Sick of the high life

1 05 2010

This is apparently my 100th post on my blog. I wonder if anyone out there has actually read all 100 of my inane witterings about what I ate for lunch and what drinks I had in happy hour. If so, you probably deserve some kind of prize for putting up with my banal blog.

After waking up in the comfort of a five-star hotel (which I wasn’t even registered to stay in), Sue and I headed out into Miraflores to pick up some breakfast. We opted for some churros – a long, piped doughnut filled with dulce de leche, the super-sweet spread that you seem to find on everything throughout South America. Our first ones were quite tasty but we had another one again in the centre of town and for some reason unbeknownst to us they’d put salt on it as well and the dulce de leche was only piped into the visible ends of the doughnut – stingy bastards!

We wandered around the Plaza de Armas in the centre of town so that Sue could see all the colonial buildings – I’d already been here of course back in March. Down by the Plaza San Martin a May-day demonstration was starting but, despite (or perhaps because of) the presence of lots of riot police, it didn’t look particularly troublesome.

Sue decided that she wanted an alpaca wool blanket but the tourist shops weren’t offering them for prices anywhere near what a local would pay (negotiation at such a huge discount didn’t seem a possibility) so we gave up on that tack and headed off for lunch – once more in a fish restaurant down by the beach.

Me wrestling a kraken-sized piece of octopus in my Pachamanca

After lunch we headed back to the hotel and, after 45 minutes delay, got the promised pickup to the airport. Sue met one of the girls from the fashion show – Riley (American, also living in Amsterdam) – and she hopped in the cab with us. Riley wanted to go to an artisan shop en route which caused the taxi driver no end of consternation – he was only hired to drop us at one location. Finally after some discussion with his English-speaking mother on the phone he agreed to take us there if we’d pay an additional amount of money.

After picking up some souvenirs for her son, we resumed our journey to the airport. My check-in was really quick – I had no bags to put in the hold and there was no queue for the check-in machines – and I then went over and joined Sue and Riley whilst they  checked in for their flight to Amsterdam. As we were going through security I suddenly realised that the national and international sections of the airport were split after we went through so I quickly hurried back and said goodbye to Sue across the metal barrier.

I then endured quite a long wait before the flight boarded – luckily eased by the discovery of a free WiFi access point – and then resumed my trip back to Trujillo. I got back to the hostel but Julia, Pedro and Andy were still out eating – so I headed to the empty Sabe’s bar for happy hour and had a couple of weak cuba libres. I wasn’t feeling too good and was just about to leave when the others turned up.

We played a bit of pool but after racking up the balls I suddenly had to dash off to the bathroom where I promptly disgorged my recent rum and cokes. After months of not getting ill from South American food I had finally succumbed – and this after I’d eaten in the posher restaurants instead of the usual backpacker’s fare. I stuck around in the bar for a while and didn’t have any further attacks but I felt far from good and not really in the mood for drinking. That was probably just as well since Huanchaco seemed to be absolutely dead for a Saturday night.

After playing a few games of pool with the world’s most annoying American (with Peruvian parents apparently) I finally headed back to the hostel and went to bed.

Another World

30 04 2010

Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day: the national holiday in the Netherlands) this year was strange: not just because for the first time in 10-years I wasn’t dressed in orange garb partying it up in Amsterdam; but also because for 24-hours I exited the world of backpacking. Not only did I take a mode of transport where the safety video didn’t constantly remind you: “The toilet is to be used for urination only. We repeat: the toilet is to be used for urination only. Should you have other needs please contact a member of staff and they will arrange a suitable stop-off with more comprehensive bathroom facilities but I was back in the world of 5-star hotels, business meetings and expensive drinks.

