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Archive for May, 2014

It was another early start this morning (5.30am) as today we would be leaving Arequipa to continue exploring this fascinating South American country.

At least when we woke up the room was clear of any CO fumes, and I started the day with a clear head, feeling in fine health and looking forward to my breakfast.

We joined the others in the dining room and I enjoyed a breakfast of boiled eggs, ham and cheese, and washed it down with some good strong Peruvian coffee.  Then we returned to room 125 in the basement and packed up our cases and took them to the foyer, ready to be loaded onto the bus.

Off we went once again, into the wide open spaces of the varied landscape.  The bus continued its way along the roads and dirt tracks, and we climbed steadily higher and higher into the Andes.  All around us was a rugged volcanic landscape with the occasional lush green cultivated valleys, where the farmers still use the ancient Inca agricultural terraces to grow their crops and try to earn a living from the land.  We also saw lots of sheep, llama and alpaca, and passed small villages and trading posts where the locals would wait for the tour buses to come along so they could try to sell their hand-made wares.

After a couple of hours we stopped for a comfort break (to use the ‘facilities’).  As we were climbing higher Roasario recommended a cup of the coca leaf tea which is reputed to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness.  The café where the tea was served was also a shop, selling all sorts of souvenirs from panpipes, to alpaca knits and leather to silver jewellery, handbags – all sorts of stuff.  I was looking for a gorgeous soft alpaca wrap or shawl, but there were none that particularly caught my eye, although they were all very nice.  There were lots of hand-knitted hats typical of those worn in the Andes (and indeed quite fashionable at home) with the ear-flaps and the plaited ties; I bought one for the bargain price of 10 soles, which is only £2.50!  How cheap is that?  In fact, quite a lot of the people in our party bought hats and scarves, if not for themselves then as gifts to give to those back home.

The sun was out but the day was not particularly warm; as we were climbing higher so the air would be cooler, and we already noticed that the breeze had quite a nip to it.  I had brought a hooded sweatshirt so I could put it on over the top of my t-shirt when the weather got cooler.

Once we were all rounded up and back on the bus, we continued on our way, Lizzie rabbiting on as usual.  She had a particularly irritating habit of saying “No?” or “Huh?” every three or four words; for example “Today… no?  We are going to Colca Valley… no?  Where you might see condors…no?”  In the end, Alison and I weren’t actually listening to what she was saying, but now many times she would say “No?”    Aaargh!   In fact, Alison put in her iPod earphones to try to block Lizzie’s voice out!   🙂

After another couple of hours, we arrived at a terrific viewing spot high above Colca Canyon.  Colca Canyon, at 13,000 feet deep, is more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in the USA.  All we could see were soaring mountains, valleys and lakes.  You felt as if you were on top of the world, in fact it brought to my mind those lyrics by the ‘Carpenters’:

I’m on the top of the world, looking down on creation…

When we got off the bus, we noticed that the air temperature had cooled significantly, even though the sun was shining brightly.  We had now reached our highest point of the holiday so far (in the literal sense!) as we were at an altitude of just under 16,000 feet.  Today we were going to enjoy a packed lunch al fresco, and I noticed as we collected our lunches and bottles of water and found somewhere to sit and eat them that it was much more difficult to breathe in the thinner air.

We had been provided with a prodigal lunch; there were two lots of club sandwiches; one containing cheese and ham and one containing chicken, avocado and salad, as well as an orange and banana, fruit juice, cake, chocolate and a little packet of sweets.  To be honest, however, most people didn’t seem to have much of an appetite, but we made sure to drink all of our water as dehydration (due to the increased rate in breathing) will make altitude sickness worse.

We sat there looking at the amazing scenery and indeed we were lucky enough to see some condors swooping, wheeling and gliding majestically on the mountain updrafts.  The condor is Peru’s national bird and is the most famous bird of the Andes.

After I’d eaten my lunch I decided to go and sit in a shaded area as I didn’t want to get sunburnt, and it would be easy to underestimate the sunshine in the cool mountain air.  So I walked over to sit behind some rocks, and I couldn’t believe how much of an effort it was, it really made me puff and pant.  One or two of the others looked as if they were feeling the effects of the altitude; one guy in our party had difficulty breathing as he has a bad chest.

Just to explain what altitude sickness is – it’s a phenomenon that affects people at altitudes of over 8,000 feet.  It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, fit or unfit, some people are susceptible to it and others aren’t.  The symptoms are brought about due to two things; the reduction of atmospheric pressure and the drop in oxygen levels.  The drop in pressure causes your guts to expand, so you’ll find your clothes feel a little tighter and you also might suffer from flatulence (!!) as your intestines fill with gas.   🙂

Also, the lack of oxygen means that your breathing and heart rate increase to try to get the oxygen round your system; this also has the effect of suppressing the appetite.  The less-pleasant symptoms include a severe headache as well as dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting.   😦   During this tour we had been climbing up slowly in order to try to acclimatise ourselves to the altitude, and 16,000 feet was the highest we’d go to, so as long as we could cope with that, we should be OK.

