Archive for 2011

Liking Peru

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

Lima wasn’t too special. I think it may be like Chiang Mai. Lots of people raved about how good Chiang Mai was and I found it rather ordinary. Perhaps I didn’t see the right bits. Perhaps I didn’t see the right bits of Lima either.

I stayed in Miraflores, supposedly one of the nicest neighbourhoods. Well it was nothing like Palermo in Buenos Aires. Other parts of the city on the bus ride to centro historico looked nicer. Certainly more alive, more interesting. The traffic was interesting too. Not in volume, but in intent. In various Asian cities there were as many, or more, vehicles but there you could step out into the road and the traffic would flow around you. In Lima I had the feeling they’d delight in running you over. There are a few photos in my Lima set at Flickr.

Two nights in Lima were enough. There are several intercity bus companies in Peru. I used Cruz del Sur for the journey to Nazca. Apart from the rubbish “meal” (three layer sandwich with foul tasting unidentifiable fillings) the journey was fine.

Nazca is a bit of a one trick pony. The thing everyone goes to see is the collection of geoglyphs referred to as the Nazca Lines. By the time I had dropped my luggage at the hostel it was too late to get a flight that day. Nazca follows the traditional Spanish town layout with a central Plaza Mayor and a neat rectangular grid of streets leading off it. Birds of a feather flock together and in Nazca, as in pretty much everywhere I’ve been, similar businesses set up shop next to each other. I needed a haircut so after I found the street with the peluquerias there were about a dozen to choose from. A quick buzz with clippers cost S/.4 (four Nuevo Soles – just under £1).

Next morning I took a taxi to the airport (S/.3) with one of my roommates from the hostel. All of the flight operators were charging the same price (US$90) for a 30 minute flight to see the lines. We found our other two roommates there so the four of us grouped together and picked a company at random. About an hour later we took off in a Cessna bimotor operated by Unistar. The promotional blurb for all the flights says something along the lines of “see the lines from several thousand feet”. Actually the manoeuvring height was only 400 feet above ground level. People with motion sickness are advised not to eat before taking a flight. The aircraft perform a series of tight left and right turns around each of the figures so passengers on both sides can see them clearly and have a chance to take photos. One of my roommates was looking a bit green by the end of our flight but managed not to throw up.  The first figure came up after just a couple of minutes, a whale. It was followed by the “astronaut”, monkey, dog, condor, humming bird, spider, tree, hands, parrot and heron. There are actually a whole bunch of lines all over the desert and some of the figures were harder to spot than others. See how many you can spot in my Nazca set at Flickr. About thirty five minutes after taking off we landed on runway 25 and found a taxi back to town.

While waiting for our flight I practised my Spanish on one of the ground crew, a Quechuan named Maximo. He was keen to teach me some Quechua too. When someone here says “hablas espanol?” it is dangerous to admit “hablo un pocito”. They seem to hear “yes, I’m completely fluent” and launch into a thousand word per minute spiel. If they respond to “mas despacio, por favor” at all, they’re likely to slow down for only a few seconds before resuming full speed operations. Maximo was one of the few people who actually maintained a slow enough pace that I was able to understand most of what he said first time for a full twenty minute conversation.

Late that night I caught an overnight bus for the ten hour journey to Arequipa. I like Arequipa; it reminds me of Salamanca. Unlike Nazca where many of the streets are unpaved and therefore the city is very dusty, in Arequipa all the roads are paved.  There is still a haze hanging over the city. I don’t know if it’s smog, trapped by the surrounding mountains. It doesn’t seem like there’s enough traffic for it to be smog. The city is at 2380m asl and is surrounded by three volcanoes – Misti (5822m asl), Chachani (6095m asl) and PichuPichu (5669m asl). Whereas much of Salamanca is made from yellow or grey sandstone, many of the buildings here are made from sillar, a white stone quarried from the volcanoes. It’s a photographically challenging city; white stone and the harsh sunlight is a bad combination, and many of the views are spoiled by telegraph poles, phone and power cables. There are some pictures at Flickr.

Gastronomically inquisitive friends will be disappointed to hear I haven’t tried the Peruvian specialty of guinea pig yet. Apparently it’s not as popular with the locals as is widely believed. On the drinks front I have tried Inka Kola (looks like piss, tastes like cream soda) and mate de coca (tastes less yuck than any of the other varieties of tea on offer).

Santiago de Chile

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

My Santiago story came in two installments. Like slices of bread around an Easter Island filling and with about as much substance. Both were flying visits.

