Archives for the month of: July, 2008

First published 28th July 2008 on

Well it’s been a funny few days, and much like my time in Peru I’ve been mainly Norma No Mates, as my sister’s had some urgent work to go and do (I suspect I may have outstayed my welcome as spending 5 weeks in another country speaking a different language seems to have made me more autistic than usual). I’ve gotten ferries to 2 other islands and explored Road Town (Tortola’s main town – it has a road and a traffic island (which is pointed out on the tourist info map!) and the Governers house and “Craft Village” (which seems to mainly be selling items made in India, although I did buy a nice brooch from the pensioners collective shop (all proceeds go to the pensioner who made the item) made out of – fish scales!

View from Governor's House, Road Town

The boat to Virgin Gorda was fun, fast and very choppy – with most passengers quickly moving to the middle of the top deck to avoid being splashed by massive waves. Once there the place is pretty desolate with only the harbour in Spanish Town having many people about. I decided to walk to Little Dix Bay for some unknown reason) and after crossing some dry and desolate terrain strewn with cactuses and probably bufallo skulls, found a lush resort which I figured must be far too exclusive for the likes of me.

Getting away from it all on Virgin Gouda.


Nonetheless I checked out the lovely beach and had a swim – stopping short of joining the queue for the buffet at the restaurant. Heading back for a slightly bleaker walk I was chuffed to get a lift from a lovely lady called Nelly who worked at the resort and seemed impossibly cheerful and friendly. I made my way to a restaurant the book had described as having a “large selection of Carribean food”. However the restaurant had changed it’s name from “Dixies” to “The New Dixies” (always a bad sign) and seemed to offer only fried chicken. That’s not to say there wasn’t a selection! There was fried chicken wings, breast, drumsticks, legs and thighs. I went for thighs rather foolishly(expecting the small affair we get from Tescos in the UK) to be confronted by 2 GIGANTIC chicken thighs coated in delicious and artery clogging batter. After making my way through most of them and providing the locals with amusement I made my way back to the ferry dock, and didn’t have anything else to eat for the rest of the day.

Little Dix Bay. Idyllic and amusingly named.

The following day was spent by myself Cane Garden Bay Beach swimming whilst it rained and burning whilst the sun shone, then yesterday I took the ferry to Jost Van Dyke Island – spotting a massive dolphin curiously eyeing up our boat half way across. This place is totally gorgeous and laid back- my idea of a tropical island.

Great Harbour

The main town “Great Harbour’s” busiest street is a sandy pathway connecting beach bars (and the picket fenced police station) – most of which I had to visit there or on White Bay (a beautiful beach with warm shallow water which I had a lovely swim and float in and coral reefs close to the shore).

Brilliant advertising for a beach restaurant on White Bay

After having many combinations on The Painkiller (the local cocktail) – the best at Ivan’s Stress Free Bar where Ivan recommended St Croix rum (which an old Dutch sailor at the bar claimed was the only Island rum worth drinking) and proceeded to shake half a bottle into the cocktail mix – or the vanilla ones at Foxy’s tamarind bar – the least exciting at The Soggy Dollar where ironically the drink is said to have originated), and watching the world (and a load of crabs) go by – I got the rickety ferry back through a rainstorm (there was a rainbow over Tortola), met Dawn and we had dinner at Quitos in Cane Island Bay watching the sky light up from a tropical storm (apparently only a “Tropical Wave” in the island’s scheme of things – a real storm must be much much worse) which continued all night causing a 7 hour power cut.

Chillin at Ivan's Peace Bar

Woke up to discover the house gecko nearly dead clinging to the curtains. We still have a giant millipede living on the wall out of reach – have we missed some sort of primordial lizard..insect clash of the Titans?

House gecko RIP

First published 24th July 2008 on

As well as the sign for “Free Bottom” I’ve also spotted one for “Little Dick”. Have to take some photos as my one chance of getting published (via Viz). Life goes slowly on the British Virgin Islands – which is almost stressful if you find it as hard to relax as I do, but slowly I’m learning to cope with long balmy days on the beach and swimming in crystal clear waters.

Only way to drink pina colada (which can get awkward in the UK)

Apart from today when we had a great boat trip out to the neighbouring islands (and some sea caves teeming with gorgeous multicoloured fish) when at one point returning to the boat it promptly took off, and I promptly had an “Open Water” style panick attack and got someone to chuck me a float until the boat came back (it was only turning round, but when you’re about to get on and suddenly it’s 100 feet further away and still receding into the distance, and you’re left alone in deep water, it can be a tad disconcerting. I decided to check on the diving from the top of Willie T’s (a moored boat with a bar on – although given my luck it would probably have sailed off or sank had I jumped) preferring to watch the huge barracuda and jellyfish from less intimate quarters. The rest of the day involved meeting Dawn’s nice work colleagues who came on the boat and scoffing lots of “Johnny Cakes” (very very tasty despite the name) home made by Keisha. Plus a few obligatory pina coladas. Just to be a sad case I’m now about to start catching up on all the Dr Who I’ve missed whilst away, despite me forcing Dawn to give me ALL the spoilers a few nights ago.

Collecting salt on Salt Island, a boat trip stop off.

