23 October 2012

Maria had a little lamb

Alarm – eeek!
Shower, dress, pack, check out – adios, La Cupula!
Bus office: forms, forms, forms: bus manifest, Bolivian Customs, Peru immigration – check!
Slight delay: unkempt young travellers running late.
Crosses on roof ridges on Bolivian houses: most simple corrugated iron designs, but some more intricate, with wreath designs and replica reed boats.

15 minutes’ drive then stamp, stamp: adios, Bolivia!
3 minute walk then stamp, stamp: bienvenido al Peru! 90 days, but I won’t need them all.
Sheep grazing. Llamas grazing. Donkeys pulling ploughs and carrying brightly coloured bundles. Pigs grazing and wallowing – multi-taskers – or should that be multi-tuskers? Ha!
An army base – looks run down, with glass broken in every window of the biggest building – but, no! Soldiers guarding the gate and the red and white flag flying high.
Blue bay of multi-striped small boats and fish farms.
Green toilet country. Blue toilet country.
Two kids flying gaudy plastic kites – great breeze for it. Laughter!
Working bee building house foundations: women carting large pails of water, men struggling under the weight of large boulders.
Brown toilet country – they’re new since last year.
Snoozing … zzzzz …

5 minute changeover at Puno, then …

Last views of Titicaca, highest of the big lakes.
Wide landscapes of patchwork crops and wetlands.
Big skies! BIG skies! HUGE skies, with cotton-wool clouds.

1st stop: Juliaca, hellhole of Peru.

New companions: tired-looking mother, tired-looking young son and their lamb, in its very own plastic carrier bag. Cute but, oh, that rural smell of shit! I pick my overnight bag up off the floor and onto my knees – in case of, you know, accidents. And, yes, accidents do happen! I open the window. The lamb bleats and looks at me with huge eyes.
Plains: few signs of life. A river runs through. Crumbling adobe-brick ruins that once were houses dot the landscape. Golden grass.
Lamby is hungry and, mistakenly, nuzzles my leg. Next it tries to nibble my pants. It tries to eat my button. I tell its mother the lamb is hungry. She shrugs. She looks hungry too and pulls out some bread for herself and the boy.
Snoozing … zzzzz … but the smell of pee in my nostrils wakes me and again I let the breeze in.
Young Mr Cool, of the rolled up jean legs, single braid in his hair, cool sunnies, turns up his music. A generalisation: Peruvians love noise! A tall tourist gets up, goes over, tells him to turn it off. Perhaps, intimidated, Mr Cool obeys.
More snoozing …
A police stop! On come the Men in Black, looking for contraband. Checking under seats, they spot a bundle of cartoned somethings and start to cart them off, only to be verbally assaulted by a local woman, claiming the goods and haranguing the police until they back off. Go girl!
Snoozing again …
The bus stops and the food arrives, courtesy of a local woman carrying a big multi-striped bundle on her back and a large plastic pail in her hand. She unwraps, shouts out the menu. Tourists cluster over her, peering for a look at the offerings. What is it? Cameras click, movies are shot. A cleaver appears and the woman begins to chop, with large savage blows. The tourists back off. The woman stuffs plastic bags with joints of meat and potatoes, and serves.
It smells good! Tempting, but potentially trouble. Tummy rumbling, I open the window.
Once more with the snoozing …
Another stop, more entertainment … or not! A travelling salesman, Peruvian style, stands in the aisle, spouting his spiel for a good 15 minutes. Something about all sorts of different types of food and drink causing stones but not if you drink his special magic potion three times a day and it only costs 30 soles for a month’s supply. But he’s picked the wrong crowd … these are mostly poor passengers and that’s a lot of money. Not a single sale the first time around, so he tries again.
Trying to snooze …
Snow on the mountains!

Passengers getting restless. Are we there yet?
The lamb bleats and pees. I open the window, even though it’s raining a little.
I remember this is the night for the Orionids and, here in the countryside, it’s dark. I look to the east and, as if sensing my intentions, the driver turns the lights on. Another stop. Passengers pile out to pee.
Again with the snoozing, and I’m not the only one … snores from all around.
Finally, finally, finally, city lights ahead … and soon I’m home, drinking a hot cuppa and munching on an empanada from my friendly local baker, who wants to know where I’ve been ‘cause he hasn’t seen me in weeks. He likes to exaggerate! I’m glad to be home but I can still smell lamb pee.

22 October 2012

Erin and the little sticker girl

I love the randomness of travelling! Today I had a chance encounter that has the potential to be a huge help to Globalteer in terms of fundraising and met a genuinely nice person, in many ways a like-minded soul.

