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Archive for the ‘South america’ Category

Searching for Friendliness

Posted by Leanne on October 27, 2010

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The Amigo hostel seems to get quite bad reviews on the internet – apparently for its rude staff, meagre kitchen facilities and dodgy light fittings. Though the staff hadn´t been rude to me, I did feel that there was a general difference between the people I had encountered who worked in hostels in Bolivia, to the numerous open and friendly people I had met in Peru. I got the impression this was maybe because, like people from my own country, maybe the Bolivian people are a little more reserved and take longer to get to know you.

On the other hand, regarding the reviews of the hostel, I did have to go to 5 different bathrooms before I found one with a light that worked and a door that would shut, just so I could have a shower, and the pitiful facilities offered in the communal kitchen certainly didn´t live up to their reputation as a kitchen – e.g. there was no fridge and the oven didn´t work. Though this provided entertainment value as I watched a group of English lads try to cook chicken nuggets, taking it in turns to hold in the knob on the oven in to make it stay on, it didn´t really make for a convenient place to live for the next few weeks, so I resolved to sort something else out that afternoon.

At 9am I arrived at the building where my class would take place and knocked on the door. A woman opened the gate.

“Tengo un clase.” I said to her.

“No estan aquí todavia,” she said, and shut the gate in my face.

I stood there in the few seconds it took for a teacher to arrive thinking about how I missed Peru and that if I was there right now, I would probably sitting inside the courtyard with the woman who answered the gate discussing everything I´ve eaten in the past week, and everything I plan to eat for the next month. Maybe, I thought, Peru is just more friendly.

On the way back to the hostel after class I popped into a shop to buy a notebook and was finally greeted by someone cheerful and friendly and very concerned that I keep an eye on my bag at all times. She restored my faith in the Bolivian people and convinced me that maybe I´d just been unlucky so far.


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Chat Up Lines

Posted by Leanne on October 11, 2010

As a chica travelling alone, and being of the pale skinned variety, it’s inevitable that I’m going to stand out in a Latino country, and therefore attract a bit of attention from the local chicos who see nothing wrong with giving a lady an appreciative whistle, hola, honk of the car horn, or general look up and down. It takes a few days to get used to, but never seems to be done in a threatening way, and is merely a fact of life for any white-skinned woman exploring the cities in Peru alone. At least I’m not blonde!

Occasionally, if you stand or sit still for long enough, you’ll get more than an ‘hola’ and here are some examples:

  • ¿No estás fria? (¡no – soy de inglaterra!)
  • ¿Te gusta bailar? (¡Si, claro! Pero no contigo…)
  • Your boyfriend probably already has a new girlfriend in England (nice try)
  • Tu llevas el ritmo como una Latina (chat up line rather than compliment, given that I was sitting at a table barely moving my shoulders at the time)
  • I like to dance, but I can’t dance like you (spose it could’ve been an insult, it’s all in the context with that one)

And finally, not a chat up line, but a man who made me smile- a Peruvian style lollipop man, wearing a sherrif-style uniform and bearing a red sign sporting the word ‘pare’ (stop) greeted me with the words ‘Happy day lady!’ as I walked past him and it brightened up my day!

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The Good, The Bad, and the Giant Jesus

Posted by Leanne on October 10, 2010

Bad things about today:

  • Only 5 hours sleep
  • A hangover
  • Hair smells of smoke (remember when people could smoke in bars?)
  • Going to my host family´s parents house and being fed Fish soup, followed by ceviche (raw fish), followed by seafood risotto. I don´t like fish.

Good things about today:

  • A cycle date with potentially-boring-Bruce who turned out to be a bit less boring when cycling
  • Getting up close and personal with Giant Jesus

Giant Jesus, Sachaca

Giant Jesus, Sachaca

  • Sampling some picarones
  • A brief but friendly chat in spanish with some Mormons on the street
  • Clouds (= smashing sunset)

Rare Sunset (lack of clouds can be boring)

  • The moon made the sky loook like it was smiling at me 🙂

Smile in the sky

Smile in the sky

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That´d be the Daewoo

Posted by Leanne on October 8, 2010

Taxis in Peru aren´t regulated. Any old person with a car and a sticker boasting the word ´TAXI´can start driving passengers around and charging them for the often bumpy and thrilling ride.

For this reason, anyone who works in the tourist industry is always very concerned that, as a gringa, I should be careful of which cars I get into when hailing taxis from the street. It´s as if they assume I´ve never read a guide book or anything. The best ones to look for (in Arequipa – Lima is a whole ´nother world!) are ones with phone numbers on the top – it shows that they´re from a proper business, and so probably won´t drive you to a deserted spot and steal all your stuff.