We had a great walk up Sage Mountain (a national park – which seems to be home to millions of lizards) the other day, followed by a pub quiz at The Tamarind Club – where we was robbed (ok we came joint second by 2 points, if only I could have gotten Finland’s flag right. Pah!). Then the best Chinese meal I’ve had (great place to like prawns here!) overlooking Fat Hogs Bay appropriately enough, where we got to watch a greedy pelican diving for fish while we scoffed our respective dinners. Looking forward to going to Virgin Gouda, which is another island, tomorrow. More soon, too chilled to write.

Lizard reading sign on Sage Mountain

First published 23rd July 2008 on

Well here I am half way up a mountain on the British Virgin Islands. Apparently there’s a homestead nearby called “Free Bottom”. Wahey! This is total relaxation. Some may say too much relaxation. Thankfully my half sis Dawn doesn’t get telly here as I was watching way too much shit on US telly. I did enjoy a news item entitled “autism outrage” in which a shock jock called Michael Savage had come out with this charming reflection on autistic kids “They’re just brats who haven’t been told to stop the act”. Well done on your 15 minutes of shame Mr Savage. US news makes the film “Anchorman” look like a documentary. The Christian Bale mom beating saga got way too much over attention and analysis. Kind of ironic that the most anti American act (September 11th) fit perfectly into the US TV news formula of looking cinematic and lending itself to hours of “analysis” from “experts”.

I had to forgive the hotel staff at the Hadden House in Miami for being so shit about the useless internet connection – a dollar for 5 minutes of page loading and no actual internet – when I checked out the pool – a gorgeous marble art deco affair with fountains spraying out at one end – it made me feel like Esther Williams – and more importantly like I was finally “on holiday”. Even went for a dip at 7.30am on my last day – that’s how much I enjoyed it!

Art Deco Pool - I've come over all Esther Williams

On my last full day in Miami I managed to suss out the buses to downtown and the Seaquarium so I could do the mega tourist animal exploitation bit. Right after I’d completely touristed out and stopped at “Bubba Gumps Shrimp House” in the cool of a huge banyan tree next to the bayside mall.

Bubba Gumps. Life is just a bowl of spicy shrimps.

Only in the states could they name a restuarant and dedicate it to a fictional retard. However the “shrimpin dippin broth” (shrimps – which here are fucking massive prawns – take note UK – in hot creole broth with french bread rice and coleslaw – mmmm) and key lime pie (I had to do the whole Florida thing) were bloody lovely. the American food thing still stumps me – it’s like all the meals are developed by sulky children with ADHD (“Mom! I want a sandwich” “Ok honey what do you want?” “I want er ham and er chicken and er avocado and er mayo and er salsa and er salad and er cheese and er sweet potato and er jello” “OK darling coming right up!” “And I wan fries and potato salad and coleslaw and garlic bread and and and” “Anything you want sweety pie”). How do people in the US have fucking TREATS when their whims are so consistently catered to? And more importantly how do people in Miami stay thin enough to walk around in bikinis and pants all day everywhere. Is there a liposuction pipeline from Florida to Texas?

Miami Seaquarium is obviously the poor relative of Orlando’s seaworld but it was still fun to go around and see the manatees (big whiskery barrage balloons that float around all day munching on the constant stream of grub bobbing on the surface of their pool – apparently ancient sailors mistook these behemoths for mermaids – presumably after they’d become jaded from bumming everything else animate or not that they could find). The exploitative animal shows had a nice air of cheesy desperation (“Hey salty the seal, can you help the sea rangers find who took our conch shell and replaced it with their non-biodegradable trash?” “Ark ark!” etc.). Lolita the killer whale was hugely impressive, as were the performing dolphins (who rich tourists could pay extra to rape after the show), but whilst seeing these amazing animals up close was awe inspiring it just made you sad to see them repeat endless programmed tricks for our entertainment.

Free me!

After getting the bus back to downtown I got a scary taxi (Taxi takes off, Haitian driver says “So… you wanted a taxi did you” and laughs disconcertingly. Turns out he was just joking. Er phew!) back to the hotel for yet another swim and bath.

The next day I braved the indignity of yet another search at Miami International airport (I must look like a terrorist – it’s the bra that does it), before flying through the edge of Hurrican Dolly to San Juan on Puerto Rico (the passengers clapped when we landed – (including the rude yank twats who sat in front of me playing with their mobiles throughout the flight (if we’d crashed due to this I’d have wanted to kill them before I died) – mongs!) and getting a very cute old fashioned propellor plane that dive bombed itself into Tortola airport – where I discovered that someone had searched my checked in luggage (without putting a sticker saying as much on it) and helpfully left all the pockets and zips wide open. Never mind – I have 2 weeks of relaxing and drinking rum in paradise – although given my half sis says that drink-drugging is pretty rife here perhaps I’ll just stick to the relaxing. Wish me luck!

First published 18th July 2008 on

My final day in Cusco involved a heated political discussion about the global food shortage with a posey French photographer and his Peruvian boyfriend in a cute little courtyard bar in Cusco, culminating with us all suspecting Fidel Castro of murdering Che Guevara, followed by a massive plate of Seca de Cordero (a lamb stew) at Pacha Papa’s accompanied by a rather sneakily intoxicating corn beer (I guess the locals drink it so it must be good stuff!). Then had a bit of a rough time that night but Teresa rather sweetly came out to the little park opposite the house and had a ciggy with me whilst we put the world to rights. In different languages probably.

