31 October 2013

0 to 4000m - Lima to La Paz

I left Lima on Monday and was expecting a few issues at the airport due to the lack of entry stamp in the passport (something they are unsurprisingly expecting to see) and no immigration card (a small piece of paper you get at the point of entry, which you must not lose as it is needed at the point of exit - although I have no idea why Peruvian Immigration (and, to be fair, other countries too - Bolivia, for example) use a paper based system given that all of the entry/exits are recorded electronically).

I had with me a copy of the police report saying my passport had been stolen, a photocopy of my old passport, my new passport which has an issue date of after I arrived in Peru and a letter from HM Passport Office saying "thank you for letting us know your passport has been stolen", all of which was enough to convince the people at the immigration desk that I had a good reason for not having an entry stamp or my immigration card.

They were able to use their computer records to see that my (1)30 day entry permit to Peru had not been overstayed (see above for questions on the use of paper based immigration cards) and so they only fined me $11 for losing the immigration card - a lot less than I had been expecting.

(pro tip: use the left most Immigrating desks at Lima airport, they are much faster as they call over people to the VIP & extra help needed desks when they are free.)



Part of the letter from HMPO stated that the old passport is no longer valid and must not be used if you find it - there would be (serious) questions from immigration people if I did.
As a side note: I would love to have the old passport back - even if i can't use it - there are a lot of stamps in it, all of which bring back happy memories.

Imagine my surprise at being at the cashiers desk at Lima Immigration when one of the managers hurried up to the desk to say that there had been an alert about my passport! Given than my middle name is not "The Jackal" I did wonder what it was about.
Much to my surprise the Lima immigration people knew that my old passport had been stolen and got an alert when the Immigration officer (and cashier) accessed my old entry record (old passport number).

One full explanation of everything (again) and a review of the paperwork later and the manager was happy that I am not some international drug-smuggling super-terrorist trying to sneak my way out of the country by cunningly using their largest airport (cunning, no?) - I am just a traveller who had his passport stolen and I am (trying) to leave the country.


To be fair, I think you could easily sneak out of Peru via Lima airport without too much bother....
Having passed through immigration I wandered towards my gate (having first been robbed of a crazy amount of money for a bottle of water - hurrah for airport "security"), which was past all the gates I was expecting. It was that far past it was actually in the middle of the domestic departures area, an area I suspect is meant to be separate from international departures - the only real difference being if you turn left after "security" (international) or right (domestic). You can walk from one to the other without any restriction once past "security" and then board the plan without any further check of your passport. Security theatre at its finest.


The flight to La Paz managed to leave 10 min late and yet arrive 30 min earlier than expected, which isn't something I will complain about - at 0230 arrival is better than a 0300 arrival.


<rant>
You are on a plane, flying internationally. Just after takeoff the crew walk through the plane and give everyone Customs & Immigration paperwork - paperwork required by the country you are flying to.

Do you:
A) Complete this form on the plane, in the 2 hours you have to kill whilst flying?
B) Wait until you are at the Immigration desk to start filling it in, with a plane load of people waiting behind you?

The person in front of me in the queue picked B. If I were the Immigration officer I would have thrown him to the back of the line, but that is because I have spent far too long in airports and have a (un)surprisingly low threshold towards crap airport users.
</rant>


One short taxi ride to the hotel later (an actual hotel and not a hostel, as I wanted a solo room for the night as I was arriving at silly o'clock and none of the hostels had one available), for which I was charged the normal fare, which is surprising at 3am, and I collapse in to bed at just gone 0300, which is at least an hour earlier than expected.


Jumping from sea level to 4000m after losing most of my acclimatisation from my month in Cusco is a shock to the system - walking up 2 flights of stairs within my backpack was enough to make uncomfortably out of breath. Hurrah for Acetazolamida.



30 October 2013

29 October 2013

Buses in Bolivia (part 2)

The bus journey from Sucre to Tupiza is meant to take about 8 hours according to the Lonely Planet, closer to 10 according to Footprint and, crucially, about 8 hours according to the woman I bought the bus ticket from, who works for the bus company - she should have a fairly authoritative figure.

