Monday, November 30, 2009

Juanita the Ice Princess

Juanita the "beautiful Ice Princess" is anything but beautiful. She looks like a horse for Christ's sake! In fairness though, she is over 500 years old. Her frozen corpse was found on top of a snow-capped mountain in The Andes in 1995 before she started bringing tourists to the Museo Santury in Arequipa some three years after that.
Poor "Juanita" was sacrificed you see, just one of a couple dozen children who the Incas decided to send to the next world to improve matters on theirs. She was 12 or 13 at the time.
Apparently she knew long before of her impending fate. She had been selected from a wide pool of potential victims because of her outstanding breeding and good looks. Jaysus, I'd hate to see what the rest of them looked like! Anyway, she had been brought up in luxury (all the guinea pigs she could eat) in a fashionable part of Cusco until the fateful day came when she was told the time had come. There are no accounts of her reaction at the time, but I assume it's safe to say it was mixed.
Accompanied by an motley crew of high priests, porters and llamas, she was marched over 150 miles, 250 kilometres, to Nevado Ampato overlooking Cañón del Colca, soon to be her final resting place (or so they thought at the time).
Of course, then they had to climb the damned thing, no mean feat as its ice and snow-crowned summit reaches a lofty height of 6,380 metres. All the way to the top they went.
Just to help her along, to compound the unfortunate girl's misery, they starved her too, forcing her to undertake a fast as well as contend with decreasing oxegen levels as they climbed. Meanwhile, I'm sure the priests were stuffing their faces.
After reaching the summit, just before her death, the priests gave Juanita alcohol and a potent mix of herbs. Irish priests would employ similar tactics years later, with the blessing of the bishops.
So they exhaust her, starve her, get her pissed, and then inflict the fatal cruel blow. This was a sharp blow to the head with a pointy-staff, just above her left forehead, which crushed her skull.
They buried her with a load of Inca stuff, pottery and the like for the next world. I guess she could have sold it to tourists.
There she lay undisturbed for 500 years until the nearby volcano Sabancaya erupted, sending fire and brimstone into the air, melting snow and ice from Ampato, and releasing her from her icy grave. She tumbled down the mountain from her pottery, and in the two weeks she waited before being found by a quick-thinking adventurer, lost her eyes and acquired her horse-features after the sun dried all the moisture from her face. That same expedition also found another girl and a boy, who was just eight, buried in similar graves on the same peak.
In fact, loads of sacrificed children have been found in the Andes, over 24 so far, including three boys in a pit and three girls in another on Misti, the volcano which looms outside our bedroom window. The Incas also picked on animals; 100 llamas were slaughtered at one sitting in Cusco. Llamas to the slaughter, just like the children.
The Incas' descendants today claim Juanita lives again through the museum in which they house her. If being gawked at every day by tourists peering in through her glass cage is life, I'm she'd rather be dead again.

(Unfortunately, none but the last photo above are mine. Cameras are not allowed at all in the Museo Santuary as they sell books with all the photos you'd otherwise take yourself.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I'm a teacher!

I'm a teacher now! So I guess that means I have to wear jackets with elbow patches and that I'll have to ruin two perfectly good jackets to do so.
A questionable fashion sense is a prerequisite for any budding teacher but I'm afraid in Perú that one needs a very questionable fashion sense indeed before it becomes noticeable. The faux pas of white socks together with black shoes is violated almost at will here, while no thought whatsoever is given to matching colours or styles.
Jaysus, I thought German fashion sense was bad; the Peruvians wouldn't know style if it bit them on the arse. Incidentally, I find that Germans actually make good teachers; presumably it's no coincidence they aren't known for their fashions.
In any case, I'm a teacher now and so must give more thought to education than dress sense: never one of my fortes. Finally, I have the perfect excuse!
I find most of the work is actually in preparation rather than the classes themselves. You're banjaxed if you just swan into a class with no preparation - the students would swoop like condors and have you eaten like a guinea pig before you know it. Guinea pigs are quite popular here, and not just with condors.
Before classes start however, I invariably have to shoo Lobo, the school dog, out of the classroom.
"Only English-speaking dogs allowed in here," I tell him, much to the students' amusement although the undercurrent resonance with Ireland's colonial past causes me some discomfort.
Lobo stinks you see, almost as bad as France's progress to the world cup, (I promise, the last time I'll mention that!) and to have him in the room for lessons would simply be unbearable. Much like having a bear in the class would be although that sentence would make more sense. If only Lobo was a bear!
I'm not sure bears eat plastic though. Last week I watched Lobo eat a plastic bag. Probably the must nutrition he'd got all week; there ain't nothin' else to eat. It really is a dog's life around here. No wonder he wants to learn English.
I'd love to find a few more Lobos so I could call one of them the littlest. I'm sure they'd all stink.
Unfortunately something else does too. The smell of chickens in the class can be overpowering at times. I guess a reduced sense of smell should be added to the reduced sense of fashion if I really want to be a teacher.