Obviously after so many months on the road — hiking boots that compared to my cats’ litter box would make that smell as fragrant as Chanel No.5; unruly sun-bleached hair; a face that hasn’t seen a razor for a month; scruffy clothes — it wasn’t going to be the smoothest re-entry into civilized society ever. Still, it could have gone much worse I guess…

In the morning I said goodbye to Julia, my travel companion of the past week or so, and then I headed to Trujillo airport (actually closer to Huanchaco where I was staying) to catch a flight down to Lima. “Why was I heading back on myself and using a quick and expensive mode of transport all of sudden?” some of you may ask. Well, last week my STBE-wife, Sue, got asked at the 11th hour if she could go to Perú to meet with some people from the Peruvian embassy, the trade minister and various luminaries within the South American fashion industry. It seemed like an interesting business trip so, after some deliberation, she agreed.

While Sue was sorting out all the last-minute arrangements for this, I was wandering through the Andes completely incommunicado and it was only when I got back to Huaraz that I knew she was definitely going to be in the same country as me. It seemed bizarre to be in the same country and not see each other so, after a somewhat stilted exchange of information — my lack of a phone and her lack of a properly-roaming Blackberry hindered the dialogue — I decided to fly back down to Lima for a day to see her.

I slept through a lot of the short flight and actually had a bit of a hangover for the first time in months: I think my recent dalliance with sobriety due to lots of bus journeys; trekking; and travelling with someone who doesn’t overindulge in the grape or the hop, finally lowered my resilience. I did speak briefly to my neighbour on the flight: Mia, a teenager originally from New Mexico who was working as a missionary with her parents near Trujillo. She was on her way down to Lima to take her SAT because she was home-schooled. They’d been in Perú for around 5 years. Religion and I don’t really mix — these days I’m firmly in the Richard Dawkins’ school of thought — but I kept those opinions to myself and hoped that the good they did for the local community outweighed any damage due to religious indoctrination.

At Lima airport I got an official taxi for the princely sum of 40 soles. The taxi driver duly informed me that our destination — the Thunderbird Hotels Principal in Miraflores — was muy caro and did I have a reservación? I guess I didn’t look like the usual patron of such an establishment. Luckily at the hotel I didn’t have too much trouble: I even wandered up to the reception and got a password for the WiFi; but after I’d been in-and-out of the hotel a few times one of the security guards asked me if I was staying at the hotel and what my room number was. My Spanish was not up to the task of answering this properly but luckily the concierge was able to step in and explain that I was waiting for my wife and would be staying at the hotel that evening but didn’t know her room number.

When Sue arrived we decided to head out for a late lunch. I didn’t really know where to take her — I didn’t think the kind of eateries that I’d recently frequented were quite what she had in mind — so we headed down to the seafront and found a Peruvian restaurant in the mall there. As we walked in they asked us where we were from: Sue said Holland rather than the UK so we had a Dutch flag on the table for our dinner. This seemed highly appropriate on Queen’s Day. They had a buffet-service but we decided to splash out and go à la carte. This seemed to be more in keeping with the white linen tablecloths anyway.

We shared a tiradito: a variation of ceviche that doesn’t have the onions. We also had it with the yellow chilli pepper sauce instead of just with lime juice. The portion was absolutely huge and it was lucky we only got one starter between us. Ironically the mains were probably a bit smaller but we shared them too: a seafood risotto with black squid ink and prawn and spinach ravioli. I hadn’t eaten this much for lunch in ages!

Queen's day in Lima

In the afternoon we went shopping around the Indian markets for some souvenirs and then in the evening Sue was having a business meeting with a local agent – Cristina. In true South American style she was nearly an hour and a half late and she’d brought her husband and his eldest daughter along too. Since they were also in the textile industry I think their presence at dinner was probably more appropriate than mine! They took us up to the old Lima culture ruins, Huaca Pucllana, which I’d visited when I was first in Miraflores back at the beginning of March.

Overlooking the ruins was a very posh restaurant and that was where we would be dining. Most of the dinner conversation was about the textile industry so I couldn’t really contribute but I did talk about my travels a bit. The family was most disconcerted to discover that I would no longer be visiting Brazil (they’d lived there for many years and the daughter, Alexia, was Brazilian) but I said I may visit there some other time in the future.

