Monday, 26 September 2016

Cusco – Days 10 to 13

The famous 12 sided Inca stone in the Hathun Rumiyoq

Sleep is still evading us in the amounts we'd like, but not too bad overall. B has been waking with headaches and so waking me, but it is getting better. I went without earplugs last night....

Woke early on Friday morning, but we had gone to sleep at 20.00 had a shower which was hot, despite the many reviews I'd read for Cusco guesthouses, good breakfast on the fourth floor overlooking the rooftops and the comings and goings of a number of cats, (we had their life stories plotted out by the end of our stay) of cereal, yogurt and bread and jam and I was ready to start the day. B was feeling like he'd got a bad hangover, which is not a pretty sight as many of you can vouch!

The guide on our free city walking tour pointing out the stone that is supposed to represent the genitals of the puma. I think we both had some difficulty in seeing the images made by the stones
This is what you're supposed to see apparently
Eventually we set off towards the school, all downhill in this direction, not for the way back! Found our way quite easily after a gentle half hour and went in. John was on site a congenial man, I can't remember if he's Belgian or Dutch but has lived in both for a long time. He introduced us to Fanny, his Peruvian wife and educational power house behind the school, she was fab, I almost understood most of what she said, but then you realise how slowly and clearly she spoke and how much face language and miming she did. If only the man in the street could behave like that! She did at least say to us at the party that it was good that we had come with some vocabulary and grammar, which made me feel happy. We don't know what she made of our assessment though but Mimi her sister our grammar teacher will no doubt know where to start us! We met the cat, paid some money and headed back up hill toward the Plaza de Armas, the centre of it all.

The Plaza de Armas seen from above by the church of San Cristobal
The Sunday parade in the Plaza de Armas
Drifted around a bit more, it has a very laid back vibe, before squeezing in somewhere local for a bite of lunch and a glass of chicha morada a drink made from purple maize that Fanny had recommended for acclimatising. We had an empanada, bit like a pastie, and were about to leave when B wanted some of the cake everyone seemed to be eating. Looked like three layer cake but had slices of hard boiled egg and olive on the top! Think we'll save causa for another day! Having just looked it up, what looked like cake was probably mashed potato, perhaps we will try It! 

Even the little primary school children were marching to the band
Some dressed up in costume....
More pottering, snoozing etc before convincing ourselves we should go to the party, it would have been so easy not to, but decided it would keep us awake a bit longer! Met a few of our fellow students, all much younger than us and female, bar one slightly eccentric American lady from Texas who has been here since June, with her dog, and a guy from NZ here with his partner. We chatted, primarily to an 18 year old from the US here on her own, played with Bowie the cat (one blue eye, one green) and ate an interesting spaghetti bolognese before admitting defeat and heading off to bed. Taking a taxi home rather than the half hour walk. Yes there are official taxis but any car appears to be a taxi too, so stand, someone stops, negotiate and away you go!

...And some on stilts
Up Saturday morning and decided to do the free walking tour, only us and a Swiss couple. Interesting, though biased towards the shops run by his friends, but what do you expect. Made it up to the church for a scenic view over Cusco that I'd pointed out to B at breakfast we'd be going up. Don't be ridiculous he said, that's far too high a walk. I was right!

The statue of Manco Capac in the Plaza de Armas, said to be gesturing to the image of Christ on the hilltop as a sign of the joining of the two religions
First cat event
Had a good cat afternoon, went back to the twelve sided stone in the wall that we had seen in the am and been unable to get close to due to everyone else photographing themselves by it, saw a cute tabby, who with one word trotted over and climbed onto my leg and into my arms, what with the cat by the hostal who had gone from running away to rolling over and head butting and then the cat in the supermarket (yes, actually in, along with it's pregnant partner) who also wanted good snuggles, might not be such a bad place after all!