We finished our lunches, packed up our stuff and got back on the bus, where I collapsed, puffing and panting, into my seat.  Quite a few of us had a nap on the bus; it was either due to the thinner air or the early-morning start, or both.

We arrived at the Casa Andina Colca hotel around 5.00pm.  The hotel looked very nice; it consisted of individual log-style cabins which were very spacious inside.  Trevor and I had a gigantic double bed; in fact you could have put four of us in it easily.  There was also a large bathroom, table and chair, flat screen TV and some thoughtfully provided portable oil-filled electric radiators.  We also noticed that electric blankets were provided.  🙂

Dinner tonight was included, and we’d already given our choices to Rosario earlier.  We had a couple of hours to kill before dinner; I went outside to have a look around, but the sun had gone and with the dusk came the cold night.  Also, as I was walking along the path to the main part of the hotel, I noticed my breath coming heavily and quickly, so I went back to our room and decided to have a nap until it was time to eat.  Trevor had already gone to bed as the altitude was starting to get to him too.

Just before 7.00pm I decided to go over and join Stephen and Alison and the others for dinner, but Trevor said he wasn’t hungry and decided to stay in bed; nothing I could say would tempt him to come and eat.  He said he had a headache and also his guts were rumbling in an ominous manner; I’d said I’d bring him back some coca tea.

The meal was very good.  I started off with potato soup which was hot and tasty, then I had vegetable rigatoni in a spicy tomato sauce, followed by fresh fruit.  We were then entertained by a group of local musicians who played the traditional and easily-recognisable music of the Andes using panpipes, the flute, guitar, mandolin and drums.  They were all dressed in the traditional woollen ponchos and wide-brimmed hats and they were joined by a couple of dancers who gave us a display.  Trevor had picked the wrong night to miss dinner!

I wanted to buy the musicians’ CD, so I returned to the room and got some money from Trevor, then went back and bought the CD for 30 soles (£7.50).  I then decided to chance a glass of white wine (it’s not recommended to drink alcohol at high altitude as it contributes to dehydration).  So I bought the wine and decided to take it back to our room to drink.  But I couldn’t finish it!  It’s never been known for me not to finish a glass of wine!!  I must have been feeling out of sorts!   😦

We went to bed early tonight, after first of all turning on the portable heater to take the chill off.  Despite the nice big bed with huge quilt and plenty of firm pillows, we both slept restlessly, punctuated by visits to the loo.  We hoped we weren’t going to be struck down with anything; already quite a few people in our party had shown signs of sickness.

 

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During the early hours of the morning, I woke up to see Trevor standing at the window, which was open wide.  I asked him what he was doing.  His reply was that the room was full of fumes, the type given off by an oil-burning boiler.  Trevor is a mechanical fitter, so this is something he would know.  From my bed at the side of the room opposite the window I couldn’t smell anything, so I went back to sleep until my alarm went off at 7.00am.

I went to have a long, hot shower and wash my hair.  I felt a little dizzy and thought it might have been because I had the water too hot.  When I was drying myself off, I felt a bit sluggish and could feel the beginnings of a headache.   😦

Once we were dressed and down in the dining room for breakfast, I found I had no appetite and picked at my food.  I just had a cup of coffee and a glass of water before we gathered in the hotel foyer and awaited our tour bus.

Today we had a new local guide (in addition to Rosario) whose name was Lizzie.  Our group had been split into two as we boarded two smaller buses; the other group’s guide was Jorge.  As the coach set off, Lizzie introduced herself – in fact she didn’t shut up after that at all.  She gave a running commentary on anything and everything, and all with an almost-comical over-the-top enthusiasm.

As the bus made its way into town, we stopped at a small refreshment place which allowed us to get fantastic views of the mountain peaks of the Andes, in particular the volcano El Misti.  With its seasonally snow-capped, symmetrical cone, Misti stands at 19,101 feet above sea level and lies between the mountain Chachani (19,931 ft) and the volcano Pikchu Pikchu (18,599 ft).  Misti’s last eruption was in 1985, but you could still see wisps of smoke coming from the crater and mingling with the clouds.

I still had a bit of a headache and felt under the weather, so I bought a bottle of mineral water to drink with a couple of paracetamol and some packets of Peruvian sweets to take back to work.

Back on the bus we only half-listened to Lizzie’s incessant chatter on the way to our next stop, the Museo Sanctuarios Andinos, which was part of the Catholic university of Santa Maria.  One of the museum’s lecturers came to tell us about some of the finds and artefacts from the Inca times, in particular some human mummies that had been found who were believed to be the victims of human sacrifice.

One of these mummies was the extremely well-preserved frozen remains of a young girl who was nicknamed “Juanita”, also known as the Inca “ice maiden” or the “girl from Ampato”.  The remains were discovered in 1995 by anthropologist Dr Johan Reinhard, and were believed to have been a young girl, aged from 11-15, who was killed as an offering to the Inca gods sometime between 1450 and 1480.

The mummy “Juanita” had to be kept in a specially refrigerated glass container in almost complete darkness, in order to prevent any decomposition of the naturally-mummified tissues. But it was fascinating to see how well preserved the body was, even down to her fingernails which had become white from the conversion of body-fat into adipocere.

