Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The perils of eating partly cooked Fish!!

Well we got to Pisco and the hostel was good and there was water in the pool, which of course makes it a mecca for holidaying Peruvian families. Pisco is an odd sort of place, still recovering from the 2007 earthquake that destroyed 80% of the city, close enough to the fish meal factories to have an awful aroma when the wind changes direction and with a "beach" that is so dangerous that the locals don't use it. We were one of only 5-6 other foreign tourists and took great care where we went in town. I arrived with a bit of a delicate stomach and left with a worse one.

The absolute highlight was a trip to the Ballestas islands, which had so many seabirds you could hardly see the rock, the air was pungent with the smell of the sea lions and there were cute Humbodt penguins. We shared our trip with a boatload of Peruvians so it wasn't quiet. We left from Paracas, which was a place we had thought about staying in but it wasn't great and a local lad said not to go in the sea as it is full of chemicals and it irritates the skin!!

After our boat trip we thought we would have a quiet lunch, we had spotted a huge cruise ship and guess what............they were spending the day in Paracas. It had left Florida in early January and was a 5 month round the world cruise. 90% of the passengers were American so prices in town were inflated!!  We met one guy who was on his 41st cruise, he was 87 and still quite sprightly  Chris tried a couple of times to stop the Yanks getting ripped off by rubbish exchange rates but I think it is a international pastime. So our quiet lunch ended up in a little cafe full of local workmen -always a good sign about the food. We had lovely freshly cooked fish with salad.

Buoyed by this we went the next day to San Andres , which made Pisco look good, and had a fish fest. Mine was a whole fish and as i got to the centre it wasn't properly cooked............and despite having it cooked was sufficient to make me ill. We were leaving the next day for Ayacucho and a 6 hour bus journey, so filled myself with Imodium. This worked fine for the journey, although when we got to 4,000m I had a weird episode with probably a drop in my blood pressure. 

We got to Ayachucho about 6.30 in the evening so our plan was to just find a clean bed for the night, and we got a taxi to Hostal el meson which fitted the bill at only 45 soles per night (£11). Only when we were registering did I realise that the taxi driver had picked my pocket. He had insisted on the bags going on the back seat which meant I was in the front, and with the excuse of helping me with my seat belt twice lifted a little credit card wallet. It only has between 25-30 quid in cash but also my Nationwide debit card. So I cancelled the card pronto and we went to sleep tired and fed-up.

 Ayacucho is a lovely town with a difficult past, for 20 years cut off from the government in Lima and with a terrorist organisation running the place. It is beautiful with fabulous colonial buildings and little courtyards at every turn. The people are cheerful and really friendly. We had thought about staying in our little cheapy but when the cleaning staff started at 6am , making a huge racket knocking on doors etc and we found our room being cleaned before we checked out we decided to move on.

We have stayed in a lovely little place half a block from the main square, called Hostal Markos. It is quiet, up a little cul de sac, the gate gets locked at night and at the end of the lane is the local baker. They have a wood burning oven and make between 5-6,00 little bread buns every day. It is ready at 4pm and till about 9 there is a steady stream of people buying bread. It is a cross between a bread bun and pitta, when you open it there is a huge hole. I like it but it is not Chris' favourite.

Saturday night we went to see the "Peruvian Michael Jackson", on the basis that if it wasn't any good it would be a good laugh. First there were 2 local bands and as the first ones got to the stage I turned to Chris and said this will be a Coldplay song et voila!! MJ was brilliant he did about 10 songs, changed costumes and had all of the moves a great night. 
By late Saturday I was still feeling ropey and Chris started to be ill as well and by Sunday he was much worse. We think the problem with the fish was bacterial and I then gave it to him. It is easy to do when you spend all your time together and share water bottles etc!! Luckily we had some antibiotics that we had bought in India and they started to work within about 12 hours-evidence of bacterial rather than viral causes. We both missed a city tour we had booked. We did however see a fabulous display of local dancing about 20-30 different groups, all in different costume danced around the main square, it is a once a year event so we were privileged to see it.

Yesterday we just took it easy and the drugs have done the trick, so today we went on a visit to Wari about 45 mins from Ayacucho. Our guide Julio was lovely, really knowledgeable and spoke clearly and slowly so we could understand. The site is pre-Inca from 500 BC and is huge and less than 10% has been excavated, so great ceramics and mummies have been uncovered. The whole site is covered in cactus plants making excavation even harder. He picked us 3 different types of tuna (prickly pear) to try white, yellow and red, my favourites are the red with nice juicy flesh but loads of hard seeds. 

We then went to a memorial to a battle that ended the Spanish occupation of South America and down to a little town Quinua which is fanous for its ceramics. The trip cost us less than £10 and we went by taxi as there are so few tourists around.

Tomorrow we have to be up at 5.15am for our flight to Lima. Three days in the big city before we are off again. Hopefully the national museum will be open as it was closed for refurbishment when we were in Lima in September. From Lima we are mountain bound again to Huaraz in the Cordillera Blanca and hoping to do a little bit of trekking, as here there is no infrastructure to do it.

