I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in Peru (31)


Over the hills and across the desert




I know that some readers will be interested to see the quality of the modern vehicle used for our transport today – actually for just 17 of us to ride in comfort.  No squashing in here thank goodness.




Having seen the rigorous observations to safety protocols this morning, we were amused by this stylish take on the hi-vis and hard hat!  I suspect she was a tour guide rather than a port worker though.




I took the chance to give lifeboat #1 a quick once over – just to make sure it was looking shipshape.  Not that we have any plans, you understand!




Having all checked in with Miguel, our guide, we were off.




The town of Matarani didn’t look very appealing, though there was a shuttle bus for those who didn’t want to venture further afield on a tour bus.  Heaven knows what they found to do there, apart from stock up on essentials, perhaps?




We were headed for Arequipa, a journey which would take us two hours, Miguel advised.  Note the landscape – dry desert with white patches of volcanic ash here and there.




Totally inhospitable.  We were driving along the Transoceanic Highway which begins in Matarani and ends in Brazil somewhere.




This first part stretches through an arid desert landscape without a sign of life.




But plenty of evidence that life has passed through.  We were shocked at the amount of roadside rubbish the whole way along – mostly plastic bottles, some containing liquid of varying shades of yellow (eeeuw) and all of which will remain there until someone picks them up, because they are not going to decompose here any time soon.




Miguel told us about this part of the desert, which had been used for some research into Mars exploration because much of it has been dry for so long that there is a complete dearth of micro organisms here.  Except that, as in other parts of Peru, some of the Andean people are choosing to stake a claim here by building a shanty, in the hope that some day they will achieve land rights.  Miguel told us of a kind of mafia anarchy here, protection for these small claims built out on the desert and envisaged a time when these people might hold up the traffic on the highway for a while and insist on electricity, drainage and whatever else.  Food for thought indeed – it appears a dry and barren desert to us, but clearly some see potential for gain at whatever cost to the environment.




Surprisingly, a little further on was a small lake, formed from irrigation water which runs off some agriculture nearby.  The salt crystallises on the edges and creates yet another alien feature.




As we neared Arequipa, small strips of roadside cafes appeared, mostly for the trucks which are the main traffic on this part of the highway at least.




The land became more rocky with large boulders of volcanic rock now in demand for flagstones and decorative use in the building trade.




And sure enough, there in the distant clouds was the brooding culprit, El Misti, the volcano with no chimney.  Just like Mount St Helens, it builds the power within a chamber – closely monitored, Miguel reassured us – which, someday, it will release by blowing its top.  What a scary proposition to live with.




Thankfully, it didn’t blow its top this afternoon, so we continued on into Arequipa and eventually found ourselves in the city centre.  There were times when I felt we’d never get here!




To begin with, we couldn’t really see the charm.




Even if it was interesting to see people shopping in these small. market-style “shops”, each with a single specialism.




But then the narrow streets broadened out into the Plaza del Armas, there was the cathedral and beautiful cloistered streets on either side and all was going to be just fine!




We got off the bus in a small side street and walked around the corner to the Museum.




No bags, no cameras, no phones…in fact, we were told there are sensors which would detect a phone signal, so better hand them in.  Just put them on that table there in the corner, they’ll be fine….

What?  No way!  A small rebellion simmered….

Oh, tell you what, put them in these lockers here instead Winking smile

So no photos of La Sarita or Juanita, the Ice Maiden Mummy whose artefacts were on display,sadly.  Having said that, though, it was so dark, I very much doubt whether any decent pictures would have been created anyway, so instead, here’s a link.  Whilst it was interesting to be there, I must say that Otzi in Bolzano is older and better displayed…  But hey, we were in Arequipa, not in SudTirol, and we were just fine seeing what was here.




Having seen what there was to see, we had three quarters of an hour to take a look around the Square.  Freedom!




We paid the small Jesuit church a visit.  Like many buildings in central Arequipa it’s built of the distinctive white volcanic rock, beautifully carved and richly decorated.




I liked the remains of a painted surface on one of the side walls.




