Nature at it’s worst

Although we had been made aware that there had been an earthquake and a result tsunami by word of mouth from other travellers, I had not expected the scale of what I have just read on the BBC new website.

It is currently stating that there are at least 77,000 confirmed deaths and it could rise to 100,000. The stories from eye-witnesses sound like something from a movie, only it is not. It is harrowing to read the comments of families who are desperately trying to get news of sons and daughters travelling abroad and away from home for extended periods of time, such as I am now.

I don’t really know what else to say. The lack of television seems to numb you to what is going on in the world, whilst one plods from country to country as a backpacker. I’m not sure if ignorance was bliss or not.

God bless all those in peril and desperation at this time.

Hanging around in Cusco

Tim and I are now expectantly waiting for the off for our four day trek to Machu Pichu. Tim has unfortunately come down with some kind of food bug after our meal last night, but touch wood I seem alright at the moment and hopefully he will be fine for tomorrow. However, it has given me some time today, whilst he lies asleep in the hotel, to put the Isla Del Sol photos up on line.

Notably there are some really good restaurants here in Cusco, and some bloody awful too. The ones that are crappy are made obvious by the many touts that approach you throughout the day to try and persuade you to enter the restaurant with the promise of free drinks, garlic bread, etc. I’m surprised that nobody has pointed out that quality food brings good customers. Seems a simple enough rule to me!

Tim and I still can’t decide whether to head north to Ecuador and Colombia for a couple of weeks before heading to Chile or to head straight to Chile. We got a price for flights from Lima to Bogota, Bogota to Quito, Quito to Lima, Lima to Santiago De Chile for only 250 quid-ish. Thank god that prick George Bush keeps causing the dollar the drop against the pound.

Anyway, we can’t make our minds up about our travel arragenments and hence we have decided not to bother deciding until we come back from Machu Pichu. When booking the trek, we had a funny moment when the tour operator gave us the list of things we need to take with us. Tim remarked as to why in the hell he needed to take swimming trunks with him. I just said “Aqua Calientes” (the last stop of the tour after Machu Pichu itself), but it met with a blank look from dear old Timothy. I giggled to myself and said with a grin at him, “Aqua Caliente….Hot Water….hot springs mate!”. I forget sometimes how much my couple of weeks of spanish lessons have helped. Saying that though I must give Time some credit. He doesn’t often rely on me in situations where he might need to use spanish, and throws himself in with gusto. I’m sure he’ll now remember what aqua caliente means in future!

Well, the photos from Isla Del Sol are up, plus a couple from Puno (note the cooked guinea pig which is a speciality here in Peru, bravely being eaten by Karin the Scot, who Tim and I met on Isla Del Sol), plus a couple of Cusco centre. Also note the rather charming yet ridiculous hat I have managed to purchase, which I think might be a fedora (cost 2 quid)??? If anyone knows what it is let me know. Since no-one of my generation seems to wear hats anymore except chavs in burberry baseball caps, then I am hoping that some of the oldies might know!

View the photos from Isla Del Sol, plus photos from Puno and Cusco.

Tim and I are now used to the nasty effects of altitude. You never will understand what being at high altitude is until you have done it for a while. Everything is a hard slog if you are not used it, especially going up hill. Unfortunately, at altitude there seems to be quite a few hills! It’s a bit like Wales but in the sky! Since Bolivia we seem to have been at fairly extreme altitudes and since Potosi where we all suffered we now seem to be ok. I still wouldn’t want to run up a hill though. It is no wonder that people don’t smoke here. We have though been offered drugs so many times I can’t count them. You do see a fair amount of people sniffing at their cocaine red noses here, looking vaguely aggitated. It isn’t too in your face though, and considering the warnings in the South American Handbook, “…bent Peruvian police officials have been known to plant cocaine on you whilst stopping you for a drug search and then forcing you to pay a ‘fine'”, I was surprised how plentiful it is and how obvious it sometimes can be.