I'm staggered that people continue to read this blog-I can see how many views per day-and hope you enjoy news of our travels. 
Pictures to follow tomorrow when I get faster internet and  are a selection from different places.

Till next time, take care.
Impressed..........yeh but the sand at the end of the access ramp was a bit of a let-down


Waiting to fly over Nasca


Humboldt penguins

Peruvian Michael Jackson

Cute or what??
Norma xx

Monday, 14 January 2013

Best laid plans of mice and men..........

Well we left Tacna on the bus headed for our Arequipa and I felt a little disappointed that the Dakar was so close and we wouldn't see it..........to our great surprise we crossed its path 3 or 4 times between Tacna and Arequipa. It was only some of the road sections, not the exciting sand stuff, but you got an idea of the sheer scale of the whole event. 

So that was surprise number 1, the second was Arequipa. We had flown in and bused straight out in October, not liking the noise and the pollution , but we stayed in the centre and the main plaza was absolutely stunning. We only had one night and managed to find a lovely, if expensive, veggie restaurant. We stayed in the "Amazing" hostel and it did not live up to its name!! It was okay, clean and comfortable for one night.

From Arequipa we thought we would have 3-4 nights in a place called Camana, find a hotel with a pool and just chill........mmmmmmmmm NOT!! It was a Peruvian beach resort, the hotel we thought of was hugely overpriced. So we crossed the road to sit down and re-group in one of the many roast chickens cafes. We had finished our chicken lunch when Chris realised he had left his small man bag on the bus!! He returned about 15 minutes later with the bag but minus his mobile phone and camera. The latter wasn't too bad, there were only a few photos on it and it was quite old. The phone then resulted in a hour of finding numbers to ring Virgin to alert them, he has a pay as you go SIM so could have had a huge bill. We found one of the downsides of Skype, when you ring a company with one of the automated systems, you know the type press 1 for this and 2 for that, you can't respond using skype.

I went to the tourist information and a really kind guy took me to the only other hotel in town with a pool, not a bad place but the pool had no water in........it was relatively new and only 80 soles so we decided to stay just one night and move on to Nazca the next day and cut our losses.

Some towns in Peru have a central bus terminal but in others the companies are scattered about , Calama was one of those. We eventually booked a Cruz del Sur bus to Nazca, leaving at 6pm the next day........all of the bus companies told us there were no daytime buses. So we decided we would have to spend the next day in Calama and find something to do. We opted for a Chinese meal, the Peruvians call it "Chifa" and it is one way of getting at least some vegetables with a meal. As we left there was a bus office with, guess what a 10.30 am bus to Nazca........Ten minute walk back to Cruz del Sur and a little white lie that we had changed our plans ( they gave us a credit note) and our bus was booked for Nasca. Hurrah one little ray of sunshine at the end of a bad day.

We are staying in the Nasca trails hostel, the owner Jaun was in London for 5 years and he speaks  English with a very " British colonial" accent. Its a little way from the centre but it is clean and comfy, lovely breakfast and speed wi-fi........our needs are simple.

Nasca is quite a lively little place and we have had a couple of lovely set meals. nothing flash some home-made soup and then the ever-present rice with meat and a little salad. These places charge 5-8 soles ( £1.25-£2) and it usually includes a soft drink too. Turn over is fast and the food is always piping hot, although the main course usually arrives when you are halfway through the soup. There was loads of noise and buzz on Saturday, the Miss Nasca competition was on. We are 5 blocks from the plaza and it sounded like the music was next door.

Yesterday we flew over the Nasca lines and it was stunning, I was a little nervous for two reasons. Firstly there have been a few crashes in recent years........and secondly there are tales on the internet of horrendous motion sickness due to the small planes, the wind and the swirling around to see the figures. Chris was his usual laid-back self, it will be fine!! I took 2 travel sickness pills and only had a small breakfast and it was fabulous. I decided not to take photos, there are fabulous ones on-line and just enjoyed the flight and focused on seeing the figures. There a fascinating phenomenon and if you google, Nasca lines you can see the images and read a bit about them.There are all sorts of theories about why they were created. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip and well worth the $80 we paid. We booked it through our hostel and it was all very slick and well organised. Phew!!

Today we leave for Pisco, booked for 4 days in a hostel with pool.............and hopefully some water in it. Then we are taking a bus up to Ayacucho. Its up in the Andes, a bit off the usual gringo trail but after nearly 2 weeks of desert in Chile and Peru a bit of green will be good. We haven't booked anything but have found a really good website called Pacarama which has hotels/hostels etc in South America. We hopefully will be able to walk etc and enjoy the mountain view. Ayacucho's claim to fame is two fold, it has 33 churches, one for each year of Christ's life and is a place people go for Easter and it was the base of "Shining Path" a terrorist group in Peru. 
But first Pisco, which sadly was devastated by an earthquake in 2007, and a trip to the Islas Ballestas. It is called the Peruvian Galapagos.