Making our way over to the Cathedral, we couldn’t resist popping into the shop selling tiny alfajores – small sandwich biscuits with dulce de leche, orange creme…and about a dozen other flavours.  No, of course we didn’t leave empty handed!




The cathedral was rather busy and like many such places, a real centre of the community.




Two bright yellow booths outside were fresh air confessionals, with a young priest standing by to receive each person in turn from a queue stretching along the fence.




Inside was bright and airy, totally unstuffy and very much alive.




Thankfully one of the richly adorned figures in the glass cases high on the wall wasn’t too affected by the reflections from the windows opposite.




With fifteen minutes or so to spare, my hero and I wandered down a few back streets, trying to identify the source of some jolly music we could hear – we never found it though.




We did, however, catch sight of this beauty in her blue and white.




and a rather older, more soberly dressed Peruvian lady – but just look at those boots!




Time to meet the group now, though, and time for a sneaky shot of the “llama girls”, trying to snag unsuspecting tourists into parting with a few $$$s in return for a photograph.




Time to say goodbye to Arequipa then and to make our way back across the desert and back to the ship.  I can’t tell you how relieved I was that, as always, it didn’t seem to take quite as long to get back as it did to get there.

When we walked up the gangplank, we sensed that it was about to be drawn up and we’d be away, but shortly after we reached our suite, the Captain announced a medical emergency which would involve a short delay.  As I sit here and type, it’s 10.45pm and we just heard the engines start.  I think we are away.

Tomorrow we plan to be in Chile – where the time is two hours ahead of Peru.  Two hours short tonight then – isn’t that mean?


Arriving in Matarani


There had been a heavy swell last night, sufficient for the Captain to make an announcement about our arrival into the port of Matarani around lunchtime today.  The ship’s stabilisers had been keeping us pretty steady all night although there was a distinct rock and roll vibe going on.  The thing is, as we approached the port, these stabilisers would need to be turned off (or pulled in, or whatever one does to stop stablisers working) and when that happened, we’d all notice a difference.  So hold tight and hang on!




We’d begun the day with breakfast in our favourite spot, high above the stern wake.




I just love that pattern and find it totally mesmerising.




There was a destination lecture this morning from our favourite expert speaker, so we made a beeline for the theatre to learn a little about Chile, where we arrive tomorrow.




But today, we had one last stop in Peru, at Matarani, which is the nearest port to Arequipa.  We were back in our suite when we noticed we were almost there and so gathered cameras and went out onto the verandah to see what was going on.




Well, there was the pilot boat just off our starboard side, below where we were standing.




The pilot himself was up there on the bridge directing things.




We were working out just how we were going to fit into that space in front of us.  Matarani isn’t the prettiest of ports and I imagine, not many cruise ships call here, so we were attracting quite a bit of attention.




The bunch of people standing on the end of that breakwater were possibly wondering the same as we were – just how are we going to turn in that tight spot?  Or maybe – most probably – they’ve seen it all before.




An assortment of workers dressed in hi-vis clothing and colour coded hard hats were waiting to fulfil their role in the process of getting us secured alongside.




But then the 12 noon lunchtime siren sounded and workers appeared from all over, not wanting to waste a moment of their break, but interested to see what was going on and in some cases, take pictures.




We were enjoying just watching it all, thinking it all looked like a Playmobil set!




Actually, the fun began when the gangplank had been put out and the ground staff were sorting out the arrival area.  It had been clear from the beginning that safety was a priority here, evidenced by the hard hats and strict codes of practice followed by every worker.  So when a team arrived with a roll of carpet and a set of traffic cones, we knew a plan was in place to ensure that passengers from the ship did not come to any harm in this industrial setting.




Now, it seemed as though a team of Lego people were building their own set, beginning with the welcome sign which had just blown along the dockside in the wind.




We really enjoyed watching each piece be put into place, seeing people working out how best to arrange things, to secure the curly edge of the carpet and yes, to stop that flipping welcome sign blowing away again!




When they finished, they stood back and admired their handiwork having weighted the welcome sign down with some wooden blocks, too).  We thought they’d done a great job as well and were tempted to give them a round of applause but didn’t want to be cheeky!