After emotional Mi Casa Ti Casa, Mi familia tu familia style farewells at the Ochoa house, to both the family and Lisa, it was off to Cusco airport to get frisked because my bra set off the metal detectors (perhaps International Terrorists should have big tits – those metal support bits can do a bit of damage!), and fly to Lima. I finally got a cab that wasn’t run by an evil taxi tout, but the trip to the hotel quickly began to resemble a car chase from a James Bond film – from police blocks, to the driver trying short cuts only for the road to be blocked by a Catholic school band, to running into an all on carnival with people in national dress and military bands! It took an hour to get to the hotel, but the room was very nice, even if the restaurant promised was “cerrado” and the shuttle service to the airport cost 8 dollars more than the in-room literature promised. I guess the world changes so quickly. I went to buy a new pressie for Paul’s mum, having given her Peruvian pot (ceramic) to the Ochoas, stuffed with dollars to make it a bit more appealing. Also picked up some cigars for Paul and ended up mistakenly buying myself a shit load more cigarettes (the woman asked if I wanted a “carton”, I thought “si” was the correct response, I was wrong! But it only cost about 50p a pack to make the mistake, so I guess I’ll just be unhealthy for a bit longer. Back at the hotel, having had lunch and purloined a few cervesas to drink at the table outside my room, I was regaled by the uncanny sound of Peruvian tunes being played on flute, and male voices. When the door opposite opened and a bloke looked out I complimented him on the musica, and ended up being invited to join him and an old chap who he called Maestro (who was a flute expert from the region). This bloke, Ricardo, turned out to be a Jack of many trades, with a sideline in archaelogical obsession (he had found evidence of a patriarchal warrier society who lived near Nazca and made lots of models of themselves out of shells (which Ricardo had hundreds of photos of, strewn all over his room), often showing them holding a specific type of flute made from human bone (an example of which Ricardo had actually been playing). He planned to set up an ‘installation’ near to the Nazca lines. Actually it was all completely scrambled, but wonderfully interesting and mad. After a long conversation, during which more beers were ordered and the Maestro left, Ricardo unveiled more treasures from his suitcase including an allegedly gold Inca mask which he planned to sell to an American in Lima, and a spear with a condor on the end (which started to get me slightly worried, as by this time the room door seemed to have miraculously closed). Ricardo then showed me loads of his albums, recording of his music, and tried to show me a film he had been making about the Incas, which didn’t load on his laptop. He gave me three albums and a Quechuan phrasebook (he was Spanish, Quechuan and Jewish apparently), and I apologised for the fact I had nothing to give in return, and then of course it came “You could just get naked and come to bed with me”. I made my faithful excuses and left, but before I went he made me take the CDs anyhow. The next morning I heard the flute playing from when I woke up until when my taxi came.

The flights from Lima to San Salvador and from then to Miami, were pretty uneventful apart from the most ridiculously crap in flight movie on one (“Ghost Rider”) and flying through a hurricane on the other. After frustrating hours queueing to get through immigration (Welcome to America!) I finally got to the hotel, which is a very cute Art Deco little number. Have strolled all round South Beach today, and find the states still quite bizarre – odder than Peru in many ways (perhaps it’s the similarities which make the differences so weird). Ended up sitting outside at a tapas bar (the tapas here are bigger than roast dinners back home) sipping mojito whilst watching (and listening) to people learning to dance Tango to lovely old style music inside (it looked like a tropical conservatory inside, not out of place as it’s 80 odd degrees now and it’s 11pm), and it struck me how cinematic the states is. Not least as I was the one poking my nose against the window, rather than dancing with the beautiful people inside. (I appear to have been hit with the ugly stick since I landed in Miami. At least people will know I’m English).

First published 16th July 2008 on

This blog appears to have become a bit of a wanker spot (the irony being that I’m probably the biggest wanker), so here’s a few more things that have annoyed me over the last few days.

Smug travelling couple. He’s wearing canvas trousers cut to mid calf, a friendship band, the beginnings of a ridiculously coy goatee and a permanently slightly disgusted expression on his face unless he’s ostentatiously snuggling up to her in a manner that says “Look at me world! I’m a seasoned traveller and I’m NOT a virgin”. She looks like a starving anorexic, with straggly blonde hair and something that exposes her midriff, with lots of different ethnic rings on her fingers and maybe a braid. She looks half mongoloid from food deprivation, and either sounds ludicrously confident ordering people around or has a whiny baby voice that she uses to get him to deal with any awkward foreigners or situations. I hate these cunts because they’re usually smug patronising boring bellends when you are forced to converse with them “Oh you haven’t been to visit the nose flute playing tribe of limbless windowlickers in the Amazonian rainforest. Well we stayed in one of their huts built out of shit and caiman vomit and they were so welcoming and it was really like spiritual” and they’re doubly as selfish as they would have been as individuals. What is it about some people that when they get into a relationship they not only forget about other people’s personal space but usually the existence of other people. These people are inevitably the bastards who will twat you with their rucksack without so much as an acknowledgement. Someone’s nicked your seat? It’ll be a smug couple! What’s worse is they’re usually much richer and better looking than you so they’ll get away with whatever abhorrent antisocial behaviour they get up to. They generally have no real respect for the people of the country they’re in. If you’re travelling alone in Morocco and have covered up your head and arms and still get shit from some of the older blokes (bitter experience here), it will be the smug couple swanning around in fucking THONGS and no fecker says a word.