Take care wherever you are.
No photos this time , check out google images for the lines!!
Till next time 

Norma xx

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

First blog 2013

Firstly apologies for the gap between blogs, don't know where the time has gone!! Secondly a very Happy 2013 to everyone and hope that this year you make all of the things you want to do happen!! 

Christmas was quiet but nice, we had a BBQ on 24th ( on the balcony as it was raining) then Christmas day was dry and sunny. We had a lovely breakfast, then I went to mass, a walk along the Lake and then in the evening our planned meal. It was very simple but beautiful with fresh, local ingredients and not the hassle usually associated with a Christmas Day meal. We loved our time in Villarrica, we cycled 25k one day and the views were stunning, we had a trip to the Thermas at Conaripe and got sunburn ! We got a local bus to a place called Nancul and walked for a few hours, and didn't see a soul. It was good to get some exercise after the period of bad weather we had experienced in Pucon.

We got the bus to Santiago and 11 hours later, ( not my favourite mode of transport), we were back in busy Santiago. We had another apartment, we use either wimdhu or airbnb to book them, and were tired so had take-away pizza and crashed. Since Santiago the weather has been fabulous, this is summer SUN SUN SUN.

New Year's Eve was lively there was live crazy Latino music in the main street and then at midnight we watched the fireworks from the 33rd floor of our apartment block.........they were fabulous. New Year's day was pretty quiet, the locals were still drinking till mid afternoon. We spent some time in one of the parks and then had a nice lunch.

On our last day we decided to try the outdoor pool in Parque O'Higgins ( named after Bernado O'Higgins, of Irish descent), our last attempt had been foiled by the weather but also it was about £15 for a swim. This pool is where the ordinary locals go, very basic, very cheap but the water was cool and refreshing. We had a  nice meal in a family-run Chinese and that was Santiago.

Our last stop in Chile was Iqueque, and this time we flew to save spending 2 days on buses. Iqueque is a seaside town built with lots of European influence, many of the streets are English surnames, and given its terrain the early houses were built of wood with balconies-it looked like the wild west. 

We stayed in a very basic and crazy "hostal" and if hadn't been that we paid up front we would have left and found somewhere else. The family lived in the house, and lived their lives in a goldfish bowl and the paying guest were around the edges. The owner was a very loud and bossy ex teacher. Breakfast was chaotic and there was no privacy, after the 3rd time that someone just barged in the room Chris went and told her that if our key was not on the hook it meant we were in the room and to wait till it was on the hook which meant we were out. 

We went paragliding in Iqueque and it was awesome, I felt a little nervous as we drove up above the town but once we got there it was only about 15 minutes before we were harnessed and ready to go. The takeoff was so smooth and thanks to Chris we have some photos-I decided not to take my camera!! Did feel a bit motion sick but it was worth it, the wind was really swirling and I wasn't able to make it to the beach to land but we landed in the big sand-dune. Chris made it to the beach but his landing was pretty bumpy.

Sunday 6th January and we left Chile for Peru, we got a bus to Arica and then a little mini-bus to Tacna. The border crossing was pretty straightforward  stamped out in Chile, back on the bus and 5 minutes later stamped into Peru. Tacna is not a tourist destination and we have had three nights here.After the crazy woman in Iqueque this is a lovely clean and comfortable and organised hotel.......and it is cheaper than the hostel. 

We went to the tax-free zone to look at cameras and MP3 players but didn't buy anything. Yesterday we did a day trip into the countryside........well the desert........ and saw petroglyphs, tried local wine and pisco. We came back to town and were searching for a vegetarian Chinese place for lunch, but instead found a lovely fish restaurant  full of locals with a great menu. Lunch was delicious.

Today we are off again, this time to overnight in Arequipa before we head north up the coast of Peru. Hoping to have 2 nights in Camana, in a hotel with a pool. The Dakar rally is here today but just too complicated to get to see it. 

Our route up the coast will take in Nazca, to see the Lines,  ( which we ditched from the itinerary in October) second time lucky. Then up to do some wildlife stuff and maybe some snorkeling and diving. We will get back to Lima for a few days and then head further north, visiting some pre-Inca ruins and maybe ending up just short of the border with Ecuador. That is the outline plan anyway. 

So back in Peru, which I prefer to Chile and Argentina, it feels different and not too westernised. Our money will go much further here, our 4 hour trip yesterday was a tenner, so we can do much more. The downside is less posh.......toilets without seats etc but nothing like the grime of India so it is manageable.

Lots more adventure to come but I know that these last 7 weeks are going to fly by and in no time we will be flying back to the cold of February in the UK but looking forward to being re-united with my lovely girls.
Me taking off.......

Best wishes

Chris in full flight........looking relaxed

Beautiful volcano Villarrica

Christmas breakfast

Fireworks from Torre in Santiago

Moorish inspired casino espanol on Iqueque

Day of the Kings-live angels as part of the Christmas tableau

He is meant to be one of the shepherds but I think he is a grumpy old angel!!
Norma xx