Studies of the corpse had shown that Juanita had been given a strong sedative on an empty stomach, in order to put her to sleep before she was killed by a sharp blow to the head, just above the right eyebrow. The body was fully clothed and the material was also well preserved.

We also saw displayed various other items of clothing, jewellery, bowls and other items found on the mountainsides and believed to have belonged to other sacrificial victims. It was all very interesting.

Once we were back outside in the Arequipa sunshine, we had about a 10 minute walk until we came to the main city square.  By this time I was almost having to drag my feet and I felt quite sick and lethargic, and was hardly taking an interest in my surroundings. Our next stop was to the Santa Catalina Convent, but once we went inside the courtyard I spotted a few benches arranged around the outside and I thankfully took a seat, where I was quite happy to stay as I felt unable to take another step.

Rosario asked if I was OK and if I needed a taxi back to the hotel, but I said I’d wait and just go back on the bus when everyone else was ready.  I felt as if I was going to be sick, so I went into the nearby lavatory and tried unsuccessfully to make myself vomit.

Eventually the bus took us back to the hotel.  Inside, I got talking to another woman who wasn’t very well; she had the same symptoms that I did – headache, lethargy, nausea, shortness of breath etc.  It turned out she was in the room next door to us (318) and she had also been woken up in the early hours of the morning with her room full of fumes!  When we looked outside our rooms, there was a long outlet pipe climbing up the wall opposite our windows; its top was clotted with soot.  It looked as if we might have been suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning!  Two rooms next to each other, both filled with fumes, both occupants displaying the same symptoms.  That wasn’t a coincidence!   😦

We were quite alarmed at this and decided we would go back to our room, pack up our things and ask at reception if we could move to another room.  On the way up to the third floor I suddenly broke into a cold sweat and vomited; luckily into a plastic bag we had and so avoided a mess.  Trevor went to reception while I went to bed.  I did feel better after being sick though.

Trevor eventually returned and said we had been re-allocated room 125 on the ground floor.  We packed up our cases and moved to the room, which was quite small and dingy but would do for just one night.  At least it wasn’t near any heating pipes!  When I drew back the curtains I saw that building work was going on immediately outside our window; in fact a little guy in overalls and a hard-hat popped up, waved cheerfully and called ¡Buenos dias! 

After drinking some more water and having a sleep, I felt a lot better and perked up considerably.  The guy on the reception, when we’d asked to move rooms and explained why, had said that the symptoms were those of altitude sickness, but it’s funny how I didn’t have the symptoms once we’d moved!

After the previous evening’s fiasco in the dining room, we decided to have a walk into town and eat elsewhere.  We took a slow wander in, and came to a sort of fast-food emporium which housed a Starbucks, KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut all under one roof, with communal eating areas.  We ordered a BK Whopper each and I had mine washed down with a good hot coffee.  After we came out, we saw that a lot of the shops were still open, and we had a good browse around.  I spotted a shoe shop (!!) which had a sale on, so I went in and bought myself some pink mules with a high rope wedge heel; they were only 65 soles which is about 16 pounds.

We went back to room 125 and had a fairly early night, as once again we would have to be up at 5.30am, to leave Arequipa and continue our Peruvian adventure.  This time we slept well, without any noxious fumes in our room.

 

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After an excellent night’s sleep in Nazca, we were woken once again at the unearthly hour of 5.30am, to be packed up and on the bus for the longest leg of our journey en route to Arequipa, Peru’s second city.

We breakfasted well from the buffet selection of cereals, breads, fresh fruit, meats and cheeses, washed down with the strong Peruvian coffee.  Then it was onto the Condor Travel bus once again.  Today was to be a long, long day, but Rosario advised us that there would be sufficient comfort stops and we would be able to have lunch along the way.

Off we went on the bus around 7.00am.  We passed through tiny villages with their mish-mash of dilapidated shops and buildings, and saw a great many stray dogs.  Not all of the roads in Peru are finished off, and several times the bus rattled and lurched along potholed dirt tracks.

After a couple of hours we stopped to stretch our legs at a small sandy beach, while several lively waves washed ashore.  As ever, I could not resist going for a ‘plodge’ and I kicked off my flip-flops and rolled my (already cropped) linen trousers above my knees.  There were several large shells in the sand and I examined them closely in case any of them were nice enough to use in my jewellery-making, but they’d all been buffeted about by the sea too much.

While enjoying the wavelets lapping over my feet, a sudden large and strong wave took me by surprise and soaked my trousers up to the crotch.  Another lady was caught completely unawares and was swept off her feet, becoming completely soaked.  She had to retrieve her suitcase from the coach and get out a change of clothing.  I, however, was wearing a long top to preserve my modesty, so I just took my trousers off, wrung them out and hung them up on the bus to dry, just sitting in my knickers!   🙂  I wasn’t the only one to do so…

After another hour or so it was time to stop for lunch, at a little place called Camaná.  There was a restaurant as well as the ubiquitous souvenir stalls.  We were advised that we could purchase a two-course buffet lunch for about 20 soles (5 quid) so we got into the queue (before it got too big!) to see what was on offer.  There was a selection of meat, fish and vegetable dishes as well as salads.  We piled our plates with whatever we thought looked quite appetising, as none of the dishes were labelled.  We didn’t dare to think what we might be eating (alpaca and guinea pig feature frequently on Peruvian menus!).