Anyhow, I managed to get the bus to Puno, and arrived there about 4am, plenty of time to freeze my tits off and then witness one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve seen – over the vast, shimmering Lake Titicaca – from the dingy inauspicious confines of Puno bus station, in between avoiding touts and nutters. Apparently Lake Titicaca is actually pronounced (to avoid causing offence) “Lake Titty haha” which means “Puma stone”. So that’s alright and not snigger worthy at all then. Shame there’s no dusty titi monkeys there.

Sunrise over Titicaca and already I've been sold a tour ticket.

Managed to book a tour to the Uros floating islands at the bus station (down to bossy Theresa’s advice, really I should have booked a full day tour to Uros and Tiquane island – although given the way the tour went that would have been a whole day of people trying to relieve me of my cash for nothing. The tour was due to start at 8.40am but at about 7am (after I’d been wandering around amusing myself like Tom Hanks but in a poundstretcher version of “The Terminal”) the bloke who’d sold me the ticket chased me round the bus station shouting Miss until I turned round, and insisted I took a cab to the office in town with this other bloke. I was all “¿porque?” thinking it’s pretty weird to take a cab with an absolute stranger in a strange town, but I took it anyhow, thinking that selling boat tours was a pretty bad cover for serial killers. In their office a woman was breastfeeding a very cute baby whilst another bloke pretended to be complimenting the baby. I was given a tiny map of Puno and told to come back in 40 minutes. Went to the Plaza de Armas (where some sort of military cadet parade seemed to be getting set up) and saw the Cathedral, but was moved on by some wanker in a shiny uniform – along with everyone else sitting on benches in the plaza, I wasn’t mistaken for a vagrant I swear – whilst having a ciggie (For various reasons I couldn’t go into here I have dismally FAILED to quit smoking here – besides its 3 soles (about 50p) for a packet of tabs.) Back at the tour office I was eventually herded onto a bus with some fellow travellers – couple of smug couples and a few up their own arse single male travellers- whoopeee!) and taken to the port where we were put onto a boat that looked like the Orca in Jaws after the placcie shark had finished with it- we weren’t allowed to sit on the top of the boat because the chap who ran the boat (incidentally also our guide) said he would be fined – although it would be ok to sit on top once out of Puno Harbour. Hmmm. Our guide Carlos (the Jackel!) had shades and a goatee superglued to his face and was the SPITTING image of Bill Hick’s character in “Ninja Bachelor Party” . He gave us some spiel about the people on the islands whilst the boat bobbed up and down in the harbour (which helpfully took about 40 minutes off our actual tour time). The Uros islands were built out of reeds layered on top of each other and have been there for centuries since the Uros indians fled the Incas to live there. Since then the Uros people were taken over by the Aymara people and speak their language now. The islands are home to about 10 families each and amusingly if a family has a fall out they just cut the island in two – like in Steptoe and Son but more drastic! After cutting through reed beds scaring moorhens and Titicaca grebes out of the way, our boat arrived at the island near to a watchtower inscribed with the message Kami sarani, which is the Aymaran way of greeting someone. Sadly there didn’t seen to be a Wakiri (welcome) back – the guys there seemed pissed off there were so many tourists crammed on the boat (22- the tour salesman had said there would be a maximum of 15). Eventually we were waved through and moored first at an Island where locals specially dressed up greeted us from the boat (not sure if they were wearing fat suits but everyone was enormous which was disconcerting as the islands tend to bob up and down, and the reeds sink slightly but not unpleasantly beneath your feet.)

Welcome to our fortified floating island.

They already had stalls set out with loads of the same sort of tut you can buy at any market in Peru (but at 10 times the price), and whilst Carlos the Jackel explained that they had given us reeds as gifts to eat but as last time he came some tourists got sick he and the boat driver would eat the reeds for us (there were about 2 reeds there), they flapped around embroidered tea towels showing their traditional way of life. It’s a shame everything was so overpriced, and once (after climbing down from the watchtower looking naive) I’d been immediately ripped off by a fat kid with a plaintive face selling “hand made” postcards for 10 soles, that I soon discovered were being sold on all the stalls (I asked fatty in Spanish if he’d painted them too – he looked embarrassed), I kind of lost any enthusiasm for shopping – although I bought some other postcards for 1 sol each, and the bloke then promptly tried to overcharge me by 10 soles for stamps – even though I guess the people there were only trying to get us to share what they thought was our traditional way of life (having cash to throw away on useless, meaningless crap- hmmmm”). After the shopping we were ORDERED by Carlos onto a reed boat (these looked really gorgeous and ornate from a distance, shaped like dragons and suchlike) which ‘r inspection was an inflatable covered in reeds. Carlos then sped off in the “power” boat, waving happily at us. Fatty came along to sing about 20 songs in different languages and a thin reed-like (ironically) voice, whilst his enormo-mum rowed the boat. Once we were in the middle of the lake between islands, the boat stopped so Fatty could demand cash from us for the “entertainment” (because he needed the cash for schooling – despite looking about as childlike as Gary Coleman in “Different Strokes”) and his mum could demand 10 soles each for the boat trip (which apparently Carlos had mentioned once in Spanish, well before telling us all to get on the boat as it would take us to the next island – which were I come from does not constitute hiring a boat for a trip). I paid both (to be fair they needed the cash for pies), mainly as I had a 10sol note I’d accidentally ripped and fixed with tape (people are really strict about cash here), but a ruddy faced Swedish bloke and the two blondde babes he was with refused to pay. When Fatty’s mum lumbered down the boat to shake her belly at them and shout – the girls capitulated but the bloke was like Bjorn Borg the Ice King, which I think may have caused a little bit of bad feeling, as immediately we landed on the other island Carlos was there telling us “I said you would have to pay”. Actually he’d misrepresented the whole thing, but bollocks to it, a boat trip for a few quid, no matter how bollocks the boat is, isn’t the end of the world (It’s the LIES I can’t stand! Joke!).

