Hunting the Inca: Part 4, Puno and Lake Titicaca #peru #travel

For those following our travels in Peru in the autumn of 1987, you may wonder where we have got to. I suppose, after the tranquillity of Arequipa which we visited here it was inevitable that we would find another gear as we left to head for the Bolivian border and Lake Titicaca. What a splendid name that is, combining a smutty expression with slang French; the school boy in me couldn’t believe such a  place might exist and, at some level, I wanted to see it in much the same way as I wanted to see Piddle Trenthide in Dorset.

In fact things didn’t get perky for a while as we stayed in the lakeside town of Puno which is memorable for being unmemorable. The lake is the border with Bolivia and is, at 12,500 feet above sea level, the highest navigable lake in the world. I suppose giving up geography at 12 I find these statistics awesome. I mean why doesn’t it drain away, if it’s so high? Surely there’s a crack somewhere? I remember going to Fraser Island off the coast of Australia and being told it was made of sand. Then we saw Lake MacDonald and thought: water on top of sand… erm, how come? Is this another dastardly Aussi plan to confuse the pommie? It certainly left me wondering.

Anyway, as I was left to me confusion, we settled into a hotel and rested up. Travelling was tiring hereabouts. The thing that made a difference, though, was that we had been in Peru for a week and by now spent a significant amount of time at altitude. My teeth had settled and I was no longer squeezing mango slices between my incisors. Solid progress with solid food.

We had a full day in Puno mostly planned around a boat trip on the lake to visit the man-made reed islands. These are world renowned and inhabited still by the Uros Indians who make them from the reeds on the shoreline and then add to them to stop them sinking as the lower reeds rot.

It’s an odd experience, stepping off a boat and sinking into the matting. In places water seeps through to your shoes and the mind says ‘come on, find land, you moron’ while the guides and the locals all smile and encourage you to step further away from the boats.

It was fascinating, meeting these short squat people, wrapped in shawls with their curious round rimmed bowler hats and stunning clashing colours and their simple woven homes, like human weaver birds. But soon enough the choreographed nature of the tourist visit began to jar. The guides, educated and English speaking corralled a group of women and children who sat creating small pieces of basketry and toys. They waited until a sign and then laid them out for our inspection.

Part of me wanted to help by spending but the money goes to the intermediary and I knew that the cut for the women would be paltry. I offered a note to one who looked askance and offered me a knitted something. The unspoken rules meant my charity was to be channelled and my guilt, which is a constant in these sorts of set pieces, was not assuaged. These folks are as on display as any museum exhibit, a sort of living diorama for my Western eyes. Some argue that without the money I might input their lives would be deeply ingrained into desperate poverty but is the solution this form of economic circus act?

Later I looked at our purchases, meagre things that we neither needed nor, frankly wanted but if we’d not bought them how much more guilty would I feel? I had paid to be complicit and knew no way out.

The next morning there was a palpable excitement at breakfast. Our group had gelled reasonably well given the disparity in ages and expectations – though the estate agent had a thing about lawyers and wouldn’t stop niggling at me to justify why my profession was full of intransigent bigheads; it didn’t help that I agreed with her – so we shared each others fun. We were to make one of the great railway journeys of the world, crossing the extraordinary Altiplano to Cusco the home of the Inca.

The journey took many hours climbing up and down the plains of the Andes peaking at nearly 15,000. All along the way we say small groups who’d run to the train if it stopped and offered us anything from bags of nuts to live chickens.

In return they accepted money or, the children, biros which appeared to be the currency de jour.

I nearly never made it. Things happen slowly in Peru. There’s a languid approach to things like timetabling. We were ushered on board, into the luscious if rather shabby first class coach and settled to wait. And wait. And wait a bit more. One of the group decided to take a photo of the train and headed for the end of the carriage. I followed as we had been chatting and, to my surprise he climbed off the train and onto the clinker that formed the bed of the tracks. There was no platform here; it was a ladder to the track level.