Second cat event
Decided on a proper dinner, and even a beer, I had an alpaca steak which was very tender, but very strongly flavoured. We have yet to try cuy, or guinea pig which seems quite expensive, though we did see some cooked at a food fair yesterday! All set to leave when the heavens opened so decided to sit a little longer chatting to the Argentinian waiter and chef! Eventually got back to the hostal to find a heater had been put in our room to take the chill off, very sweet, hadn't got rid of the slight smell of damp though. On the whole very pleased with the Hatun Quilla, friendly people, but not much English, good price, hot water, quiet street but close to all the action. (Going to try and name the hostals we stay in this trip as we have found it useful when we've read other people's blogs and helpful to us if asked where we can recommend) 

Third cat event, in a supermarket! She carried it round while we shopped for a bottle of water
Just the two of us by the church of San Cristobal
Found ourselves in the Plaza de Armas on Sunday morning for the weekly parade, don't know what it was all about, but very entertaining none the less, though wish I'd put suntan lotion on as the sun when out is very hot. B thinks this might be part of his headache problem, not just altitude but a bit of extra sun on his head from Friday!

The highest Irish bar in the world?
Found ourselves having lunch in the worlds highest Irish Bar, pizza, but still felt very homely, before returning one last time to the hostal to be collected by John and delivered to our homestay. We arrived to discover Maribel was not expecting us, but was very welcoming nonetheless so we sat with John while she and her daughter Alexandra and son Escoban got our room ready, just to meet her mother and father Nelly and Nico then. It's a big room, but two single beds. Good to be able to unpack though. If I look out of the window I can see across an open shaft into the kitchen of the apartment we are in, across the lounge and out of the big picture window to watch the airplanes revving up to take off down the runway! No night flights fortunately!

Attempting to play a native Inca instrument.
Met the whole family at dinner time, Nelly and Nico and Maribel's sister, husband and 13 month old baby. It's going to be hard work, but they are all very friendly and welcoming. Baby seems to be here everyday, as this morning was a cleaner/play lady? First flight was at 06.00 and with Maribel and kids going off to work/school we may be continuing with early to bed and early to rise. Dinner last night was tasty, but two potatoes and two pieces of fried cheese followed by fresh fruit salad may not be enough to sustain us, along with the standard breakfast of bread and jam. We are meant to be getting three meals a day here, but as we are at school 12.00 - 16.00 not sure how that is going to work! There was spaghetti being cooked at breakfast so perhaps we'll be given a pack up!

Sleeping dogs on a side street in Cusco
Anyway, an hour till we are collected to be shown our route for the first day of school so who knows what the rest of the day will bring!

This guy was a famous artist in Peru. The scene on the left depicts Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and on the right the three wise men, but they all have long necks. It's a South American slant apparently and the long necks refer to the local Alpaccas
This is the local delicacy here. It's Cuy,or as we know it: roast guinea pig. It is expensive by local standards, but at 60 Sol (about £15) its worth trying sometime. It's apparently high in protein and very low in cholesterol. I think one will do between both of us!

This is believed to be the remains of an Inca storehouse. All Inca walls slop inwards slightly and the recesses and doorways are always slightly narrower at the top than at the bottom. This is because they had not discovered the arch and support at the top was easier if it is not so wide. Other things the Incas had not discovered: the wheel and they had no written words, only pictures

The remains of the wall of an Inca palace, reduced to this level by the Spanish who used the stone to build their churches and cathederals. The Plaza de Armas was originally encircled by fabulous Inca palaces all built with this precision cut stone. Many of the foundations and walls up to about head height remain, but the Spanish built over the top and added covered archways to give it a more Spanish feel. The cathederal and church in the Plaza were built on the most impressive palaces, all the old stone used to build them

Old Cusco is shown in brown and is in the shape of a Puma, a sacred animal to the Incas. Note the Inca spelling of Cusco: Qosqo

Cusco was the capital and centre of the Inca empire and the Plaza de Armas was its heart. The empire, which stretched from modern Colombia down to Chile was divided into four sections, all radiating out from the Plaza

The map on the left shows the extent of the Inca empire at its height and the four districts, all radiating from the Plaza de Armas

Our journey so far in Cusco. At the top left is our first 3 day hostel stay at the Hatun Quilla. It is very close to the historical centre and the Plaza de Armas. Further down the Avenida de Sol just left of centre is the language school FairService that we start today and then further down by the orange marker is our homestay, right by Cusco airport. We can watch the planes take off from our window!

