about a waste of resources as the teacher just randomly flicks through the cd to find the songs (these are her classroom “filler”) whilst the kids fail to keep up. It’s utter chaos. I try to make myself useful by inventing a few games (scissors papers stone and one involving kids acting out verbs whilst the class guess what they’re doing prove winners – as does the distribution of stickers as prizes (well bribes), and going round checking the kids’ homework and helping them with their English, but the teacher constantly interrupts any of Carole and myselfs agreed activities. It calms down a bit after a few days, and the kids themselves are fantastic, bright and funny (especially the naughty ones – you couldn’t possibly be mad at them – they’re just bored). I help with different teachers of the secondary grades and it seems the shit end of the stick has been enthusiastically passed to Bianca, the new student teacher who’s been given the largest, roughest class (25 kids of basic ability aged from 11 to 17 – with a hardcore of too kool for skool tough acting 17 year olds at the back, ensuring that none of the students get the chance to pay attention to the class). I end up acting as a short scouse bodyguard and confiscate about 20 paper aeroplanes and other missiles by pretending I think they’re presents for me (“Que bonita!!! Gracias!”). I try to ask the head of English if I can help Bianca more often, but she rather unsympathetically agrees that Bianca has a “big, naughty class”, but wants me to help in the advanced group (9 pupils) whilst Carole stays with her senior group (6 pupils). Hmmmmm.

In the meantime I discover Lisa my roomie is being left alone in classes of 40 kids at the poorer school – so contact the voluntary organisation, who’d said in advance that I could change projects if it seemed appropriate, and they agree that it would be better for me to help with Lisa, as Carole would be left in classes of only 15 kids maximum. Last night I had a minor heart attack when Mrs Ochoa, who’s on the board of Poor School, stated that the director wanted me to take the senior classes there by myself (hmmmm!), but we managed to reiterate that only by working together could we effectively teach anything to such large classes. So after two weeks I had an emotional last day bidding goodbye to the kids at the smaller school (loads of them made me really cute little cards and we all brought in cakes and had a little party – awwww!). Lord knows what I’m letting myself in for!

Year 5 kids at Khipu School say goodbye whilst demonstrating how much taller than me they are.

From 17th to 24th June was Inti Raymi week in Cusco, 2 weeks of partying and dancing for all ages (all the kids from Cusco school got up in national dress and did lost of dancing which seemed to involve beating each other with lethal looking weapons (whips and tridents ffs!) – which was actually very sweet).

Kids armed with sticks in order to perform traditional dance.

It culminated with Inca festivals on the site of the old sun temple, in the main square (which I watched with Lisa and a nice Dutch girl called Anouk who is working with tragically gorgeous street kids in the villages outside of Cusco) where we got a nice view of this year’s Inca lord high poobar (he even waved!). Apparently to be an Inca at Inti raymi you have to train for two years and then fast and speak nothing but Quechuan (native indian) for a week. It looks pretty cool though!

Lord high pooh-bar of the Incas.

Finally they all troop up hill (of course) to the Inca ruins which I can’t spell, but are pronounced Sexy woman (if you say it like Sach Distel would). Lisa and I made it all the way up to the foot of the ruins to watch women in traditional dress leading their alpacas uphill, but loads of people who’d purchased tourist tickets were being sent back after being told they had to pay 100 US dollars to get in (some disgruntled Peruvians told us this – nice to see the traditional Inca fest is being kept real. So we stayed in a cafe with stunning views of the city and some very rough and ready food (chiccarones – belly pork and huge sweetcorn) which wonderfully failed to give us the shits, and listened to the the drumming and conch shell blasts from above, before watching the actual ceremony on telly at The Muse cafe in San Blas (with me unconvinced by the very theatrical and gory llama sacrifice, and Lisa horrified) before trooping back home down avenida del sol, past the hoards of makeshift foodstalls (blankets piled high with sugar cane or empanadas, women serving murky looking corn drinks from buckets, people frying chicken and potatoes over camp stoves, blokes with microphones constantly advertising the wares on their trolleys as they pushed uphill – my favourite selling line being “Chocolates! Triangular chocolates!”) on the pavement near Qorinkancha.

