Day 2 Endless Night

Qantas_A380-800_VH-OQL_SIN_2012-4-1It is deemed to be night for the majority of the flight from Heathrow to Singapore, which does at least agree with our body clocks for the first part of the journey. We really do not want to still be asleep at what for us is 9am though. No Bejewelled on this in-flight games system, so I settle for Mastermind. Judging by some of the questions, it was compiled about twenty years ago. Nonetheless, I win a virtual million pounds twice. Not a great deal to recount from this twelve hour flight, apart from the person in the row behind me reaching round and stealing my pillow when I bent forward to get my bag from the floor. Fortunately, the plane is half empty, so we have a row of four seats to ourselves, giving us a spare. The thief though has five pillows to himself!

We have three hours to wait at Singapore airport. Time to access the internet thinks I. Or not. After much more jiggery pokery I finally persuade my lap top to reveal the login screen. I need a code. I don’t have a code. I walk a considerable way and find a machine that allegedly provides codes. Before it will part with its secret, it requires me to scan my passport, which is back where I’ve just come from. I retrace my steps along the concourse to fetch said passport. ‘Scan your passport here’. This I do. Nothing happens. No permutation of passport positions, including the one suggested by the machine, yields a code. Never fear, there are always the free wifi machines. I attempt to log in to emails. ‘Outlook has detected an unusual log in’ and will send me a code to access my emails. The only snag is, they are sending it to a different email address, one that I can’t access because they detect an unusual log in on that address too – arghhhh!!!! To add insult to injury, Windows 10 will only let me play cards on my computer when I am logged on. Good job I have brought actual cards too.

It is night again on the seven hour flight from Singapore to Brisbane. We’ve only been awake about five hours so it is back to the in-flight entertainment. This time Suduko, which is not really something I’ve tried much before. I decide I’ll just play a few games until I am tired. I graduate from needing hints on the easy version to cracking medium difficulty boards unaided. I wonder why I am being offered my second breakfast of the day already. It seems I have Sudukoed the ‘night’ away.


Day 1 To the Airport


Random irrelevant picture just because I can – picture credit Jo Rutherford

Reassuringly, this time, the holiday account actually does begin on day 1 as this is all our own doing and we don’t have to fit in with the itinerary of an organised tour. Having been too mean, or indeed too sensible, to pay £25 per person per flight (of which there are three each way) to reserve seats in advance, I had planned to check in at 9.15pm, when I had been advised I could choose seats free of charge. We really didn’t want to spend a total of twenty four flying hours sat in different parts of the plane. So what was I doing at the witching hour? I was distracted by the compelling weirdness that is the Eurovision Song Contest. So mesmerised was I by the warbling and chicken impressions of the eventual winner that it was 6.15am before I remembered. I hastened to the computer to see if there were any adjacent seats left and successfully secured us positions that did not mean our escape was blocked by an unsuspecting and knowing our luck, immovable, fellow passenger. This did involve telephoning my travelling companion at what he clearly thought was an unearthly hour to ascertain his passport number. To be fair, he would normally not be troubled by a call at this time of the day but he is recovering from some lurgy at present. I am keeping everything crossed that I am not incubating a similar ailment but hopefully the moment of infectiousness has passed.


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Day 4 Nazca

A helpful receptionist connects my laptop to the internet. The electricity supply to our room is dependent on our key being inserted into a slot by the door. This means I can only charge my computer when we are in the room, which is a bit inconvenient. Most of our party are on a flight to view the Nazca lines but we have decided to obey the British government’s travel advice and give it a miss. Later, our fellow travellers suggest that we haven’t missed much and we are £100 each to the good. We sit by the pool. The water is a tad chilly but I briefly swim about a bit. I lounge back on the white plastic lounger, sat delicately on my new purple towel. It turns out that I have inadvertently turned the lounger purple. I saunter away nonchalantly, hoping no one will notice. The wooden railings outside our rooms are being coated with a powerful smelling varnish, which is a little off-putting.

Taking our lives in our hands, we wander round the town, chaperoned by Brian and Pam. We take a look at the square, it is just that. In the market, meat and fish products are on sale on marble slabs but the ambient temperature is about 75 degrees. Yellow, corn fed, chickens and mullet are on sale, if you can spot them under the pile of flies. Talk about salmonella on a plate. We return to our room to find that the ‘helpful’ cleaners have thrown away our empty plastic bottles that we were saving to decant water into. Bother.

