Portugal and The Internet Cafe

Things may have seemed a bit quiet around here lately - that's because I spent last week in the Algarve in southern Portugal. My sister is working in a hotel there as head nanny, I think she's spent 8 days of 2009 in the UK so this is about the only way to get to visit her, a beach holiday!

Despite the holiday I still had a lot on my to-do list so I took my netbook with me, and got my sister to show me the local internet cafe - it was a great place and worthy of mention, so thanks very much to Hugo Beaty in Praia Da Luz for a stable connection and good coffee :) It was good enough to work from, I almost wished I'd gone for longer and not taken holiday (I telecommute, nobody would notice!)

If anyone is interested, there are a few photos in a flickr set of the trip.

Peru: Lima

Here goes the final entry about my Peruvian travels. You might also like to read about the time spent in the rainforest, in and around Cusco, at Machu Picchu , en route to Puno on the Andean Explorer and around Puno itself.

We started and ended our trip in Lima, with a few days either side. We were visiting a friend in Peru and Cally has an apartment in Miraflores - a suburb of Lima. Actually her apartment is excellent, its vast and in a cool place with a balcony and a view of the park. Having this as a base was a real treat. I didn't take many apartment photos, but take it from me, its lovely.

Cally's Balcony

We were able to get a few days out combined with a few days lying around while we were in Lima (it was supposed to be a holiday, after all!). One of the days, we went for a walk down to the cliffs over the sea, where there was a nice path with a cool wall.

Lima Wall

We also went to the zoo one of the days, and spent another in the centre of the city itself, seeing the squares, cathedral, museums and so on.

Macaw

Lima Cathedral

Lima is a desert, and as such it is very dusty and hot - almost too hot to sleep at night (it was high summer when we were there). Also throughout our trip, we were smothered in factor 50 suncream - and I still managed to miss odd bits of my neck and stuff that burned very quickly. We have absolutely no tan to show for our time there, we'd just have burned much too quickly. Beyond the little bits of sunburn, a few insect bites, and an average amount of traveller's stomach upset, I survived this adventure (a big one for a city girl who doesn't travel!) and it was great to catch up with someone we haven't seen in a year. Thanks Cally :)

Peru: Lake Titicaca and Puno

This is an update on part of my trip to Peru. You might also like to read about the time spent in the rainforest, in and around Cusco, at Machu Picchu and en route to Puno on the Andean Explorer. Next we spent a couple of nights in Puno, including a day trip to Lake Titicaca.

Lake Titicaca is pretty amazing - you could believe you were by the sea if you forget that this "sea" is in fact almost 4,000 metres above sea level. In fact its the world's highest navigable lake, formed in the lowest-lying part of the Altiplano between the two sides of the Andes. We started our trip with a visit to Uros, a place which consists entirely of floating islands made of reeds. It sounds surreal and when you go there, it is.

Uros

The islands do float; you can feel the slight movement below your feet. And everything, everything is made of reeds. They peg the islands to the nearest reed bed, and then their houses, boats, and even meals are made of this one kind of reed. We got a short talk about the culture while we were there, and then a chance to ride one of the reed boats to another island. The culture there is pretty isolated, they have primary-age schools and everyone still wears traditional dress. They are well-adapted to tourism though, while on our reed boat ride, the 4 daughters of the family came to the tourists, sang a song in each of about 4 languages, and then sent the littlest daughter round with a hat to collect money :)

After Uros we went to another (normal type) island on Lake Titicaca, called Taquile. Taquile is recognised by UNESCO for its knitting traditions, and indeed the textiles we saw here were pretty amazing (although too traditional for me to want to bring anything back to use in my world). Again we saw the adaptation of the locals to tourism, one family had opened its garden as a restaurant and we went there for our lunch. While we were there they demonstrated their dancing and handicrafts, and allowed us to buy things of course! Here's some of the dancing:

Traditional Taquile Dancing

What I found most interesting about Taquile was their society structure. Now, I don't know much about societies in general, and I haven't travelled a lot - but I've never heard of a place where everything is run on what you are wearing on your head!! In the photo you can see the girls have "mantles" - just like a head covering - whereas the men wear hats. Both mantles and hats tell about a person's social status. A mantle with big, bright pom-poms on the corners belongs to a single woman, but with more demure tassles belongs to a married woman. The men start wearing a hat that is red at the head and white further up as soon as they can knit, and this denotes their can-knit-but-not-married status. Only the men knit on Taquile (this was common around the world), the women spin and weave. The married men wear red and blue striped (and intricately patterned) hats, knitted for them by their wives. And if you see someone in a really crazy flourescent hat with ear flaps ... then stop laughing and take him seriously, because he's the mayor :)

Another thing we learned was that on Taquile, divorce doesn't exist. But the couple can't marry until they have already lived together for 1-2 years, during which time they can change their minds and go back to their families. The hats made me laugh but it does seem like these people have a society that really works.

