Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Snorkling in Key West

Just had a little surprise. Am returning from Miami tomorrow, 29 June, not 30 June as I had thought. This due to time difference. Was alerted to this important fact by hotel staff locking me out of room due to paying for only three nights instead of the 4 booked. Phew.

Now, to try and raise the class of my recent blog entries, I decided to go snorkling in Key West. This involved a three and half hour trip each way in a cramped minibus. Advice to fellow travellers: spend the extra USD20 on Miami Nice Tours, and do not book with Infinite, despite the fact they seem to have sewn up every hotel in Miami. Infinite seems cheap at USD45 odd, but it really is not comfortable on vinyl seats cheek by jowl for that length of time. Plus drivers who seem to be very grumpy to be driving at all, and lengthy round Miami pickups and set downs before you start. Also, if you're going for such a long trip, stay the night and enjoy the sunset, I will for sure next time, since Key West locals seem a very friendly and attractive lot. Anyway, once in Key West, the boat we went snorkelling on was way in excess of expectation and cost less per head than the minibus ticket. Storms were blowing up all around us, including an ominous-looking-but-inoffensive waterspout (pictured below). Unfortunately no pics of snorkling since I was way too excited and wet, but below are the boat pics and one of a cyclist in Key West. I did see a barracuda, and various garoupas, yellow, beautiful. Next time and underwater camera. Also, a special bit of sea treasure I retrieved from 6 meters: a plastic reference guide to tropical fish-spotting. I will post a pic of this next. I know you need proof.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sundry pics from Machupicchu to Miami

Oh dear run our of time at the internet cafe so it will have to be uploads of pics without captions... firstly, hikers on the Inca trail, some Machupicchu pics inside the complex, traditional dancing in La Paz, and one where I was persuaded to join, one of the Amazon from the air, and some first impressions of Miami. In reverse order as it turns out

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Day of Burning: 24 june 2006

As I mentioned last night, today is the day of burning, 24 June, when the fields are burnt to return their nutrients to the soil. This date is celebrated in England as midsummers day, but the festivities are bigger here.

In city, burning isn't allowed, so last night the city celebrated with loads of fireworks. These didn't come out too good on my camera, but I went up to the top floor and took the photo to right.

The next day and night, celebrations continued with groups of people organising their own processions throughout the day and night.

Processions ranged from native bolivians, to african bolivians descended from Angolan slaves brought into bolivia hundreds of years ago, to gay groups.

In between this, we made an expedition to Tiwanaka, and ancient site that predates (1500BC-1200 BC) and preceeds the Incas, and which our guide said was a multicultural centre where the monuments were dedicated to preserving peace between the different ethnic elements. Our guide said that contact may have been made between the Tiwanaka and cultures afar afield as Asia and Egypt.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Burial Towers in Puno, Richard

Pictured to left, Inca burial tower near Puno, constucted around 1400 AD and partly destroyed by lightning around 1830 AD. Apparently, the lightning was attracted by around 30kg of gold artifacts found in the tower´s remains by archeologosts working in the 1960´s. The USA archeologists gave the gold to the Gold Museum in Lima, but kept the mummies for further study in the USA....

To the right, Richard and I kit ourselves out in La Paz for our part in "for a few dollars more"

Solstice June 21 5014

Some images from the solstice June 21 2006. In the Inca calendar, this is the new year 5014. Ancient traditions are observed with offerings to the spirits. I woke before dawn in Puno, on the shores of Lake Titikaka, to the sounds of of conches blowing and distant drum beats. I went out into deserted streets, and found a glimpse of orange gold rising sun between city buildings, which view I shared with a couple of city dogs. The ceremonies were taking place in the hills around the city.
Later, we continued with our journey toward La Paz, and stopped off at an old fertilitility temple, where we found the phallus pictured below, and signs of the mornings offerings. The fresh offerings were lined up with mornings rising sun rays. In a few days, in this part of the world, on 24 June the festival of St Joan starts. This is the time that the remains of the old harvest are burnt in the fields to provide nutrients for the coming harvest.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

You can't Choose your Travelling Companions when you travel alone

Since I was travelling alone, and the World Expedition/Tambo Tours tents are two-man, as specified in the trek description, some of you were speculating on what kind of tent-partner I might end up with. The nordic blonde goddess was wishful thinking; I ended up with James, who was probably a lot less trouble. A 22 year-old from Birmingham, James defied the conventions of his home crowd by venturing out on this trip, his first big hike. He was a great tent mate, respecting personal space and generally being bright and positive.