History doesn’t say why he called me down to see something but I followed and he fired off a couple off shots. He then turned and climbed back. I waited with my hand on the bottom rung until he’d created space. As he stepped up to the footplate, the train began to move. Surprisingly quickly given its size and the fact it hadn’t moved an inch before.

One minute I’m enjoying the train yard and this behemoth of a beast; the next I’m swung into the air with my legs flailing far too close to the enormous and now turning wheels. If you’ve not trapezed your way onto an iron beast as it picks up speed across the highest railway in South America then I have one recommendation. Don’t. It is off the scale shit-scary.

The Textiliste smiled at me as I took my seat; the waiter brought us the first of three three-course meals that we enjoyed as we began to dip down out of Puno. I sat back and stared at the cameraman who had already taken his seat. He had no idea; no one had any idea of my narrow escape. As is often the way with me, as I pondered the what ifs, the terror wasn’t a result of the near death experience. No, it was the idea that, had I been left behind I would not have been able to explain why. For me it is far more awful to suffer such acute embarrassment than to be extinguished. I confessed my near stupidity to the Textiliste later. She smiled in understanding as she patted my leg; her silence could have been a kind way to forgive me or it could have been merely an unarticulated way of saying ‘silly man’.

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Mothery update

Regular readers will know I have been keeping an eye on the moths visiting my garden. They come in all shapes and sizes and, frankly, are often jewels of nature with subtle colour shifts.

Often as not the difference between a full range of moths appearing and a limited selection is down to the cold/wind. So last night, when the temperature in South London hovered in the mid 20s and little wind (not something often said in my house), I rather hoped for a decent uptick in those passing through the turnstiles.

And in amongst the pictures here’s a poem I wrote aeons ago about poetry. Its relevance to moths? None at all.

Ars Poetica (2)


A poem is an erotic pass the parcel with words,

Seductively shedding its millefeuille of meanings to tease you with its deceits.

You climb up through its stanzas, in search of the rhythms on the next horizon

Which may leave you, if bereft of inspiration, fractured on its beguiling carapace.

Sometimes, the poem sneaks an idea past your guarded eye with some keyhole trickery;

At others, it blasts its revelations from your heart with a dum-dum of apt metaphors.

At best, a poem can take you by the hand and lead you gently, and with small, ecstatic steps,

To the edge of a chasm of thought, that leaves you breathless at its ineffable depths.

You may hate a poem for showing you that long covered two-way mirror,

Which shines a black light on the inner reaches of your craven self.

Or you may love it for providing you with a periscope to a world,

Which contains a truth about nothing, other than your previously unknowable self.

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Blooming Marvellous

I thought I’d share a poem of dad’s with an update on the garden

Island Ferry

Crisp and fresh, the air this morning, on the open upper deck

While the muddy river waters froth and churn

There’s a drift of salty spray as our vessel pulls away

And Lymington is slowly left astern.

The sun is still half-hidden in the early morning haze

And all around the screaming seagulls fly,

And, ahead, the island lies on a barely seen horizon

Like a supine giant, dark against the sky.

Across the gleaming mudflats the distant reed-beds stand,

A verdant carpet, lavishly unrolled,

While beyond, the tops of trees, barely shifting in the breeze,

Catch the morning sun and briefly glow with gold.

A solitary heron, still and silent, sees us pass,

Poised to strike and single-minded, shows no fear,

For the swirling tide reveals the writhing silver eels,

And swiftly falls the deadly, darting spear.

Past the Yacht Club and Marina, past a multitude of masts,

Past the posts and buoys that mark our course along,

‘Till the Solent is before us and seabirds raucous chorus

Is mingled with the rising seawind song.

The mist has nearly gone now, and across a sparkling sea

The ferry, slow and steady, makes her way,

And all the world is bright in the shining morning light,

With the promise of a lovely Summer day.



Posted in miscellany | 23 Comments

Dawning realisation #carrotranch #prompt #flashfiction

Carrot Ranch is in the capable hand of  this week and this is the prompt.