After dinner they dropped us back off at the hotel and then (after many attempts due to the faulty roaming) Sue phoned Cesar, her contact from the Peruvian embassy, to see where they were. I was pleased when it turned out that he was out in the Barranco district of town. I’d been there previously on a Tuesday night at 9pm and it was absolutely dead so I was intrigued to see what it looked like at midnight on a Friday. I wasn’t disappointed: it was heaving with people.

We got a taxi from the hotel and, in common with so many other taxi drivers in South America, he didn’t have a clue where he was going. We’d asked to go to Pica’s bar and he simply dropped us on the main drag and pointed us that way. The bar was not there. We asked a bouncer at one of the bars and he pointed us still further down the road. Eventually the bars ran out so we asked another couple and they pointed back the way we came, across the square and down into the park. This turned out to be the right instructions.

Me in Pica's with the fashionistas: Andrea, Rochi and Sue

Finally at our destination, we chatted to all the people that Sue had met at the fashion show throughout the week and the Vogue party the previous evening. It was a great night: although the beer was expensive compared to my normal backpacker budget.

Am I Ulysses?

21 04 2010

I was listening to Franz Ferdinand’s Ulysses on my iPod the other day whilst trekking and got thinking about my own odyssey (sorry I’m mixing Greek and Roman mythology up a bit here). A lot of people begin their travels with the schmooze that they’re going to find “themselves” – whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean.

I guess in a way it’s true that I needed to find the “independent” Barry that was no longer part of a couple and rediscover the joie de vivre that had somehow got lost amidst the monotony of the day-to-day grind and by a wife that no longer seemed to appreciate who I was. But I’d say that I rediscovered all that within the first few weeks of travelling when I realised that I was actually an amiable guy and that most people appreciate my somewhat wacky humour and acquired-taste personality.

And of course, whilst travelling you discover a few new things about yourself and you change a bit too. I’ve had to overcome my normal reticence in initial social situations. And I’ve acquired a more “anything can” attitude and (because you have to when travelling) a greater degree of patience. (Although I’m still struggling with the lackadaisical speed that some of the Peruvians walk at). But, of course, these are all latent parts of your personality and wherever you go you always take yourself with you – so to say that you go to find “yourself” is bunkum.

Anyway, back to the original theme of this post. In many ways Odysseus’s tale and mine are so dissimilar that they don’t even warrant comparison. Odysseus spent 10 years fighting the Trojans – I was married for 10 years. Odysseus then spent a further 10 years wandering the oceans of the world encountering strange new lands and peoples – my current travel timetable is 12 months; although I think it may eventually go beyond that but unless I supplant my savings with some work I definitely can’t keep going for 10 years. Odysseus had his faithful wife, Penelope, and his steadfast dog, Argos, waiting for his return to Ithaca for 2 decades – I’ll be lucky if my cats still remember me after 6 months and I don’t even know where I’ll return to once my travels are finally over.

And let’s face it if I encounter some sirens or Circean enchantresses the chances are I won’t be plugging my ears with wax or waiting until they turned all my crewmates into pigs – I’d be saying “Hola! Tienes un habitacion matrimonial?” Besides which, at my age I’m already one of the oldest backpackers I’ve encountered: at 37 a gap-year student is already pretty taboo; at 47 it would practically be a criminal act.

Anyway, I suppose you might be vaguely interested in what I got up to on my last day in Lima. The honest answer is pretty much jack shit! I went for a very nice 2-course lunch for 7 soles (2.5US$) with Nicole around the corner from our hostel and then just lounged around in The Point bar feeling pretty bored. I chatted a bit to Lora (as the English girl in our dorm was called) and Nicole and also ran into the Swedes from the sandboarding in Huacachina – Henrick and Phil. In the evening I met up with Julia and an Aussie couple that she’d met for dinner in a local pizzeria. I sampled my first Inka Kola (tastes like a pineapple-coloured cream soda with a cherryade aroma) and a reasonably priced lasagna before we set off for our night bus heading North to the heady heights of the Andean town of Huaraz.