Seconds after this picture, she pulverised a Swede.

Guess what was on the next Island? An even bigger market!!! And a couple of cafes which might have been cool had we more than 20 minutes there. At the third island we visited, Carlos promised us “a surprise. The biggest bird ever. You will see!” At this rate I expected a chicken in drag, but it actually turned out to be a huge baby condor.

A condor moment

Allegedly it had fell from the nest and been abandoned by it’s mom, and it seemed to love the guy handling it – it was very sweetly rubbing it’s head against him and making small squeaky noises – completely at odds with it’s flashing eyes and huge beak and claws. I donated a sol to the alleged look after the condor fund and was allowed to stroke it’s huge head. It felt like a baldy bloke and despite the fact it was a semi-tame baby and the whole situation felt a bit exploitative,it was very awe inspiring. Probably my only chance to see a condor close up in Peru too (sure I saw one on the way to Maccu Piccu, and I’m sticking to that), as I didn’t get to visit the Colca Canyon – which some smug couple is bound to tell me is the ONLY experience worth having in Peru!). Then we were whisked back to Puno via another port about 2 miles away from town (which we all got a bit freaked out about by this point – half expecting Carlos to have a brother who ran a taxi company). From the boat it appeared scarily that the islands were burning down – perhaps the traditional cooking method one of the women there was demonstrating was abandoned for a good reason. Carlos led us to a bus back to town from the port, telling us pointedly to walk slowly -right as we were passing some sort of port security blokes.

Got dropped off at the Plaza de Armas again and found a really sweet courtyard cafe with an incredibly inattentive hostess for a coffee, before having a nice meal of “local” trout in cream and white wine (it was rather yummy). Then meandered around Puno, eventually ending up back at the Port as they have a touristy market there and I fancied a shop. This was the friendliest place in Puno, which seems a lot more retiscent than Cusco (the Plaza de Armas is just the cathedral and municipal buildings, no concession to turistas). In some ways that’s good, as perhaps the local identity isn’t diluted, but given how run down the place is, despite such a gorgeous location (Puno has a waterfall monument a lot like Cusco’s but poorly maintained, crumbling and graffittied), perhaps they could do with more tourist money – and Cusco has managed to keep the balance relatively sympathetic to locals. It’s a toughy.

Anyhow Puno on the whole is a lot less open and smily than Cusco, but at the port market the women were charming. Yes they were trying to sell me things, but they were also sharing jokes, and weren’t too bothered when I didn’t want to buy things. So of course I came away with a new rug (hopefully for the new flat when I get back), jacket and scarf! Hey big spender.

Strolled along the shore of the lake, watching strange long beaked birds poke about in the mud, until the sun started to set, then I headed to the bus station to wait for the bus.

Sun starts to set over Titicaca

Had a few hours to kill, so wrote my postcards, drank hot chocolate, shivered in the cold (Puno bus station is so cold they put the temperature up in Farenheit to avoid freaking people out – it was 21 degrees, and definitely not centipede), got a little stressed about the lack of any other information besides temperature, went on the internet and possibly sent some slightly stressed out emails – who can tell, spent 5 minutes trying to flush someone elses floating poo down the toilet so nobody would think it came from me, was unsuccessful, asked the women playing backgammon at the bus company stand what puerta to go to (each puerta was a door leading to about 6 different rampas where the bus could possibly be), went where I was told and thankfully found – a whole load of stressed people both tourists and locals waiting for the bus which hadn’t shown up. Finally it arrived and I got on. Behind me two yank girls had discovered they’d booked seats that weren’t next to each other so one would have to sit on me. They moaned and whined until a single bloke traveller took the offending seat. He turned out to have been on the bus tour, not that he said that much to me, he was far too seasoned a traveller for such nonsense. It was a beautiful full moon, so after counting the number of stray dogs on the streets of Puno from the bus (17 compared to Cusco’s paltry 10 the previous night – I thought it would help me get to sleep!), I flitted in and out of nearly sleeping and looking at the gorgeous craggy and bleak Andes. Got back to Cusco about 3.30am and despite being knackered was on form, getting a cab straight back and even chatting with the cabby! And not waking anyone up on the way back in. Phew!

So today’s my ultimate day in Cusco, and I’m really going to miss the place. Typical just when you start getting into something good, it’s over!