Well, I’d better go and check Timbo is alright. I want to climb up to see the ruins above Cusco that are called something like “Sacsayhuman”, or in Timbo language “sexy woman”. The ruins have typical Inca style walls, the type that are massive blocks that all seem to fit together perfectly, without being able to slide a knife edge inbetween them. Not bad considering that the Incas weren’t supposed to have the benefit of the wheel (much like the stone age engineers that built Stonehenge). Saying that though I never much trust archaeologists, since they usually seem to be from Somerset or Devon, dig ditches, saying “ohh, that there be a wall there from an ancient castle….honest”, before going back to the local pub to drink more real ale and take the piss out of Tony Robinson.

Just a thought anyway. Take care all.

Waiting for Machu Pichu

Well, Christmas has come and gone, and included a rather good Christmas dinner. We passed xmas with new friends and old, including a couple of Londoners, New Yorkers, a Kiwi and a Chicagan. We have now got around to actually booking our trek to Machu Pichu and will finally arrive at the top on the 3rd of January. We spend most or days at the moment ambling around buying bits and bobs like gloves and water purification tablets and sitting around in coffee shops and bars playing our favourite card game – shithead.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the game, it is typically English in that the most important aspect of the game is who loses, rather than who wins – hence, “shithead”. Tim and I now have a rather refined version of the game, vastly complicated, and which we teach to most people we come across. Tim and I have now been known to play for hours at a single sitting, and as a result have a “three times shithead = buys the beers” rule. The rules are something as follows:

Three cards are deal to each player’s hand, then another three card face down and which the player is not allowed to see. Three more cards are placed face up on the blind cards. The player is then able to exchange any of the three cards in their hand with those face up in front of them. The point of the game is purely to get rid of your cards and not be the last to do so. The person with cards left at the end of the game is “shithead”. Play in general starts clockwise and players must play the same value card or higher unless a “special” card is played. If you cannot play, then you must pick up the pack of cards that players have discarded. Ace is high. Player must always maintain at least three cards in hand, until the deck runs out. Penalty for not having three cards in hand (i.e. you forgot to pick up after playing a card(s)) is to pick up the entire discarded pack. Players who forget to do this may pick up quietly if no one else notices, but if it is pointed out by another player (how many cards do you have in your hand mate?) then the penalty must be fulfilled. Youy continue to pick up cards from the deck until the deck runs out. Once the cards in hand are finished you play the cards that are face up that everyone can see (and can screw you over with so make sure they are good – high or special “play at any time cards” – see below). once those have been played the blind cards are played and they are played blind. You do not have to present the card to the other players. If you cannot play your card you must pick up the discarded pile. If you can play it then lucky you – place it on top and thank the god of luck and grin at everyone else!

Special cards are defined as those that can be played at any time, and those that must be played in order (i.e. in ascending value). Suits in shithead mean nothing.

10: Can be played at any time. Burns the discarded pack (those cards are no longer in that game) and the player gets to play another card.

2: Resets the discarded pack back down to 2. Can be played at any time.

3: Can be played at any time and is “invisible”. The player following the 3 must play from the card below it.

7: Must be played in order (i.e. the card it is played on must be another 7 or lower). The player of this card can nominate whether the next player must play higher or lower. N.B. A 3 passes this onto the next player, another seven can also be played and higher and lower re-nominated.

8: Must be played in order. Reverses direction of play. With two players, one 8 played just means you get another go when you play it. With three or more players two 8’s means you get another go after you play it.

9: Must be played in order (i.e. on another 9 or a lower card). This means you must play another 9 or lower. N.B. Is often played with two eights and then the 9 as one go!

Joker: Is a wild card. Can be played at any time, and the player can nominate it to be any card you want, special or otherwise. Is often played as a 10, but sometimes towards the end of the game is played as 7’s or Aces.

Special Timbo and Ben rules: At any time 4 of a kind acts like a 10. The discarded pack gets burnt and another card can be played by that player. Also if you have the ability to complete four of a kind (no 3’s in between mind you), you can throw in swiftly at ANY time. You need to be quick though. If you play a card and on picking up you have the same value card, you can quickly discard it, but this must be before the proceeding player gets their own card down. You do not have to play a card and have the right to pick up the discarded pile if you want to. This is sometimes down for strategic reasons. These extra rules are designed so that a) the game is really fast, and b) especially with 7’s and 9’s, you end up card counting.