Ring-tailed Lima

20 04 2010

I pretty much did nothing all day in Lima. The highlight of my day was going out to buy some toothpaste and heading down to the paragliding place to pick up my pictures from more than a month ago when I was last here. Such is the thrilling lifestyle I lead!

Julia didn’t manage to get my message in time that said that I was staying at Pariwana and not one of the Flying Dog hostels so she ended up checking in there. We arranged to meet later in the day after she’d had a bit of a siesta.

During the afternoon, I spent a bit of time chatting to some of my dorm mates – Nicole (from Aus) and an English girl whose name I never got.

In the evening I met Julia outside KFC (it was the only place she knew where it was) and we wandered down Calle de las Pizzas (Pizza street). The street is full of Italian places and you get absolutely hounded by the restaurateurs for your business. After negotiating a free pisco sour and beer each (I later discovered that Julia didn’t drink beer – oh well 2 for me then) we both tucked into a ceviche mixto. Although I’ve been in Peru for a while it was the first time I had ceviche – the local seafood speciality “cooked” in lime juice and I really enjoyed it.

Me with my ceviche

After dinner we wandered down to the seafront but all the chains there – think TGI Fridays and Chilis – looked pretty soulless so we caught a taxi to the night-life area of Baranco. Apparently this is not something that anyone else does on a Tuesday night! We tried about 4 different bars (all absolutely devoid of people) before settling on another empty bar that had a balcony overlooking the street.

After a tequila shot and some drinks each – still no people to be seen – we headed back to Miraflores. Julia still felt tired from her bus journey so she headed to bed and I went back to the hostel bar in search of some life. I was about as successful as SETI, so after some time on Facebook chatting to various people I headed off to bed.

Nazca racing

19 04 2010

I left the hostel early in the morning heading down towards Nazca. Considering everything that could have gone wrong: my pickup at the hostel was on time, I got picked up at the other end after a 2-hour bus journey – it all went remarkably smoothly.

The driver dropped me at the airport where I joined the other 3 passengers on our small Cessna plane – an American family. The daughter, Kate, had been doing some volunteer work throughout South America for the past year and her parents had come over to visit. After a little wait we boarded the tiny craft and headed off skywards.

Our trusty carriage

At first when the co-pilot pointed out the lines it was difficult to see them but after a while we managed to discern them on the ground. Due to the way that the plane was bumping up and down and the way my camera was misbehaving (I think it must have got some sand in the mechanism from the sandboarding) my photos aren’t that well-framed. And the best-defined lines – the astronaut carved into a rock – I missed because my camera wouldn’t focus at that point.

The hands

Halfway through the flight the mum next to me started throwing up into a bag but I’d followed everyone’s advice and not eaten or drunk anything before the flight so I was okay. I was still quite happy when we rejoined terra firma safely: you hear so many stories about recent crashes that it’s a relief to know that you survived.

After the flight I got dropped off at the bus station and promptly caught a bus to Lima. It was another 6-hour journey. On the bus I bumped into Ellie from Canada again – although when I was shouting her name she seemed to be ignoring me. Perhaps I actually have her name wrong or it was because her boyfriend(?) was with her? In any case, I did speak to her when she got out of the bus back in Ica (they were off to Huacachina).

Finally I arrived in Lima and caught a taxi to Miraflores with an American girl who spoke no Spanish and didn’t know the address of her hostel. I headed to the Flying Dog where I’d stayed nearly a month beforehand but they had no room so after bumping into Dan, the barman from the Flying Dog, I headed to Pariwana where I was able to find a bed.