First published 13th July 2008 on

Well it’s been an up and down few days. Anyhow at least going to the jungle perked me up a tad. Flew to Puerto Maldonado on Sunday morning – which was an experience in itself. ‘There was some rough turbulence (mainly going through clouds over the rainforest) and a few moments where the plane suddenly seemed to drop, quite a long way. Put it this way it was the first plane I’ve been on where some of the passengers were screaming. No it wasn’t me. And yes, they were American women. You yanks get so excited about everything including potential imminent death. As soon as I stepped onto the tarmac at the airstrip I was soaked with, well ladies don’t sweat they glow, but I was glowing like a pig!

From there we were transported to the jungle tour company office where I met Gabriel my local guide (nickname Tarzan apparently, although I bet all the guides say that), and my surrogate family for a few days (seeing as they were sharing the same guide) a merry Dutch clan – with jolly dad Dick (who looked a bit like a Dutch Peter Buckley Hill and was instantly very friendly), mum Anneka and “kids” Nikita and Elmer.


We then got on a motor canoe to the edge of the Tambopata reserve, with lunch of egg fried rice wrapped in a banana leaf en route, from whence it was a 2 mile walk to our canoe and a trip round the lake spotting various beasts (and me realising I had the shittest camera on this tour) including a few caimans (one white one black, but they apparently stick to different parts of the lake – cést la vie) with red glowing eyes, and a gang of monkeys (squirrel monkeys, red howler monkeys and brown cappuchin monkeys – see monkeys can resolve their differences) who were all busy harrassing the rather clumsy hoaxin birds (which the Dutch family rather cutely and bizarrely nicknamed “the flying chickens”).

My jungle room.

We were greeted by Millie the gracious hostess at the rather lovely Sandoval Lodge, and immediately introduced to the fact they had a bar and a shop. Ah well. After a hearty dinner, me and the Dick family were guided through all the undergrowth around the lodge shining our torches in the dark at massive tarantulas, chicken spiders (so called cos they eat chickens!), stick insects and the like. I was surprised to find a nest of 4 inch baby tarantulas incredibly cute and endearing, the way they flailed around towards the torch light with all 8 of their red eyes gleaming angrily. Awww. We even managed to see our 4th monkey of the day, a night monkey, hanging round conveniently near to the lodge (if it wasn’t jumping around I’d have suspected it was nailed to the tree.

Confused baby tarantulas. Cute! Now where's mommy?

After managing to suss out my mosquito net and having my first genuinely hot shower for weeks (yay) I was up again at 5am for an excursion via catamaran on the lake to spot animals. Sadly this time we were paired up with 4 noisy bastard yanks (sorry yanks but it’s true), who didn’t seem to get the concept that yakking loudly was liable to scare animals away. One in particular was exruciatingly loud, with a face like a retarded cabbage patch doll crossed with Beaker from the muppets to boot. She was one of those people who ticked birds and animals off in a book, if it was rare took a picture with a hugely pricy and very very noisy camera (it played a tune when turned on and off), and then seemed to have no further interest. She had even married a bloke who’s surname was Bird because she was so obsessed with filling her “6 inch notebooks” that she had back home with details of what she had ticked off. Yes you guessed it, she annoyed me. I started off being nice to her (she had the potential to be quite a sweet person when she wasn’t being self important) but when she started pushing me out of the way to get a view of things (including animals I had spotted) I lost my patience and managed to wind her up a few times in retaliation (don’t think she liked me asking if she was a bit like a trainspotter). Regardless of the noisy bellowing yank fucks, we still managed to see the giant otters and their babies frolicking in the shallows and scaring off caimans (giant otters are the daddies of the lake and EAT caimans).

There are otters in there somewhere, but the new camera wasn't up to the challenge.

Later (after breakfast) Dick family and I had a talk from Gabriel on medicinal jungle plants and a trip into the primary and secondary forest to see a load of scarlet macaws (big, beautiful and with squawks that sound like something out of jurassic park) and a thought provoking insight into the Brazil Nut trade. Basically Brazil nut trees are BIG BIG bastards, about 150 foot or more, and the people can’t climb them to get the nuts, they have to wait around in rainy season for them to drop.Even then the nuts are clustered perfectly within an extremely hard shell that looks like a squat coconut with grooves in it. The locals gather up shit loads of these shells and take them to the town where they’re flogged to the nut companies for about 5 soles for 20 kilos of nuts. Which is sod all basically. The local women often get work getting the nuts out of the pods, which is no mean feat (it took Gabriel about 6 blows of his machete to open the pod and then open nuts for us to try (I got one too after family Dick had “ooh yahed” their way through 3 each) – although considering Gabriel nearly left his machete behind, I have a feeling it may have been for show). We left the rest of the brazil nut for the agouti we saw (although I think Anneka wanted to eat it all!), and felt a tad sobered by the way in which local people get ripped off – after all Brazil nuts are pricy in the UK – so where’s the money going’.hmmm” 

After lunch and catching some extremely burny rays of sun, whilst watching hummingbirds, butterflies and lizards do their thang (and a slight walk into the jungle, until I realised I’d gone rather a long way and was absolutely alone, and got a bit heeby jeebied by the silence of the forest (apart from all the animal noises!) – it was back onto the catamaran and the return of the noisy yanks. Alongside Mrs Bird was a prematurely aging Jewish mother from Florida and her sullen teenage daughter. Jewish Mother seemed to spend all her time drawling loudly  “Did you see it Sarah? Did you get a picture?” to her daughter, who spent most of her time either whining at her mom or at the guide “I think I saw something” or messing around with her hugely expensive camera. We saw some weaver birds and their bollock like nests, plus (yay!) a sloth in the tops of some trees from the lake, and I could have watched him first deciding whether to move and then moving his little head around for ages, but the Jewish daughter was bored and so was Mrs Bird because the pattern and coloration on the sloths back didn’t match with the one in her huge and all important big book of every animal in the fucking world that she kept waving about.