We soon discovered that some of the food didn’t taste as nice as it looked.  There was some sort of ‘mystery meat’ on the bone, and some black things that we thought were mushrooms but they turned out to be a type of seafood (might have been octopus) that none of us could identify.  We hoped we wouldn’t have dodgy guts as a result…

We enjoyed a cold beer each, then browsed the souvenir stalls before getting back on the bus to continue our journey.

After a while the landscape changed as we abandoned the coastline, turned east and started to climb steadily towards a plateau of ash-grey sand dunes.  The bus slowly wended its way along the zig-zagging mountain roads and it was very disconcerting as we climbed higher and higher, because the roads didn’t have any guard rails and the wheels of the bus were only about a metre away from the sheer drop down to the valleys.  😦

The scenery was pretty dreary as the mountainsides were completely barren, and the land was desert, only one or two small shanty towns breaking up the featureless landscape.  In the greener valleys we saw alpaca and vicuña grazing, or being herded by a lone shepherd.

Our winding (and hair-raising) journey up the mountains lasted about two hours, and we did get a nice view of the snow-capped volcano called El Misti, its distinctive conical head swathed in cloud.

Once the road levelled out we thought we could relax a bit, but it was an unfinished road and the rattling and lurching nearly jolted your teeth out of their sockets.  We had one or two photo stops to stretch our legs and relieve the boredom a bit, but I think everyone would be glad when we reached our destination.

We eventually arrived at our Casa Andina hotel in Arequipa, around 7.30pm – over 12 hours in total on the road.  We were all tired and dishevelled and looking forward to getting washed and having dinner.  We were staying two nights in this hotel, so we’d hopefully get a ‘lie-in’ in the morning.

The hotel was about 15 minutes’ walk from the city centre.  In the reception area was a hot drinks dispenser where you could get a free cup of maté (tea) made from coca leaf, which is supposed to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness, as Arequipa is situated just under 8,000 feet.  The coca leaf tea was palatable, but only just!

We were given room 319 which looked OK, but not as nice as the other rooms we’d stayed in.  Depending on how we felt later on, we thought we might take a slow stroll into town and check out the local bars.

At 9.00pm we went down to the hotel’s dining room with Stephen and Alison and ordered a meal from their à la carte menu.  I ordered a chef’s salad, as I only wanted something light.

Well!  The service was rubbish.  We waited over an hour for our meals to come and, when they brought mine, it bore no resemblance to chef’s salad (or any other kind of salad) at all.  It was trout fried in batter served with mayonnaise which I didn’t like the look of at all.  I told them it wasn’t what I’d ordered and, as it was now 10.15pm, I’d changed my mind about having something to eat so I went without.  We could see and hear other diners in our party complaining about their meals (or lack of meals) as well.  Not a good first impression of the hotel, but this was just the start!  😦

By this time, we were really tired after our early start and the long day, so we decided to go straight to bed.  We were overjoyed when Rosario told us our wake-up call wouldn’t be until 7.30am tomorrow, a luxury indeed.

 

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So much for a good night’s sleep.  Despite my wearing ear-plugs (I always bring ear-plugs whenever I am sleeping away from home) I was woken several times in the night by the persistent ‘boom boom’ bass notes of disco music.  It went on all night ( I kid you not) and, when we got our early-morning wakeup call at 5.30am and emerged from our little cabins just after 6.00am, it was still going strong.

It appeared to be coming from a night-club adjacent to the hotel, and when we arrived in the dining room for breakfast the rest of our party were talking/complaining about it as well.  Apparently the hotel’s karaoke went on until 3.00am, and the disco music took up where the karaoke left off.  Rosario, our guide, explained that today was “Mothers’ Day” in Peru, and the disco was part of the celebrations.  Hmmm… how many mums do you know would boogie on down until the sun comes up?  Not many, I’m sure.

Anyway… once breakfast was over we went back to our room and packed all our stuff up, leaving the cases outside our room for the porters to put on the coach for us.  As dawn broke we were on the bus and on the road once again.

Our first stop today was at the resort town of Paracas, where we were going to take a boat tour to the Ballestas Islands.  These are a group of small islands composed mostly of rock formations and covering an estimated 0.12 square kilometres and are an important sanctuary for marine fauna like the guanay guano bird, the blue-footed booby and the tendril.  Other notable species include Humboldt Penguins and two varieties of seals (fur seals and sea lions), amongst other mammals.

At the harbour we disembarked the bus and made us of the ‘facilities’ (as Rosario was fond of calling them) before walking along a small pier to the boats.  We saw a great number of pelicans, some of the them swimming hopefully up to the fishing boats in search of a titbit, others sitting along the dock wall.  One enterprising guy had a bag of fish and was enticing one of the pelicans to sit on the wall so that he could charge visitors a few soles to have their photos taken with it.  However, I don’t like these ‘contrived’ photos; if I’m going to photograph (or be photographed with) wildlife, I would rather it was just that – wild, and spontaneous.