June 15, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that symbolically, mythically, mystically, or realistically involves dawn, as a noun or verb. Write about the dawn of time or the time of dawn, or the dawning of an idea. As always, go where the prompt leads.

living in the northern hemisphere so far up we don’t get the lights on, lights off that represents dawn and dusk on the equator. It’s a slow burn, a smudge and a smear, a hint. Not so much the break of dawn as a slow realisation that things are changing. Black to white becomes grey for some while before the change is effected.

There is something unhurried to this, like night is considering leaving but might stay for one more drink while day turns over and puts its alarm on snooze. Indecisive or balanced I’m not sure. Dawn though is a beautiful time to be alive not least because nature seems somehow more engaged in the process. The stillness of night, the slow moving shadows give way to a tumult of bird song, shapes shift and solidify, substance takes over from superstition. Dawn isn’t so much a new birth as a reminder you are alive and here’s a new opportunity to be the person you aspire to be.

This week’s flash finds Paul in reflective mood…


‘What you doing love?’ Mary slipped next to Paul, hunched under a blanket in the conservatory. ‘It’s barely light.’
‘Darkest before dawn,’ Paul sounded rueful.
‘Couldn’t sleep? Work?’
Paul stared at the smear of red in the sky. ‘Penny told me I was unfair to you. 3 years since your dad passed and I go to the pub.’
‘No she’s right. Looking out for you.’ He smiled. ‘The dawning of womanhood, eh?’
Two hours later Penny found her parents snuggled on the sofa, asleep. She rubbed her eyes, grinned and went to make them all some tea.

And if you’d like to find out more about Paul Mary and Penny, click here. 

Posted in creative writing, flash fiction, prompt, thought piece | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

International Rescue (South London) branch

Two years ago we were gearing up for the first Bloggers Bash and I found myself proving the power of the three, as set out in this post. This year everyone is Wonder Woman and multiple rescues are becoming the expectation rather than the exception. Personally I still think the rule of three is in force but see what you think.

Source: International Rescue (South London) branch

Posted in miscellany | 2 Comments

Cake Not Hate – a walk and some thoughts #london #walking #lookingforthesilverlinings

Father’s day here coincided with a series of events to show the sunny side of humanity, in the spirit and memory of murdered MP Jo Cox and at the end of a dreadful week in the UK and especially London following the appalling fire at Grenville House.

For various reasons I was alone, well Dog and me. The weather was forecast to be seriously hot for hereabouts – 31C they said, which is at least 5 degrees above sensible for anywhere near London.

So we had a choice – stay inside and find shade or sod it and go walking.

Not really a choice when those doleful eyes are on you. We caught a train towards Richmond but the connections sort of died from terminal inertia, or inertia at the terminal, at Clapham Junction so we took an executive decision, bought a sausage roll for lunch and headed out towards a string of commons that lead home over six miles, starting with Wandsworth Common.

It’s a superficially bland strip, with barely an undulation and bordered by a busy road one side and a railway the other.

But it does have trees and, on a day when pausing to smell the coffee/diesel/picnics/jogger’s-sweat seemed sensible given the unrelenting heat, taking in the sweep of the fully laden canopies made sense.

We don’t spend enough time staring at trees, I thought. Nature’s high-rises, home to countless families with the same fragile, easily destroyed-through-ignorance-and-indifference vulnerability as Grenville. I don’t intend by this thought to try and make any sort of glib comparison but we can so easily ignore the unheard, whether it be marginalised families or scraps of the natural world.

Across the railway there are ponds and people enjoying the ducklings and moorhen chicks.

London is out and about, sitting and reading, playing desultory games, or exercising furiously – basically doing whatever London wants to do, without a care.

A simple part of human dignity, that ability to choose to do or not do, to engage or to ignore.

I stopped before crossing Belle Vue Road and watched two comfortably covered men boxing. They sweated and grunted and laughed and sweated some more. Next to them, a few feet away a woman read the newspaper while her friend sought the perfect angle to tan an exposed sliver of shoulder; a small boy squatted in that way children have that our use of chairs has made us forget, all the time contemplating the deep meaning of dust, as he stirred it with a  stick.