Our afternoon trip is to the ancient pre-Inca desert cemetery site of Chauchilla. On the way we pass many roadside stalls and travel on the Inter-Oceanic Highway. Our guide for the afternoon, tells us that eighty percent of Nazca was destroyed by an earthquake in 1996. We see the replacement adobe dwelling, constructed from mud bricks. This is the second driest place in the world after Chile’s Atacama Desert. On average, they get half an hour’s rain every two years. Prickly pears are grown, partly for their fruit but predominantly because they are used as hosts of cochineal beetles, which are collected for dyes in cosmetics and textiles. Chauchilla means white hill and the sand dune is allegedly the biggest in the world.

DSCF0178Along the track to the cemetery, we are excited to see burrowing owls. They do look jolly like rocks but can just about be spotted when they move. There was also another well camouflaged nesting bird and swallows swooping above the cemetery. We are here to see 1500 year old mummies. On a windy plain we see the twelve tombs that remain. It is estimated that there were originally 400-500 burials on this 1km x 250m site but the tombs were destroyed about 70 years ago by robbers looking for grave goods. This is fascinating but I must say it was a bit like death by mummy. It isn’t exactly seen one seen them all but…. The people were buried in a foetal position, mostly facing east and wearing many ponchos. These are made from the traditional Peruvian brown cotton. The corpse was then put in a woven basket and buried with items needed for the afterlife, including shells that were used as currency. The skin was rubbed with resin to preserve it and herbs were put in the basket to repel moth. Fragments of bone are strewn about the site. Our guide draws various styles of tomb in the sand for our edification. Each tomb has a shelter erected over it. Termites are making short-work of the uprights to these shelters.

Next stop is artisan’s pottery workshop. The original owner spent twenty five years experimenting in order to replicate the traditional Nazca pottery. The third generation are now demonstrating the techniques. The items have three purposes, some were used as part of religious ceremonies, there is domestic ware and items that are purely decorative. There are also impressive pottery instruments including very loud trumpets, pipes and ocarinas. Original 2000 year old pots are passed round. Fortunately we don’t drop any. Llama bones are used as tools to shape the clay. Minerals create the colours, including kaolin, manganese, iodine and copper oxide. These are painted on using brushes made from hair taken from a baby’s first haircut. There is a single firing. The coloured pots are not glazed but get their shine by rubbing a polished quartz stone across the oils on the forehead and then rubbing the pot.

On our way back to town the possible purpose of the Nazca lines are discussed. There are three main theories. One is that it is a form of calendar, as at the solstices and equinoxes the patterns are aligned with the sun. Others believe that they were created by aliens and another theory is that they had a religious significance, probably connected to sacrifices. Some of the creatures depicted are not native to this area, suggesting that the peoples travelled.

We drive a couple of miles up a rutted track to an isolated hotel in the middle of nowhere. Here we have a dinner that has been cooked using the thousand year old pachamanca tradition. The food has been cooked in a pit using the warmth from pre-heated stones. It is accompanied by a ceremony to thank the earth mother for providing the food. Chris and I volunteer to scatter the coca leaves and wine as a thanks offering. It is an early start and a long day tomorrow so we do not stay out late.

Day 2 South to Paracas

In the spirit of adventure I try the traditional Tamales for breakfast. This is dough wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. There is no indication as to how this should be eaten. I glance round surreptitiously but no one else is tackling these to give me a clue. Does one just cut through the banana leaves? Does one unwrap it first? I am pretty sure you don’t actually eat the banana leaves. In the end I hack at the leaves a bit and extract a small morsel of the dough. The dough can be mixed with a variety of things. In this case it is fish – probably. Despite the fisherman of my acquaintance, I am not a great sea food eater and I don’t think I am going to be a great Tamales eater either but at least I gave it a try. Said fisherman has selected a slightly more recognisable tea this morning.

We have enjoyed our time at Hotel Antigua Miraflores, with its armies of cleaners and we will be returning at the end of our trip. We assemble at the civilised time of 11am for our journey south. My body is still somewhere in British Summer Time, so I have been awake since 2.30am. As we set off, Yuri asks us to ensure we have our passports. I search frantically through the many pockets of my bags. I confess that I can’t actually locate mine. The minibus swings round the block to go back to the hotel. It turns out that I have not forgotten my passport, so after the slight detour we are on our way. I now feel about five years old. You know that thing about not being fit to be let out.