It’s always strange being in a city where you don’t know anyone yet but I struck up a conversation with Alf (Swedish not an alien life form) and Sam (American). I played quite a few games of pool with Alf and only through sheer perseverance did I manage to win one. (I think my pool-playing has regressed this trip). Apart from that the bar was full of too many gangs of annoying Israelis for my liking and I struggled to find anyone else to speak to once Alf went to bed. So I called it a night.

Flying in Miraflores

11 03 2010

I got up early yet again and took a taxi into the centre of town. I was a bit worried that the centre might be quite rough and not as safe as Miraflores but I didn’t really sense any danger as I wandered around snapping lots of pictures of all the buildings. At one point because it was quite a hot day I thought I might just be a tacky tourist and get the tourist bus around the centre. After waiting around where I expected the bus to leave from I eventually gave up and asked someone where the tourist office was. Having found it I discovered that the bus didn’t leave until much later in the afternoon so I walked it all after all.

Lima centre

I then decided to head into China Town (it took me a long time to find it because most of the streets weren’t signposted) which was quite disappointing – the Chinese gate wasn’t even worth a picture. Since I hadn’t eaten yet I went and had some dim sum and was absolutely stuffed when I finished it. I’m not sure it’s the best choice of meal to have on your own.

After being offered an outrageous price by one taxi driver I eventually got another taxi back to Miraflores for 12 soles. Once there I looked around the hostel to see if Jans was around but I couldn’t see him so I decided to head off paragliding on my own. They strapped me in and then the pilot and I ran off the cliff into the air. Normally they take you up past the big Marriott hotel there but as we tried to get there a crosswind caught us and we weren’t able to maintain enough altitude to get across. Eventually we had to make an unscheduled landing on the beach and then waited for a taxi to take us back up to the launch area. Since our flight had been cut short I got another full flight – this time we stayed away from the hotels and looped around the lighthouse there.

Me paragliding

I tried to get some photos from the paragliding company but the photographer couldn’t seem to use the computer and eventually I gave up. I said that I’d be back in Lima in a few weeks and would pick one up then. Hopefully she’ll have learnt her way around the laptop by then.

Back at the hostel I stayed in the bar area again but it was very quiet. Jans offered me some of the spaghetti he’d just made and, although I wasn’t really hungry after my big lunch, I eventually had some. The tomato sauce was really tasty. I then tried to book a hostel online for La Paz but the website kept refusing my card. Eventually I phoned Halifax in England and they said that there too many uncleared, foreign transactions on my account. All of them were mine (although the majority were in Holland; which since that is my registered address shouldn’t really have caused an issue) and she then said that I had to tell the bank when I was on holiday. I told her that I was on holiday for the next six months and would be visiting lots of different countries throughout South and Central America so she said she’d open up my card worldwide.

Since my card wouldn’t work properly for days or weeks I decided to call the hostel and managed to confirm a bed for the night; after a lot of issues spelling my name I also told them that I’d send an email. The bar was really quiet all night: Jans went to bed early leaving only Dan the Coloradoan bartender; John one of the staff at the hotel; Jenny and myself in the bar. We spent a lot of time looking out of the window people-watching. The street outside was full of couples making out; prostitutes and rent boys. It was quite amusing watching it all – especially when we tried to guess what the conversations were. After a while Dan shut the bar so I went off to bed.


10 03 2010

I got up early – I don’t think my body clock had quite adjusted back to South American time – and had breakfast at the nearby restaurant (this was included with a voucher from the hostel). After that the first port of call was to buy a ticket to La Paz for Friday. I’d tried buying it online the night before but it kept failing on me so I headed to the nearby Lan office. It was a very expensive flight (and I got hit with another $30 for buying it in the travel agents) but it would take too long to travel overland into Bolivia and I wanted to meet up with Jola again.