If they had finished making the gangplank and everything secure, then it must be nearly time for us to go as well, so we gathered our stuff and made our way to the theatre to collect our tickets for our journey to see the Ice Maiden Mummy substitute in Arequipa this afternoon.  Juanita, the Ice Maiden Mummy herself was undergoing restoration in a freezer somewhere else, so instead, we were going to take a look at a slightly less impressive Mummy by the name of La Sarita.  Hey ho – whatevs.

I’ll tell you how we got on in the next post.


Off to a flying start

As we left Lima last evening, the Captain told us that the port of Paracas, where we arrived this morning, had just one pilot and as another ship was in port today, he was aiming to put his foot down a bit and make sure we arrived before them.




We were awake early and I stuck my head outdoors to see what’s what and, noticing we weren’t moving any more assumed Capt. Teo had achieved his goal.




A few minutes later, the Black Watch sailed past us and we watched her manoeuvre as we ate breakfast out on the deck. It was a beautiful morning, just perfect for the plans we had made.




We’d chosen an adventure very specifically here and had been looking forward to it very much indeed. 




Driving from the port, we were glad we’d made specific plans too, because the immediate area didn’t seem to be filled with much to see or do, even though it’s a National Reserve.  We’d giggled a bit at the description of Paracas in last night’s Passages as “a mishmash of half demolished and half repaired buildings that pepper a motley “resort strip”… On potholed streets still recuperating from the 2007 earthquake stray dogs bark, waiters hold open fish inspired menus and hungry pelicans stake out the harbour like vultures awaiting fresh carrion”




Well, I’m not sure I felt tempted to explore the streets too closely, even if it’s good to think that there’s something here to bring in some much needed $$$s.




I’m sure that every bit of income is needed to restore what appears to be a pretty ramshackle place.




We were heading for the airport, an incongruous facility just around the corner of a dusty, unmetalled road.  Right now, there’s just the one gate open




but there’s another twelve all finished and mothballed, awaiting the arrival of domestic and international flights “sometime next year”.  Maybe.




We checked in and instead of putting suitcases on the scales, were asked to stand on them ourselves, so that the loading could be balanced.  We were assigned seats and led out to our plane, all eleven of us.




As we did, we noticed our plane being pulled into place on a trolley.  Oooer!




Captain Carlos met us on the tarmac and introduced himself and his co-pilot Luis.




We climbed on board and took our seats.  Guess who had seats #1 and 2?




It’s not often we get the chance to look over the Captain’s shoulder as he delivers the safety briefing…




or tears down the runway!




Soon we were high above Paracas and the blue containers at the fish meal factory were clear to see.




Other familiar landmarks were easy to spot as well.




Soon we were flying high over irrigated farmland – 3000ft altitude we were advised.




During the next thirty five minutes or so, we flew over a range of different landscapes, each with a distinct pattern created by the wind and the weather.




It was hard to grasp the scale of the sand dunes but easy to see that this is not a particularly hospitable environment for anything to live.




But although it doesn’t rain here at all, the higher land to the east of here does have a rainy season right now and we flew over the occasional river valley like this one.




Way down there, too, we could clearly see the long, straight Pan American Highway which stretches from Alaska in the north right the way down to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. 




As I was admiring the curves and pattern in what looked like a dried up riverbed, Carlos announced our arrival high above the Nazca Desert.  Can you guess what we’d come to see?




We descended and got a little closer to the action, so to speak.  Sure enough, the previously plain, windswept surface was now covered with straight lines forming geometric patterns.




It was time to refer to the map we’d been given earlier with the key to our route.  We were going to begin with the whale in the bottom right hand corner and progress in numerical order.




As we passed each shape, Luis banked the plane to give first one side a great view, then turned and banked for the other side.  He grinned and was clearly enjoying this!




So, down there is the whale.




Can you see it?  The straight line goes right through it, its open jaw just underneath?  Alongside it are some more lines, though don’t seem to be part of an animal shape and are just some of the hundreds of squiggles and mysterious shapes which cover the desert in this area.