Once we were in the motor boats we donned the life-jackets that had been placed on our seats and set off.  The weather, once again, was cloudy but the temperature was mild.  We saw an old abandoned boat which was hardly more than a shell; it had been taken over by loads of cormorants and boobies and looked like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds“.

On our way to the groups of rocky islands we passed a barren,  sandy hillside containing a curious Geoglyph called ‘El Candelabro’  that was believed to have served as a beacon to mariners.  The mystery as to the origins of this particular geoglyph is ongoing with much speculation.

We arrived at the ‘islands’, the large rocky formations, and saw where the relentless pounding of the Pacific ocean had hollowed out some of the rocks to form arches and shallow caves.  On the tops of the rocks we saw many penguins and other birds; the rocks were covered in guano which had a distinctive, fishy smell.  The guano is actually harvested and dried to make a rich fertiliser, and our guide explained it was sold and exported as such; he made us laugh when he said the economy of Paracas was “built on shit”.   🙂

We saw some small rocky ‘beaches’ at the foot of the large rocks, and on these there basked a large number of seals and sea-lions.  You can tell the difference between the two easily – sea-lions have visible ears, whereas seals do not.  They made a tremendous din with their barks, growls, yelps and yaps.  Some of the sea-lions had pups with them.  Several of them were swimming around and frolicking in the waves.  In fact, we even saw them quite high up on rocky columns; goodness knows how they got up there.

The boat trip was really exhilarating; we enjoyed the smells and sounds of the sea in addition to the cries of the wheeling sea birds and the barks of the seals.  We wondered how long it would be before one of us received a little ‘present’ (ha ha) from the birds and indeed our guide had his hair and spectacles liberally splattered, to much amusement.  The rest of us prudently kept the hoods of our cagoules firmly over our heads.  🙂

The boat trip lasted about an hour and a half, then it was time to return to the harbour.  We disembarked, walked along the little pier once again and arrived at a café/bar where we would have an early lunch (it was only 11.30am. but we’d been up since half five).

We enjoyed a plate of fish and chips; it was actually fried sea bass (without batter; it was quite salty) and the chips were certainly nothing like you would get at home.  Nonetheless we washed it down with a bottle of Cusqueña beer, went to the loos before the queues started to form, then we found we had some time left, so I decided to go and have a look in the little souvenir shops along the shoreline, some of which displayed their goods temptingly outside.

Before coming to Peru, I had read that the best local buys were Peruvian silver and alpaca knitwear.  One shop was selling knitted/woven wall hangings, throws, shawls and wraps as well as silver rings and bangles and also leather goods.  I had a good browse around the shop before I spotted an adjustable hand-tooled silver wirework choker, which had an unusually-shaped cabochon at the front made of lapis lazuli.  The necklace was very unusual and totally original;  just my style.  It was only 126 soles (about £32.00) so very cheap.  As I didn’t have that much cash on me, I practised my Spanish to ask the vendor ¿Puedo pagar con tarjeta de credito? (Can I pay with a credit card?) and he shook his head and said I wasn’t spending enough to use a card!

Once we started to walk out of the shop, however, he soon changed his mind and let Trevor pay with his Visa card.  🙂

Shortly afterwards, Rosario came out and rounded everyone up and back onto the bus for the next part of our journey.  We would spend a lot of time on the bus this holiday as we had a lot of ground to cover, but it wasn’t really too bad as I had my travel pillow and my trusty Kindle to read if looking out of the window became too boring.

The bus set off once again, and we marvelled at the scenery.  We’d noticed so far that Peru has a very diverse landscape; the wide sandy beaches of the Pacific coastline, rolling desert and sand-dunes, and the mountainous backdrop of the Andes.  Little shanty towns, isolated buildings and concession stands popped up here and there in the most inhospitable places, where their residents tried to scratch a living.  In the greener valleys and hillsides, we saw many grazing llama, alpaca and vicuña.  Vicuña look a bit like alpaca, but they are smaller and have slightly longer necks.  Like alpaca, their wool is very soft and luxuriant, and is much sought-after.  In fact, the Incas valued vicuñas highly for their wool, and it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear vicuña garments.

After another couple of hours, mainly going through desert landscape, we arrived at another well-known landmark – the famous Nazca Lines.  These are a series of ancient geoglyphs, believed to have been created around 400-650 AD by the Nazca culture.  They were made a World Heritage Site in 1994.  As they are spread out across a wide area of desert, the best way to see them is to fly over in a light aircraft; however, the bus parked along the roadside, nearby which was a high tower that you could climb up for a couple of soles (about 50 pence).

Trevor and I made our way up to the top of the tower where there was a viewing platform over the desert.  The lines are really curious and depict animals as well as a large pair of hands.  One of the most famous (and recognisable) of the Nazca lines is the monkey with the spiral tail, a symbol that we kept seeing throughout our holiday.  Even the word “Peru” tended to be symbolically written as a logo on postcards and other souvenirs, with the loop of the “P” going round and round in a spiral.