Imagine my surprise at being dropped off near Tupiza (the bus driver didn't want to drive the extra 2 min to the bus station for reasons that were never explained - I, and the others who got off the bus, were more interested in the question "is this Tupiza?" as the bus driver had pointed across the river and said something about taxis and Tupiza, not quite what any of us were expecting; but it turns out her was just saying this is Tupiza and if you need a taxi they are on the other side of the bridge) after just 5.5 hours total time, including good 20 minute break for "lunch" at around 11am.

I thought the driver was being a little enthusiastic with his speed on some of the roads, but shaving over a quarter off the total journey time is interesting.

Bolivian buses - they're late, apart from when they are very early.

27 October 2013

26 October 2013

Signs you've been travelling too long

The price of a room for the night is $10 (just over 6 quid) and you think it's expensive.

I'm currently paying just over £3.50 per night, although I am sharing with 9 total strangers.

25 October 2013

The road to Lake Titicaca

Thursday 3rd October
After a month in Cusco today is the day to scratch my itchy feet and head out for some adventures, the first stop is Puno for Lake Titicaca.

Leaving isn't all good, I had to say See Ya Later to Mama Carmen*, the woman whose home I'd shared for the last month.
As something I'd arranged via the language school I'd been staying in someone's home for my time in Cusco, which gave me among many things more language practice (Carmen doesn't speak English) and three home-cooked meals each day - she is an amazing cook and loves to feed you, to the cost of many a waistline.

My last night at Carmen's was actually spent on her sofa, as another student needed the bed I was sleeping in (her son's, not with him though) as I'd extended my already extended stay by another day and the school needed to get someone out of a hostel and into a home. 

Carmen wouldn't let me stay in a hostel (it is practically impossible to argue with Mama Carmen, in part due to the language barrier and in part because she will win) and gave me her sofa. Gives you an idea what she's like.

I dragged myself off her sofa at 0530 to make myself human for 0600 departure, taking the short taxi ride to the bus station for my bus to Puno.

I decided to take the touristy bus to Puno, which does the route via several tourist stops, providing an English speaking guide to talk you around the sites and a buffet lunch. This takes a 7 hour journey and turns it into a 9 hour one.

I won't discuss all the stops, as with the exception of Raqchi none were really worth it. Yes the scenery was very pretty and the ruins at Raqchi are quite interesting, but other than it was hours of being hearded around. Not worth the price difference from a normal bus, but a useful experience none the less. 

The bus journey wasn't straight forward, of course - the miners in Juliaca were protesting (I think because the government is trying to change their current free form setup to something more regulated and tax paying) and so the main roads were closed and vehicles being attacked (just rocks being thrown) - the bus driver had to take the bus along roads I really didn't think you'd be able to get a large coach up; narrow, windy, mud based, under construction and up (and then down) a serious hill. I'd want to drive something with the word "Landcruiser" around there, but in part that's because I still have ideas and dreams about building a serious camper van.



Friday 4th October
Another early morning - up at 0530 so that I'd be human enough to have breakfast at 0600 (when the hostel started breakfast - bread, jam and coffee). 

I was running a little late, as my body was complaining about another early morning and not catching up on sleep from the nights before - something I'll have to do when I reach Arequipa.

Threw breakfast down my throat, booked into the hostel again for Sunday night, threw my main rucksack into their storage room (day sack only for the island, but as my day sack is a 35+8 bag** that's not really an issue) and rushed towards the port, thinking that I needed to be there before 0700.

The taxi to the port was a mototaxi, which is a motorbike with a enclosed seat on the back. Kinda like a tuktuk.

A few minutes and a whopping 2/s later (just under 50p) and I'm at the port. Which really doesn't seem all that busy and nowhere near the number of tourists I'd expected.

I should point out that there are 2 ways of visiting the islands on Titicaca - one is to take an organised tour, where they sort out everything for you and then heard you around the island. I was planning on doing this, but after being hearded around with the InkaExpress I am in no hurry to be part of very touristy tour, so I took the other option and DIY'd it.

The DIY approach is to turn up at the docks nice and early, find a boat (there are plenty of people who'll sell you a seat on a boat) and one that gives you what you want (in my case: transport and a home stay) - the there are bonuses karma points if you pick a boat that is part of a lock co-op which benefits the islanders more than the touristy tours, which by the looks of it I did - I stayed at the Captain's house. Yeay for my karma.