Proof of me being a teacher can be found here:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Outstaying a welcome

We're fast outstaying our welcome with Algae and her increasingly-annoying daughter with the name I'm no longer arsed remembering. The former has taken to lying at a rate only beaten by the speed at which her never-ending house rules arrive.
The latter, meanwhile, is driving me demented with her incessant Michael Jackson. It really is remarkable. He's on repeat day and night without interruption, unless she herself is singing one of his whingiest and most annoying songs. "You are not alone..." The other day, she was interrupted mid-warble when her phone rang - a Michael Jackson ringtone! One pathetic whinge disrupted by another.
One should never speak ill of the dead, unless it's Hitler, Stalin or Cromwell, but has everyone forgotten about the allegations of child abuse, bribing victims, and all the other shady dealings reported/made-up by the media? Is Michael Jackson now a saint?! It certainly appears so in Perú, where his music is blasted out non-stop and without pity. I wouldn't be surprised if the fucker isn't dead at all, but surrounded by paid subjects living in a cave cackling weakly through his breathing apparatus at all the increased money he's making following his alleged demise.
Unfortunately, the playing of Wacko Jacko hasn't been banned under Algae's house rules, but just about everything else has. We've actually been given our own designated cups after she found four cups in our room. Imagine! Four cups! I don't know why she didn't call the police. She complained they had no cups to drink from and so the next day two designated cups were put aside for our use. Jenny later counted more than 15 cups in the cupboard. "There's no way they could have run out of cups," she rightly pointed out.
Lately, we've been locked out of the apartment at night. Algae keeps "forgetting" to take the key back out of the door from the inside after locking it. Feck it, it's her we keep waking up to let us in again. Her sickeningly-sweet apologies every night ring as true as a certain Frenchman's.
Every day we're asked to do something else, something pedantic and pointless, but which collectively show the woman is a nut, just one hair from having a hairy canary over the littlest offences. You'd swear we were thrashing the place but we'd actually been taking great care not to leave any signs of our presence.
Yesterday, as I was eating my dinner, she flew into the kitchen and demanded I wash the frying pan I'd left in the sink. "I need to cook," she barked, unable to wait until I'd finished eating. Other offences include cooking with garlic, waterdrops on the floor, using a fruit-knife to cut vegetables, water on the outside of the kettle, and not using the shower-curtain in a correct manner.
This morning she announced that she didn't realise we were going to use the kitchen for cooking. It was a "misunderstanding" when we talked about it before we moved in. I suppose she thought we wanted to sleep in it. Now, of course, she wants us to pay more money.
That's not even the best one however. Last week I switched on the computer to find it was protected with a password. "¿Que es la contraseña?" I asked the daughter.
"¿Contraseña?!" she repeated with forced incredulity. "There must be something wrong. How could that be?" She fiddled around and input a few fake passwords, before shrugging her shoulders and informing me she didn't know what was wrong with the computer.
"Someone put a password on it. That's what's wrong with it," I told her. "If you don't know what it is, then Algae knows what it is. Someone knows what it is."
But she just shrugged her shoulders in ignorance.
The following day Algae didn't know what it was either, before making up some bullshit about calling the telephone company to sort out the connection. "I don't need the internet," I told her, "I just need to get at my photos and documents."
Again, blatant ignorance and lies. Didn't know what the password was. Didn't know when the man was coming to fix the computer.
The next day the computer wasn't there anymore. It had been moved, desk, stool and all, into Algae's bedroom! This was the last straw. I told her yesterday morning I needed to use the computer, to get my photos and documents from it. (These are the photos with which I was hoping to finally adorn the blog.)
"But the computer's in my room," she replied.
"Yes. And I need to get my photos and documents back."
"But my room isn't very tidy."
"I won't be long. I just need five minutes. I need to get my photos and documents back."
I then told her if she didn't want us using her computer she should simply have told us so, instead of telling us that it was fine to use it, then putting passwords on it, lying about not knowing what what they were, and then moving the damned computer into her bedroom.
I'm not letting it go. This morning I asked her again, and she finally said I could use the computer this evening. It'll give her time to tidy her room, move the damn computer back, or, perhaps more likely, come up with some more bullshit and lies.

La Cancha

Apart from the lessons, playtime in la cancha is very important for the niños and niñas of the Escuela Flora Tristán. Perhaps even more important. Through some strange anomaly of playground physics, there are always more children on the basketball court after lessons than take part in the classes themselves.
It’s always a chaotic scene. Goals at either end are used for fútbol of course, although there may be two ongoing games at the same time. On one side of the court children queue up for skipping, while on the other side volleyball takes place, although this sometimes becomes basketball, depending on the whim of the players at the time. Little children throw ropes over the bars above the goals, unwittingly becoming goalkeepers as they swing nonchalantly between the posts.
All the while the fútbol games rage on, with children, teachers and the local dogs - who all seem to know exactly when to turn up for playtime - all taking part, running into each other, the skippers, volleyballers, goal-swingers, and anyone else who happens to be in the way. Who plays which way is not important, with all chasing, kicking, barking and yelling at will.
At the sides of the playground can be found other children. These industrious little workers dig and burrow at the dust and rocks, as if mining for precious schoolyard metals just waiting to be found. Some kids can’t go to school at all because they’ve to work in the mines. It’s perhaps ironic then that the ones in school feel they’re missing out.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The crab who wanted to die