To begin at the beginning … after breakfast at the hotel this morning, I set off to walk up Calvary Hill … but it seems I’m not destined to ascend to religious heights. I got to the top of one street, a lung-busting walk in itself – remember that Lake Titicaca is at 3812 metres (12,507 feet) above sea level – to find I was only about half way up and the actual pathway, which my street joined, was an uneven, slippery-surfaced, ankle-challenging mass of cobbles that looked even steeper. I gave up the idea and, instead, headed down to the little church at the bottom of the climb and wandered from there around Copacabana’s back streets.

That worked up an appetite, so I enjoyed a delicious vegetable lasagna at one of the myriad of restaurants and cafes in the main street. Then I began attracting waifs and strays. First, while enjoying my lunch, I got hit on for money by a poor shoeshine man from Tacna, Peru, whose friend had told him he would earn a good living from all the tourists in Copacabana so he could support his five sisters and two brothers, all younger than him and motherless. Instead, he had found that tourists either wear walking shoes that don’t need polishing or they don’t really want or need their shoes shone, so he had been living on the streets.

After lunch, a black dog attached itself to me as I walked along the beach again. And, later, as I sat in the main street having a coke, a brown dog came and planted itself on one of my feet!
My friend, the black dog, at the beach

For about 30 minutes, I sat, nursing that Coca Cola, scribbling notes for my blogs in my notebook and generally watching the world happen around me. A young man, afflicted with something akin to thalidomide victims, was using his shortened and misshapen limbs to craft jewellery and sell it to random passersby. A woman, from a restaurant across the street from me, took pity on a street dog, struggling to walk on its three good legs and one badly damaged limb, bringing it a plateful of lunchtime leftovers and stood guard while it ate, scaring off the able-legged dogs that hovered eagerly nearby. My shoeshine friend walked steadfastly up and down, seeking out potential customers but either coming up empty or being chased off by overly protective restaurateurs (I was glad I had helped him out a little). Tourists wandered up or down the street, trying to decide where to eat or drink, or what souvenirs to buy from the many stalls full of eye-catching sweaters, caps, etc.

Another woman chose the café where I was perched, taking a seat on the bench that mirrored mine on the opposite side of the doorway. She was perhaps 20 or more years younger than me and looked like a traveller, dressed in a multi-coloured cotton skirt, a black top and a short denim jacket. Initially, we didn’t speak.

A cute little Bolivian girl was hovering around (I later discovered her name was Nina), playing in the street, running up and down, amusing herself with small things as children in poor countries do. She seemed to belong to the café two doors down.

The other woman greeted her, the little girl approached and was rewarded with a present, a little sticker that the woman magically produced from her purse and stuck on to the back of the wee girl’s hand. The wee one beamed with delight and raced off to show whoever was in the café – it turned out to be two young male friends who then craved stickers of their own.

The woman and I struck up a conversation based entirely on what had taken place: I asked what she had given the girl; she told me she always carries stickers for exactly these situations (note to self: excellent idea!); I commented that it was so much better than sweets … and thus began our contact.

The woman’s name is Erin and she is nearing the end of a two-year sabbatical, during which time she has been travelling and volunteering her way around the world. (You can read more about her fascinating travels, her ‘living mini’ philosophy and her generous donations to good causes on her website.) She describes herself as an ‘adventure philanthropist’, being both a professional travel writer and a self-employed fundraiser, with huge connections in the US, doing pro bono work for organisations like Globalteer, offering advice on ways they can expand their fundraising activities. Perfect, plus I like her philosophy. Erin and I chatted, exchanged travellers' tales, brief life details and business cards, then went our separate ways but I’m sure we’ll be in touch again very soon.

(Erin has since written a book about her two-year adventure and her philosophy for adventure philanthropy. It's a great read and very inspirational!)

I went back to the beach, drawn by Titicaca’s blue blue waters and keen to get more photos of the quirky pedal-powered boats and the lake as it sparkled in the late afternoon sun. Later, I treated myself to a delicious dinner, with a sunset view to die for, at the hotel restaurant, and another early night.

21 October 2012

Chillaxing in Copacabana

Walk through to Bolivia

Ironically, it’s 32 years ago today since my ex and I got together and here I am sitting in an outdoor courtyard restaurant in Copacabana, Bolivia, awaiting my pizza lunch while he’s probably still living the quiet life in Auckland, still slaving away at his business. Funny where life takes you.

Strangely enough, I was chatting away to a New Zealander on the bus here from Puno this morning, though she lives in Sydney, Australia, with her family. Stef is part way through a degree in International Studies so I’m guessing she’s about 20. She’s been travelling for 7 months, having a gap year. I do wonder where kids her age get the funds to travel for a year – maybe generous parents, though she had done 3 months in a summer camp in Canada, which would’ve helped. What a great start to a young life a trip like hers would be – opening her eyes to what the world has to offer and the endless possibilities before her.