We pass a street juggler on the middle of a zebra crossing, holding up the traffic. Today’s journey takes us along the Pan-American Pacific Highway, which stretches 19,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina, allegedly with a small gap called the Darien Gap. It is a good but fairly monotonous road with the Pacific on our right and mostly desert on our left. Every now and again there are river estuaries allowing cultivation but much of the landscape is barren, with numerous shanty towns springing up. Houses are built piecemeal for financial reasons so most dwellings everywhere seem unfinished. We learn that it may be possible to bribe your way out of a motoring offence, unless you encounter a female police officer. Not that we tried this I hasten to add.

On the way, Yuri tells us more about Peru. An important industry has been mining, for copper and for gold. Oil reserves have been exploited using foreign investment. Fishing is also crucial and sea food is very popular. Farming is more difficult because of the lack of rain, made worse by global warming. They produce quinoa, asparagus, coffee, cotton and non-native pineapples, amongst other things. There are many chicken farms, as rotisserie chicken is the ‘fast-food’ of choice. We also see a few herds of large goats. Food habits have been influenced by the US and turkey has now replaced guinea-pig as the traditional Christmas dinner. An extensive guano and salt petre industry, the latter used, as we seventeenth century types know, for gunpowder, was based on islands that were lost to Chile in the Chilean war, in the early nineteenth century. Peru also lost territory to Brasil and Ecuador. Peru is part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

We hear more of the political machinations and the militant communist Shining Path group. There have also been problems with hyper-inflation and organised cocaine rackets. Things are comparatively peaceful now and the people are optimistic, despite a change of President just last week, when the previous incumbent was found to be using his own road construction company for state purposes. It is hoped that the new President will be less Lima-centric. For example, currently, all overseas travellers have to fly into Lima airport.

Peru is the country of biodiversity and contains 84 of the world’s 104 ecosystems There are 1800 native birds; so far I have photographed two! We are now in the last month of summer when the humidity is less intense.

We arrive in the fishing village of Paracas, just south of the city of Pisco. Pisco was founded in 1640 and is now the main port for the international exportation of oil. A pre-Incan group settled on the Paracas peninsula c.700 BC – 200 AD. They were influenced by the Chavin culture, contemporary to Paracas, who populated the north. They were known for their textile work with Peruvian cotton, this would be dyed using the cochineal beetle. Archaeological evidence has been found for successful trepanations using obsidian. Paracas means sand storm and certainly there is a welcome breeze. General Don Jose de San Martin landed in the Bay of Paracas, with his liberating troops, beginning independence from Spain. He took inspiration for the red and white stripes of the Peruvian flag from the flamingos and I do glimpse some flamingos from the coach window. Paracas is also  known as the Cradle of the Flag.

We are staying in the Hotel Emancipador on the Avenida Los Libertadores. Our room has a balcony with a sea view. It seems a shame not to avail ourselves of this and the small shady swimming pool but we are here to see the village. We set off with our guide to explore Paracas. Many of the single-single story, flat-roofed dwelling have cages on top, which contain roosters bred for the popular (well popular here) sport of cock-fighting. My travelling companion is very interested in the fishing boats, which are particularly wide-beamed. We manage to purchase hats that we are clearly going to need. To be fair I did try to buy one before I left home but it is winter in England; sunhat selling season has not yet begun. We manage to source hats at a ridiculously low price. 20% of the likely English cost but the intrepid Brian insists that we should barter, as the items are not priced. He manages to bring the price down even further.

DSCF0033For our evening meal, I settle for a not very adventurous vegetarian pizza. Chris has sea bass in chilli and lime sauce. It really is too hot to eat much. We pay a sol (about 25p) to watch the sunset. We debate what happens if we do not pay – does the sun not set? It sets very quickly just after 6pm and the bay is beautifully peaceful. We have an early start in the morning so we settle down early. It is quite noisy outside and we can hear street musicians but this quietens down but about 10.30pm. We are keeping a tally of how many times we have to fish toilet paper out of the toilet.

Day Minus 1 Part 2 Miraflores

I have split this post into two, as it really is too much for one. The taxi driver has a very firm handshake and impeccable English – phew. It is 22o. We are dressed for 1o England. The driver tells us he was an ice road trucker in the US for years. The minibus is comfortable, although it isn’t exactly comforting when the driver says he has been awake for 23 hours. We have a 9km drive to our hotel, with a running commentary on the way. The driving is, as expected, ‘interesting’, although our driver seems very competent. The technique at junctions seems to consist of hooting loudly and hoping everything gets out of the way. I am not sure if anyone should have priority but clearly all that is forgotten and the most aggressive wins. Almost every vehicle had dents or scratches down the side as a result of these encounters. At every set of traffic lights on the main three lane highway, black economy street vendors accost the car drivers, attempting to sell ice cream, newspapers and other goods. To accomplish this, they wander between the lanes of traffic and hopefully get out of the way in time when the lights turn green. A bin van passes with operatives hanging off the back with no regard to health and safety. They can also be seen, in the back of the van, rifling through the sacks they have collected. We also see a van that has been involved in a funeral, which is decorated over the outside with flowers.