This is a satellite image of the Cusco area. Cusco is bottom right and our current location marked with the blue circle. Up and to the right you may be able to make out the town of Pisac which is the start of the Sacred Valley which runs left and up through the towns of Calca, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. Up in the top left hand corner is the town of Aguas Calientes, which is at the foot of the famous Machu Picchu. Next weekend we intend catching a local bus up to Pisac to see the old Inca fortress there and we may catch local busses up the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo and then back to Cusco. We will visit Machu Picchu, but not via the Inca Trail (which starts just after Ollantaytambo and is fully booked for about the next 6 months). Instead we'll probably do a two day trip which involves a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, where the road finishes, then catch a train that snakes up through the narrow valley to Aguas Calientes where we'll stay overnight. Up early the next day to get up to Machu Picchu for sunrise and then back by train and bus. All very exciting!  

Thursday, 22 September 2016

From Costa Blanca in Spain to Cusco in Peru – Days 7 to 9

Richard shapening his knife to carve the lamb

Our final day and a half in Spain with Richard and Elizabeth were full of good food and silliness. We had a superb roast leg of lamb dinner cooked in the village at a restaurant, but we had it as a take-away and ate it on the balcony at R&E’s. Well, why not with the fabulous view they have, much better than in the restaurant and R&E have plenty of splendid wine. 

And right on cue with the sunset
On the beach just outside the Calpe restaurant
On our final afternoon there, after we had packed again, we all went to the great seafood restaurant in Calpe that we’ve been to on a number of occasions with them. Its right next to the beach and the seafood is so fresh it’s to die for and great value for money. From the table we could see Calpe rock and it reminded us of the brilliant multi-pitch rock climb we had done right to the summit a few years back and made us both think how much we want to do it again. We’ll have to get our climbing heads back in after this trip and get back on the rock! After taking some silly photos on the beach it was time to go for the start of our very long journey to Cusco in Peru.

Some silliness on the beach
And a bit more. Richard looking pretty cool, Elizabeth not quite so cool
Richard dropped us off at Alicante airport at about 17:45 for the first of three flights at 20:20. It comprised a one hour flight to Madrid, a wait of 2½ hours, then the big flight across the Atlantic which was about 12 hours, a further wait at Lima airport in Peru for just under 3 hours and then the final one hour flight up to Cusco, arriving at 09:20am on Thursday morning (today) having put our clocks back seven hours from Spanish time.

And Jackie showing she's a bit of a toughie too. Richard backed away when I went to pick him up!
I went up on the roof to remove some weeds and couldn't resist this
Surprisingly we both managed to get about 6 hours of fitful sleep on the long flight, waking up aching and then managing to get back to sleep again, so although it wasn’t good sleep it certainly did us some good. We’ve now arrived in Cusco at an altitude of 3300m which, coming from sea level as we did, puts us right in line for having altitude sickness. They say sudden increases in altitude of more than 2500m is likely to induce the nasty hangover type feeling that it can give. That coupled with the 7 hours of time difference and poor sleep on the plane makes for a relatively unpleasant day!

