P is for Peru

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I’m about to disappoint Sarah Brentyn (she of Lemon Shark – go there, it is worth it) for this because I offered her the opportunity to direct me on one of these A to Z tour spots and she suggested Provincetown, or P-Town. But in fact I have recently written a little about my experiences of Cape Cod and the contrast between the conservative, not to say a little prehistoric Sandwich at one end of the cape and P-Town’s liberal, verging on the libertarian let it hang style at the other. If you are interested in this (and another example of Dickhead Tours in action) go here. Sarah, if you are reading this, you can choose again – maybe R thru V?

Anyway, Peru. Back in 1987 the Textiliste and I decided we had had enough of all our holidays being spent on doing up our Herne Hill wreck and we would recklessly go somewhere exotic. Why Peru? I expect we’d seen something on the Beeb about Manchu Pichu. Anyway, I’d been promoted which meant I could take a three-week chunk of holiday, the Textiliste had her boss where she wanted him so he agreed too and off we set on our jolly.

It was October and the way to reach Peru involved a flight to Amsterdam, a long haul to Quito and a hop to Lima. Some 20 hours before we found ourselves in the surprisingly dry, grey and dusty capital.

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Up to them I’d never been out of Europe. I’d never seen a slum or shanty town. I’d never seen humanity in such crammed conditions as I spied on the way from the airport to our hotel, an oasis of calm, marble and Bougainvillea and a jarring contrast.

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Lima cathedral very Catholic

Back then Peru had had a recent change of government (1985) and 36-year-old Alan Garcia, the South American Kennedy came to power. He came with a lot of hope but by 1987 the indications of turmoil were being to manifest themselves. Inflation was taking hold – eventually it reached over 7000% in 1990. The communist party, commonly known as the Shining Path had commenced a reign of terror in certain parts – Ayacucho was, even as we arrived, the subject of martial law. But Lima seemed peaceful enough.

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My first sighting of Bougainville

Hmm, naiveté is a dangerous commodity. Still, somewhat jet lagged after our journey and with a day or two to acclimatize in Lima we put on our hats and headed off on a sightseeing walk. We’d go to the Presidential Palace, we thought.

Up to that point, my protesting had been of the sort enunciated by Wolfie Smith in the 1970s comedy, Citizen Smith – here’s the first episode with a very young Robert Lindsay. The credits tell you all you need to know.  I’d marched and sat in and the police had stood around looking bored.

So it was with bit of a jolt when we found ourselves being herded by riot police and tear-gassed. That and experiencing a pisco sour were our first two shocks.

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The Vicuna – an Andean deer.

A third shock came when we signed up for a trip along the Colca canyon (at 13,500 feet deep it’s deeper by a factor of two than the Grand Canyon), in the hope of seeing the Condor flying. It took us several hours, we went as high as 15,000 feet to get there (and the altitude did me no favours – I had the usual symptoms – sickness, migraine but toothache? Bloody hell did I get tooth ache. It persisted for several days and all I could eat were papaya slices squeezed between my teeth. Any attempt to open my mouth left me feeling like my wisdom teeth would shatter).

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every slope had these strip fields; an awesome feat of engineering

Anyway, I discovered Coca tea, a sort of herbal infusion that would set the sniffer dogs’ dial onto ‘frenzy’ had we bought a box of teabags home with us. That eased the symptoms for a day.

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Very Spanish, the centre of Arequipa

We calmed down and headed for Arequipa. This colonial style town was less frenetic and cooler than Lina without the searing altitude (about half – 7000 feet). We spent another day or two here, drinking their odd vegetable beer and even more peculiar red wine (Vino Tinto Don Caesar is not to be recommended). We even sampled roast Coy – Guinea Pig. Don’t.

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The gorgeous jacaranda trees

What I recall most was sitting drinking coffee (probably with the inevitable pisco somewhere nearby – you drink it with raw egg white. I never really developed a liking for it but when in Rome…) and listening to the seed pods on the Jacaranda trees clinking like glass mobiles above our heads.

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reed canoes of the Uros

By now we had officially acclimatised so set off for Puno on Lake Titicaca. This extraordinary inland sea separates Peru from Bolivia and is home to the Uros Indians who live on the reed islands. They are dirt poor and survive by some fishing and the inevitable tourist visits. Not for the last time did I feel uncomfortable that these ordinary people were being shown off, like some Victorian freak show, for our benefit. There is something distasteful in an affluent westerner dropping in, buying some artwork and leaving, knowing the creators of the crafts probably see a fraction of the price. They are the bottom of the pile and inevitably exploited by everyone.

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The reed islands on Lake Titicaca

I tried hardtop kill myself, leaving Puno. It was here, perhaps that my love of long distance exotic train journeys began because we caught the Trans Andean train from Puno to Cusco, crossing the Alto Plano, touching 14,000 feet on the way. When I say caught it was more of a run, jump and hang on for grim death until I managed to swing myself onto the footplate. Geez, never have I felt so likely to get squidged as I did that day. I’d been told I could hop off to take a photo but the second I dropped from the train, the bloody thing set off at high-speed. By the time I returned to my seat, sweaty and shaking, the Textiliste had read another two pages of her book. She never really grasped what had just transpired.

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Alto Plano

The stupendous mountains form a monumental backdrop to the swaying grasses of the valley floors, with local people scratching out a living aside from the inevitable begging children anytime we stopped.