A third of Peru’s population live in one of Lima’s 43 districts and outlying shanty towns are gradually being serviced with electricity and running water. Each district has its own characteristics and some are clearly better cared for than others. The initial impression is of a run-down fiesta. There is plenty of razor wire and randomly curling electricity cables are festooned like garlands across the street. Our driver attempts to explain the problems with the previous political regime and issues with what he calls terrorists but which sound more like the mafia. There is major reclamation work going on in the bay as Lima continues to build its tourist industry. There is an opportunity to leap off a cliff in weird sort of hang-gliding bicycles – may give that a miss. In fact I have already resolved that wherever we go tomorrow, it needs to not involve crossing any roads. Easter is taken very seriously here, not surprisingly. There are many visitors to Lima from other parts of Peru for the holiday. Those from different regions can be distinguished by that traditional costume.

The View from our Window

I can tell you, basically because I am capable of using a search engine, that the Hotel Antigua Miraflores, where we are staying, “represents the rich cultural heritage of post-colonial Peru at the turn of the 20th century. The hotel’s centrepiece is a Spanish-colonial style mansion, or ‘casona’, built in 1923, a true heirloom that preserves an amazing piece of Peru’s unique traditions. The spacious family home’s original structure; tiled floors, stunning chandeliers, and woodwork are all well preserved.” We have an unusual, irregular five sided room, which pays tribute to the history of the building and overlooks a courtyard with a fountain.

“Avenida Grau, on which our hotel is situated, was the path pre-Colombian Incas used to reach the ocean from their nearby temple, the Huaca Pucllana. The land on which the modern day neighbourhood of Miraflores stands was historically cultivated by the Incas since 200 AD and became the Tomas Marsano hacienda in the mid 1800s. The old casona that now makes up the Hotel Antigua Miraflores was built on a property originally urbanized by Don Tomas. In 1916 it was sold to Carmen Toranzo de Perez by Don Tomas. Don Reynaldo Garcia then purchased the property from Mrs. Perez in 1922 and started construction on the Casona in 1923 using the services of a foreman named Máximo Chavez.” The room has internet, I’m happy. No tea and coffee making facilities, which is a shame but there is always water. I do have to report one weird Peruvian custom. You do not put toilet paper in the toilet. It has to go in a bin provided. When in Lima and all that. It is going to be interesting when we forget though!

We wash and change into clean clothes, ones more suited to the climate and recuperate after our 36 hour journey.

Day Minus 1 Lima Bound part one

I don’t usually sleep on flights, even 12 hour flights. Instead, I have perfected the technique of sort of zoning out, so I am not quite awake, yet I am conscious of what is going on around me. This time, unusually, I did actually doze off, until I was woken by all the lights being extinguished, apart from the safety lights. Although I’ve flown long haul several times and I suppose that must have included at night, I don’t ever remember all the lights being turned out before. There are three things insomniacs dread, having someone sleeping soundly beside them, a chiming clock reminding them how long it is since they slept (at least I was spared that one) and being forced to ‘sleep’. The only way I can get to sleep is by reading. I can’t see to read. My Kindle does have a light but the battery is so worn out on the light I still can’t see. Arrggh! Back to the ‘zoning’.

I don’t wish to lower the tone but the woman in the aisle seat must have incredible bladder control. You know how it is on these occasions, rather than climbing across someone’s lap, you resolve to avail yourselves of the facilities when they do, except she doesn’t. A thirteen hour flight, two meals complete with drinks and she never moved once. In the end we asked to get out twice, after meals when she was actually awake. Somewhere in the midst of all this it becomes my birthday. As we fly over Brasil, there is an incredible sunrise across the horizon – wow. No photographic evidence as the camera was in the overhead locker. Sao Paulo is clothed in smog. I was a geography teacher once by accident, I have learned about the pollution problems in Brasilian cities.