Once you have selected your chauffeur for the journey, just sit back and enjoy the ride. It is likely that you will find yourself in a ´crappy little daewoo´, usually yellow, but sometimes white or blue. Maybe there will be a few dents or scratches in the bodywork, a smashed headlight, or a crack in the windscreen. I heard one story of a person who got into a taxi only to notice a great big hole in front of him where he imagined the last passenger´s head hit the windscreen… If you get in the back, don´t expect any seatbelts.

In Peru, people drive too close to each other, they pull out in front of each other, they cut each other up, and they honk their horns a lot. I haven´t checked this out as fact, but I assume that MOTs aren´t necessary in this country. And neither is sobriety, judging by the amount of Pisco my host family drink before getting in a car and driving home.

For these reasons, unless it´s dark, or you have a heavy bag to carry, it´s probably best to walk, and if you do need to take a taxi, just stare at the inevitable Jesus picture hanging from the rearview mirror and hope that he really does exist and is watching over you, just until you safely reach your destination…

Crappy Little Daewoo

Crappy Little Daewoo

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Plaza de Armas

Posted by Leanne on October 2, 2010

A grand square with palm trees scattered liberally between the numerous benches, casting limited shelter from the never ending sunlight.

Pigeons gather, along with tourists and locals alike around the fountain. If you want a pigeon to sit on you, or a hundred pigeons to annoy the person sitting next to you, you can buy birdseed from one of the Mary Poppins-esque bird ladies in the plaza.

Men and women in fluorescent bibs boasting “llamadas” gather on the outside of the plaza, clutching mobile phones in their hands, ready to hire them out to anyone who needs to make a call. It beats the smelly vandalised phone boxes typical on the streets back home.

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

A man sits on a bench with a well worn old fashioned typewriter perched on his knee. For a price, he will fill in a form for you, or type out a document.

Helados and chocolates for sale from various vendors, or sit and have your shoes shined while you read the paper.

A blonde haired, pale skinned couple sit down to consult their guidebook while nearby, a family take photos of each other surrounded by pigeons, next to the fountain. It is a good place to learn the Spanish word for pigeon: paloma.

The modern white stoned cathedral, with it’s two elegant towers sits ethereally observing it all from behind an iron fence.

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Back to School

Posted by Leanne on September 27, 2010

Even in the heart of the second largest city in Peru, cock crows can be heard from 4 or 5am every morning and today was no exception. I have no idea where they are coming from, but hope one day to be able to sleep through my pre-alarm early morning call.

I had a surprisingly clear head as I showered an prepared for my first day at school, but Rosa seemed a little less perky and instead of walking with me to school as previously promised, she hailed a taxi in her pyjamas, got in and escorted me there that way instead. Later, during my 2 hour grammar-thon Pepe asked me (in Spanish) “Why did Rosi come in her pyjamas this morning?” to which, with my limited vocabulary I could only reply “There was a party last night.”

I arrived at the school at about the same time as my conversation teacher, Claudia and with only the briefest of introductions I was shown through to a desk and we started chatting, in Spanish. It was a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly spend two whole hours having a conversation in a language I had previously struggled to sort out some laundry with, and probably quite hard work for Claudia to tease the vocabulary I did have out from some dark corner of my brain, but somehow, with little regard for any grammar and the excessive use of infinitives (on my part) we managed to communicate.

After a short break in which I met the other three students at the school, Pepe, a tall unkempt character with an impressive handlebar moustache, called me back to my desk where we worked through a 40 page spiral-bound book of grammar.

Two hours later, I walked out into the midday sunshine, pleased to have survived my first day at school and looking forward to learning more the next day.

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My New Family

Posted by Leanne on September 26, 2010

I awoke at 6:30am so that I had time to pack everything up in preparation for moving to my new house in time for breakfast. For a while, I thought that I might have been stood up (again), until 45 minutes later than arranged, Rosa, my new mamá rang the door bell at the hostel and led me to an old white beetle (car) where Javier (papá) and Viviana (hermana) were waiting to drive me to my new place. None of them spoke much English, which was a bonus, but Rosa told me that her other daughter, Paola did speak very good English.

After a late breakfast and a sit around in the flat, where I wasn´t sure if I was allowed to move or not, I was invited to go with the rest of the family to watch Javier play football.

At the Sports complex, I was kissed on the cheek by about 20 Peruvians and invited for a tour around the club with Javier´s dad – a complete gentleman who always insisted on walking on the road-side of me all the way round.

Back at the football pitch, the game was over and I got kissed on the cheek by another 10 peruvians, one or two of whom spoke a little bit of English. As the afternoon progressed and the footballers started to join the merry group, a crate of beer and some food for a barbeque appeared. Between 27 people, there were only three glasses, and I quickly worked out that the tradition was to pour a little cerveza into a glass, drink it quickly and then pass it on.