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Proof of our high point

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begging was endemic as you might imagine

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Cusco Cathedral

Cusco is a pretty extraordinary city, managing to keep both a colonial and Inca feel to it. But really, for most people it is a gateway to Manchu Pichu. Still we had a couple of days here which we enjoyed. The cathedral contains what seemed to be an unusually forward thinking figure of Christ – he was black. That illusion was shattered when we were told that was just how the wood, from which he was carved had reacted to the rain.

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A huge market. The Textiliste had that pullover for years.

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The beast

From Cusco we had thought about hiking the Inca trail to Manchu Pica. No it is almost a rite of passage  and both the Lawyer and the Vet have done so in the last year. However back then the Inca trail was a death trap and just a  few weeks before part had collapsed under some tourists.

We caught the train but not before first hiring a local to drive us to a weekend market. His car, an extraordinary 1950s American beast took us both ways in real style and comfort (we shared it with a few others we had linked up with). Conscious of saving fuel on the way back, which was pretty much downhill, our driver simply coasted riding the brakes all the way.

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The H&S nightmare that is the Inca Trail

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Gulp!

Manchu Pichu is a wonder. When Hiram Bingham wandered into it in the first decade of the twentieth century, he must have thought he had found Eldorado so extraordinary is it with the sugarloaf mountain behind the altar shaped plateau on which the abandoned town sits. We climbed the mountain (I’m not sure you can anymore) and spent as much time as we could wandering around. I can still reimagine that first sight. It is breath-taking.

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Why did the inhabitants leave? A still unanswered question

Our tour now took us to the Amazon but I will leave that for another time. Here are some other photos from our trip.

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Llamas and Alpacas were pretty ubiquitous

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Can I take one home?

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Ahhh!

 

 

 

 

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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22 Responses to P is for Peru

  1. noelleg44 says:

    This was hilarious as well as informative. You ought to write a book about it, a la Bev Spicer! So much of what you saw in the mountains was what we saw in Ecuador (we landed in Quito and stayed for a few days. And yes, we ate guinea pig!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Vincent says:

    I’m all for ubiquitous llamas… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Annecdotist says:

    Ah, the memories, we were there ten years later. Despite the excellent museum, thought Lima was a hellhole – mostly because of our very crap hotels. But loved Arequipa (the Santa Catalina convent was ace); Colca Canyon; Cusco; Lake Titicaca and some interesting places on the coast. Will never forget that first sight of Machu Picchu from the Trail: half crying because it was so moving in the early morning light, half because I felt so bloody ill!
    Sorry, Sarah, but glad Geoff didn’t go your choice!

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Yes, we would have loved o have done the trail but the advice was clearly against. I’m now jealous not just of my children but you too… I don’t remember the Lima museum but the convent does ring bells. And no one forgets Manchu Pichu assuming they an see it!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. LOL, So entertaining, yet informative! Glad I stopped by here on A to Z today. Favorite line? “By the time I returned to my seat, sweaty and shaking, the Textiliste had read another two pages of her book.” HaHa. I can relate. For my A to Z I’ve got a 1940’s theme going, so I’ll check out your Dad’s letters in your top header while I’m here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Please do have a look. I’ve had a gander at your blog (I went to follow but that seemed unavailable)and I see it is from a US/Canadian perspective. Thus my parents experiences in 1944 to 1948 might not be so relevant but they are almost weekly letters written by my dad, including his poetry and I’ve included photos too. There’s a large section on dad’s time, post war in Palestine as part of the British Protectorate, if that is of any interest and I’ve posted my own thoughts and comments over time. I’ll try and come back and catch up on your A T Zs.

      Like

  5. willowdot21 says:

    Lovely post so interesting and colourful! Did you get any sightings of Paddington, he is from Peru you know! xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m reading! Haha… 😀 Sandwich and Provincetown. Hadn’t thought of it that way but you’re spot on. Two ends of the Cape spectrum. Or something.
    So let’s see. Might be too obvious but I’ve always wanted to go to Italy so Venice (or Rome since I see you’ve been there)? Also, I’ve only been to Paris so anywhere on the east coast of France.
    These photos are unbelievable. The Inca trail to Manchu Pica sounds (and looks) amazing. Aside from the collapsing. O_o

    Like

  7. itsallaboutsonia says:

    Such great pics. love thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Autism Mom says:

    What an extraordinary trip! You must use the “hanging from the train” scene in one of your books (if you haven’t already). I love jacarandas and I never imagined their seed pods sounding like glass mobiles – I will listen for that the next time I see them.

    Like

  9. Norah says:

    You are certainly one for adventure Geoff. No run-of-the-mill holidays for you! I really enjoy hearing about your exploits, though I have no plans to follow in your footsteps. Great photos too.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Charli Mills says:

    Amazing trip and photos! I didn’t know about the Colca canyon, and how can you resist the sweet little begging children? I’d be taking home llamas, kids and human kids!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. paula says:

    I found your blog today when mentioned on Shona Slayton’s blog in her reflections post. I am cruising through on the A to Z Road Trip. A very funny post about Peru. But it was also educational. I would like to visit Peru one day

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      High Paula. Glad you found me and my little blog; hope you enjoy whatever else you look at. And feel free to follow to see what else I post about for time to time.

      Like

  12. Pingback: April, the difficult month | TanGental

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