And so to Cusco. This is the Plaza de Armas, the modern and ancient centre. It sits roughly on the ceremonial huacapata, the Incas' ancient central Plaza
The 16th century Templo de la Compania de Jesus
However, again surprisingly, we don’t feel too bad. The main thing for us is to try to stay awake until local bedtime here, say about 10:00pm as this hopefully will force our bodies to adjust. That’s why I’m sitting here at 5:00pm local time, midnight body clock time, writing the blog, whilst drinking lots of water (and even coca tea) to stave off the headache which keeps threatening. Early dinner about 6:00/6:30pm and then just try to stay awake as long as possible, possibly not making it to 10:00pm.

Jackie standing in front of the Convento de San Fransisco built between 1645 and 1652
The Plaza Regoclio, from where free guided city walks start from
Despite the lack of sleep, jet lag and mild altitude sickness we’ve actually had a pleasant first day in Cusco, the weather’s been sunny and quite warm (although yesterday apparently it hammered down with rain and hail in the afternoon) and the city is just fabulous, steeped in history as it is from the days of the Francisco Pizzaro and his band of Spanish Conquistadores in the sixteenth century, the legendary Incas who ruled what is now Peru and Ecuador before them and even the other indigenous tribes before them. The evidence is all here and it’s just great to be here in amongst it all, there’s lots to see and do here and we’re hoping we can get some of it done.

Inside the library
Before we do that, or in between doing that, we’ve got a three week Spanish language course booked starting next Monday 26th and on Sunday we move from the small hotel we’re in now into a homestay, where we’ll be living with a Spanish family for the duration, so it’s in at the deep end with full immersion in Spanish; I’ll either sink or swim (but Jackie I suspect will swim as she’s better at languages and has spoken a bit of Spanish for much longer than me, her dad living in Spain and all).

We’re doing the course with a company called FairPlay, who are a non-profit company who offer one-to-one (but we’ve asked to do it together) classroom based instruction in the mornings and out with a local in the afternoons walking round markets and shops and talking about everyday things. Half the money goes to the organisation and the other half we pay directly to the local person, who is likely to be a single mother and in need of the money (but also properly trained), so it’s all going to a very good cause and all in to the local economy.

We were met at the airport by a half Israeli half Argentinian girl who is currently working there in between her university studies and she took us straight to the school to show us round and introduce us to our teachers and to meet the other people there. It’s all very laid back and friendly and we think we’re going to really enjoy it. We’ve already been invited to a party there tomorrow night as it’s John, the owners birthday, so it’ll be good to get to know them all (they do all speak English)! We also found out that on one evening per week they do Salsa classes, so I feel we’ve got to have a go at that!

We had a really interesting walk round some of Cusco today and the photos below are some of what we saw with some history in the captions under them. It’s going to be good!
Now this may just look like a stone wall, but its very interesting. These stones were laid by the Incas long before the Spanish arrived and each stone probably weighs several tons. Each one is perfectly carved to abut to its neighbour, some of them with many sides. Can you just imagine the work of laying a stone of several tons to check its fit and then removing again to chip a bit more off? It's just amazing - how did they do it?

This is the street in which these fabulous stone walls are. Unfortunately, when the Spanish arrived many of the old Inca palaces were destroyed either by the Spanish or in the fighting and civil wars. The remaining lower parts of the walls were used by the Spanish to build new churches on top

Monday, 19 September 2016

South America via Spain – Days 1 to 6

The Bernia Ridge from Richard and Elizabeths garden

We’ve had an easy and comfortable start to our South American adventure, which isn’t in South America at all, but a week in Spain to see Jackie’s dad Richard and his wife Elizabeth! We actually fly to Cuzco in Peru on Wednesday 21st September, so came here for a bit of R&R and to see them before heading off for (hopefully) a year. 