Having bought my ticket by 0650 I was told by the boat's Captain (the man who sold me the ticket) that he sails at 0820 and I need to be back at the dock by 0800. Time for a little sit down and the chance to wake up some more, with the sun warming my back and casting a lovely light across the city. (the light this high up is lovely.)

The boat did sail, well - motor, at just gone 0820 and we started the 1 hour 50 journey to Uros, the floating reed islands. A very slow journey, given the distance - something normal, according to the utterly infallible Lonely Planet***.


They are what they sound like, in that they are the ultimate in self-build homes. Not only do the inhabitants build their homes from reeds, they build the islands the homes are on too. From reeds.

The islands are often described as "there is nothing like it anywhere else" which I can well believe. Unique only just starts to cover describing the concept of building an island out of reeds and then building your homes on it, especially when you are only a short distance from land.

Visiting the islands has a "human zoo" feel about it - you turn up, they talk about the islands and how they are made (in Spanish) and then invite you to buy their crafts, which is their method of income.
(note to self: write post on tat shops and how they are everywhere.)

Two hours of sailing later and we arrive at Amantani, the first of the non man made islands to be visited and my home for the night.
The captain of the boat had called ahead and arranged enough beds for us all, where the people we stay with are families who live on the island and who rent out beds to supplement their income - the same as within the group based travel, but where you know that they money paid goes to the family as you place it in their hands. (there is a problem with some tour operators ripping off families who offer home stays).

The steep walk from the harbour up to the houses was a reminder of the altitude and that everything needs to be taken a little more slowly - rushing at 3880m is a very silly idea.

I shared the home with 5 Spanish girls who were also on the boat, making me the token non native speaker.
We discussed (in Spanish) that I'd had 3 weeks of lessons and that before that I essentially had no Spanish - they were very accommodating to my poor and limited Spanish and were happy for me to try and speak Spanish, even though they all had far better English than my Spanish.

As a part of the home stay you are provided with lunch, dinner and breakfast. Although I've been eating home cooked Peruvian food for the last month this is my first taste of Peruvian food which isn't Carmen's - more normal Peruvian food, as compared to the wonders Carmen produces. 

The food was a lot more basic (soup, rice and what I think was fried cheese, along with a little salad which all of us didn't touch - well ingrained fears of salads and what they can do to a traveller's guts - along with the obligatory tea) and whilst not bad, it isn't Carmen's.

After lunch we went for a walk up Amantani "mountain", which is more of a hill but when you are starting at an altitude which is kissing 3900m everything is a mountain.
The walk up was OK, as I took it slow and steady, which is all you can do when this high. 

The walk gave some really nice views across the island and out to Titicaca and was massively peaceful - there are no roads, no traffic, no large group of people - just the sound of me trying to catch my breath, lost in the sound of nothingness.

It also introduced what must be one of the oddest football pitches - one on an island on Titicaca, at ~3900m. I can't imagine it gets much use, but it has a concrete stand for spectators and was probably built at the cost of much sweat and human labour - there aren't any roads to drive building materials up, it all has to be carried.


The traditional thing to do from the top of the island is watch the sun set, but as I'm not all that confident on my feet going down uneven terrain I decided to descend early, so as to get further down whilst we had some light - even with a head torch in my pocket, I wanted to get a fair way down with some daylight.

We had been guided from the house to the start of a single-track, can't possibly get lost, path by one of the family we were staying with, where luckily the path starts by the football pitch - a most useful landmark in an area where otherwise I'd struggle to pick out useful landmarks, something I'm fairly good at in cities and do subconsciously.

When I got to the place where we'd been left I thought I knew the way home, so followed what I thought was the correct path, confident in that the family has said "if you get lost just ask for the house of the Family Coco". After another 5-10 min of walking I'm not seeing what I'd expected to see, where thankfully I was close to a home and the boy ran inside as the big scary man was outside (looking lost). A short conversation in my best Spanish with him mum and the people who live there have no idea who Family Coco are or where they live. Bugger. 

I retraced my steps back to the main path down from the football field and continued to head down hill.

At this point it is worth knowing that whilst there are various houses in the area, there is nothing (obviously) around for people to be travel to/from. This is why I was surprised and thankful to finding another couple of people, neither of who had heard of Family Coco or knew where they lived. Bugger.