We find ourselves this Saturday night in Mejia, a ghost town beside the sea. The misleadingly-named Pacific crashes day and night along its magnificent beach, but that's about all that's going on.
An abandoned village with nothing to do and nobody to do it. We wandered around deserted streets this afternoon, wondering where everyone had gone. Nobody to be seen anywhere. Houses were boarded up, shops closed, restaurants idle, construction projects abandoned unfinished. We frightened the shit out a dog as we walked around the corner. He started after waking from a long restful sleep. Probably the first humans he'd seen in months.
Our hostel owner was delighted to finally have some customers. The last time anyone stayed at the Hostal Chunchito was November 7th. Feck knows when anyone stayed before that, or when the next guests will chance upon it and decide to stay a night. For S/.20 (€5) for both of us for the night, it's hard to see how they can make a living at all.
Only a few other lonely souls could be seen on the beach, abandoned to the waves and the gulls, speedy feckers who run around as if chasing the ends of their long pointy beaks. The sand is black, presumably from volcanic rocks spewed out long (or not so long) ago by the earth.
All along this black beach lie the bodies of thousands and thousands of crabs. Their bodies unrespectfully smashed and torn apart, their limbs scattered by the wind. So many dead crabs it was impossible to walk without contributing to the carnage. Crunch, crunch!
I noticed one of them still moving, just about, his back legs twitched gently as I approached. Feck it, I thought, I may as well save a crab today. I picked him up by the back, his legs scrabbling and claws snapping like mad as he tried to get at me or away.
As I left him back into the water and watched him being sucked back out to sea, it occurred to me that he had probably spent hours crawling out of the ocean, expending his last dregs of energy just to find a quiet place on the beach to die. And then some stupid gringo comes along and fecks it all up by throwing him back in the sea! I'm sure he was cursing me as the waves swept him back the way he had come.

More pictures of vultures and what's not going on in Mejia can be seen here:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Educational progress

Another week almost over, and classes at Escuela Flora Tristán are progressing at an educational rate. Where learning is being done, it's very hard to measure progress at all, but things are progressing in any case, even it it's nothing more than the passing of time.

On Monday I had a class to teach on my own for the very first time. Armed with a whiteboard and marker, my task was to get the English language from my head into the students'. Preferably without it leaving my own of course, as that would prove quite inconvenient for my faltering journalistic aspirations.
After being asked the English for "arse" and "breasts" the week before, (very inquisitive these Peruvians), I decided to concentrate on parts of the body. Parts of the face too, not just the rude areas.
I drew a human face on the board, (presuming a human face to be more useful than, say, a dog's), and illustrated all the parts they might possibly need, from eyebrows, to dimples and freckles. I also drew a serious of unfortunate-looking creatures with particularly small ears, or large noses, triangular mouths, a mopful of hair or none at all, before asking them to describe them for me.
They were captivated, particularly by the sight of a round fella with huge bulbous eyes, fangs, a monobrow and tail. Two of the girls, Luz and Alicia, even copied down the figures, complete with abnormal features and descriptions, with the latter showing them to her friends after the lesson. Monobrow and fangs are, of course, vitally important words when describing people, particularly here in Perú.

The rest of the week I spent bored shitless, while Cat, my English co-worker, brought the students through the delights of English grammar, particularly the past perfect and past simple, coupled with the object/subject influence on the presentation of questions. Jaysus! It's bad enough learning German and Spanish without having to learn English all over again too.

From Monday I'll have the class all to myself as Cat is finishing up today. I plan on avoiding English grammar altogether, and will instead concentrate on all they really need to know: Feck, Arse (which they know already), Drink and Girls. The rest is an ecumenical matter, and their willingness to learn "arse" this week fills me full of confidence ahead of the next.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Fuckbags. Cheating lying fuckbags. I'm struggling to contain my disdain and contempt for an act of dishonesty so contemptible you would immediately assume England was at fault. Not the French. But France it was who cheated Ireland out of the World Cup and confirmed that after all, the big teams do always win, money does rule the world, inevitably is not evitable and the rest of all the bad shit is true too.

I went to Arequipa's only Irish pub, Farren's, with neither hope nor expectation. After all, it was 1937 since Ireland last won in Paris. I got there to find the pub full of French. That didn't help. Then some Australian fucker sat directly in front of me, blocking my view with his stupid head. "All the good seats are gone," I told three Clare lads who wandered in after me. Never mind. They clambered up on the stools behind.
The match started. Kevin Doyle on for Ireland. With a Wexfordman involved, you can be sure we'll fight. It's all Ireland. France can't get the ball. Meanwhile the French guys beside me are really pissing me off. Not even looking at the match. Chatting and presuming it's a formality before Les Bleus score a few goals and progress.
But it's all Ireland. Duff gets the ball out on the wing. A cross into the box. Robbie Keane. Gol!!! Goooooooooolllll!!! The pub erupts like the volcano Misti behind. Waaaaaaeeeyyyyyy!!! The French know they're in an Irish pub now. That shut them up.
In fairness, it's no more than Ireland deserve, with two clear chances for a goal before. I take back all the bad things I said about Keane being a Dublin knacker. It's half-time. 0-1. The excitement is palpable. I'm actually shaking. The Clare lads tell me of their trip to Colca Canyon at the weekend. "We stayed in a hut. 'Twas great. You wake up in the morning and you're in the middle of a fucking canyon!"
The second half starts. If we score another goal, France have to score two to qualify. But it doesn't look likely. This time it's all France. But still we have chances. Jaysus lads, you need to put those chances away! It's helter skelter, end to end, mad shit. The pub is heaving with excitement. Even the nuns in the monasterio across the road must be wondering what's going on. I ask them to pray for us. Four clear chances for Ireland, but still I get the feeling we're hanging on by our fingertips. Full-time. Ireland win, but the tie's all square thanks to that flukey French goal in Dublin. Extra time looms! Now I'm really shaking. I order my third beer.
Hope is reignited but I try keep it under control. I want to believe but still I can't. Years of disappointment has taught me to err my optimism on the side of pessimism.
I look to the smoke-filled heavens and ask St. Patrick to intervene. Jaysus, do something! I even talk to the French guys beside me. Ask why Benzema isn't playing. "Because Domenech stupide." I hope they're right. But I'm not sure.
Then France scored the goal. By cheating, as I may have mentioned before. A blatant hand-ball. Offside too just to add insult to injury. Irish protests went in vain as the French shamefully celebrated.
The end was as inevitable as it was desperate. Everybody forward, searching for the deserved goal which never came. There was a furious exodus from the pub. Only the two French guys happy. I congratulated them but couldn't look in their eyes, before I too left the scene of the crime.