Next to the viewing tower a couple of the local craftsmen and women had set up their stalls to sell their wares.  There were a lot of leather goods, trinkets, jewellery and postcards, as well as hand-knitted gloves and hats and the like.  One thing we’d noticed so far in Peru was how cheap everything is compared to Britain.  There are about four Peruvian nuevo sol (or just sol, plural soles) to the pound so at that rate we should pick up some good bargains.  I am on the lookout for a good alpaca shawl or wrap, and a handbag.  🙂

Once we got back on the bus we relaxed and napped a little bit en route to our hotel at Nazca.  We arrived about teatime, and by this time the sun was out and we fancied a nice freezing cold beer.  Our hotel was one of the Casa Andina brand, and this time the layout of the hotel was such that there was a central atrium, with palms growing inside, with separate landings which led to the rooms.  Inside the hotel we spotted our cases in the pile before the porter brought them to our room, so to save time Trevor just got the cases and brought them up himself.

Our room was large and had two big single beds instead of a double, as well as a large airy bathroom.  We dumped our stuff and went in search of Stephen and Alison to see if  they fancied a pint.  🙂

Downstairs we made our way through the restaurant and out to a pleasant courtyard at the back, where there was a small swimming pool, some sun-loungers, tables and chairs with umbrellas, and a small bar.  Climbing flowers wound their way up some trellises around the edges of the courtyard, and relaxing Spanish music was piped through invisible speakers.

Trevor, Stephen and I ordered a Cusqueña beer each and Alison took a chance and ordered a glass of the local vino tinto.  It was unpalatable, however, so she left it and got some mineral water instead.

We enjoyed a couple more beers each in the sunshine, then it was time to go back inside where we would just have time for a nap before getting washed and changed for dinner at around 7.00pm.

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As we were still on UK time, we were awake long before the 6.30am wake-up call.  We packed our cases again, left them outside our room, then made our way along to the dining room where we were soon joined by Stephen and Alison.  Breakfast consisted of cereals, toast, cold meats, cheeses and eggs as well as fruit juice and strong, hot coffee.  We had already noticed that the Peruvians like their coffee very strong, and it is difficult to get fresh milk; the milk we had seen so far was evaporated milk or long-life milk out of cartons.

The bus left the hotel at 8.00am and slowly made its way along the coastal road, which was already busy with the start of the Lima rush-hour.  The sky was cloudy once again, and we saw several early-morning surfers making the most of the rolling waves of the Pacific.

We drove along the coastline for some time, before going further inland, where the landscape dramatically changed.  From the tropical yucca plants, palms and sandy beaches the land now became more barren and arid.  In the distance the majestic peaks of the Andes reared towards the heavens; one of them was snow-capped.

Our first stop today was to visit the interesting archaeological site in Pachacamac.  The site is 40 kilometres southeast of Lima, in the Valley of the Lurín River.  Most of the common buildings and temples were built c. 800-1450 AD, shortly before the arrival and conquest by the Inca Empire.

Looking around us, we saw that we were practically in the desert.  There was only miles of sand and no plants or trees growing.  Several of the ancient pyramids had been revealed in the archaeological dig; they were built of adobe bricks and were not true pyramids in the sense that they didn’t come to a point at the top, but were truncated.  We also visited an ancient cemetery where several mummified remains had been uncovered; indeed we saw some remnants of ancient cloth and even some human bones.

We also saw a building (Recinto de Mamacones) that was believed to have once a been a school, which had been used later as an administrative building.  Then we saw the impressive Temple of the Sun, including the faded remains of some frescoes of fish.
Although we were in the desert and in tropical latitudes, the weather was fairly pleasant, no doubt helped by the overcast sky.

Once we were back on the bus it was time to go to our next stop, this time to a restaurant for our lunch.  The restaurant was very pleasant and I enjoyed a delicious lean steak with tomato and onion salad, washed down with a bottle of Cusqueña beer.  Outside the restaurant local women were selling their hand-made wares; little hand knitted dollies and hats and stuffed toys; Alison bought some to take back home as gifts.

We continued our bus journey, marvelling at the contrasting scenery. Around tea-time we arrived at our hotel, the Casa Andina at Chincha.  We had travelled 200 kilometres since leaving Lima.

The rooms were very nice; they were actually little separate haciendas with large bedrooms and little porches with a table and chairs outside.  We found out we were next door but one to Stephen and Alison.

We got washed and changed and decided to have a look around.  There was a swimming pool and a lady in our party was making the most of it already.  But we hadn’t brought our cossies as we didn’t know whether we’d have time to swim or not – now we wished we had.

At 7.00pm we ate dinner in the lively restaurant and enjoyed the company of our fellow travellers over some cold beers.  But soon afterwards, jet-lag was starting to catch up with us once again and we had to be up even earlier in the morning – 5.30am (gulp!).  So we were in bed fairly early, around 8.30pm, looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

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Well, we have been on many long-haul flights in the past but this one seemed to last forever. We were seated in the centre of the centre set our four seats, so it meant that Trevor and I each had someone on our other side which meant that if we needed to go to the loo or wanted to get up to stretch our legs or retrieve something from our bags, we would have to disturb the person in the aisle seat.