The Transzela bus left Cusco at 10pm and got to Puno at 5am this morning. I slept on and off as I had sprung the extra 10 soles for full cama – so worth it! Transzela didn’t have the extra luxuries of the Cruz del Sur bus company, with its snacks, hot drinks and blankets but it did have the same seats so was comfortable enough.

The next bus left Puno at 7.30am, so I had a long wait doing nothing but people watching, and we reached Copacabana at 12noon. The border was fairly quiet – just two buses passing over and hardly any local sales vendors like the last time I crossed here – maybe ’cause it’s a Thursday. The Bolivian immigration officer looked long and hard at the ‘fine’ stamp I got last time I came to Bolivia but still let me in, luckily. Another couple of stamps in the passport – this one contains entirely South American countries … so far.

Not a bad view out my window

A man from the La Cupula Hotel was at the bus to meet other guests so I didn’t have to walk up the hill to the hotel. It’s a quirky little place with fabulous views out over the bay so should be a very relaxing place to chill for a couple of days.

Though it looks beautiful on the surface, Copacabana is more decrepit than I remember from last year. I went for a walk along the waterfront after lunch and it is full of rubbish, the water of Lake Titicaca looks disgustingly polluted and it stinks.

I explored around the church and it’s looking much the worst for wear as well – walls mouldy and crumbling and the whole place has an unkempt look, which is inexcusable when you consider the town taxes every single person who enters the town 1 Boliviano, supposedly as an entry fee for the sanctuary, plus this place is the Basilica of the Virgen de la Candelaria, the most famous pilgrimage site in all of Bolivia. 

The Basilica houses the black Virgin, carved in a dark wood in 1576 to celebrate an incident where the Virgin Mary appeared to some fishermen during a terrible storm on Lake Titicaca and led them to safety. Considering the Basilica and the lake are the main reasons anyone comes to Copacabana, you’d think the locals would take a little more pride in them.

There’s a lot of half-built construction around the streets, accompanied by piles of sand and brick as if prosperity is just around the corner … but, if this is anything like Peru, it could look like that for years!

Copacabana is even more sleepy than I remember as well, with restaurant staff seemingly reluctant to stir themselves to serve you. Unless you’re part of the midday bus changeover crowd, then you’re just an intrusion.

I think that sleepiness is catching. There’s nothing to do here – the hotel rooms have no televisions, I didn’t bring my laptop and I don’t have any books so can’t laze in one of the hotels lazy-looking hammocks reading. So, feeling pretty tired from the journey, I lay down for a nap at about 4pm and didn’t really get up again - except to change into my nightie and actually get into bed – till 5am, and then I kept snoozing till about 7.30. I am still getting over a cold but I think the real problem is Copacabana-itis!

13 October 2012

Picaflor’s pompons and pets

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about working at Picaflor House has been the garden and the little critters who find nourishment in it on a daily basis. Our kids love it too: when we interviewed some of them a while back to get their comments for our 2011 annual report, it was hugely satisfying to hear them all mention how much they like the flowers and the colour.

In serious need of some hand cream here!
I’ve been a gardener since I was a tiny tot trying to help my dad maintain his always impressive vege garden. I imagine I was more hindrance than help but my dad was a patient soul and encouraged my love of growing things. My mum also had green fingers; our house was always full of shiny green pot plants and her flower garden was a joy to behold. I am ever grateful to them for passing on their love of gardening, growing things, and being green to me.

At Picaflor I am constantly getting my hands dirty, my nails broken, working the garden. I know I could use gloves but I hate them – I much prefer the feel of the soil. It’s so rewarding to see the plants flourish and blossom, and to see the numbers of butterflies, bees and other tiny beasties increasing.

Spot the wee beastie in this one?

I hope you've enjoyed this little meander through our garden.

08 October 2012

Celibate but sinful

I’m not normally so candid in my blogs but I’m quite happy to admit that I’ve been three years celibate today! The most intimate I’ve been with a man in the last 36 months has been in the squashed conditions of a Peruvian bus.

This wasn’t an active choice; it just so happens that I haven’t met any men during that time who I’ve wanted to have a relationship with. And that’s no bad thing. Wasn’t it one of Shakespeare’s characters in Twelfth Night who said “Journeys end when lovers meet”? Well, I don’t want my journey to end for a few years yet, so a lack of lovers must be a good thing.

It's difficult not to be gluttonous when treats like these are on offer.
However, just because the sin of lust has passed me by that doesn’t mean I haven’t indulged in some of the others. Gluttony, for example, is my constant companion. It’s a miracle that I’ve lost weight since I came to live in Peru as I’m sure I eat more here than I ever have before. That being said, research tells me that living at altitude burns many more calories than living at sea level and experts recommend that more than 70% of your daily calorie intake is carbohydrates, so my physical location has much to do with controlling the results of my gluttony.