Over time, the beer turned to Pisco and Sprite, and Javier declared me “¡Mi hija blanca!” when I consented to try “una piscita.”

I spent the afternoon not understanding much of what was going on, sometimes observing as an outsider at the bizarre situation I had put myself in, feeling that it was possibly the weirdest thing that I had ever done, sometimes just staring out at the towering volcanoes which framed the complex, sometimes feeling pleased that my new family seemed like a fun bunch, and other times trying to make some sense of the spanish babble which filled the air around me… but all the time, becoming a little bit more tipsy, so not really caring much.

As the sun started to set, the temperature dropped, and someone declared that we would be going to a karaoke bar… which we discovered was closed when we got there, so instead, everybody went back to my new pad to try their voices on karoke DVDs, drink more Pisco and break out their dance moves.

Javier & Rosa

Javier & Rosa

I managed a semi-successful conversation with a 7 year old who, along with her sister took it upon herself to “look after” my camera and take some photos for me.



I fell into bed earlyish (everyone left at about 10) feeling glad that I seemed to have landed in a friendly place, even if I was still a little bemused…

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Adiós a Pau-ool

Posted by Leanne on September 23, 2010

Since it was Paul´s last day before being sentenced to 2 days in one taxi, four planes, a train, and perhaps another taxi, followed by a lifetime of paid employment, it was up to him to decide what he wanted to do and the verdict was to visit the beautiful, if a little pricey Santa Catalina Monastery, and as a special treat, we even paid for a tour guide, since we knew that we were both too lazy to bother reading any of the signs on the walls.

A village unto itself, it looked like a perfectly pleasant place to live, and even the religious art wasn´t all that creepy. Until you found out that the hair and nails on the sculptures were made with real nun´s hair and nails…

The Last Supper

The Last Supper

Our guide, Ada asked if we spoke Spanish and I so I told her about my upcoming 3+ weeks of lessons.

“Two weeks,” she said, “is enough. In three weeks, you will be professional.” I enjoyed her faith even if I didn´t quite believe it!

Santa Catalina Monastery

Santa Catalina Monastery

For lunch we went posh, in a restaurant with amazingly attentive staff who didn´t automatically present us with an English menu without asking which we preferred first, and served us with delicious food which ended up costing about a tenner each. Including a tip.

In other news, we crossed the river to scope out my Spanish school and to find out what was going on with my accommodation for next week. In a quiet residential area, we wandered down the correct street, looking for building C4. A security guard who was stationed on the street came over to see what we were looking for, and before I had even managed to mutter “Dónde está…” he said “¿C4 – escuela de español?” and took us there. I like to think that it was his sole job – to spot lost-looking gringos and take them to the place they are looking for.

A view of El Misti (the volcano) from the River

A view of El Misti (the volcano) from the River

Inside the building, there was a bustling atmosphere and it was nice to hear lessons going on in the background as I established that I would be moving in with my new family on Sunday morning, in time for breakfast. It was a flying visit, but set my mind at rest amd sparked a little feeling of excitement at the prospect of the next few weeks.

After a beer down Tourist Alley at the back of the Cathedral, I waved goodbye to Señor Pau-ool and returned to the hostel alone. While I was at the computer, Ricardo, who works at the hostel came to check that I was OK and we communicated in some form using my dreadful Spanish for a while. Knowing that I was now all alone, he offered to make me some traditional Arequipan food for lunch the next day.

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The Jungle is Intoxicating

Posted by Leanne on September 18, 2010

Somehow, the jungle is intoxicating.

Maybe it´s the good food in huge quantities: fresh fruits, rice, potatoes and meat coupled with the humid heat that induces you to fall asleep at every opportunity. Or maybe it´s the continuous ring and whine of the cicada, coupled with the squawk of the Macaw, and the aluring call of the whatever-it-is bird which casts a hypnotic spell over you.


Roly Poly Birds (probably not their official names)

Roly Poly Birds (probably not their official names)


Maybe the monkeys climbing in the tree tops and leaping from branch to branch above your head are just for show. Perhaps the fresh Brazil nuts that our guide picked from the ground and macheted out of their shells contained some kind of drug.


James and Listen go tribal

James and Listen go tribal

It could just simply be the swing of the hammocks betwen the trees that cocoon you into a deep sleep Or perhaps the scent of the Garlic tree, and the magic of the walking palm which knock you out. Of course, a fruitless search for otters on a catarmaran on the lake can be tiring, especially following a 5am start, and a 3 hour hike through the tangled tree roots in the jungle as the sun starts to lift its firey head above the horizon to break through the canopy with orange puddles of light. The brightly coloured dragonflies on the lake, the buzzing of their insect friends around your head, the sight of a large black caiman. Or it could just be the heat.