Pictured to the right is breakfast on the day of our push to Machupicchu. We´re at Phuyupatamarca Camp on Friday 16 June. In the foreground are the tourists, 11 of us plus Jose, our guide. In the background are the team of porters, whose job is was to scout for and set up a campsite each night, and to transport the tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, chemical toilet, cooking gear and food. New regulations in Machupicchu include maximum party size of 40, and maximum porter load of 20kg. They also state that a maximum of 2,000 people may be on the trail at any one time, ie 500 people entering per day. Two years ago, before regulation, up to 2,000 people were entering the trail daily during peak season. This is the reason that everybody who wants to hike the trail now-a-days needs to apply for a permit, paying around USD30 per day on the trail, and is obliged to hike with a licensed guide. A good thing, really.

At the lower altitudes, locals will approach the camp with stuff to sell. A most welcome surprise on the first day was the appearance of some cold bottles of Cuscuena, the beer brewed in Cuzco, and comprising one of the two industries in the city. The other is a fertiliser factory. Here I am pictured at our first camp at around 3,400 meters: Llulluchapampa camp. My hat is wonderful and warm, made of Llama wool. I found out the next day that even a couple of beers can bring on a special kind of altitude hangover.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I arrive at Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate

16 June 2006, I arrive at the Sun Gate overlooking Machupicchu. Our group of 11 trekkers and 12 porters, cook, scout and toilet manager had hiked the Inca trail for four days to get here, braving altitude sickness, trail tumbles and exhaustion over altitiudes of 3,200 to 4,265 meters. We were all feeling elated and exhuasted, but thanks to our guide Jose, Tambo tours and World Expeditions, we all arrived safely.
Here I am on top of the world at wynapicchu, the peak overlooking machupicchu, 17 June 2006. Our guide, Jose Ugarte, told me of an incident on one of his many trips to the peak, where "an athletic 21 year old Australian woman" handed him a camera and asked him to photograph her on the same spot. As soon as Jose had framed the picture, she turned around and promptly leapt into a handstand. Jose´s panic at the time is understandable when you realise that this rock is surrounded by sheer drops into the valley below (you can see Wayna Picchu in the background of any photo of Macchu Picchu, it is the peak which soars above the ruined city.

Horay! Here I am in Cuzco, June 9 2006. After five days acclimatisation to the altitude, we set off on a four day hike across the Andes. Our highest altitude would be 4,265m, and the wait was necessary. Even after acclimatisation, we all suffered some degree of head ache and nausea.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

first blog from peru

This first posting from Peru has been a mission. Our schedule of visiting rainforests and Inca ruins has been hectic. Finding time to get online has not been easy between 4 am starts on jungle trails, air connections and traditional dances. Then, of course, the language of computers in Peruvian internet cafe´s is Spanish. This brings its own fun problems when trying to email home from yahoo: for a start, the spanish keyboard has no @. Ok, so you can see I found it, but try asking the laconic operator of an andean internet cafe how to find @ from this from a Spanish phrase book. For those who need to know, it is Alt Gr 2. Then, for a first time blogger like me, when the Blogger website turns to Spanish, I can barely read the help menu to tell me how to add a new post, let alone upload photo´s. Before I know it, the guide is hunting me down for a visit to a Spanish conqueror´s cathedral built on top of monumental Incan stone blocks. I already have a reputation for losing my stuff, being booked on the wrong flight etc, so I dont like to keep them waiting.
Anyway, if you´re reading this, I´ve mastered the basics and this photo is of me standing in fornt of said monumental blocks of Sacsaywaman, the Inca fortress overlooking Cuzco which was the scene of the last stand of the last Inca emporor. I´ve already visited Cuzco, and Peurto Maldonado, a frontier town in the Amazonian ran forest, on the other side of the Andes. Tomorrow we head for the Sacred Valley and in three days we set of on our hike of the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. I will try to keep you posted. But just know that this is a wonderful trip, I feel safe and the other members of my tour group are all absolutely fabulous. They´re dying to see my blog.