We climbed up to the top of a tall and extremely wobbly tower to get a nice view of the lake at sunset and almost disturb some sleeping bats and a tarantula, and the long climb up the windy steps managed to shut the yanks up for a merciful few minutes, but they were back booming away in time for caiman watch – where we shone our torches from the boat to spot caimans eyes. Again every time one was sighted Mrs Bird and sulky Jewish daughter just SHOVED me aside to get their view and photo opportunity. It transpired at lunch that I was to wait for the guides to finish their trips the next day and then get my transport back to the airport, but I managed to blag an early morning walk. With the Americans (aside from Mr Bird who had a bad leg and would have to be carted to the boat). I tried to engage in small talk whilst paying my bar bill and had just bought a postcard with a picture of a sloth with markings exactly like the one we saw that afternoon. As I went to pass it to Mrs Bird she SNATCHED it out of my hand, nearly ripping it. Even her hubby had to say “don’t snatch”. I figured that my mosquito repellent was 100 percent deet so hopefully would fend off Mrs Bird on our trek. As it happens I’m so glad I went. We got to see loads of macaws (blue and yellow), parrots and parakeets (which I spotted in a tree but of course was soon pushed out of the way so the people with the proper equipment could get in front), a gorgeous white throated toucan (yes I looked in the big book of all the fucking animals ever), vultures, some dusky titi monkeys (what a GREAT name!), two brown cappuchin monkeys hanging from their toes (?) eating fruit from a palm and best of all a troop of tamarind monkeys just leaping through the trees over our heads (so much better and more alive than in the zoo). I still got pushed aside but somehow it didn’t matter. Especially as at the airport Mrs Bird pushed right to the front of the queue and was sent back. The look on her face was priceless!

Off to Lake Titicaca tonight on a whim. And a bus. What am I like??!!

First published 12th July 2008 on

Just a quick update to say I LOVE San Pedro market in Cusco. It’s got all the smells and sounds of a traditional market, with a bit extra, so if you want to see a small child eating chicken whilst a dog scrounges leftovers next to a butcher who’s beheading something that might be a chicken near to a stall containing all 3000 types of potatoes, whilst listening to a solemn Peruvian marching song then go there. Plus I got a lovely Peruvian style skirt there from a friendly woman operating an ancient Singer sewing machine for only 20 soles. Also Anouk the nice Dutch girl has been dumped by her fickle Peruvian amour because he said she was leaving soon. She has two more weeks in Cusco so perhaps the decent thing would have been to last two more weeks and then have a fake tearful farewell ah well. He also recommended San Pedro market, saying to Anouk, “If you haven’t eaten breakfast there, you haven’t lived”. What a line! She went for her breakfast with him the morning after – and promptly caught food poisoning, but I still think he had a point.

San Pedro Market - for all your potato needs and more

First published 11th July 2008 on

Before I left the UK, my fiance’s lovely mum gave me a small crystal angel to keep me company. A sweet gesture which I repaid by forgetting the damn thing. I justified it to myself by saying it’s looking after my house – and haven’t told her the dreadful truth. Anyhow all of this has had an ironic ending as on my last day at Nuestro Senora de Fatima school, Shirley the lovely primary school teacher presented me with a gift. A huge, gaudy ceramic angel (see previous blog). With massive wings. It’s been the source of much hilarity from Lisa, although she finishes at the school this week so I’m betting she’ll get an even bigger angel. I was a bit wary of how to squeeze it into my bag to get home – it’s fecking enormous! I decided to give it to Juan and Teresa as they’re good Catholics with no sense of decor, but discovered in time that Shirley has written a lovely thank you message to me on the bottom. So it looks like the huge angel will be flying home with me.

Yesterday evening Lisa and I met Roxanna and we went to a different cinema (Mama Africas on the Plaza de Armas). In the interest of fairness we watched Apocalypto as it had to have both English and Spanish subtitles. It was bloody great (although Lisa and Roxanna were hiding behind their hands at the gorier bits). “Muy emotianante” as they say, um in Spanish. I’ve paid Juan for the rest of the week’s accomodation as my voluntary placement has officially ended. And he very sweetly hasnt charged me for my time away in the jungle – so I gave him a few dollars more and it’s all hunky dory. We have another volunteer who’s finished staying with us, Dory, a sweet American who’s just spent a month in a Lima orphanage catching nits. We’ve been showing her the sights this morning and meeting for lunch later. Beth the Welsh volunteer apparently is still a bit dicky so is only working mornings with Lisa next week. that’s unless the school is closed cos I infected all the kids with my lurgy this past week. Still coughing and sneezing – but then again so is most of Cusco!

Off to the jungle tomorrow. Woot woot! etc.