More than 5 players really requires 2 decks and gets really interesting.

Enjoy!

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Well that’s what we spend our days doing. We have a couple of other card games but none of them really compare to the addictiveness of shithead!

Bolivia to Peru

We spent a nice few days on Isla Del Sol, the apparent birthplace of several Inca leaders (as well as the sun!). We walked the island in one very long day, taking in 20 kms and six hours. Needless to say, we were pretty knackered by the end. However, it is good practice for Machu Pichu, yet to come.

View the photos from Isla Del Sol, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.

From there we headed by bus to Puno, which is via the isthmus that connects Copacabana in Bolivia to Peru. Interestingly, there is no Bolivian land route to Copacabana! After one night in Puno, in the loudest hostel ever (Hostal Europa), and one meal that included “cuy”. Cuy is basically guinea pig and was devoured by a girl called Karen who we met on Isla Del Sol. Quite disturbing I think to have something you are eating still kind of looking back at you. Anyway, I digress!

From Puno Tim and I had decided to get the train to Cusco. It takes about four hours longer than the bus and costs double, but both being a fan of trains (the civilized way to travel no less) we departed early in the morning. The train journey is fantastic for the scenery the train route takes you though. The valley gets narrower and narrower finally culminating in cliff-like drops to the gorge with the river, brown and heavy from the rain the night before. Unfortunately, the train is only for tourists, mainly due to the price, the “backpacker” class costing 14 US dollars. The first class which includes a plush bar and Orient Express style restaurant car costs 90 US, but was on promotion for 50 US. We were tempted and probably should have as the food (which I think is included in 1st) cost us a total of 50 US dollars between us. However, it was worth the money as a one off, and I highly recommend it.

View the photos of Puno and Cusco, Peru.

Arriving in Cusco that evening, we used our sixth senses to avoid getting into an unofficial taxi that when we went to get in it, was joined by two of the driver’s “friends”. It looked like a mugging set up so we back tracked quickly and made sure we only got into a licensed taxi. Although this may seem obvious, it is pretty hard to tell which taxis are which, plus whenever you step off public transport in Latin America you get bugged and hassled constantly until you give in to someone or get reduced to shouting back abuse, which nobody really wants to do.

We checked into a hostel called “The Royal Frankenstein”, which was a little odd, but served us well for one night. An good example of the inventiveness of the locals was that a guy standing outside the hotel when the taxi pulled up (it was obvious where the hotel was) invited us in and we then spoke to a young lady who showed us which rooms were available. She then told us that she didn’t know who he was, but he had asked for 5 soles (about 1 pound) as commission for bringing us to her hotel! Anyway, I drew the short straw and got the crapper of the two beds. As a result I got up early the next day and wondered around looking for other options. We are now staying half way up the hill in Cusco, with a great view, and breakfast for the same price. Only downers are that we have to get a taxi back for security reasons plus the shower is either hot or cold, and not based on any selection of your own!

We have booked our xmas lunch in the town for xmas evening which is costing us 30 bucks but includes a bottle of wine each plus turkey which has got to be pretty hard to get hold of in Peru. Kind of similar to xmas trees which are replaced here by the creation of nativity scenes. The xmas market was today and took over the entire main square. Little nativity huts, moss and and other things to decorate the nativity scene are sold in abundance. It had been the first day when we haven’t been constantly hassled by street sellers who (mostly are children) sell postcards, sweets, cigarettes, paintings and others that sell Inca Trail tours and try to get you into their restaurants. I think that they are all so busy with their own xmas planning that we tourists get a welcome break.

Well, I guess Happy Christmas is in order to all my friends and family. I will be thinking of you. Although it rained yesterday afternoon, it is again hot enough to burn today. I hear it is pretty grim back in the UK and a white Christmas is on the cards so I won’t rub it in anymore!

Lots of love to you all!