Dog stuck out his tongue and then peed, his own contribution to a tableau that was both mundane and beautiful.

I hurried on, wanting to leave the morbidity of my tendency to dwell on the news coming into my ears via a news bulletin. The drear focus on politics just now is wearisome and utterly unrepresentative of the humanity about me which wanted nothing more than to take some simple pleasure, have a break from the bigger picture.

Why does the news have that bit more tonnage just now? Are we not entitled to a silly season, when papers are filled with sand-encrusted urchins besmeared with ice cream as a fountain splashes in the background because there is nothing else to report? If fake news comprised dolphins rescuing puppies I’d sign up.

Next up is Tooting Bec, a sprawly place with more shrubs and as many by now pink poached torsos. I lost myself for a while, sharing with Dog a bottle of water and the aforementioned sausage roll (he had the meat, I had the pastry) and an apple.

I needed a pee and not having Dog’s indifference to social convention I dived into a tangle of sallow and brambles to find some privacy. While there a small piping voice startled me with: ‘What’s that man doing, mummy?’

Fearing at the least a scowl of glacial frostiness or the possibility of arrest I hastened to leave only to be confronted by a mother and son staring at a tall, elderly gentleman standing on his head in some complex yoga pose. I left them to their entertainment, hoping that was what had engaged the young voyeur’s attention.

The final sward is Streatham Common after we passed the Moorish palace that is the Wandsworth Water Works – a piece of Victoriana that never ceases to please me, both for the sheer chutzpah of the company that built it and the fact it is still in use for its designated purpose – a pumping station – today.

Streatham Common is on a  slope allowing for a range of hurtling games for the overheated youth. But it also has a rather good cafe at the top. Dog supped some handily provided water that looked manky but then again manky is his preference while I procured a coffee. As I sat and sipped I noticed two marquees one with this slogan on the side.

I could hardly not explore. The stall was run by a mix of locals, from the pot pourri of cultures that make up South London’s residents. A smiling lady in a hijab told me the cakes were free and wouldn’t take anything for them. They came in a box ‘with a lot of peace’.

I stopped and chatted. Jo Cox’s name was mentioned as the stimulus but also Grenville and the disbelief that something like that could so easily happen hereabouts.

It’s very easy to be both disheartened by events or uplifted by ordinary people’s reactions to them. I think we all know it is futile to expect ‘never again’, to realise while humans make decisions impacting other people without those people being properly engaged such things will blight us. I also think we can take some comfort from the countless small kindnesses that occur each and every day that make city living tolerable.

We walked on, now both sweaty and in need of that shade we had forsworn 2.5 hours earlier. We shared a cake on the way – delicious – and smiled at everyone we passed. Some smiled back; others assumed I was on some sort of day release and hurried by. But that’s fine, too. After all there are many versions of normal and we need to accommodate all of them, give them a voice, even if that voice is merely a randomly given smile.

Happy Father’s Day, world, from a very happy father. And Dog.

This is part of Jo’s Monday walks which you can follow here.


Posted in London, philosophy, ponds, thought, walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 40 Comments

A good news day

There are days when you wake to a bit of grey cloud, when the hot water takes an age to run, when the toaster seems to have reset itself to a light char setting and the milk is on the cusp of dodgy. When the dog’s lead refuses to clip and I’m out of poo bags. The drizzle starts and I’ve left my hat behind and I don’t see the loose paving stone which sends dirty water up my trousers.

All first world issues, but all prone to take the gloss off a day. So when, on Friday I heard, within 5 minutes of each other that (a) the Vet had passed her finals and was now a fully fledged Veterinarian Doctor and (b) the Lawyer had been offered the job he wants when he qualifies in September I must say any and all the above or any combination would not have mattered in the slightest. After all we can be proud of our offspring and their achievements but when both come up with such success, well, it feels as if my work is done!

Posted in family, miscellany | Tagged , | 34 Comments