Time for the sensible option, as most of the light has gone and I've got no idea where I am or how to get to where I need to be - I return to the place on the path near the football field which is my last known point.

Reaching my last known point and I find one of the Spanish girls, who was waiting for the others to finish walking down. We discussed (in English, as I simply don't have the ability to communicate what I needed to in Spanish) that I'd been further down the hill, no on I'd met knew who the family was and that I really wasn't all that sure of how to get home. She, too, didn't really remember the way but was expecting to be collected by someone from the family at 1800, as that way they can guide us home - something discussed in Spanish and something I was totally unaware of. A theme for the weekend, as it turns out.
Lo and behold part of (the unknown) Family Coco arrived and guided us back to the house. 

What impressed me most about it is how she was very happily navigating and walking over uneven terrain without a torch. What also surprised me was that I found it a lot easier going down hill when all I could see is what my headlight illuminated, as compared to going downhill in the daylight. I this was reinforced the next morning when It was harder to walk over ground I could see than it was when I couldn't. 

The irony in all this... In my main bag safely stored back in Puno was my GPS - the use of which would have saved a lot of hassle. Note to self: always pack the GPS and spare batteries.

Dinner and a fiesta (i.e. locals playing a few tunes, whilst we are taught traditional dances, whilst we wear traditional Peruvian clothing - for a man this is a poncho, which even I can cope with). 

A wonderfully early night. Before 10pm. Asleep within seconds.



Saturday 5th October
Up for breakfast at 0700, having been out cold all night, for a 0800 departure to Taquile, another "big" island on Titicaca.

Just over an hour of gentle motoring and we're there, having had some nice views of what was our home for the night.

I had originally planned on sleeping on the island, but on getting to the island at just gone 9am and being told that we were leaving at 2pm I decided to return to Puno that day and use the time elsewhere - given my fixed time in South America time management is important. 

Having paid our entry free the captain highlighted on the map on the back of the ticket which port we are at (most handy). Cue a 40 min walk up (very steep, in parts) hill (at 3880m) - the only priority at the top was a bit of a sit down, as when you're that high walking up for 40 min is a noticeable thing.

I spent a relaxed few hours poking around the island, taking in the views across the lake (pictures of which exist) and talking randomly in a mixture of English and Spanish with a guy who turns out to be a tour guide.

I don't do souvenirs - in 6+ months of travelling I've bought 2 - but I bought a traditional Peruvian hat, mostly because it was a design which was ok and actually fitted. I look very silly, but it's pure alpaca wool and cost me a tenner.

At about 1300 I decide to wander back down to the boat - the hill is steep and cobbled and it could easily take as long down as it did up.

On the way down self doubt creeps in... Did the Captain say he leaves in 2 hours ("en dos...") or at 2 o'clock ("a dos..."). I reason that it can't be in 2 hours as it is 40 min each way to the main town square and that would leave almost no time to see anything, but given that my Spanish is poor it is possible I got it wrong.

Get to port to discover that I'd totally missed something (which was announced in Spanish) - the boat leaves from a different port than their one it arrives at, which is the other side of the island.
The port the captain circled as we arrived is where we were leaving from, but that isn't where we arrived - something my limited Spanish just couldn't get.

At this point I've got about 30 min to get back up the hill, the one which took me 40 min last time, across the island and down to the other port. Impossible, but I decided to try - move quickly and hope.

The moving quickly lasted about 30 seconds as it is impossible (for me) to run up hill at that altitude; 30 seconds and my body was screaming at me to stop, where if I didn't choose to it would remove the choice from me. I chose to stop.
I then chose to stand, well - tripod, for several minutes trying to catch my breath and not feel like I couldn't breath, despite having a resp rate which was through the roof.

Time for a new plan.

I'd stopped by some stairs which led up to a cafe, which a familiar looking group of tourists were leaving. "Are you Walter's group?" (Walter being the guide I'd been chatting with earlier.) They were and he was up in the cafe finishing his lunch. 

I discussed my problem with Walter and asked if there was any way of making it to the correct port in time - there wasn't. It wasn't likely, but it was worth asking. 