We climbed up to the main square (habitation on the top of hills seems in fashion in this part of the world) and then down the other side, there were a *lot* of steps!

Steps on Taquile

On the way back to Puno on the boat, a storm blew up on the lake. We had a pretty scary couple of hours with a small boat on very big waves trying to get back in to port - it was pretty clear even without understanding their words that the crew were very concerned as well. I'm usually very seasick but wasn't actually sick this time. The waves were big enough that finally I understood why people tell you to look at the horizon, I don't think I've been in big enough waves until now!

Storm on Lake Titicaca

The next day we had some free time in Puno. We walked down to the market at the port and since we were pretty early (about 9:30am), half the stalls weren't open and the stallholders weren't awake enough to pester us too much. We did quite a bit of shopping here, there were plenty of nice things to choose from. We also found a bus containing information about birds and fish of Lake Titicaca. Since we were with Cally (who teaches Biology), we couldn't give this a miss so we went on. The whole bus was full of stuffed birds and fish which were native to the area, with their Spanish, English and Latin names (how useful!). It was very cool and we discovered that we really had seen flamingoes in the distance the previous day (they looked convincing, but we thought they were African).

We followed this with a frankly horrible lunch (but lovely coffee and cakes somewhere else a bit later) and had a look around Puno itself with some great views of the lake.

Puno Cathedral

We went in the cathedral and I was, once again, taken by surprise by the use of iconography. I know, its a catholic country, I just somehow find it surprising. It was a beautiful building though and set in a nice square. We sat on the steps and fended off the street sellers and watched the world go by - it was a pretty cool afternoon! We then headed off to catch our flight back to Lima.

Peru: Machu Picchu

In my blogging excitement, I somehow managed to write about the rainforest, areas around Cusco and Ollantaytambo and then go straight on to describe our train ride to Puno. In a rather major omission I seem to have missed out a post about visiting Machu Picchu. Since its one of the seven modern wonders of the world, its quite a serious oversight, which I will now fix.

Machu Picchu is a mountain-top city built by the Incas - the people who ran a large South American empire until the Spanish turned up and did it better (and more violently by the look of it). There are two things which immediately struck me as odd. Firstly, this city is very nice but its on the top of a mountain in the middle of a cloud forest ... not exactly well-connected. Secondly, despite all the emphasis on heritage and that the whole thing was lost under forest for a few hundred years and then rediscovered - this isn't actually an ancient site and is in fact only about 550 years old. Which is old, but to a European, not that old.

The day we visited was very wet so although I have approximately the usual selection of photos, some of them are quite eerie, with layers of cloud appearing at funny heights and giving an illusion of the whole city levitating in the mist.

Machu Picchu in the Clouds

Machu Picchu in the cloud

We got absolutely soaked on this trip, and since we'd stayed overnight in Ollantaytambo, quite a lot of our stuff got very wet as well. Happily this means I also have have the tourists-in-rainbow-coloured-ponchos photo again.

Rainbow Ponchos at Machu Picchu

Its an absolutely awe-inspiring sight (did you know "awful" at one time meant "full of awe"?), and although the site is quite large, we did brave the rain and explore pretty much all of it. We had a guided tour and then some free time afterwards and despite the inclement weather it was a stunning place to spend an afternoon. Also, we're British - proper raincoats, sensible shoes, quick-dry trousers and a packed lunch are an essential part of our kit, even if its sunny in the morning!

There are a few more pictures in the flickr set for the day in Machu Picchu if you are interested, I tried but the photos really don't do it justice.

Peru: Andean Explorer

I've already written about my time in Peru - in the rainforest and in and around Cusco. From Cusco we travelled to the city of Puno - by amazing train journey on the Andean Explorer. This trip is more expensive than flying I think but it was a fun experience in itself!

The trains themselves are first-class, 1920s style affairs with armchairs for seats and silver service.

Place Setting on the Train

The train was in a time warp, with organised events (live music, pisco sour distribution (at 10am!), and even a fashion show of wildly expensive knitwear), and silver service performed by synchronised teams of waiters who leaned to either side of the aisle in time with one another. The food was nice but the dancing servers reduced me to giggles every time they arrived.

The views were spectacular, as we left Cusco and travelled through the Andes and across the Altiplato - a large (HUGE, this was a 10 hour train journey) plateau between the two sides of the Andes - and along to Lake Titcaca. The whole trip is at altitude - like a normal landscape, but 3000 to 4000 metres above sea level!

Growing Corn Outside Cusco

Train Tracks

The train lines in Peru are kind of exciting in that they often run along streets and are completely unenclosed. There are animals, people, vehicles and who knows what else all along the tracks, its madness! In Juliaca (a place just outside Puno), there were lots of little stalls with bits of car parts and so on, seriously a different world. There are more photos in my flickr set for this part of the trip.

Peru: Cusco and Sacred Valley

I'm on holiday in Peru at the moment, and writing about the various places I've been - first stop was the rainforest and from there we went back to Puerto Maldonado and flew to Cusco. At 3300ish metres above sea level, this was my first experience of anything like this altitude. I had a nasty headache and the experience of the room moving as if I was drunk (which I wasn't, before anyone makes any suggestions!). I was prewarned about the lack of oxygen - but still found it hard to slow down enough for my body to cope! This wasn't at all helped by the location of our (very nice if basic) hotel - halfway up a road so steep there were steps in the pavements.

Steep Street

One thing I wasn't warned about (and yes, its obvious, but didn't occur to me in time) is that everything kind of explodes when it suddenly finds itself under so much less atmospheric pressure. My lip gloss was spectacularly pink, sticky and sparkly when I took the lid off and it all flowed straight out of its tube. Even more fun was my rollerball deodorant which popped the ball off across the bathroom floor when I took the lid off it :)

We had most of a free day in Cusco before heading off on our next trip, and then another day when we got back. Its a nice city, with plenty of shopping and restaurants around, and people were really helpful with questions about things like stamps. When we returned a few days later, we visited the Sun Temple and also fitted in some excellent shopping. I even commissioned a bespoke bag, from a man surrounded by bags, with a sewing machine and (I discovered) his suppliers' stall was just across the aisle. I demanded colour and shape, paid about 6 GBP for it, and was able to pick it up in 2 hours - amazing service!

From Cusco, we went into the Sacred Valley, which is a very fertile and green place (this is rainy season). We're so close to the equator here that its easy to forget that even the lowest points in this landscape are at dizzying altitude, everything grows just fine. Our trip took us via Corao and Pisaq markets (no photos of these, I think I was too busy shopping. I bought all the usual things like jumpers, scarves and presents - and 12 balls of shocking pink llama wool. From there we went up to Ollantaytambo.

Ollantaytambo is a nice little town, and also the name of an Inca site. We visited the site first, its very steep - and when we were there it was raining and I was very amused by the convoys of rainbow-coloured ponchos people had bought from the street sellers!

Ollantaytambo

Rainbow Ponchos at Ollantaytambo

While in Ollantaytambo, we stumbled over Hearts Cafe which is a great social project as well as an excellent cafe. We got a proper English afternoon tea (very welcome at 4pm after a long day) and also ordered packed lunches which we picked up the next morning for our trip to Machu Picchu.

More photos are in my flickr set for this trip - plenty more of these to come though so keep checking back.

Peru: Tambopata

I'm currently on holiday in Peru, including ten days organised touring in different parts of the country. I got back and discovered I had almost 900 photos which will take some time to process, so I thought I'd write a series of posts, rather than one monster one. The first stop on our trip was two nights in the rainforest up the Tambopata river, staying at Explorer's Inn.

It was an early start for our flight to Puerto Maldonado, followed by three hours trip upstream by boat. I've never been anywhere like this before so it was pretty impressive. We saw Capybaras from the boat, and also got quite wet when it rained (we're British, we just put on our raincoats and weren't bothered).

Rainforest

The lodge itself was basic but fine. I'm a fussy eater and still had no trouble getting enough that was edible, which was great. We went out on the river again at night, and the following morning had another early start to walk to Lake Cococha. It was a 5k walk in wellies, through bits of jungle and swamp, not too hot on the way out but we walked both ways at a very fast pace so the walk itself wasn't much fun. The lake, however, was breathtaking. I'm not much of a traveller so this is probably the most remote place I'll visit in my life.

View from the Hide

Palm

While at the lodge, I noticed lots of little metal bottle tops had been nailed to the floor (if you're not laughing yet, that's fine, skip to the next paragraph) to stop the steps getting slippery. Here are the bottle tops, followed by what a blue and yellow macaw thought of having bottle tops nailed to the floor!

Little Metal Bottle Tops Nailed To The Floor

Macaw and Bottle Tops

More photos in my Tambopata set on flickr if you're interested