Archive for August, 2013

10 Things the Guidebook Don’t tell you About… Peru

August 19, 2013

1. Construction. Everything is in a different stage of construction, half built buildings are everywhere to the point where some cities look like they wouldn’t have existed a few months previously. Piles of rubble squat on the streets in many areas. Juliaca is basically a building site. We were told that in Bolivia you don’t have to pay tax on your house until it’s finished so many people leave their houses unfinished on purpose. I’m assuming the same goes for Peru.

2. Horn honking. Particularly in Lima honking your horn when driving is just what you do. All the time. Honk if they’re driving too slow; honk if they’re driving too fast; honk if they won’t let you through; honk to say thankyou if they do; honk if you’re sat in traffic; honk if you’re not. It’s so noisy. It’s even got to the point where the council have put up signs saying “No Honking”.

3. Queueing. They don’t do it. Don’t bother trying. They will walk in front of you even if it’s obvious you’re waiting.

4. Food portions. The USA get a raw deal it seems, people always say that they serve massive portions. In Peru, they serve MASSIVE portions. How is one person supposed to eat all that?! I’m sure it’s generosity, but I feel guilty about how much I have to leave on my plate when I’m full! It is still a full plate! Three or four people could eat one portion here and be full.

5. Tourism. In some places, like the floating islands (crazy man made islands, made out of compacted reeds in Lake Titicaca), Tourism makes up 50% of the residents’ income. It’s big money. Aguas Calientes is almost, it seems, entirely made up of shops and hotels aimed at us. Shops selling “artisan” products are everywhere and of varying quality. Saying that, it makes it easy to be a tourist here and you always feel pretty safe.

6. Bartering. Although it is entirely out of my character to do this, being embarassed and British, you really can barter here. My friend Lisa was very good at it, getting prices halved sometimes. In Ollaytatambo we wanted to buy a little jumper for a child, she quoted us too much and wouldn’t come down so we walked away. The lady actually sprinted 100m after us saying “OK ten!!” and sold it to us there on the street.

7. Native Peoples. I had the impression that most native peoples in Peru would wear normal clothes and that those in traditional dress just did it for the tourists but this is very far from the truth. Many local people still wear traditional dress and the campesinos working the fields are certainly not doing it for tourism.

8. There are inca ruins everywhere. Like, actually everywhere.

9. Collectivos. I said this about Chile too but these are amazing! Taxis that pick up other people too and cost next to nothing for very long journeys. Only thing is you often have to wait until they’re full before you can leave.

10. Couldn’t think of any more so a guy called Tom has told me: if you drink alcohol at Machu Pichu you get banned for life. Something to keep in mind!

From Copacabana to La Paz

August 10, 2013

Fleeing Copacabana on Independence Night sans-camera felt about right for the experience we’d had there. Trying to fill the coach as we waited to leave, people ran around screaming “La Paz” while a dusty garage blocked our view of the sunset over the lake. Beauty only slightly missed by the chaos of it all. As we pulled away, the statue of an Inca leader saluted the hidden sunset.

I found it quite disconcerting that we continued to stay next to the lake for the next hour despite our destination being inland. Then a man dressed in khaki arose and began banging against the driver’s door. I was, at this point, quite concerned about the coach we were on. The driver let him in. 2 minutes go by and khaki man returns. He begins shouting directions in Spanish: we were all to get off the coach and get on a ferry and this would cost us 2$B. Everyone get off and queue.

So into the darkness we went, English people gathering, piecing together a translation and heading toward the few lights of the ferry port. We joined the end of the only queue available and watched as the people at the front went toward the outline of wooden decking and a half open boat at the end. Then off they went across Titicaca.

As we got nearer the front, each person said the number of tickets they wanted and a hand took their money and passed back tickets. You couldn’t see a face or body behind the blackened glass in this boleto-booth and as I got there I did the same: “Uno”.

We all hurried onto the boat, wrapping jumpers around ourselves in the altitudinal cold. People looked around at each other for support, their eyes asking “Are we going to be ok?” I stared at the incredibly starry sky – the lightning from previous towns flashed behind mountains creating brief silhouettes. I didn’t know.

Once across the water, club music boomed from a white washed bar and our khaki man ran off to the banos. We were suddenly surrounded by movement: party people buying street food on their way home/way out (knowing South Americans); tourism reliants immediately on call (they’d been waiting for us) and other bus groups wandering around in the surreal glare of the street.

Once back on the bus, it felt as if we might be able to relax. I put my ipod on shuffle and experienced a strange mix of Gogol Bordello, Bellowhead, Goldfrapp, the Artful Dodger and – most fittingly – OMC – How Bizarre.

The next section of our trip turned out to be even more uncomfortable, lit by the odd battered street lamp…

Through a meshed curtain I see
The road ahead –
White lines curve around mountain
Cars with hazard lights flashing
Litter the hard shoulder.

Night has enveloped the landscape
Constellations of villages
Reflect the night.
The chaos of Copacabana has been left
Under an electric sky.

Gradually the relics of farmhouses
Roll along the conveyor belt view,
A tollbooth proclaims
‘Welcome to La Paz’ and soon
We enter Surburbia.

Like a Ballardian dystopia
Houses left half made or half broken
Stutter past – not all empty.
One man, hunched, half broken
Kicks the dirt
Above the orange glow of light pollution.

On the last remaining wall of a wretched home
The word ‘Mas’ in white – More.
And rubble, piles of it, as high walls,
Above open drainage,
Act like no man’s land defences.

And within it all
Protected bricks of blue
Proclaim ‘Pepsi made here.’
The factory pipes shine as silver beacons
For the dream –
Capitalism.

A woman, in traditional dress,
Moves a wheelbarrow of rubbish
Toward a fire on the street.
She tips it in.

Hoods hangout at an abandoned tollbooth
Heads face the floor.
A Bolivian flag wisps through a broken window
Flying high for the poor.

The bus mopes along
Through this wasteland left in wait
And the lights of La Paz
Begin to liberate.

But behind us
One light remains in a windowless block
The silhouette of a hatted woman.
She stares at the blank walls ahead
Just another person the world forgot.

Machu Pichu: The Tourists Take the Dawn

August 1, 2013

Aguas Calientes
Your dogs are revolting –
Patrolling sectors
By night; three perch
Beneath my window, by 2am
Lack of sleep has me barking with them.

2 hours later, tourists take over
Following the scent of the station
Like ants toward their nest.
The queue of backpacks and sunhats
Extends into the sunrise
While condensed-milk coffee is sold
By the roadside.

A town of tourism rises early
And the sleepless nights in you, Calientes, show
In the rattle of fingernails she runs through her hair; the momentary stutter of her fluttering lashes; and the need in her face that says
Buy, buy, buy:

I am awake for you.

Buses come and run past
‘Te para ti?’
The queue moves slow
‘Cigarillo or three?’
But on each bus a reminder
Of our destination
And as we board and pull away, Calientes,
We are brought above you
Ascending, ascending, ascending until…

Abre los ojos, Calientes,
For above you is what you could be,
Where the sky’s canopy breaks
And an all powerful sun
Frees us
And awakes.