Next plan - catch a lift with another boat, where Walter just happened to have a boat which was returning to the mainland. Handy. I asked if I could ride with him, where he said he'd have to "call the office" and disappeared into the cafe's kitchen to make a call - a suspiciously short period of time later and yes I can, but I've got to "buy a ticket" for 30 sols (about £6.50). It is what I paid for a return to the island, but I don't have a lot of choice - deal.

I head back down to the port, as Walter was finishing up at the cafe, and waited to be invited on to the boat.

The boat was a speed boat by Titicaca standards and a lot more comfortable than the one I arrived on (actual seats vs. a plank of wood with a cushion on) and I was back on the mainland a lot quicker than I would be if I'd taken the boat I should of. 

As I got off the boat I thanked Walter again and very subtly handed him the money for the "ticket" so that his tour group wouldn't see.

Given that I'd missed my boat I wanted to leave a note for the Captain at his office, saying sorry for causing him issues and letting him know I was back safe & well. A small but important thing.

As I approached his office I found him there. "where were you?" he asked, where I explained I'd gone to the wrong port and so had to get a lift back with another boat.

Given that he is the Captain of a slow chugger and I came back on a speedboat he can't have got back to the mainland before me if he left at 2pm. Turns out it was in 2 hours, not at 2 hour.


My Spanish - it needs work.



* don't worry mum, you're not being replaced. Carmen is Mama Carmen to just about everyone who lives at her place. A surrogate mother to many, a replacement to none.

** I really need to learn the art of packing light, but this appears to be something I've failed to learn despite my best hopes. Part of the problem is that I'm travelling through many different climates and need a bit of everything. The other problem is that I've inherited my dad's "that might come in useful" gene.
It should be a lot easier for SE Asia as I only have one climate to deal with and I'll have an even better idea of what I don't need.

*** this is, of course, complete bollocks.

What I did last Friday (part 1)

More pictures to follow when I can find somewhere with useful amounts of bandwidth, but a snap from last Friday.

After months of threatening Gil finally threw me off a cliff and I tried paragliding.


It's amazing!


It is something I had been looking forward to for a long time, but the weather in Lima is a bit unpredictable and so I'd not had the chance to do it when I was last in Lima. I was hoping that the weather gods would smile on me this time.

On Friday the weather looked possible and a quick call to one of the pro pilots down at takeoff and the results was "it's amazing conditions". We took a cab down (15 min) instead of a combie (about an hour), as we both wanted to fly. 

My tandem pilot for the day was the guy Gil called and someone we'd happened to go out with the night before (a Peruvian jazz fusion music thing - don't ask).

As much as I was looking forward to it the cold reality of what I had to do hit me as I was waiting for my turn - I had to walk off a perfectly good cliff. 
Logically in knew that physics would work and that all would be ok; logic doesn't always apply - walking off a cliff is scary. 

After being strapped in and given basic instructions ("walk off the cliff, don't sit down until I tell you to") we were off. 
Walking off a cliff is scary. The brief moment until physics catches up with you is interesting and then it becomes amazingly awesome. You fly. 

No machines. Just you, a wing, (a pilot for a tandem flight), and that's it. It's utterly amazing. 

The flight is only 15 minutes, but that is enough to realise how much fun it is. To fly with the birds, fly along the side of the Mariot Hotel (which is next to the Embassy - I hope Cynthia saw me ;-)), and down along the cliffs - all with an unrestricted view of the world. Amazing. 


I'm already trying to arrange something for Santiago. :) 

What I did last Saturday (part 1)

It was a good day.

Buses in Bolivia

Note to self - overnight buses in Bolivia are less comfortable than those in Peru; you won't arrive at your destination (Sucre, in this case) as well slept as when taking overnight buses in Peru. Factor on needing coffee more than usual.

The sleep wasn't helped by a bloke puking into a bag during the journey, where I've no idea why he didn't use the toilet which was a whole 2 steps from his seat.

On a journey which was meant to take 12 hours it was actually just under 13, which isn't bad for Bolivia.


Greetings from Sucre - a place far more sedate than La Paz, but there are probably war zones which are more sedate than La Paz.



Update: oh, and Bolivian buses are much colder than Peruvian ones. Strongly consider bringing something warm with you - last night my down jacket was very welcome. 