As for greed … well, I think I’ve successfully managed to shed my ‘excessive or rapacious desire for wealth and possessions’. Moving from the four-bedroom house I shared with my ex-husband to a 50-square-metre apartment forced me to discard many belongings and, though it took a little getting used to, I actually found it liberating not to have so many possessions. As the quote, by some unknown wise person, goes ‘Letting go isn’t the end of the world; it’s the beginning of a new life’, and so it has been for me. And now that I’m wandering the world, I carry very few possessions with me.

Sloth is another sin I battle with. Though I pride myself on being a hard worker and I know I can accomplish a huge amount when I put my mind to it, I am sometimes inclined to indolence. At least I am aware of my failing and try to close my ears to that siren’s call.

A good place to be idle!

And so to pride. Do I have a ‘high or inordinate opinion of [my] own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority’? That’s a difficult question to answer. I am proud of what I have achieved in my life but not of all I have done. But am I excessively proud? I hope not. As the old proverb goes, ‘pride goes before a fall’, and I have a great fear of falling. Hopefully, that fear will prevent me becoming too proud.

The sixth on the list of deadly sins is wrath. Though I am slow to anger, once aroused my anger can take on a life of its own and is a scary thing to behold. Borrowing from Steinbeck, I try to starve my grapes of wrath of the sustenance that would make them grow heavy for the vintage as I am aware they produce a poisonous brew.

No green-eyed monster here
Last but not least is envy, the green-eyed monster. Do I covet the success or advantages or possessions of others? Most of the time, no. I am grateful for what life has given me, grateful for my health, grateful for my friends and family, grateful for every day I’m alive. I agree with what Jean Vanier said about this particular sin: ‘Envy comes from people’s ignorance of, or lack of belief in, their own gifts.’ I am grateful for the gifts I have been given.

02 October 2012

Fifty shades of Peru

September 2011: blonde

The final countdown is on – only fifty more sleeps in Peru!

It seems a little hard to believe that my time here is almost over but I know in my heart the time is right to move on. Don’t get me wrong, I still love living here and every day I find some little thing about life here that fascinates and delights me.

But, I also find myself becoming less patient with some of the more frustrating, annoying, exasperating, trying, maddening, infuriating aspects of Peruvian life. I was reading a blog yesterday, written by an Australian living in Hanoi, and she talked about “the expiry of the statute of limitations on Keeping Your Shit Together” and I understood exactly what she was talking about.

When you first arrive in a new place, you delight in everything you see and find the peculiarities charming. But, as time goes by, your attitude to those peculiarities changes, becomes less tolerant, less accepting, and it gets more difficult to find joy in those little things, more difficult to keep your shit together.

Let me give you an example. A week ago I went to have my hair cut and coloured – time to banish the grey away! This was the same hair salon I’ve patronised since coming to Cusco, so I’m not exactly a stranger to them but, each time, my experience is a little different. I learnt early on to agree a price for both the cut and colour when making the appointment and, if they quoted a higher price – which was often, to tell them I only paid X amount last time – so they would then agree to charge the same this time.

December 2011: still blonde
I’ve become used to emerging with a slightly different hair colour each time I go – not by choice and not because of my lack of Spanish – I point at a colour on the chart and, usually, I come out with something resembling it. I presume dying hair is not an exact science, even for professionals, so I have always accepted a little variation.

March 2012: yep, blonde

But this time it was much more radical. I pointed to light brown and came out almost black. How did that happen? I should’ve guessed something was up, as the receptionist and the stylist had 2 or 3 whispered conversations huddled over the colour chart, and the receptionist rattled about searching amongst the tubes of colour for a good 10 minutes before phoning someone in a hushed voice, after which the stylist came and asked me again which colour I wanted. But then she began confidently squirting colour from a tube and mixing it up, so I just assumed everything was cool.

May 2012: you guessed it! Blonde.

How wrong I was! And did they apologise? No! Peruvians – and here, I know, I generalise but it is the truth as I have experienced it – most Peruvians have no concept of customer service. The idea of the customer always being right would make them laugh. The idea of apologising is totally alien. And did they give me a discount for having made a mistake? No! They had cut my hair. They had coloured my hair. They had done the job so they should be paid for it. The fact that they had done part of it wrong was neither here or there.

And what did I do? Well, I kept my shit together. There was no point in getting angry or jumping up and down. It would have made absolutely no difference to my hair and just made my blood pressure spike. I chose to believe the receptionist when she told me it made me look younger, and I joked to friends and colleagues that I was turning Peruvian.

September 2012: what???? Black!!!!

But it is becoming more and more difficult to keep my shit together in situations like this. And that’s why I know it’s time to move on. Oh, I know that similar things will happen in the next place I call home. Every place has its idiosyncrasies, its eccentricities but, initially, these will be charming, and everything else will be fresh and new and stimulating and exciting – and that’s what I so love about travelling!