Ron, Carole’s friend from Chicago, had come specially for Inti Raymi, but having denouced our cafe as too touristy and not a good enough vantage point, he promptly missed the whole thing. The one opportunity he had to take a photo with his big posh camera was scuppered when a father held his child in the air to see better, right in front of Ron’s lens the moment he went CLICK. I didn’t laugh, it would have been mean. Ron is a seasoned traveller, living by his bible, the lonely planet. He’s already bought a poncho for 200 dollars, but wouldn’t pay a sol to get a taxi up hill. Lisa and I have taken to betting the number of times he will say “When I was in Guatemala” in any given time span. The winner is bought a pisco sour (yum) by the loser. I keep winning, with my crowning glory being TEN times when we went to the very beautiful Pisac (a market town about an hour by rickety bus from Cusco).

Pisac Market.

Even today there was a party in the main square with drums and trumpets. It could have just been someone’s birthday. Yet also there were people calling for locals to sign a petition to ask the local government to share the money made from the tourist “boledo” (a 70 sol ticket that annoyingly you HAVE to buy to get into certain sites – even though they’d surely make more money allowing people to pay on the door too). Then to illustrate the differentials in living here as I walked back a young boy did cartwheels in front of cars stopped at the lights on the dirty and treacherous road then rushed tortuously between the cars to beg for coins. I think he must have gotten a few centimos for every time he risked his life.

Tomorrow I’m doing the tourist bit and going to Macchu Piccu. Apparently the kids there race the bus down the mountain to beg for coins. Don’t reckon I’ll begrudge a few sol, although I think I’ll find it nastier to watch than the llama sacrifice.

Food watch:

So far I have eaten alpaca three times, but haven’t gone for the guinea pig yet.

Originally published 19th June 2008 on

After some pleading and the closest I could get to puppy dog eyes for about half an hour to the somewhat aloof customer services woman at Lima airport, she reluctantly agreed to announce that she had a lost child over the tannoy. Immediately to my relief I was met by Eduardo, a jolly moustachioed taxi driver, holding a tiny placard with the name of my voluntary agency on and asking how I’d missed it. He launched us into the genuinely insane and extremely smoggy Lima traffic, where it’s every car for themself and a case of beep loudly and steer first – consult dental records later. We took the scenic route along the Pacific on a tortuously steep and twisty road, where Eduardo helpfully pointed out sites of recent road accidents. Eventually I was dropped off at the place I was staying at Miraflores, but being knacked meant my Spanish was even worse than usual, so my landlady for the next few days didn’t warm to me. She was a pretty posh Peruvian lady and the place was lovely – but I ended up getting on better with Wilma her lovely maid, who I watched the football and learnt some interesting colloquialisms with. I did brave the smog the next day to take a taxi to Lima town centre with my hostess’s son, a sports journalist, who was excited about the forthcoming 1-1 draw with dirty cheating Columbia. Despite a soupsong of culture shock I enjoyed mosying around and saw my first ever hummingbird in the Parque Muralles (a park with ancient walls – you’d think they’d build some new ones) – although when I learned the Spanish name for hummingbird and excitedly told my hostess when I returned, she was singularly unimpressed.

Lima's Parque Murales through the smog

I really started getting homesick when I woke up in the morning to find the bedroom door I’d shut at night wide open and some of my things moved around. Fortunately that day I got to meet my fellow volunteers at Miraflores tennis club and met the lovely Lima based co-ordinator who regailed us with stories of rabies and date rape (not at the same time – and she mainly aimed the date rape stories at the younger volunteers – pah!). We enjoyed a slap up Peruvian feast (Ceviche, steak (lomo) stir fry, about ten of the 3,000 plus types of potato that my taxi driver Eduardo was so rightfully proud of y muchos muchos mas, although not much was left after Adam the young Scottish bloke volunteering to work with special needs children in a different town and myself had had 3rd helpings to avoid shamefully wasting anything. I also had my first of many Pisco sours. If you’ve never had one – order one now – it’s a thing of beauty, and gets you trolleyed!