24 October 2013

A pedestrian's guide to La Paz

Are you in La Paz? Want to get somewhere that isn't your hostel and do so by foot? Keen on not dying or being injured? Then listen up...
(ok, so this applies to a lot of other cities - but the drivers in La Paz drive with enough inshallah that you'd think you're in Istanbul.)

Indicators are optional and just because a car isn't signalling that it is going to turn doesn't mean it won't, usually right at the last second and at high speed.

Indicators are optional and just because a car is signalling that it is going to turn doesn't mean it will.

Red lights are just that - lights which are red. They have very little to do with the flow of traffic, unless a copper is near by and even then a medically unwise sized pinch of salt is needed.

The green lights at a pedestrian crossings are just that - lights which are green. Just because you have a signalled right to cross doesn't mean that drivers, especially combi drivers, won't just drive through you. See above.

Accelerate hard, brake hard. Probably stop in time.
Potential business idea to make millions... Brake tuning/repair shop in La Paz and many other cities I've been to - they need it; it just needs very good marketing and sales.

Not every street has a sign telling you its name - consider the benefits of navigating by "3 blocks down, then 2 left", checking what street signs there are.
Accept that (some of?) the tourist maps aren't brilliant. Accept that using your phone to navigate is like hanging a giant "mug me" sign from your neck. (I've just met a woman in the hostel who had her phone snatched from her hand.)

As a driver in La Paz there is no situation where beeping your horn isn't required. Get use to it.
If you've been to China or India then you'll have an idea, although La Paz is nowhere near as bad as China, which in turn is leagues behind India.

Walk slowly, especially if you've just arrived from sea level (as I have).

Run! That driver isn't going to stop now MOVE!
And now catch your breath.

Good luck. :)

22 October 2013

Fashion advice

On Saturday night I gave fashion advice.



My apologies to those of you who read this and snorted coffee out of your nose or who fell over; your reaction is perfectly reasonable.



It's true. I, one of the least best dressed men you know (with a special nod to D at this point), gave someone else fashion advice. Another man fashion advice.

I've spent the last few days with Gil and Henry in Lima, sorry - Callao, and on Saturday night we went out for a few drinks and a bit of a boogie, where one of the clubs we may have ended up in (and in fact did, another blog entry is needed for that) was one of the very few (two?) gay clubs in Lima - a little something for the token part time homosexual who has been on the road for a long time.

Henry, a straight man, was planning on wearing a light blue, shiny, shirt, within dark blue jeans-like trousers. Henry, a straight man, was trying to wear clothes which might "blend in" to a club where he doesn't want to be hit on, as if for no other reason than his girlfriend would find it funny and wouldn't stop laughing at him.

At this point I did something I don't think I've ever done with a man before... I gave fashion advice. The advice mostly consisted of "don't wear that if you don't want some attention", closely followed by tongue-in-cheek "and I'll be upset if you get more attention than I do". There was some mutterings along the lines of "that shirt would be OK with black trousers" (what he ended up wearing), but that is more Gil's  department; mine was stopping Henry having an "interesting" night.


And so it came to pass that someone, anyone, followed my fashion advice. He didn't get hit on.

Traffic problems in Lima

I arrived in Lima on Thursday and made my way in to central Lima to meet Henry as he'd offered me a lift home, in part as he's a good guy and in part because anything else would be expensive and difficult (taxi's from Lima treat going to Callao in the same way a London cabbie treats "going that side of the river at this time of night", along with added permit issues). As was, getting my rucksacks through Lima's public transport (the "metro" buses - they are kinda like the tube, but with buses; thus no expensive underground infrastructure to build and maintain, in an earthquake prone region) at rush hour was excitement enough.


I met Henry at Starbucks (crap coffee, but easy to find and has free WiFi) and we headed home.


Whilst driving back, still firmly in  the centre of the city, we drive down what he described as "one the most dangerous roads in Lima" - where there were plenty of women, and surprisingly for a very conservative country which has cultural issues with non hetrosexual interactions, a few men negotiating their virtue along the road; nothing different from pretty much every other (capital) city in the world. Nothing surprising or note worthy.

What was note worthy is that Henry mentioned that the traffic around there gets bad (not because of the services for sale, traffic in Lima is just bad - makes London look free-flowing) and that when this happens the prostitutes start to direct and control traffic, unblocking the roads.