So a France without honour goes to the World Cup, while Ireland with honour goes home. The French will know they got there through deceit, but that won't stop them celebrating. For Ireland meanwhile, it's yet another heroic failure. It couldn't be any other way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rip-off boleto

Gringos and tourists are there to be taken advantage of in Perú. No matter where you go, what you see, some fucker will try rip you off.
An official with more self-importance than a peacock boarded the bus to Colca Canyon and tried sell us a Boleto Turistico to visit Cruz del Condor. S/.35 he wanted from us each, about €20, for us to visit this natural attraction. To put it in context, the three-hour bus ride to get there was S/.3.
We told him no, we weren't going to Cruz del Condor, that we were going direct to Cabanaconde instead and that we would buy the Boleto Turistico there if we decided to.
Well, what a fuss! He told us all tourists had to buy the tickets, that the tickets weren't just for Cruz del Condor, but the whole canyon, and that we had to buy the tickets if we wanted to progress.
We refused point blank. No. We'll buy it in Cabanaconde if we want it. We don't have the money in any case. Now fuck off. (We didn't actually say that, but he got the message.)
In a huff, he sat down on the seats across from us, while another official-looking colleague targeted other tourists on the bus, to convince them too of their duty to buy a Boleto Turistico. They all half-heartedly protested before coughing up the money.

Imagine charging people to visit a canyon! A canyon put there by God, Allah, Buddha, Dustin the Turkey or whoever you believe in. It sure as hell wasn't the Peruvians who put it there. All they did was discover another way to shaft tourists.

As we were getting off the bus, the ticket collector tried charge us a "tourist fare" of S/.5 instead of the S/.3 everyone else paid. Another fuss, another hullabaloo.
"But you're tourists," he pointed out, by way of explanation.
"How do you know?" I replied, just to see what he'd say. I should have told the crook we were actually working, teaching kids English so they might put it to use when they're older. I just hope they don't use it to shaft tourists too.

Such short-sightedness is endemic in Perú. The officials are too stupid to see if they rip-off the tourists, they won't return. Of course, they can't benefit by lining their own pockets with the money spent in restaurants, hostales, hotels and shops.
A tourism industry is a fragile one, very susceptible to greed and stupidity. If the Peruvians aren't careful, then theirs will go the same way as the Irish one. Then nobody will have anything; not even the corrupt officials.

The condors eventually obliged at Cruz del Condor after our epic hike, and a few of them came out to fly overhead, swooping down with their wide wings outstretched as if to hug us. Whoooosh!! A pity the camera wouldn't oblige by focusing on them.

More officials hung around too, waiting to pounce on arriving tourists to force them to buy their Boleto Turistico. They didn't come near us however. I guess they knew better.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Colca Trek

We'd already been walking an hour and still Cabanaconde was in sight behind us. We'd been going up, up, up along the dusty trail, lifting our aching legs, sweating like pigs, gasping for breaths of air. Every step a struggle, every metre a fight. The birds chirped merrily as if taking pleasure from our toils. Chattering among themselves about the crazy gringos voluntarily setting off at six in the morning.
Just when we were crawling our way up a particularly steep and ordeous part, we heard some fucker whistling in the distance behind us. Whistling! A happy, carefree tune, totally out of sync with our slogging up the rocky hill. A cowboy on horseback, coming along the road to our right, whistling in total contentment with the world.
"He's only whistling 'cos he doesn't have to do any work," I told Jenny. "You don't hear the horse whistling."
"Maybe he'll give us a piggy-back," she replied hopefully.
Gis a piggy back on yer horse mister. But after stopping briefly to chat, scratching his head at the notion of walking 18 kilometres to Cruz del Condor, he continued on his way, whistling as before as his horse carried him out of sight ahead of us.
We took a break, too knackered to talk. I also had stomach cramps, a side-effect from the third day of altitude (nearly 4km up), or perhaps the vegetable soup which just so happened to have chicken it the night before.
We walked on, continuing along the ridge of Cañón del Condor as we sought to reach our goal. At 7.20 we saw our first condor, wings spread wide as he glided over the canyon valley below us.
"Es ist ein bißchen klein für ein Condor," doubted Jenny.
"Klein, weit weg," I replied, as Fr. Ted once told Dougal, although he was talking of cows not condors. Still, the same theory applies.
We went on, making wishes to ourselves as we'd been told to do on seeing the first one.
The slog was no less hard than before. Twenty minutes later we passed two guys working in a stone-walled field.
"¿De donde van?" one of them asked.
"Cruz del Condor."
"Aahh, Cruz del Condor," he replied. He held up a finger. "Una hora."
"¿Una hora?"
"Mas. Dos horas." And a big toothless smile broke out on his weathered face as he held up two fingers.
Yes, two is certainly more than one.
We kept going, traipsing on as before. Half an hour later we saw another condor. "Hat man nur eigentlich ein Wunsch"" Jenny wondered. Evidently a girl with a long wishlist.
On we went, on and on. A few more "Buenas Diás" from campesiños in the fields and along the neverending road. It hugged the rim of the canyon, the views only spoiled when the odd vehicle passed choking us in clouds of dust. Fields of miniature cows and donkeys far below, tall trees like modest shrubs in the distance, and still the road went on and on, up and up.
We saw a corner in the road up ahead. "Wir können da ein Pause machen," I suggested. Jenny agreed without hesitation. We got there, and it was then we saw the cross. Cruz del Condor! The famed viewpoint for watching condors circled and glide overhead. We'd finally made it!
"Wir haben es geschafft!" exclaimed Jenny, delighted the 18km uphill slog was finally over. She plonked herself on the ground, and five minutes later she was asleep. I looked around. Of course, there wasn't a condor anywhere to be seen.