The first slice after crossing the Pacific Ocean from Auckland lasted just under 24 hours. Santiago has an efficient airport bus service which got me to four blocks from my hostel in about 40 minutes. I joined a free walking city tour in the afternoon. Felippe our guide was a passionate guy full of interesting information about the history and current affairs of Santiago. He struck me at first as angry young man full of the socialist ideals of the students who protest regularly in the city. They protest about the cost of education and the vast inequalities between the rich and poor in Chilean society. The kind of things students all over the world protest about. It turned out he’s an actor as well as a tour guide. Was it passion or was it performance?

Santiago felt much more vibrant and alive than Auckland or anywhere else in New Zealand. That shouldn’t really be surprising; the population of the city is more than twice that of the whole of New Zealand. Next morning the bus whisked me back to the airport for the flight half way back across the Pacific to Easter Island. It seems a bit crazy to have to fly past the place and then back to it but that’s the way the airline routes work.

Five days later LAN plucked me out of one time zone and plonked me back down in another in Santiago. They wouldn’t let me check my rucksack all the way from Easter Island to Lima even though my stopover in Santiago was only twelve hours. Sleeping on a bench at Melbourne airport was pretty uncomfortable and Santiago airport had looked pretty hard and spartan on my first visit. So I repeated the bus ride into the city, stayed in the same hostel again and took the bus back to the airport the next morning. There was no time in this slice to do anything other than eat and sleep. The return ride took a different route than usual because of a student protest somewhere along one of the main routes through the city – the surprisingly named Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins. Felippe had explained how a city with otherwise standard Spanish street names had a main street named after an Irish guy.

Thirty six hours in Santiago is nowhere near enough time in the city, never mind Chile. As Arnie said, “I’ll be back”.

As always, there are some photos at Flickr, in my Santiago de Chile set.

There are millions of people who do a lot more flying and time zone hopping than me. After jumping backwards and forwards between five different zones in quick succession I feel a little like Sam in the TV show Quantum Leap. I’m going to enjoy being in only one zone for the next three weeks. Sam was always hoping his next leap would be the one to take him home. My next leap will take me back to Buenos Aires. I hope I won’t have entirely forgotten how to tango when I get there. Before then I will scratch the surface of another country – Peru.

Isla de Pascua

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

I didn’t know much about Easter Island before going there – it’s one of the few Pacific Islands I could get to on my round-the-world ticket and it has those carved stone heads. To be honest I don’t know much more about it after four days there – the stone heads are called Moai, there are fewer of them than you might imagine and the bases they stand on are called Ahu. Only a handful of the sites marked on the tourist maps with little Moai symbols actually have standing, and therefore photogenic, examples. Those you’ve probably seen photos of are at the Rana Raraku quarry where they were hewn from the rock. Almost all of the surviving Moai are found there. The symbols on the map actually signify an archaeological site, typically a jumble of stones half buried in the grass. You need a pretty good imagination to see them as the archaeologists have described them.

It’s a one-town island. Hanga Roa has the airport, a collection of souvenir shops, some tiny “supermarkets”, several car hire places, loads of restaurants and lots of tourist accommodation. It also has two diving centres. They both use speedboats to get to the dive sites, taking upto about eight divers at a time for a single dive before returning to shore. Both provide full equipment. I did a couple of dives with Orca Diving.

The first dive was at Moto Nui. The water was cold compared with Koh Tao – 20 degrees Celsius instead of 30 degrees. Ten degrees might not sound much but it makes a big difference. Even with a full 5mm wetsuit and hood I was shivering within about five minutes and sucked through my air like it was going out of fashion. But it was worth it. The water was an incredible blue and the visibility was amazing at 60+ metres. There weren’t many fish. I saw puffers, trumpet fish, long nose butterflies and several really colourful moray eels. There were lots of corals too. The second dive was at The Pyramid at Te Peu. Again the visibility was incredible, the water was cold and there were similar numbers and varieties of fish. I had planned to do five dives to get a discounted rate but decided two was enough given the water temperature. It felt strange being a paying customer and not being one of the staff, lugging equipment around and looking after the punters.

For the rest of my time on the island I hired a bicycle and explored. Outside of Hanga Roa there are just two surfaced roads and a handful of dirt roads. The dirt roads are pretty bumpy in places. I cycled and walked about 90km over three days and saw most of the island. It was a nice place to spend a few days. There are some photos in my Easter Island set at Flickr.