The reason? No free movement of traffic results in less trade for them - so they fix the traffic problems.


New timezone

I'm in Bolivia and as such I'm now BST -5 (UTC - 6).

21 October 2013

Signs I travel with BA too often

Signs I travel with BA and other One World alliance members too often... I can remember my BA Executive Club membership number.

Passport - A Thank You

To Wendy, Gary, Gillian, Cynthia and all those who sit behind the scenes whose names I don't know....

Thank You.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me get a replacement passport in to my hands much faster than I dared to hope for; thank you for rescuing more of my time in South America than I thought possible; thank you for allowing me to continue living my dream.

Thank you.

Rob (off to Bolivia on Monday night)

Happiness is...

Walking into a bookshop in Lima and finding an English language edition of the latest National Geographic - something I keep seeing in shops all over the world and something I'm always disappointed to discover/remember isn't in English.

Delight is finding 2 back issues you'd forgotten you brought to Peru, stored in a box of stuff in Lima.

Three whole National Geographics to read, a copy of Geographical (another discovery) and my last remaining paper book (until I can swap some) - Rendezvous With Rama. A good haul.

17 October 2013

Almost the last passport update

The passport is in the Embassy in Lima. I'm also in Lima.

Well, Callao, if you are being specific and the people from Callao do like to make it clear they're from Callao and not Lima.

So I'm off to The British Embassy in Lima (not Callao) to collect some very important pieces of paper, after which I can make some "plans" about where to go next.

Bolivia, probably.

Hell on the Peruvian buses

The long distance buses in Peru are very good, especially of you use one of the better companies - Cruz De Sur, for example.

As a part of the service there is, or should be (it's not work on its bus), on board WiFi, comfortable seating, food and on boards movies. Budget airlines horror this isn't.

The horror has come in there form of the choice of film for this journey... Breaking Dawn Part 2. Having seen bits of it out of the corner of my eye... Urgh.

Thankfully I've got books, something I've had the pleasure of having my head stuck in a lot recently. Although this does mean I've got to find somewhere to swap them in Lima, as I've read everything I've got with me.

12 October 2013

Sandboarding

Sandboarding. It's a lot like snowboarding from what I've been told, but where you land in sand instead of snow when, an not if, you fall off.

Given my generally poor sense of balance I did the sensible thing and went down hill face first instead - faster, where falling off doesn't carry as much of a risk of injury; it just results in even more sand being wedged in to your body.

Huacachina itself is a tiny oasis just outside Ica, which the Lonely Planet describes as a "gringos' playground" which is a fair summary. It also says that you can "get lost here for days", which I can believe. Warm, sunny, easy going, an endless supply of randoms to chat to and drink with, and lots of my current favourite place - hammocks.

You only really need one night here, as the dune buggy tour + sandboarding only takes a couple of hours. I've been here for 2 and am considering a third, as all I've got to do is a half morning trip to "the poor man's Galapagos" between now and Wednesday, when I'm due in Lima.

11 October 2013

International coming out day

So apparently it is International Coming Out Day - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Coming_Out_Day as one of many sources of information.

I've discussed reoutting yourself with a friend of mine in the past, where they out their sexuality quickly to people, as (among other reasons) there is the political element to it - they can and so do.

My sexuality isn't an issue to me and in the past I'd not seen the need to re-out / declare my sexuality as a political statement, but where that has changed - in the last 5.5 months I've met many many people, some of whom simply can't publicly be who they are. This is wrong.

So. In support of those who can't....

I don't care what the sex and/or gender of someone I fancy is, where I  use the convenient shorthand of "I'm bisexual" to describe this.

Smile for the camera

You can tell you are on a nicer bus service in Peru when they start to film you. Not because they want a record of your happy smiling face for their collection of People We've Got Somewhere On Time. Oh no.

It's for if they have a crash then they've got a way of identifying you.

See also taking a thumbprint, which didn't happen this time but did on them bus to and from Huaraz.

Another passport update

I got this from the Passport Office earlier today...

Thank you for your e-mail. I can confirm that we have received confirmation from the British Embassy in Lima and your passport application has now been issued with passport and supporting documents being sent to the British Embassy as requested. Also DHL have advised that it can take between 10 and 14 days for passports to be delivered.
 