For more pictures of the spectacular Cañón del Colca, and they are spectacular, click here:

Good vibes, bad vibes

We had an earthquake last night. Nothing serious or you would have heard about it already. It lasted around six seconds, ground vibrating, furniture wobbling. Wow! What the fuck is that?! I'd never experienced an earthquake before, coming from Ireland where the only time the ground moves is when Bono comes home for a weekend.
My first earthquake! Around the same time, a mag 6.5 'quake struck northern Chile, just across the border, so I guess there's a connection.
It was fine though, actually quite a pleasant experience; the vibrations briefly massaging my muscles as my brain tried to work out what was going on. Good vibes man, good vibes.

Friday is always "Fun Friday" at Escuela Flora Tristán, but there was no fun to be had today. They had me hauling rocks in buckets from the quarry behind the school. Rocks! Lugging them up the hill with the metal handles biting into my hands, before plonking the damned things in the yard. Chain gang work if ever there was.
I would feel slightly more fulfilled if I didn't think it was a complete waste of time. The rocks are to be used to pave the yard, despite the fact it would mean no one will be able walk on it.
Buckets of water also had to be fetched, just for variety, and then, during the lessons, a delivery of concrete blocks was made. More lugging to be done. (Incidentally, the bricks were made of shite. Several of them just crumbled when I plonked them down again. God help them if a 6.5 mag 'quake strikes nearby.)
So, my first day as a brickie was very probably my last. I guess I shouldn't have expected a fun Friday on the 13th.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The sheep and the donkey

A little girl with her sheep ran like bejaysus for the bus in Yanque, one of the villages en route from Chivay to Cabanaconde. As the bus beeped and honked enough to wake the dead, she ran as fast as her little legs could carry her, while the small sheep hopped and skipped along beside her.
They made it, but it was at this stage that the sheep decided he/she didn’t want to board the bus. With a bleat of protest, it decided to make a break for freedom around the front of the bus. It was promptly hauled back; a woman grabbed it by the hind leg and neck before somewhat ungently coaxing it onboard. The poor sheep could only look out the windows at the countryside soon whizzing by. “Baaaa!!!” Not a happy sheep. Not even the beauty as we delved deeper into Cañón del Colca could help it forget its failed escape attempt.

Never mind sheep, this is Donkey Country. Everywhere you look they can be seen; everywhere you listen they can be heard. Hee haw! Hee haw! Standing alone in dry ungiving stone-walled fields, or hauling heavy loads along dusty roads for their demanding masters. Either way they looked miserable.
Donkeys always look miserable however, even without our bus smothering them in great clouds of dust as it zoomed by. You very rarely see a happy donkey.
Bucking the trend (hee haw!), was a particularly gleeful baby donkey, a foal to those au fait in the world of donkeys, who ran and skipped and jumped over a pile of rubble in a stone-walled garden, before stopping and running and skipping over it again, and again, and again. Hee hee haw! Where he got the energy from is beyond me.
One day he’ll be told he isn’t actually a horse destined for stardom on the show-jumping circuit, but a donkey destined for a life of burden. Then he’ll be miserable. Just like the rest of them.

Indignant alpaca

Alpacas have no problems with the cold, being covered in a thick coat of fur. One of them spat at me the morning after I had been freezing my ass off. I presumed he was tame enough as he was nibbling on tufts of grass in the yard of our hostel – wild alpacas don’t stay in hostels– so I asked Jenny to take a picture of me beside him.
Rumi, for that was his name, evidently didn’t like having his photo taken and spat at me as I approached. The furry fucker. He continued to look put out, even as I refrained from approaching any closer. An indignant alpaca with a gobful of spit just waiting to project if I came any nearer.

Alpacas are a strange animal. Apart from Rumi, they generally have a perpetual look of surprise on their faces, as if they’d just found out they could be eaten.
Bistec de Alpaca is very popular here, and I was happy to order one the night before. Quite tasty I have to say; much better than I expected, and more than a match for beef. I shall certainly be eating it again.
Perhaps now we know the real reason for Rumi’s fury.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Infernal cold

Once the sun goes down Chivay is bloody cold. ‘Twould freeze the ass off a woolly mammoth (which I’m coming to resemble more and more each day). I guess when you’re almost 4km above sea level, there ain’t nothing but space left to keep you warm. It’s definitely the coldest I’ve been since I’ve last had to brave a wintry day in Berlin.

The old women (fast becoming a favourite subject) wear big thick blankets around their shoulders to fend off the cold. Tied around their necks, the blankets fly like capes behind them. Little superheroes trying to fight off the infernal cold. Infernal cold being the most contradictory of them all.

Despite having six or more blankets on the bed, it actually woke me up a few times during the night, body shaking but not grooving, teeth chattering without words. The cold or the smell of piss from the blankets; I’m not sure which it was, but I was presented with the cruel dilemma of huddling closer into the piss-scented blankets, or staying away from them and freezing my woolly mammoth ass off some more.

Earlier we found ourselves in an Irish pub, just to escape the chill. Yes, here in the middle of the Andes, surrounded by volcanoes, canyons and inaccessibility, M’elroys was able to offer a home from home. There really is no escape. I wasn’t complaining at the time however, being secretly delighted to find a warm comfortable den in which to escape the weather – just like home.