Time passed in its inexorable and inevitable way, however, and eventually we were on our final approach into Lima airport. The skies seemed cloudy and it was hard to distinguish where the sky ended and the Pacific ocean started. I felt tired and extremely grubby; I was longing for a good hot shower and change of clothes. We also desperately wanted to sleep but knew that if we did, considering the six-hour time difference, we would be wide awake during the night.

When we disembarked the aircraft it was absolutely ages until we retrieved our luggage from the carousel; in fact I wouldn’t have been surprised if it hadn’t made it to Lima and was still sitting somewhere in Amsterdam, considering the changes in our flight itinerary.

Eventually we got through customs and looked around in anticipation for the Travelsphere rep. No sign of him/her anywhere. The airport arrivals consisted of the usual manic crowds, baggage trolleys, taxi drivers and over it all the incessant announcements.

Trevor eventually found the rep and we thankfully collapsed into the minibus for the 45-minute journey, through the rush-hour traffic of Peru’s capital city, to the José Antonio hotel. I felt totally spaced-out and had that strange feeling of still being on the plane.

When we arrived at the hotel at 8.45 am (13 hours late!!) we went to room 514 and dumped our bags before making our way to the dining room for some breakfast and some strong, hot coffee to keep us awake.

As soon as we got there the first people we saw were Stephen and Alison, who had arrived on the flight from Mexico an hour before us. We all looked completely knackered, and regaled each other with tales from our own separate flights. At least we were all reunited again and now the Peruvian adventure could start in earnest! 🙂

Our very pleasant guide, Rosario, advised us that there was a Lima city tour at 1.30pm, so at least we had four hours in order to have a shower and change and a very welcome nap before getting our first impressions of this bustling, lively city on the Pacific coast.

It was bliss to get showered, wash and blowdry my hair and change into clean clothes. Then I enjoyed an hour’s sleep before we all congregated in the hotel lobby until the Condor Travel coach arrived to take us on the city tour.

It was only a 4-hour tour which offered us a taster of Lima. One of the things that surprised us so far was the cloudy skies and mild temperature, even though Lima is situated in tropical latitudes. But the proximity of the Andes moderates the air coming from the Pacific ocean, and today was typical of the year-round climate in Lima, around 20ºC and cloudy. We were also surprised to hear that Lima gets hardly any rain ever, and any farming and crops are irrigated by artificial means.

The constantly rolling waves of the Pacific ocean attracted a great many surfers, and we could see them riding the waves adjacent to the contrasting wide sandy beach. Traffic went by in a never-ending parade of horn-hooting vehicles and, like any capital city, we passed many shops, garages, banks and offices.

Peru, like a lot of South American countries, is 85% Catholic, so we saw many churches and a beautiful cathedral in the Plaza Mayor, the city’s main square. We also stopped to admire and photograph the archbishop’s palace and the Presidential Palace, with its guards on duty outside, before we went into a lovely convent, which was quiet and peaceful compared to the frenetic city-centre activity outside.

We then concluded our half-day tour by visiting a small botanical garden and the ‘Parque del Amor’ (Love Park). We saw many colourful flowers and birds, including black-headed vultures and green parakeets.

Once we arrived back at the hotel we had an hour or so before we all needed to meet up at the sister hotel over the road for the briefing from Rosario, our tour guide, as well as a welcome drink.

We decided, with Stephen and Alison, to find an eaterie along the shoreline; they had previously found some shops, cafés and bars down some steps in the cliffside which were practically invisible from the road.

We enjoyed some fast food; Trevor and I from KFC and Stephen and Alison from Pizza Hut, before we made our way back to the hotel for the welcome briefing.

Inside, we were offered the Peruvian national drink of pisco sour. It’s a cocktail made of the local distilled liquor pisco, mixed with lime juice and whipped egg white and sugar. I quite liked it but Alison wasn’t so keen. There were a few spares left over so Trevor and I made the most of the freebies and enjoyed another one each!

Once we got back to our own hotel I thought we would be ready to drop, but we wanted to stay awake as long as possible so we’d get used to the new time zone. So, after dumping our bags in our room, we went down to the hotel bar with S & A, where we were shortly joined by our guide Rosario, then another couple.

I was pleased to see my favourite cocktail, the Brazilian caipirinha, on the drinks list, so I ordered one and then we spent the next couple of hours or so chatting and drinking. S & A lasted until around 8.00pm and were practically falling asleep, so we said goodnight to them and enjoyed a couple more drinks each, before making our way back to our room just before 10 o’clock. We had the first of several early starts tomorrow morning, having to be up at 6.00am, but in the meantime it was sheer bliss to go to sleep in a proper bed, in a quiet room, at long last.

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Once again we are jetting off to foreign shores, not on a cruise this time but on a land-based tour of Peru.

This morning our sleep was shattered by the alarm going off at the unearthly hour of 2.50am, as we were due to leave around 3.30am to drive to Durham Tees Valley airport for the first leg of our journey, a KLM flight to Amsterdam, from where we would then fly to Lima. A 13 hour flight to endure, but if we want to visit these exotic, far-away places then long-haul flights are a fact of life.