Rah. :)

9 October 2013

Wetsuits

There are few people who look good in a wetsuit and it discovered yesterday that I'm not one of them.

I also discovered that white water rafting is really *really* good fun and is something I'm going to have to do again whilst travelling and then when I get home.

I'm also going to have to discover how not to swallow river water, as its not all that good for you - a small cost for something that much fun.

7 October 2013

Breathing

For the first time in about 5 weeks I'm under 2500m. The air feels lovely and thick.

Half way, ish

I wrote the following to a friend yesterday...

... If I "only" make 10 months of travel then I'm over half way, if I can make the money last for a whole year then I'm very nearly half way around. Either way... Eeek!
I've no idea where the time has gone or what I've seen & done.

I had originally planed, dreamed, of spending 12 months travelling, where because it decides to do the 120 daytime overland trip I accepted that I might only have the money for 10 months - yet another trade when it comes to spending time add money travelling.

Either way, I'm either just under or just over half way. Assuming, of course, plans don't change again. :)

Kayaking on Lake Titicaca

This morning I spent a wonderful hour slowly paddling a kayak from Puno to one of the floating islands. An hour of slowly make my way throw the water, avoiding mostly, but not all, the reeds - I blame the fact that I was paddling a 2 man kayak on my own. :)

An hour of total tranquillity, if you ignore the sound of the outboard on our guide's boat, and which is really easy to do when you can lose yourself in the paddling.

We then spent an hourly on one of the islands, which was very different to the one I visited one Friday - much more developed (there was a small cafe on the island) and setup for tourists; the one on Friday was tiny (maybe about 20 paces across) and a lot less developed. Interesting to see both, where the more touristy of the two felt a lot less like a human zoo and more like a tourist attraction.

The time was spent with two Brits from my hostel who also did the trip (it was arranged via the hostel), which was, as always, more discussion on travel (some useful info on buses in Bolivia, among general banter), with all small side helping of discussion on food from home, another regular topic.

Return to Puno was via a motor boat, similar to the one from my other trips across the lake, which is a lot less tranquil.

Kayaking has been added to my Things To Try Again When I Get Home list; I liked it a lot and it's the highlight of my time on the lake.

The bus to Arequipa

Having someone play music out loud on their phone is annoying when on a short bus journey - imagine my joy of the person sitting next to me for a 6.5 hour journey (Puno to Arequipa) the doing that.

I wasn't unhappy to see her leave at the first stop (Juliaca), after a mercifully short hour.

This post is brought to you by the association of Grumpy (Old) Men.

6 October 2013

Experiences

A ((very) large) part of travelling is the experiences you have, be it things you expect to do (visit X location) or the unexpected (random nights out).

Tomorrow's experience is something I've been toying with for the last few days, since I took a proper look at travelling on and around Lake Titicaca. Tomorrow I'm off to kayak to Uros (the floating islands on Titicaca), a place I went to yesterday - but this is all about the journey and not the destination.

Spanish by Spanish people

After the pleasant surprise from a couple of days ago a small reality check....

My home stay on one of the islands on Titicaca was with 5 Spanish girls, where I was the only non native Spanish speaker.

After a month in Cusco and hearing slowly spoken Spanish, trying to understand conversations in Spanish spoken by Spanish people was useful reminder that although it's all Spanish, it is different across the world and people from Spain speak *fast* and slur their words. For a lot of the time I couldn't pick out words, just that they were talking.

It will be interesting to see what the Spanish is like in Bolivia and Chile.

There was another useful reminder that my Spanish isn't all that, but that's for the post I need to write on visiting Titicaca and the islands.

4 October 2013

Today's pleasant surprise

The amount of Spanish I was able to speak with the random Italian guy I was sat next to today on the bus from Cusco to Puno.

3 October 2013

This weekend I shall mostly be...

... Floating around on Lake Titicaca.

After 4 weeks in and around Cusco I head to Puno tomorrow morning and then spend a few days visiting Titicaca.

1 October 2013

Odd sight of the day

Man on the top of an open-top tour bus, with a camera in his hand (so far so good) and what looked a lot like a Go Pro strapped to his head.