It really was a proper Irish pub. The cat, gas stove and wooden floors were all there. I even forgave the signed Dublin GAA jersey on the wall. The Guinness was expensive at S/.25, four times the price of any other beer, but the Pisco Caliente was a more sensible choice in any case. Hot pisco with cloves, cinnamon and lemon. Aahh! For a while I was happy it was so cold outside.

All the pictures of Chivay can be found here:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Canyons and long noses

Happy cacti dot the hills all the way to Chivay. All along the pampas from Arequipa, on the way to Colca Canyon, the prairie stretches as far as the hills and mountains will allow the eyes see. Vicuñas, alpacas and llamas graze the scarcely-surviving vegetation. Desert shrubs and hardy grass tufts.
As the bus bounces its way along the bumpy dusty road, the hills become bigger and more imposing. Volcanic rocks jut out from unlikely angles, jagged, sharp and unfriendly-looking. Only the cacti can make themselves at home here. Jagged rocks hang threateningly overhead as the road snakes its way around the steep sides. Curve after curve after curve. No such thing as a straight road in Perú.
Suddenly, as we turn the squillionth turn, we can see a settlement far far below us. A deep gash in the plain can be seen stretching off beside it. It’s Colca Canyon! Three and a half hours after leaving Arequipa we’ve finally reached Chivay. Despite being 3,630 metres above sea level, we’re driving down from the mountains to meet it.

Chivay is a likeable place, and an ideal base from which to explore the canyon, either the largest or second largest in the world depending on who you believe. The locals, of course, will tell you Colca is the largest, but most neutrals will accept that this honour in fact belongs to Cañón del Cotahuasi, ten hours from Arequipa by bus, and 3,345 metres deep. Cañón del Colca is, after all, only 3,191 metres deep. Just don’t ever tell a Chivayan. Fiercely proud of their canyon they are.

Canyon folk here wear were exquisitely-embroidered traditional dress. At least the women do. The men don’t bother, going around in dusty overalls and old football shirts. The women wear white hats embroidered with colourful designs, and fanciful garments painstakingly-decorated with delicate embroidery and designs which warrant closer attention. They often carry babies and/or goods for the market on their backs, wrapped up in blankets as fanciful as their dress.
With huge bundles wrapped up on their backs, they waddle along with their arms hanging limply by their sides. “They walk like penguins,” Jenny observed. Later she noted they all had particularly long noses as well. “Exactly like penguins,” I replied.

A more likely explanation for the rhinoceros features however, is the need for a counter-balance to the large loads the local women carry on their backs. If they didn’t have such long noses, they’d simply fall over every time they went to the market.


Heute ist Mauerfall! Deshalb habe ich entscheiden ein ganzes Post auf mein schlechtes Deutsch zu schrieben. Erlauben Sie mal bitte. Eigentlich bin ich glücklich dass ich immer noch ein Paar Wörter auf Deutsch schrieben können. Ich hatte gedacht wegen diese Riese dass alles mit Spanisch gewechselt wäre. Aber Buddha zu Dank, hat es nicht passiert. Noch nicht auf jeden Fall. ¡Espero que no olvido mi Alemán!

Zurück zur Mauerfall. Es heißt so obwohl der Mauer ist nicht eigentlich gefallen, sondern es zerstört war. (Habe ich das richtige gesagt?) Vielleicht sollte das Tag Mauerzerstörung heißen. Aber das wäre schwerer für Touristen zu sagen so vielleicht ist es besser wie es ist.

Hier in Perú gab es kaum Nachrichten von Mauerfall obwohl es so wichtig ein Tag ist. Zwanzig Jahre nach der Fall (oder die Zerstörung) des Berliner Mauer, haben die Peruaner das überhaupt nicht bemerken. Es gab kein Curry Wurst Partys und so was. Ich glaube sie haben mehr Interesse auf Fußball, das Wetter und was es gibt zu essen.

Jenny und ich haben es auch nicht wirklich gefeiert. Heute haben wir ein 18km Lauf durch die erste oder zweite größter Canyon des Welt geschafft, fast alles bergauf, also hatten wir keine Energie etwas anderes zu machen.

Ich wollte ein kleines Mauer auf Lego Blöke zu bauen so dass wir es danach zerstören könnten, aber Jenny war nicht so begeistert mit diesem Idee.
Auf jeden Fall hatten wir keinen Lego Blöke. Ein fatalen Fehler. So jetzt schlaft sie während ich schreibe.

Eigentlich muss ich sie danken, und nicht Buddha, für die Deutsche Wörter dass ich mich erinnern kann. Wir sprechen jeden Tag miteinander (immer Gut) aber fast alles ist jetzt auf Deutsch. Manchmal verstehe ich sie gar nicht, aber für die wichtige Sache habe ich Glück dass sie auch Englisch sprechen kann!