At that time of the morning there was no traffic on the roads, and we drove the 35 minute journey through the silent streets of darkened houses. Everyone except us seemed to be asleep!

On arrival at Teesside airport (I still think of it by its old name of Teesside, rather than Durham Tees Valley) we met up with our friends Stephen and Alison Musgrove, with whom we are spending this holiday. We all felt the excitement and anticipation of a long-awaited trip, in which we will take in some world-famous landmarks and sights such as Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca.

Check in was very quick as the airport is tiny, and there were only half a dozen or so passengers waiting. We asked to check our bags right through to Lima and, once we got rid of our cases, we went to have a cup of coffee and await our 6.15am flight to Amsterdam.

Facilities at Durham Tees Valley airport are limited to say the least, and in fact there is some discussion as to whether it is worth keeping the airport open, as so few passengers and airlines use it. So there are no duty free shops or restaurants or bars; all there is is a WHSmith and a tiny little kiosk that serves bacon sandwiches and other snacks, and cardboard cups of tea or coffee and a limited selection of wines and spirits.

Just before six o’clock we made our way to Gate 1 where we could see the KLM aircraft sitting on the tarmac. Just then, an announcement came over the tannoy to say that, due to a “technical problem”, the Amsterdam flight would be delayed. Typical!

We waited around for a bit, and it wasn’t long before the pilot from our flight appeared and announced that the aircraft needed a new tyre and they didn’t have a spare, so they’d have to get a new tyre flown over from Amsterdam before the plane could go anywhere! This invariably meant that our flight was cancelled and we would be booked onto the next Amsterdam flight. The problem was that the next flight wasn’t until 10.05am (which is 11.05 am Dutch time).

We would therefore miss our connecting flight to Lima !!!

So we had another four hours to spend in the tiny airport with very few facilities, and the worry of how we were going to continue our journey once we arrived in Amsterdam.

Anyway… after calling the tour operator and speaking to the airport staff, we were finally advised that we were booked onto a flight from Schiphol to Madrid, then Madrid to Lima. We won’t arrive until 5.00am tomorrow, Peru time – 11 hours late. But because we weren’t all on the same booking, Stephen and Alison were booked onto a different plane to Lima; they were going via Mexico!

So we’ll all have to meet up once we get there.

KLM gave us some refreshment vouchers which we traded in for some tea and coffee and snacks while we whiled away the time. We all felt a bit disoriented through lack of sleep, but by the time we arrive in Lima we’ll look and feel like zombies. 😦

Eventually it was time to board the aircraft for the hour-long flight to Amsterdam. Our seats were right at the back, nowhere near Stephen and Alison. We took to the skies and enjoyed a snack and a beer before we landed at Schiphol just after noon. In the backs of our minds was the fact that the flight we should have been on, to Lima, was departing at 12.30pm without us, and there was nothing we could do about it.

Once we disembarked the aircraft we lost sight of Stephen and Alison in the crowds of travellers. We went straight to the check-in desk with our new flight information to get our boarding passes and had a look around the shops. We had over four hours to wait for our flight to Madrid, so there was no hurry, and we were able to take our time looking around the shops before making our tired way towards the executive departure lounge.

The exec lounge at Schiphol is really good. There was an excellent selection of spirits, wines, beers and soft drinks as well as hot and cold snacks, including cold meats, cheeses and hot tomato soup.

At least it was somewhere quiet and comfortable for us to sit. We were already tired and a little disgruntled after our early start and there was the disconcerting fact that we still had about 15 hours of flying to do!

When the time came, we made our way to the boarding gate and got on the Air Europa aircraft for the next leg of our journey. I had never heard of Air Europa, but I believe they are a Spanish airline.

The flight from Amsterdam to Madrid was about two hours. Another snack and another beer.

Dear readers, I apologise for the mediocrity of this blog so far; it’s been pretty boring for me to write it. But sitting around in airports and enduring delayed flights is pretty boring, and an experience I am sure will be familiar to frequent travellers everywhere.

Once we arrived in Madrid around 9.00pm it was the same old, same old. We had a look around the duty free shops then we decided to go and get something to eat. Our flight to Lima wasn’t until 23.55 so it would be a long time until we got something to eat and drink if we didn’t do so straight away.

Around 10.30pm we went to our boarding gate. I was hoping to find a couple of seats I could spread myself across and snatch some longed-for shut-eye, but the place was crowded. I walked over to the departure information board and saw, with dismay, that our flight to Lima was delayed, and now wouldn’t depart until 1.30am. What?! 😦

We couldn’t believe this day so far. First our flight was cancelled, then we missed our connection, got separated from our friends and now this?! At this rate we’d need a holiday to get over our holiday!!

Tiredness was really catching up with me by now so, retrieving my travel pillow from my bag I simply lay on the floor on my side and tried to get whatever sleep I could for the next couple of hours. Not an easy task with the airport tannoy blasting out announcements every few minutes.

Finally, finally, finally we saw the queue start to move and it was time to board the Air Europa A330 Airbus scheduled flight to Lima, Peru.

We were on our way at last.

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