I then decided to wander around Miraflores and see what was around. I followed the tourist bus route and ended up at the Huaca Pucllana ruins built by people from the Lima Culture around the 5th century AD. It was quite an interesting tour although they seemed quite blood-thirsty folk – there were lots of sacrifices of women and children. There was a German family on the tour and a Mancunian called David. After the tour was finished David and I both headed back towards our hostels and decided to have a quick beer together. The bar we were in also gave us a free pisco sour to go with our beer. It was the first Peruvian style pisco sour that I’d had (the main difference from the Chilean one is that they add egg white in Peru) and it tasted pretty good; although it was very sharp.

Huaca Pucllana

David and I were chatting about Amsterdam and how great the Melkweg and the Paradiso were, when he mentioned that he’d played there a few times. At one of the gigs the Shamen were also playing. I assumed that his band was backing the Shamen so I was quite surprised when he said it was the other way around. He told me that he used to play with Peter Hook in a band called Revenge. I googled it later and discovered that he was called David Potts (he’d mentioned that people called him Potsy) and he had his own Wikipedia page.

He also told me a story about one of the local bars where an American guy and his Peruvian girlfriend had befriended him and bought him a beer. Whilst he was outside having a smoke he got back to discover that they’d bought him another beer and ordered him some food. When he said he had

After our beer we went our separate ways and I decided to head down towards the beach and see what that side of town looked like. Feeling quite hungry I went for the safe lunch option of the chain Chilis and had a nacho burger. It was good food and since I was sitting at the bar I had a long conversation with the bar man, Jeremy. In some ways it was a bit annoying because I barely had the opportunity to eat my burger because we were talking so much. Initially we tried to practice my Spanish but I think it soon became clear to both of us that it was too rudimentary to carry a conversation. He seemed so keen on our chat that he almost seemed put out when eventually I had to ask him for the bill.

I went back to the hostel about four o’clock because one of my dorm-mates, Jans or Jens from Germany, had mentioned that he was thinking of going paragliding when he got back from visiting some of the local Inca ruins and I quite fancied tagging along. Unfortunately their Inca tour finished late so he didn’t get a chance to go.

In the evening I hung around in the bar and tried to get my blog up to date. I met Sophie from Holland who was on her last night in South America and was actually quite keen to get back home since she was fed up with South American bus journeys; and Jenny from Lothian. Even though it still wasn’t that late I could feel myself falling asleep so eventually I had to head off to bed.

Back on the road

9 03 2010

After a mere week back in Europe I was once again back on the road and heading to Lima. I got to Schiphol in plenty of time but they wouldn’t check me in because I didn’t have a return ticket to anywhere. Eventually I bought some KPN WiFi time and quickly bought a return ticket on air miles from Mexico City in 6-months time. After a lot of discussion with someone else (as to whether a return flight from a different continent was allowed) she finally checked me in.

On the plane I watched the Dutch film Komt een vrouw bij de dokter (a woman goes to the doctor). I think in English the book is called something lame like Love Life. Even though I was excited to be resuming my travels, I was already in quite a melancholy mood (for reasons that won’t be divulged in my blog) so quite why I thought that watching a film about a philanderer who loses his wife to cancer would be a good idea I don’t know. Sure enough I was blubbing at various points of the film – especially the euthanasia scene when she has to say goodbye to her little girl. I thought the film was quite faithful to Kluun’s book but I did miss the little Amsterdam-specific notes that were peppered throughout his novel.

The flight to Lima seemed to last forever and was actually a bit delayed but when I got there I couldn’t see pre-booked transfer to the hostel. After waiting a while I eventually saw him coming towards me and after another stop at the ATM to get some local currency we headed off.

I was supposed to be staying at the Flying Dog Backpackers Hostel in Miraflores but instead he drove me to the nearby Flying Dog B&B Hostel. It was a bit rough around the edges but nice enough and most importantly of all the beds looked clean and comfortable. I had a few beers in the bar but still felt quite tired from a long day’s travelling and a change of time zone so I crashed quite early.