Also, jetzt muss ich auch schlafen. Morgen ist noch ein andere Tag. Ich wünsche euch ein wunderschönes Mauerfall - (Obwohl es schon Vorbei in Deutschland ist. Wir sind sechs Stunden später hier in Perú.) - und alles gute in die Zukunft für ein Grenzenlos Berlín.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Patriotic vandals

Vandals struck at the heart of the Flora Tristán school last night when they callously broke in to destroy the very heart of its endeavor.
The flagpole, on which a Peruvian flag had been flying proudly, with a crude homemade union jack underneath, was toppled and then desecrated in an apparent act of patriotic fervor.
"They broke in, knocked down our pole, and then burnt the flag," Jim told us when we came in, his sense of shock and dismay apparent.
"Which flag? The Peruvian one?" I asked.
"No no, the other one. The Peruvian flag is okay, but they completely burnt the other one."
I burst out laughing. I couldn't help it. Just ten minutes before, as we were walking to the school, I had been telling Jenny there was a union jack flying underneath the Peruvian flag, that there was no way they could expect a proud Irishman to work in a school with a British flag flying above it.
"I'll have to break in some night and get rid of it," I told her. "There's no way I can work there with that thing over my head."
I needn't have worried. It seems someone else had the same idea. The fact they left the Peruvian flag alone showed they were professionals who knew exactly what they had to do. Not sure Jim would understand though. He looked at me strangely after I broke into laughter. I didn't bother trying to explain.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Back to school

We've almost negotiated the first week of school and so far it's going to plan, or at least as much to plan as plans can go in Perú. Yesterday I worked with the 0 to 5-year-olds. Apparently they're an ideal age to learn another language, despite the fact some of them could barely speak their own.
I decided to teach them the colours, and set about preparing the class by writing them up on the board. A pity then, when I learned none of them could yet read. Never mind, I could call them out, tell them what the colours are.
In the end it turned into a colouring glass. For one little girl with snot all over her face, surely not much older than two, it turned into a how-to-hold-a-crayon-class. But somehow, despite the flying crayons, I think I managed to teach another little girl actually learned what "blue" is. Success!

"Yeah actually, I'd prefer to work with older ones," I told the coordinator today. No sooner said than done. The difference is unbelievable. Teenagers who can actually read and write, hold a crayon, and most importantly of all, wipe the snot off their own faces. Yes, we're making progress.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Settling in

Arequipa’s cool. Just as well, as it’s going to be home for a while. We were invited to a party on our first night (last Thursday) after popping into the German language centre to ask about Spanish courses. (I don’t know what language I’m speaking half the time.) The locals were delighted to have "natives" to practice their German on, while we were happy just to drink the free pisco. (Grape brandy. It’s yum!) Jenny made a load of new friends, exchanging my mobile number with complete strangers. I’ve been getting weird messages from "Fernando" in the middle of the night since.

Over the weekend we moved into what will be our new home for the next couple of months. In the fashionable district of Yanahuara, we are sharing with a ridiculously-friendly woman named Aglae (who I’ve been doing my best not to call Algae) and her 12ish-year-old daughter Feorela. There’s a son too, but I’m not actually sure if he lives here too.
The apartment’s very nice with electricity 24 hours a day, running water, warm showers, carpets on the floor, paint on the walls. Sheer luxury! It’s just around the corner from the main thoroughfare, and from our room we have a wonderful view of El Misti, the volcano which rises majestically behind. It’s been yonks since the last eruption apparently, although the next “big bang” is expected, sometime. As long as we’re far far away I don’t mind.

A doorman opens the gate for us when we’re coming and leaving, and I suppose he keeps the peasants out too. It’s quite an affluent neighbourhood, so for €50 each for the month, we’re doing alright. I haven’t noticed any rats or cockroaches yet either – I’m sure it’s much too expensive for them.

Our new flatmates are very nice despite being huge Michael Jackson fans. Aglae always wears a wide smile and we can treat her home as our own. Yesterday was her birthday, so we were invited to stuff our faces with cake while sitting with her brother, sister and elderly mother.
They all laugh like maniacs at the slightest thing. Whether it’s funny or not is immaterial. At times yesterday I thought they were going to choke, they were laughing so hard. Hector, the brother, was slapping his thighs at his own jokes, while the women were waving their hands in front of the faces in an effort to control the spasms of laughter, tears rolling down their cheeks. They were rolling around the floor when Jenny was asked if she liked Pisco Sour cocktails and she replied “who doesn’t?” I wouldn’t mind, but they were only drinking coffee.

We started work yesterday too. The school’s in a run-down recently-settled area where the locals eke out a living by mining stone from the mountain behind. There's no running water so the toilet is against the outside wall, or wherever you can find a secluded spot.
I must say it's great to be able to work in abject poverty before returning to our 24-hour security condominium complex. The contrast is a guilty pleasure.

The kids are ridiculously enthusiastic. Some were waiting outside the school for an hour before lessons even started. It was only when the lesson started that they lost their enthusiasm.
Afterwards we played a chaotic game of fútbol while another took place on the same pitch, with volleyball, skipping and ball-chasing dogs thrown in too for added confusion. Still, it was a good laugh, even if I found my teammates to be skipping or climbing poles when they should have been surging towards goal.
The little girls already have little old woman faces. One girl in particular, who is allegedly two, could pass for an 80-year-old if she wasn’t just two-and-half feet tall.

The school itself is about 40 minutes away in a minibus which was crammed like a tuna-tin yesterday. I had to stand with my neck arched because of the low ceiling, while a fellow passenger placed their elbow in my mouth. Low ceilings don’t bother Peruvians, they being a much littler folk than us Europeans. Apparently all the buses are crammed like tuna-tins, so there’s no point waiting for the next one. Sure enough the return bus was packed to the edges as well.

I didn’t go to school today though. Real Madrid were playing and Manuel Pellegrini’s future is more important to me than the childrens’. (Just for today).
Normally I avoid Irish pubs like swine flu, for fear of meeting someone I know, or worse, someone who knows me, but today I parked myself up in front of the TV in Fallon’s and ordered a beer. The first beer I’ve drunk since September 21st! It’s true. Over a month without a beer. That’s never happened before.