Weirdly after our project briefings, where I met Carole, an Aussie lady in her 60s who would be teaching with me, the female volunteers were then taken off and abandoned in one of Miraflores’s umpteen Inca markets, until we got marketed out and did a runner. Back at the not so happy hacienda, my hostess was having a boozey party and dragged me out to entertain her mates with my rubbish Spanish (actually they were really nice, just very very posh), until I fled to the kitchen to chat with my mate the maid. I’d even bought my hostess a card and some choccies to share with everyone – including Wilma – but it seems I got that wrong too – and mein hostess whisked off the chocs to her own private quarters.

With a sense of relief and the briefest of farewells the next day, I set forth for Cusco.

First published17th June 2008 on

Hi there

Whilst I wait for my blimming photos to upload I….d better fill you in on where been and just why (dammit) I….ve chosen to miss the glory of Big Brother this year (I saw the opening night and I liked Mohammed the be-affroed toy demonstrator most).

On June 9th after a bargain night (hmmm sarcasm doesn..t work on Peruvian computers) at the “Premier” travelinn, Gatwick, I bid farewell to my beloved and with a huge sense of “what the fuck am I doing” set forth to New York. Upon my arrival, the place appeared to be in meltdown – with temperatures of over 100 degrees in English C. Sadly everyone remained calm and I didn….t hear any taxi drivers shouting “are you some kinda wiseguy” at each other. However I did discover that staying near to JFK, whilst it might seem sensible, is the act of a mong – as it….s fecking miles out. Undeterred I went to Manhatten on the Jamaica line (confusing?) the very afternoon I arrived, and loved the Staten Island ferry – not just because it….s free – but cos the views (complete with dragonflies buzzing around the boat) are gorgeous.

View from Staten Island Ferry (the dots are dragonflies)

I also discovered that the subway is less scary than mental. On my first trip back to the hotel, a lay preacher guy stomped up and down our carriage telling us we were all sinners and homosexuals and that he made loads of money and didn….t even need to be there, whilst everyone rolled their eyes (and I tried not to smirk). Suddenly the cloth shopping trolley of the guy opposite me started moving and it emerged that a small wiry haired terrier dog was hiding within when it poked its head out, took an instant dislike to the preacherman and snarled at him before trying to attack him, whilst being half heartedly restrained by it….s owner. I….m glad to say I wasn….t the only person who could now no longer hold in the smirk, and the preacher man hopped off after two stops worth of near terrier death.

The next night I met an old acquaintance (finally – after realising that their directions were 10 years out of date) over the water at a place called Hunters Point and found a great little bar with a very civilised beer garden where we sat in a thunder storm and got soaked watching lightning strike the empire state building. My mate was due to give me a lift home but cos I didn..t offer him a blowie he dumped me into a taxi and I eventually got back to the “Comfort” Inn.

Next day I found that it is unpleasant to negotiate JFK airport with a hangover – but also discovered the restorative qualities of the chicken noodle soup from Au Bon Pain and the Corned Beef Reuben sandwich (praise be!) from the Brooklyn deli outlet. In fact I was to become a connoiseur of airports over the next few days, with Miami scoring high for a civilised smoking area, but low on information and comfy places to “sleep” for 7 hours. Bogota “International” airport scored low on any facilities, but high on me not being taken out in a gangland killing during my stay there.

Finally I arrived at Lima where I was due to be met by a representative from the volunteer group I….m working with in Cusco. Scanning the array of eagerly scrawled taxi drivers.. placards at Arrivals, I couldn..t see any signs resembling the one I….d been asked to look out for, and my heart sank. I tried the number left by the volunteers representative to no avail, so decided to take some maverick action, and approached the airport customer information desk with a sense of trepidation.