DSCF0003We manage to negotiate our way across Sao Paulo airport and their internet connection is slightly more amenable to my system, l though I am warned about ‘suspicious activity’ on my account, which is basically me trying to access my own emails. There is just time for me to learn that I am now a great aunt by marriage, which is very exciting but makes me feel even more antiquated than ever. We are called for our five hour flight north to Lima. We are given another breakfast. This is probably just as well as the previous plane had run out of our breakfast option of choice. It is now 9.00am Lima time but it seems it is time for us to go to bed again as all the lights are switched off once more. Is this some ploy to ensure that passengers are comatose and not causing trouble I wonder? I resort to playing umpteen games of Bejewelled on the in flight system, which is a bit tricky as there’s nothing to rest my arm on. I hope the person in front isn’t troubled by my continual jabbing at her headrest as I make my moves. I’d quite like to look at the land we are flying over. The woman in front has rebelliously opened her blind for a few moments. The world hasn’t ended, so I briefly do the same and glimpse masses of desert, with snow covered mountains in the distance. I am not by nature a rule breaker, so I close the blind and get back to Bejewelled.

We are given  customs form. It is in Spanish. Despite trying to teach myself Spanish when I was about twelve, I don’t know much Spanish. Ok, I don’t really know any Spanish. Even the couple of words I think I know are probably Italian. I feel ashamed that I don’t make more effort with other languages; it is very arrogant of me to expect everyone to speak English but I am really not a linguist. I do know enough French to follow some similar Spanish words but I am not confident I have grasped the subtleties whether we have anything to declare. We probably don’t but I’ve watched Border Force, I don’t want to be fined or reduced to tears. I ask if there is a form in English. There isn’t. ‘Just say you have nothing to declare’. But how do I know I don’t? Allegedly there will be a notice when we disembark. There isn’t. We ask two relaxed looking customs men. ‘What do we have to declare?’ I ask. ‘Just the usual stuff,’ is the reply. ‘You probably haven’t got any,’ and we are waved through the green channel.

Two more concerns are unfounded. First, that our baggage would go astray and second that we would not be met, as promised, for transfer to our hotel. Both luggage and taxi driver are present and correct, so our Peruvian adventure can now begin.

Forget Peru – meet the hazards of the West Country

Ok, so I have abandoned the writing news in favour of more travel escapades. The intrepid two brave the mini ‘beast from the east’ and head to Bristol, complete with caravan. Despite snow earlier, the road is now clear and the journey is uneventful. We near our destination. Cue a lengthy game of ‘hunt the camp site’, amidst dire warnings of ‘do not follow the sat-nav’. We’ve been told that, at some point, we will need to ignore a road closed sign. I am usually serially law-abiding but we do as we have been bid – just a bit of a shame it was the wrong road closed sign. Permanent bollards are strung across the road. We are now up a dead end, in a very narrow, car-lined street. The exquisite caravan-reversing skills of my travelling companion are duly exercised and we continue our site hunting. Eventually, site located, we set up for the night, with not a flake of snow in sight, although it is pretty darned chilly.

Day dawns. Ah. There is steadily falling snow and about three inches on the ground. Nonetheless, the decision is made (not by me) that we should proceed. The car starts first time. We’ve left the caravan attached overnight, so no problem there. We attempt to leave the field. We attempt this again. We attempt it several more times. Back and forth we slide. I am not normally encouraged to drive this vehicle, let alone in falling snow, with a caravan in tow. It may be a measure of our desperation that the steering wheel is entrusted to me, whilst my companion gives a hearty shove, to no avail. We are now stuck irretrievably between the gate to the field and the pitch where, potentially, we could sit it out until spring. If we stay where we are, our electric cable is too short to reach the hook up.

The site owners, suitably clad in many layers, appear, probably concerned for the state of their grass, which we have effectively ploughed beyond repair. But no. Bless them, they’ve come to our aid with land rover and tow rope. They offer to tow us to their drive, where we can reconnect to the electricity supply. ‘No,’ says our brave driver, ‘the show must go on.’ They now think we are certifiable; they may not be wrong in this assessment. They agree to tow us ‘up the hill’ to something resembling civilisation. Half way up what is indeed a steep hill, our way is blocked by another stranded idiot. It is now 7.30am and they have been stuck for two hours. They appear to be two fit and healthy thirty-something men but have been unable to push their car to the side of the road. One seventy-something and the site owner who is certainly more than thirty-something, if not yet seventy-something, come to the rescue. They are pulled clear and then our tow to the main road resumes. It has taken us 1½ hours to travel a mile; only 160 to go!

DSCF4389The upside of the conditions is that there is very little traffic on the road. The downside is that those who are stupid enough to venture out are reckless types who zoom along in excess of 70mph. After this the prospect of ‘feeling like I am having a heart attack’ as I tackle Peruvian altitude seems positively calming.