The astronaut is easier to see and identify on the side of this small hill.




As we tip first to one side and then to the other, I’m concentrating on trying not to think what’s going on!




Though I can’t resist keeping an eye on Luis’ screen and watching that horizon!




Here’s the hummingbird.  Like all the other shapes, it’s formed from a single line and can be drawn without taking the pencil off the paper.  I think the astronaut is the exception to this rule, though.




It’s hard to get the scale of these things, but here are the hands and the tree which are adjacent to the highway and have that observation tower in between them.  The hands, to the right, are easier to spot than the tree I think, but to get an idea of the size, those are cars parked on the opposite side of the road.




The last shape on our “tour” was the parrot, bisected by the elongated triangle shape which stretches right the way across its beak.  Most of the shape is enclosed within the triangle formed by the clearer straight lines – maybe you can spot the double wings running parallel to the bottom one?

With one last swoop and banking manoeuvre, Carlos turned for home.  We ascended back to 3000ft and felt rather relieved that our stomachs had held firm throughout that challenge!




Funny how the way back is never as long as the way out, isn’t it?




One last look over Carlos’ shoulder as Luis brought the plane down smoothly to a round of applause.




The next group were ready to begin their adventure and Luis was looking forward to another couple of hours’ fun.




Meanwhile, back on board, the travelling companions appear to have been having some fun of their own.  I think Rosemarie has been aiding and abetting Winking smile


A strange kind of day


We’d had advice that our luggage needed to be outside our room at 8am this morning for collection.  Needless to say, it wouldn’t be a problem.  After all, we were probably going to be awake at some early hour anyway, but even so, we’d more or less packed up last night and just needed to put in a few last minute bits before attaching the bright yellow ribbons to our four suitcases, leaving them outside our room and going off for some breakfast.

The thing is, they were still there when we got back.

Even worse, they were still there at 11.30am.

We wondered why we’d taken the trouble to scoot about this morning to have it all ready so early and said as much to the ground staff in the hotel.  “Oh, well some people don’t listen and they’re not ready when we go to collect it at 10 o’clock, so we say 8 to make sure”.




So we spent the morning relaxing.  I was taking a few photos of the beach and the people down there.  There was email to catch up with and newspapers to read.




And some were still recovering from all those Pisco Sours last night.




Eventually, half an hour later than scheduled, those of us assigned to the yellow ribbon group climbed on board the coach to be taken to the port at Callao, about forty minutes away.  Our luggage was put on the same vehicle, which was sort of baffling, for we could have brought it ourselves, couldn’t we?

It’s at times like these when our patience is stretched.  Still, we did our best to go with the flow.  After all, what more is there to do?  All will be well!




After half an hour or so, we entered the docklands and spotted a cool white funnel above the construction site.




Sorry, Mariner, not your most flattering angle, but it’s good to see you again!




Our suite was ready and having checked in and collected our key card, we were soon making ourselves at home.




From time to time we looked outside to see if anything was going on, but the view from here was pretty unprepossessing.  So, we unpacked our suitcases and settled in, having met the neighbours and Rosemarie, the housekeeper.




At 5.15pm the emergency signal of seven short and one long toot  sounded over the loudspeaker and we followed instruction and attended the lifeboat drill.  Serious stuff – quite rightly, too – including being led out by our lifeboat guide to the boat deck, wearing our lifejackets. 




Whilst we were all focused on this essential knowledge, the Captain had been more concerned with manoeuvring this huge ship out from the port and by the time we were ready to return to our suite, we were already underway.




We ran the gauntlet of an armada of small ships waiting for the tide, perhaps, and sailed out under the guidance of the pilot, whose small boat sailed alongside.




By now, we were ready for a quick change and a return to the pool deck, where pisco sours and a few tunes from the band got the party started.




So it’s been a strange day of being busy doing nothing really.  We chose to have dinner in Compass Rose this evening, joining another couple and enjoying their company and some fun conversation over dinner.  We returned to our suite to find a familiar arrangement on our bed: tomorrow’s Passages (which may or may not form part of tomorrow’s journal page…let’s see about that later), a few reminders and introductions, news from the UK and two chocolates.