On the Lake

On the Lake


But no. It seems that it must be something more powerful than the heat and exercise that makes me want to sleep all the time and with it, brings dreams of people I haven´t seen or thought about in years.

It could be Dengue fever – transmitted by mosquitos. Apparently that makes you sleepy. But I haven´t acquired any more bites since I arrived in Tambopata National Park and my mosquito net seems to keep me safe from a wealth of tiny little dangers throughout the night.

It could be all of the deet I´ve been spraying onto my skin, gradually seeping through, into my bloodstream and sapping my energy. But it´s probably just the heat.

A cold shower (the only kind of shower which is available) revives me temporarily and a walk around the medicinal gardens with Listen brought new energy as he rubbed dye made from the leaves of the sangre del wotsit tree into our faces.





I stayed awake for a night walk with grasshoppers, tree frogs, leaf cutter ants and a tarantula but then the jungle spell fell upon me again.


Tree Frog

Tree Frog


Somehow, the Jungle is intoxicating.

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Welcome to the Jungle

Posted by Leanne on September 17, 2010

At 5am we woke from our broken sleep on the bus and collected our bags to walk into a small bus station at Puerto Maldonado. There, there was noone to pick us up as promised, and no answer from either of the two phone numbers we had been given (what is it with these Peruvian tour companies and their promises?!).

Fortunately, our knight in shining armour for the day wasn´t far away. Someone who worked at a local hostel was looking for a couple of his guests, who didn´t seem to have turned up and he spotted the two lost looking gringos and helped us out. He told us where to find the Explorer´s Inn office (just a 5 minute walk in a straight line along a wide dusty road, or a 5 sole moto-taxi ride. Since we had hours to burn before our tour started, we took the walking option and were soon sitting inside the Puerto Maldonado office awaiting our guide and the rest of our group who would be arriving by plane.

The road to the Explorer´s Inn office

The road to the Explorer´s Inn office

Five hours later (including a bit of a snooze and some reading) Listen, our guide for the next 2 days came over and introduced himself, and load us into the bus. Our first stop was the tiny airport, where we picked up James and Jennie from Salt Lake City, and they formed the other half of our group.

After about an hour´s drive on a bumpy road on an even more bruised, battered and bumpy bus, we arrived at the Tambopata river where we boarded the boat which would take us to the lodge.

Before reaching our final destination, we made a quick stop at the Tambopata checkpoint to sign in and to receive the ´BEST STAMP EVER´in our passports.

Tambopata stamp

Tambopata stamp

At the lodge, we were greeted with glasses of cold passionfruit juice to quench the thirst while we completed the paperwork to check in. Sitting around doing nothing in the Puerto Maldonado office had caused us to break a sweat in the hot and humid jungle air, and so walking up the steep steps from the boat and along the short path to the lodge was positively exhausting.

To our surprise and delight, our first activity (caiman spotting) wasn´t to be until 6:15pm, since the afternoon is often reserved at the lodge for swinging around in hammocks and relaxing while you wait for the sun to do its worst, so we dumped our stuff in our cabin (wooden, mesh windows, roof weaved from leaves, leopard print curtains and bedspreads to match, and the all important mosquito nets hung over the beds) and then went about doing some relaxing.

The Explorer´s Inn lodge does have electricity, but since it is all solar powered , it is rationed carefully and so not available in our rooms. The guests were to make do with candles.

After a mercifully cold shower, we lay in the hammocks and dozed to the screech of the birds who nested in a nearby tree, the squawk of the resident Macaw and the ´drip drip drop´sound of a bird that I never got round to identifying during my stay.



At 6:15pm sharp, we gathered in the lodge dining room where, over a snack of salted banana chips, we learned all about caimans – a relative of the aligator – the different species, what they eat (only eat tourists if they´re really hungry), and where they dwell.

During our river trip, we could expect to see spectacled caimans, and indeed we did. Listen did a fantastic job of spotting their eyes glinting in the torchlight and immediately signalled to the boat driver who took us up close and personal with about 5 different ones. We ended the boat trip by turning off the lights and sitting in the dark, listening to the sounds of the jungle.



That done, we headed back to the lodge just in time to hear the dinner bell. Despite still feeling hot, sticky and a little dehydrated, we still shared a Cusqueña beer as we ate our extremely generously portioned three course meal.

As seems to be the norm with these trips, we retired under our mosquito nets at 9:30pm, for a hot and sticky sleep until daylight the next morning.

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