First published 9th July 2008 on

Ironic that I’ve spent most of my time away giving people remedies be it for cold, headache or the squits and now I seem to have developed all three from my lurgy. Lovely! Last few days have felt like crap. Hasn’t helped that I’ve had no proper contact from home despite dropping major hints – which only resulted in rather unhelpful texts “You’ll be better soon” etc (do you text Jimmy Hill “Keep your chin up” and advise Lesley Ash to “keep a stiff upper lip”?). Sometimes you need the telephone equivalent of a hug to perk you up. It transpired that my other half had accidentally thrown out my Peruvian number. Way to make me feel special. Managed to make it to the cinema – a charming little place on Procaduras run by a very friendly Danish lady who makes cakes and drinks to accompany the free film. The cinema is a choice idea – the room would fit about 25-30, although Lisa and I had it to ourselves – and there are blankets and duvets on the benches in case you get cold. I had a lovely Irish coffee whilst we watched “The Motorcycle Diaries” – which was ace – especially cool to see Cusco in it (even though the first bit meant to be Cusco – with the water running down the street – was definitely Ollyantaytambo – I am a location geek!). There are tones of DVDs to choose from and the film is projected onto the white wall. basically the films start at 1pm, 4pm or 7pm and it looks like first come, first choice of film. Definitely going to try to get back there. There’s even a cute Siamese kitten – which was playing with a sweet on the floor as we left. I would have taken a photo but my camera is playing up. Apparently it’s a common problem, having googled it – known as “the white screen of death”. I can take photos through the viewfinder but its sod all use as the screen wont show what you have taken. online advise ranged from pressing various buttons to beating crap out of the camera, but not much seemed to work. I even managed to open it up (bought a screwdriver using my Spanish skillz at the local market, and amazingly it was the right size!), and the screen seems cracked – which is a bit poo as I don’t recall dropping the camera. Guess I’ll have to buy a new one rather than mope about it.

I managed two classes today, despite only 3 hours sleep last night, before my stomach called me home (believe me using the loo at the new school would have presented a health risk to typhoid Mary). But not before I was presented with a GIANT china model of the Angel Gabriel (I think!). Going to have to hide it and present it to Juan and Teresa when I leave – they will LOVE it!

It's now on my mantlepiece, with slightly clipped in transit wings.

Ron and Carole left for Arequipa today so no more Guatemala watch, although Beth the teenie Welsh girl (who still isn’t volunteering die to her bad stomach but is doing Spanish lessons and meeting her cousin regularly for grub in Cusco – despite having “no money – until the end of the week”) is starting to become a replacement with her constant references to “When I was in New Zealand/Auckland” followed by some comment about how X in New Zealand/Auckland is much better than X anywhere else (usually an X you’ve just casually mentioned). Better start placing our bets.

First posted 8th July 2008 on

Well it all seems to be going off in Peru – not that many people would notice. Firstly I managed to avoid the earthquake near Arequipa yesterday morning. Given our earthquake survival tips given on our induction day in Lima (“Stand under the door frame – or is that DON’T stand under the doorframe I forget, my English is not so good”) this is a good thing.

Also the whole of Peru is on strike today. Apart it seems from this internet cafe and the post (got a letter from my fiance that only took 12 days!) and the bloke who cycles through the streets with a cart full of fruit and a loadhailer shouting “Papaya”. Yesterday the Avenida del Sol was clogged up by an irate looking crowd, so Lisa and I decided to stop at the Inka Hut cafe, and get served pisco sour and chocolate by the lovely Luis who works there. Fortuitously Roxanna, the daughter of the couple who run our guesthouse passed by, so we got her a drink and she managed to explain (and me just about understand the Spanish) the reasons for that particular “meeting”, which was farmers from a province outside Cusco who were being bullied into selling their land cheap to the government. Incidentally their land is rich in minerals. Hmmmm – sounds like an episode of the Lone Ranger. Roxanna’s also invited us to the cinema tomorrow. If today’s strike isn’t still going on that is, as every day off seems to last 3 or 4 days here.

It’s a shame that we had Monday and today off school, as in the new school there are so many kids we only get to see each class once a week, which makes checking on progress pretty tough. Also the kids are so worked up that they can’t get down to working after all the disruptions. Yesterday’s year 5 primary class started promisingly as they remembered all the new verbs and phrases that the game we played last week introduced, but once we started a speaking exercise they all started chatting or rioting again. The little kids in first year primary were a little better, with the “One two three four five, once I saw a fish alive” song proving a hit, although 10 green bottles was probably a bit too complex for them at the end. I gave one of the teachers a picturial English dictionary and she was ludicrously grateful. Maybe she can use it to throw at unruly kids.

Lisa and I have been suffering from lurgy since being coughed on all the way home from Ollyantaytambo, so today Carole turned witch doctor and had us SNORTING warm salty water. Sounds disgusting but it really does clear you out. Mind you a nice dram of whisky would be nicer. Kill or cure. Also Beth the new volunteer girl hasn’t started volunteering yet cos she has a sore tum. The Wuss, a sore tum is one of the joys of travel!!! Mind you we have all of a sudden been contacted by the volunteer co-ordinator to check how we are (considering she hasn’t contacted Lisa at all since she started and spoke to me and Carole just before we left for Cusco, this is quite a coup!).

Feeling too grotty even for a Guatemala count, although slightly buoyed by the discovery of a cafe in town that does ACE curries (indonesian, thai or vietnamese style) and spicy soups AND has a Trivial Pursuits game there. Had fun coming back from a near certain trouncing by Lisa there yesterday due to a run of specifically UK based questions. Ha!