We have an early start in the morning.  We leave at 8am for an adventure to which both of us are really looking forward.  I hope to have some photographs to share tomorrow and will surely have a tale or two to tell.  In the meantime, it’s goodnight from the Mariner.  We are happy to be here.


It’s Peru.


We love it here.  There’s something about the people, the culture, the food…let’s just say it hits the spot.




This morning, having showered, changed and made ourselves ready for the adventure, we set out on foot to explore.  First thing we saw was this bus advertising the Rolling Stones concert next month.  Jose, who’d met us at the airport yesterday had been full of it – I mean, the Rolling Stones!  Playing Lima!  Who’d have thought it?  Well, I’d have happily bought a ticket and looked forward to being there, as I’m sure, many of the Limeños have done already.




Our first mission was to buy sun cream.  Stupidly, it’d been at the bottom of the priorities until we got here and found it hot and sunnier than we’d anticipated.  We dropped into the nearest Inkafarmacia and hit upon what looked like a good buy – special offer, 20 Sol for the Eucerin 50+.  Except that, when we left and thought about what we’d just paid, we realised that it’d actually been $20 for that small tube of cream.  Hang on!  Surely, the saleswoman we’d spoken to had asked “Sol or Dollars?” and we had clearly answered “Sol”?  But a bit of bad communication had crept in and feeling very shortchanged, I hot footed it back to the shop and asked for a refund.  Not the best way to begin our fun day in Lima?




The rewards came thick and fast as the morning wore on, however.  Beautiful colours and fantastic spirit was evident in the domestic buildings we found ourselves walking through to reach our destination.




Jose had told us of the upcoming national election for president in April and explained where things stand right now.  I believe he said the PPK party candidate was currently #3.




As we neared what we thought was an Inca pyramid site, the residential neighbourhood grew a little smarter; a little more kempt and the streets were lined with these beautiful trees which we’ve seen before but still have no idea what they are.




The smarter the neighbourhood, the stronger the security.  All the homes in this area had secure railings and gates bordering the street, even though they looked fairly modest family houses.  For us, this seemed quite forbidding but yes, we’ve seen it elsewhere in this part of the world and I assume, it’s far from unusual.




There, at the bottom of the street was the pyramid we’d read about.  Nearing our goal, we looked for the entrance.




The name Huaca Pucllana proved virtually impossible for me to remember, let alone pronounce, but we made it here and bought our entrance tickets without further ado.  An English guide was just leaving, we were told and sure enough, an young woman was standing, ready to greet us warmly as the only members of her group.  Or?  Maybe she was there to merely speed us through the first section so she could hand us over to the already established, larger group who had begun their tour some ten minutes earlier?





This wasn’t quite how we’d expected to see the site, in a large English-speaking but multi-lingual group.  And it was hot.

Very hot.




You know that sunscreen we returned to the shop earlier?  The $20 we were charged would have been money well spent here, now we thought about it.  But hindsight is a wonderful thing, don’t you find?




Regular readers of this blog will know it doesn’t rain in Lima.  So the earth is as dry as dust and that on which we were walking had the most incredible collection of footprints I’ve ever seen.  My photography skills were insufficient to capture it in a photograph, but believe me, the detail and variety of pattern was stunning.  Whilst adding my Birkenstock prints to the collection, I considered the scope for a little countercultural subversion perhaps?  A simple textural message imprinted on the sole of a shoe could spread rather effectively, lasting for who knows how long in this dry climate?




Radical thoughts aside, we did our best to listen to our guide Percy’s explanation.  Yes, I know he was probably not called Percy at all, but there wasn’t time to clarify or to get an accurate spelling.  So, Percy he will remain in our memories and in this record.  The pyramids weren’t pyramid shaped at all, but were flat structures with sloping sides built of individual hand crafted bricks.  Oh, and it wasn’t an Inca structure either, but a pre-Inca civilisation of Lima people who were pretty good at making these hand crafted clay bricks by the thousand.  Or hundred thousand.




Percy was doing a pretty good job of keeping us all on focus here, but the heat was getting to my hero and I and we were beginning to feel like breaking free.  We hadn’t bargained for being led in a herd around the ruins; in fact, we’d rather relished the last opportunity to be independent spirits in such a place.  Still, we stuck with it for now.




We liked the design taken from a shark which had been found on a vessel on the site and was now used for a decorative motif on some signage.




I liked the reminder of a fruit we’d encountered on our last visit here but hadn’t seen – or thought  of – since.  Lucuma.




And of course, we enjoyed meeting and discovering the differences between the llama and the alpaca.  No vicuna or guanacos here, because they are too unfriendly, according to Percy.  “Did you know,”  he asked us, “that when they spit, they spit vomit?”  Well, no, we didn’t, but perhaps that was enough to reduce any disappointment there might have been at not seeing one up close!




“OK”, said Percy, ”let’s climb the pyramid now”.  My hero and I looked at one another, each one a little pool of melting, sunburned flesh and decided that maybe it was not what we wanted to do right now.  We quietly hung back from the group and made our way back to the entrance where we hoped to find the restaurant open and serving lunch.  Or at least, cold drinks.




Sadly, it was closed for another hour, so instead, we took a quick look inside the very small museum and spotted this beautiful piece of weaving from around 400AD – remarkable, really, don’t you think?




We made our way out and headed back the way we came, resisting the temptation to do any kind of a deal with these ice-cream ladies chatting on a street corner.




We also resisted the concierge’s advice to shop at the “Indian Markets”.  They fell into the “tourist tat” category from what we saw and were not really what we’d come to see.




But Manolo’s churros definitely did look tempting.




Especially the dulce de leche variety Winking smile  With a glass of chicha morada and a couple of churros filled with that wicked dulce de leche, I was ready to take on the rest of the afternoon!




When we got back to the hotel, we soon found how the travelling companions had spent the day – sitting at the window waving to the hang gliders who were passing at tenth-floor level right outside our building!




After a nap (!) we explored the Larcomar shopping centre over the road.  It proved to be more than met the eye, for it continued down the cliff side through several floors of interesting shopping and lively food and drink offerings.




We’d been recommended Mangos, which is the place clinging to the side there with the cream umbrellas, so we headed there first and booked a table for dinner at 7.  It was now 5.




We mooched a bit before popping into Popular for a Pisco Sour.  Or two.




Oh, and to soak up those pretty strong snecklifters (a term used by my Daddy to describe the first drink of the evening) we ordered some food.

Which happened to be totally yummy.

And filling.




So when we went  crawled up to Mangos, where we’d booked our table, we were already feeling rather beschwipst.  Perhaps it’s telling that I only know a German word for that state?!  As we announced our arrival to the hostess, we were greeted like family – well, after all, we had booked a table, hadn’t we?  And sure enough, we were shown to the best table in the house (from our point of view), right there on the cliff side, with the best view of the bay.





We’d been recommended to visit Mangos for the traditional Peruvian cuisine which we know and love, so even when the causa turned out to be a little deconstructed, so to speak, it tasted so good that we were far from disappointed!




And our lomo saltado was served in traditional Pervian style, with rice and chips!

Sad to say, I’d met my match.  There was no way I could finish such an enormous portion.  Our waiter smiled indulgently.  Clearly, we weren’t the first to fail.  He brought the bill, which came to the magnificent sum of 115 soles.   That’s less than £30 in total.  Including another two Pisco sours too (!) and a couple of bottles of water to offset the damage Winking smile  As we left, he shook our hands  and wished us well.




The warmth and friendly attitude of the Peruvian people is remarkable.  We love it.




When we got back to our room, on the other side of the road, we had “been turned down”.  Whoever had drawn the curtains had left the travelling companions with a small breathing space – so thoughtful!  So sweet!




They had also left each of us a small gift in the form of a dancing doll with a little explanation.

Peru – more specifically, the Peruvian people - are really very special.  I could keep coming back here time and again for that very reason.  Sadly, we’ll leave Lima tomorrow, but bound for a couple more Peruvian ports which makes me very happy indeed!