Inside the Mughal-e-Azam restaurant with Abi
The night before leaving the UK we had a last Indian curry with Abi in the fabulous Mughal-e-Azam restaurant on the Hall Green/Sparkhill border and we can absolutely recommend it: a superbly converted big old church with excellent service, great food, very reasonable prices and BYO alcohol. We will definitely be going there again when we get back. This is their website: Mughal-e-Azam

Ready for the 'off' Outside Abi's
After a laid back breakfast on Wednesday morning we said bye-bye to Sooty and Abi drove us to Birmingham Airport for our flight to Alicante on the Costa Blanca in Spain on a plane loaded with ‘Brits Abroad’ heading for Benidorm that made us a bit embarrassed to be British, but so grateful we weren’t also going there; our destination was much more pleasant, not that far away, but fortunately far enough.

Richard, Jackie’s dad collected us from the airport and whisked us along the motorway, past the exit to Benidorm and off up into the hills of Altea and to their lovely house on the lower slopes of the fabulous Bernia Ridge.

So ‘adventure’ on the first week of our trip is perhaps a slight exaggeration but it is a great way to start! Daytime temperature around 30°C, a swimming pool to cool off in, a balcony to relax on with the most amazing mountain scenery in all directions, copious amounts of wine and good food and a hectic social calendar. R&E have arranged lots of social engagements with friends and we’ve had the most amazing time so far with still a day and a half to go before we head off to Peru on Wednesday.

Richard and Elizabeths lovely house on the Costa Blanca
Sunset over the mountains from the balcony
Although the rock climbing and mountain hiking and scrambling is superb around here, as we know so well from previous visits, none of that has been on our agenda this time as we just can’t carry around climbing gear for a year. The need to carry sufficient cold and hot climate clothing for all the countries we will be visiting, along with all the other ancillary things we’ll need for a year and yet keep our bags manageable enough to transport easily on aeroplanes and buses has meant some pretty tough choices!

Jackie having a dip in the pool
Walking down to Altea old town
Along with plenty of R&R by the pool, some strolls along the seafront at Altea, but also a few DIY jobs round the house and gardens, we’ve had some great al-fresco home cooked meals whilst sipping wine and watching the sun set behind the far mountains. The four of us caught up with Michael and Dagmar for a meal on Friday in Altea la Vella and we were able to grill Dagmar on her trip to South America a year or so back, which gave us a few extra ideas. Michael even wore his ‘Ushuaia – ville de la fin du monde’ T shirt especially and we’ve got their email address for en-trip advice.

Jackie and her dad walking through Altea old town
For Saturday evening the four of us met up with Jane, Elizabeth’s sister and Michael for a meal in Altea next to the beach and ultra-calm sea while the sun set (what was that big orange glow on the horizon in the black sea and sky about an hour after sunset that only lasted a couple of minutes and then disappeared?).  Easy conversation and relaxed company, how good is all this!

Dinner by the sea. LtoR: Richard, Jane, Michael, Elizabeth, Jackie
While we watched the sunset
Sunday lunch was at Carolyn and John’s house, with Jack the chocolate Lab, a little further up and round the hill from R&E’s, for a beautifully cooked meal, lots of nibbles and too much wine. It was another hot day so we were outside, fortunately out of the sun with sea views out over Altea and, in the distance, Benidorm. They are a lovely couple with such easy conversation, but the wine flowed a bit too much so Sunday evening was a quiet affair for the four of us and, by 10:00pm bed was calling!

At John and Carolyn's house for Sunday lunch. Here's john in his apron - nuff said!
LtoR: Jackie, Richard, Elizabeth, John & Carolyn
The only cloud on our horizon at the moment is a slight medical problem Jackie has that needed looking at, so Elizabeth and Jackie went to a medical specialist in Altea this morning. It’s not too serious and hopefully it won’t interfere with our trip too much, but it does mean she’s on drugs for a few weeks and will need a check-up in South America to check progress in 4 to 6 weeks. We’ll probably be in or around Santiago in Chile at that time so we’ve been checking out facilities there. Hopefully it’ll all be OK and we can carry on regardless, but it does remind us that we all, not just us but everyone, need to do as much as we can while we still can – who knows how long we’re here for!

That’s it for now, next stop: Peru!