I guess that’s why we’re here. To do things we’ve never done before, experience unexperienced experiences. Everyday something new, something mad, something to write about.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Road to Arequipa

The bus to Arequipa was a nightmare. Four hours late on account of a "broken engine", we eventually left at 2 a.m. We had been told it would be a bus cama with fully reclining seats so one could sleep through the night. Lies, damn lies. The bus was jammed with people when it eventually showed up, and not one of the seats looked anymore like reclining than a hot air balloon does. The smell of piss, sweat and dirt was incredible. A suspicious-looking pool of liquid emerged from under the door of the toilet.
Two peasants were shooed out of our seats at the back. One of them, an old woman in rags with one tooth in her head, seemed nevertheless grateful and insisted on shaking our hands with her filthy claw. She babbled some incomprehensible ráméish. Her colleague, younger and even less appealing, promptly took the seat next to us and laughed at her hapless colleague as she was ushered down to the lower deck (where, ironically, the more luxurious seats were located).
We tried sleep nonetheless as the bus lurched from side the side as the Panamericana twisted and snaked its way through the mountains. A few hours later the less-appealing peasant puked. Her body bent over as she lurched and heaved into a plastic bag. She then considerately hung her produce on the arm of her seat.
"Great,"·muttered Jenny who was sitting right beside it. "Now we can smell it for the rest of the trip." Wafts of puke came towards us in waves. An hour was enough. The bag was unceremoniously flung out the window.
Dawn greeted us across the desert sands an hour or so later. And still the bus rumbled on. At 8 a.m. we were woken by the sounds of gunfire. A film, with the volume at unbelievable, blasted out from the TVs. A more violent film has not been made. Bad guys slaughtered in hails of bullets, slashed open with machetes, necks snapped in the name of entertainment. All to the soundtrack of heavy metal. Loud steamy sex made a diversion from the blood-thirsty violence. The old peasants were amazed, eyes wide open as they took in all the crazy goings on.
Thankfully the rest of the journey passed without incident. I was able to stick my head out the window to escape the stench and nine and a half hours after departure, we finally arrived in Arequipa. We took a taxi to our hostal, the appropriately-named Home Sweet Home. We'd made it!

Kamikaze Käfers

I never mentioned the Kamikaze Käfers. That's kamikaze beetles to non-German speakers who consequently miss out on the joys of alliteration.
These suicidal beetles were actually flying around Nazca's Plaza de Armas as we munched on empanadas and fine cake. Suicidal because they flew directly towards poles and benches before colliding head-on with fatal consequences. They didn't fly anymore after that. Loads of the poor creatures' bodies littered the ground, legs up in the air attesting to their poor navigational skills.
The first one I noticed flying straight into a pole was just being careless I thought, but after witnessing a number of others do exactly the same thing, we can only assume it was deliberate. No suicide notes however, no letters to loved ones, no pleas for forgiveness.
Just another of Nazca's many mysteries.

Monday, November 02, 2009

El perrito y los acueductos

I like Nazca. The people seem friendlier here than in other Peruvian towns we've been. A polite nod, a friendly "Buenos días", a warm smile when you walk past.
Even the dogs here are very friendly. The hostel's little dog jumps up and down when he sees me, standing on his hind legs, walking backwards, threatening back flips. I'm sure if they could harness the energy from this perrito's ferocious tail wagging, they'd have enough electricity to power the whole town for a month. I know it's only because I give him food. Nevertheless, I promised to remain in touch, and shall be writing him postcards on my return to Berlín. He slept under the bed on our last night.

They're quite proud of their town, the self-proclaimed "Capital Astronómica del Mundo". A pity their welcome in English doesn't live up to their enthusiasm. "Welcome to Nasca, Patrimony Cultural of the Humanity For It's Atractives Toucists." I know it's mean to laugh, but I couldn't help it. They aren't typos.

We accepted a kind offer of a lift from a woman who drove us halfway to where we wanted to go. It was actually nowhere near where we wanted to go. "Muchas gracias," I said as I made my way out of the car. She frowned disapprovingly. Jenny made frantic gestures before I realised the woman was looking for a tip. "Ah." I rummaged around for change and dug out a couple of soles. The woman inspected the coins as if I'd just handed her a turd. Frown ever deepening. Evidently not enough! Jaysus, you'd think if she was looking for money she'd actually bring us where we wanted to go, where she said she was going to go in the first place.

Anyway, we got out and found ourselves in front of the Pardeones ruins. An ancient Nazca settlement. Again, like all others I've been to, these ruins were ruined. They just don't know how to look after them at all. Broken walls, rubble everywhere. We climbed around and quickly got bored. Not another soul anywhere to be seen or heard. Then an owl provided some welcome distraction. An oul' owl, although to be honest I've no idea whether he was young or old. He spun his head around like a madman, and gazed at us with his deep yellow eyes.

We were captivated before he flew off and we again found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. We hailed a passing taxi and made it to the Cantayo Aqueducts. Spiralling stone walkways deep into the ground, some garnished with a pool of water at the bottom. They're mad! Maybe 12 of them altogether. More than 1,000 years after they were built, they still irrigate the parched locality, bringing precious water from far away.

Again we were on our own, and the peace and quiet was sheer luxury. The odd gust of wind blowing clouds of dust into the air. Nothing else to be heard but birds chirping in a neighbouring field of huge cacti, and the cries from about 200 goats in the other field next door. A couple of chilled-out cows completed a memorable vista with smoke rising and the mountains forming an impressive backdrop behind.

So far, my favourite place in Perú, despite all the cactus bristles. Running around the cactus field is optional and probably should be skipped if you truly want the five-star experience.

More pictures of Nazca and the "atractives toucists" of its environs, excluding the lines, can be found here: