Last night of the trip

Back in the haven of another Tierra Viva hotel, the same as I stayed on the last visit to Lima, I collect my large suitcase which they have held for me and start to sort myself out. Suddenly I realise that I no longer have the wish to lie down and do nothing so I am determined that tonight I will enjoy myself.

First stop, the Belmond Miraflores Park Hotel which reputedly had a rooftop bar where I could enjoy a cocktail, the sunset, and a cigar (I hadn’t packed them for the high altitude trip). Bar no longer there.

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Not a good start so I wander over to Larcoma a shopping, eating, and drinking complex built into the side of the rock face overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I find a bar, order a cocktail and an appetiser, six pieces of a beef mixtures wrapped in spring roll pastry served with a dipping sauce. Delicious and that will do for dinner.

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The sunset is spectacular, first the full hazy sun on the distant horizon and then the pinky orange after glow in the night sky.

imageEven though outdoors it was a non smoking area so on the way back to the hotel I passed a small bar with tables outside. A caipirinha and an H.Upmann half corona later and I feel ready for the night ahead. Back to the hotel to change.

I was in the mood for some live music but much is closed on a Tuesdays, especially the penas, where one can watch local music. However, there are two jazz/blues clubs that are open in my area. i head off to Crocodilo Verde at 8.30pm whose website tells me is a block away from Calle Pizza (this is not a made up name). I have read about this pedestrianised road called Pizza Alley in the guide book, a place full af bars, restaurants and night clubs and always thought that this was a made up name for the tourists. Another thing it is known for is prostitutes. Even with the police presence I am nodded, smiled, winked or pssst at several times as I pass through and I know it is not because of my good looks.

Crocodilo Verde is discovered, I pay the fee, and told I can sit anywhere. The place is packed so I sit opposite a couple of local lesbians. It is a great intimate venue and on stage is a female comedian who I assume to be the warm up before the music. I order a beer and a plate of breaded langoustinos. Then the female introduces a male comic who has the place in uproar. It’s all in Spanish so I haven’t a clue but at one stage he obviously does an observational mickey take on different nationaltities. I pick out Italian and Portuguese and then he moves to the German and does the actions and mannerisms exactly as we would in the UK. I ask my waiter what time the music starts. He says no music it is stand up comedy night. I pay and leave..whata mistaka to maka.

I walk back towards my hotel and make my way to the Jazz Zone.  When I arrive at 10pm it is almost empty and it looks like they are clearing up. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice so I ask if there is any live music. Yes it will start at 10.30. Perfect so I order a beer and sure enogh a young band starts to set up. Latin American reggae with great saxophonist. This was followed by a heavier less subtle reggae band, but also good. The club had filled considerably during the music although from what I could see most knew each other i.e. friends and family of the bands. Nevertheless it was a good last night.

I fell into bed and woke at 8am without having to get up for one of my high altitude pees. Everything back to normal.

Juliaca

It is now Tuesday morning and I still dont feel 100% . I cant really describe the problem other than a general malaise, slight headache, breathlessness and an overall feeling that everything is too much effort. Add to that the sun at altitude has also affected my gut and we are not in a good place for the hours drive to the airport at Juliaca.

The taxi driver is good but it is a long straight busy road and there are some whiteknuckle overtaking manoeuvres along the way. Then we come across one that didnt make it. The car had gone off the road and rolled. Looked like no casualties though. A few minutes later and an SUV in front of us had pulled up and a female passenger was vomiting beside the road. I am feeeling so good!!

Juliaco is a town the train passed through as is rough. The taxi has to travel through the centre of town to get to the airport and its a case of doors locked and hang on to your bags.

image.jpegJuliaca airport is another of the superlatives I have encountered on the trip. It is the world seventh highest airporst at 3826 mtrs above sea level. Because the air is much thinner at this level the runway needs to be extra long. Knowing this at the beginning of my journey I timed the take off point at sea level. From the start to take off this took 28 seconds. Here it took a worrying 41 seconds!!!

I slept most of the way to Lima where on arrival I couldn’t immediately feel the sea level benefit probably because I had moved from a pleasant 18 c to a stifling 30 c.

Isla Esteves

There is only so much of a parade one can take. The music is monotonous, there being only two main versions of the marching music. The streets are so crowded it is difficult to move and the sun at altitude is difficult to take. Together with feeling under par it is too much to take so I repair to my hotel. What will I do with my day?

imageI discover that there is a private island sitting on Lake Titicaca reached by a single road which the train passed on its way into Puno.. On the island is a gleaming white hotel called the Libertador and there is a path for walkers around the small island.

I have to walk two blocks uphill aways from the main street to hail and cab and this time to prenegotiate the fare. The ride is ridiculous as to get around all of the blocked roads I am taken up and down the steepest and narrowest streets imaginable. Brake failure would be fatal!

The security guard on the entry road to the island would not open the barrier until he had spoken to me. Waste of time but he gets the idea that I am visiting the hotel. What an oasis.

imageI slump into an easy chair in the vast bar area. Huge glass panels on either side enable me to look back across Titicaca to Puno and on the other side towards the so called reed dwellers on the lake. Apparently a big tourist attraction as I can see the small pleasure cruisers make their way in that direction.

I am enjoying the quiet and the solitude and after a beer and a bottle of water I venture out. Turning towards what I believe to be the start of the walk I encounter a herd of free roaming llama who stare at me inquisitively with almost human expressions. I start to climb some steps, which instead of leading around the island, leads to the top with wonderful views across the lake. As I reach the top I see small rat-like creatures disappear into the undergrowth. In fact they are cuy, wild guinea pigs. Here I am surprised to find a grave and a monument to a James Orton.

I later discover that Orton was an American explorer who made three important trips to South America. On his last trip, in 1877, he sailed across Titicaca to Puno but was found dead on board. The Puno community would not allow hime to be buried in the town. Heaven forbid…he was not a catholic! However, the local newspaper proprietor Sr Esteves, who had met Orton on a previous trip and was a fan of his work allowed him to be buried on his island.

image.jpegAs I wander back the llama have followed me up and we warily pass each other once more. The 30 minute walk around the island was wonderful, full of interesting vistas, helicopter landing pads marked out with white stone, and wild life including a fox.

I return to my seat in the hotel for another beer and water and while away another hour such is the peace of the place. It is only 6pm but not having had lunch I order a bar snack which turns out to be sufficient to avoid a dinner later. In the meantime a storm passes and the sun sets.

I need to get back to the boom boom which can be heard from across the lake. The doorman gives the taxi man my address, two blocks up from my hotel, there is a sucking of teeth because of blocked roads and the price has now risen by 5 soles, just over £1. Not a problem, and back through the hilly suburbs we travel, this time in the dark.

Another excursion to the grand parade and I am done for the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fiesta de la Candelaria 2

The grand parade took place on Monday and again sections of the 79 groups paraded a different route with some wider streets but also passing along the narrow main street as before. I managed to sample some of this. Watch HERE.

The altitude (higher than Cusco) was giving me problems again and by 10pm on Monday I am in my bed. I would have liked to witness the late night mayhem as the all day drinking takes its toll and the portaloos overflow! I wake for another pee at 3am and am wide awake so consider slipping out as I can still here the drums pass. Then all goes quiet and I slip to sleep.

At 9am in the morning I walk down the the main road and you would not know what had been happening five and a half hours previously. The pungent portaloos have disappeared, the streets have been washed, there are no chairs and temporay stands are partially dismantled.

 

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Then I here the drums again coming towards me up the pedestrianised main street. It is the Virgin herself, carried aloft, and followed by a few religious devotees. Nothing compared to the thousands of the less religious the night before. Watch HERE.

What an experience!

Fiesta de la Candelaria 1

I knew this would be big but I wasn’t expecting it to be humungus. The fiesta venerates the Virgin of Candelaria and is held roughly in the first two weeks of February. The key dates are the first Thursday in February when the statue of the Virgin is marched through the streets.

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The following Sunday, the day after I arrived, there is a huge music and dance competition in the main stadium. It starts at 7am and finishes at 4pm. Watch HERE

image After each group has performed they march through the streets from the stadium to the main square. This process takes until at least 1am on the Sunday. Watch HERE.

On the following Monday, my second day here, the grand parade is held. It starts at 8am and by the time all of the groups and bands have passed, I have now discovered, it is 3.30am on Tuesday! The event involves 40,000 dancers, 5,000 musicians and 25,000 ancillaries, putting it on a par with Rio and the carnaval de Oruro in Bolivia, and making it one of the three largest fiestas in South America.

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My hotel is 50 metres from the parade route so for two days I hear the boom boom of the base drums. The streets are so narrow that there is little room to pass and spectators who have grabbed one of the thousands of chairs along the route shout for you to move. Temporary portaloos are set up at side streets along the route issuing a distinct aroma as you pass.

La Raya to Puno

There was a shifty little shuffle at La Raya when the Cusco entertainment switched to the train going back to Cusco and the Puno brigade arrived to entertain us in the afternoon.

The train manager told me at La Raya that we had another four hours of the altiplano befor the scenery would change again. During this time we would see wild alpaca and llama.

imageOnce I had woken from my slumber I made for the bar and had another chilcano and was joined by the Australian lady from Geelong. Apparently this is not the first time travelling without husband and she is a hiker. Already been away a month and when her travelling partner returns shortly she will remain in the Amazon jungle, not returning home until the end of February.

Our conversation was somewhat interrupted by the music from Puno and we couldn’t escape. So another chilcano it was.

And so the passengers passed the remaining hours with polite conversation, looking out of the window and getting some air at the observation carriage. As we entered Puno the sun was setting, throwing a glow on the mountains the other side of Lake Titicaca. The train arrived bang on time at 6.30pm to the madness that is Puno during this festival.

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My new favourite hotel chain Tierra Viva also came up trumps in terms of service. I    had sporadic internet access as we passed through towns along the way and received a message from Cusco saying that I had left a pouch with medicines in the room. I am not taking medication but always carry some standards as a precaution. Having asked them to dispose of the bag I wondered if they could  check with sister hotel in Puno if they had received my message about arranging a taxi. These conversations went on during the day as the internet was a available and finally I had confirmation that somebody would be there to meet me.  It was a good job as roads were blocked and the streets full of bands and dancers. Made it to the hotel, only to be told that the taxi was complimentary.

Cusco to La Raya

We left Wanchaq station promptly at 8am and settled into our assigned seats with menus staring us in the face. Lunch was to be served at 1pm and but now a variety of breakfasts were offered.

We slowly wended our way out of Cusco through the urban sprawl, the train’s whistle blasting continually because of traffic and pedestrians. Next came the arable landscape with smallholdings caring for a variety of livestock.

imageWith breakfast over we were usshered into the bar area for a welome chilcano before the cabaret started.!  A small group and a single dancer assailed us with some typical music from Cusco. Now, we noticeably start to climb as our destination is La Raya, the highest we will reach and the highest point at 4319 mtrs that I have reached on this journey. We are now way above the tree line in the altiplano.

imageAt la Raya we were allowed 15 minutes off the train where artesanal sellers lay in wait. Where did they come from ? I asked one of the staff. Apparently their main stalls were hidden only 100  yards away on the Cusco to Puno road and coaches stop there all the time. I didn’t feel so bad about not buying.

Back on the train, table laid and pre-ordered cocktail, waiting. Lunch was a variety of breads, green salad with some fresh orange and grapefruit. Next up was boeuf bougignon and a glass of merlot. By the time the chocolate pudding had arrived I was asleep.

 

 

The Andean Explorer

The tail end of my journey was always focussed towards attending the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Puno. It was difficukt to plan as there is little detail to be found on the internet regarding timing which can fluctuate by a few days each year. Once I had tied down some likely dates, I had to consider how to get there. This is when I discovered the Andean Explorer. However, as it only runs on Wednesdays and Saturdays timing became critical as others had told me not to spend too many days in Puno.

So the plan was to arrive in Puno on Saturday evening, visit the stadium on Sunday where the various carnival groups compete, and watch them parade throug the streets. The event lasts two weeks and is the biggest music and dance festival in Peru and one of the biggest in South America.

The Andean Explorer is run by PeruRail and owned by the Belmond group. It was early in the morning when I arrived to check in and then board the train to get a first glimpse of what the next ten hours had in stall.

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imageWith only thirty two passengers it was inevitable we would pass some time together. It was an an interesting mix. An Australian couple who were due to be a foursome but whose respective spouses pulled out so they travelled anyway. The General Manager of the Belmond Monasterio Hotel…lots of arse licking going on. A family from Guildford with daughters of 10 and 13 who had taken the kids out of school and were travelling for nine months. Two awful Essex ladies in hiking gear who did nothing but complain about the cost and hog the rear viewing platform. Finally a charming gay couple, one a photographer from NY now living in BA with his partner an Argentine diplomat.

 

The end of a great day

After the Belmond I walked back up the hill to Plaza San Blas where the religious festival continued into the night. It was here while I was waiting to be picked up from the quad-biking that himself made an appearance before the 1pm mass. I snapped a quick video of poor quality which you can see HERE but look out for the bellringer at the end

Opposite the door of the church is a restaurant called PachaPapa which is recommended. It has an outdoor courtyard in which sits a woodburning oven.

I chose a whole trout cooked in the outdoor oven with mashed potato, a Peruvian standard. It was great, then home for an early night as taxi arrives at 7am. What a day!

 

Unexpected exit from Ushuaia

I arrived in plenty of time for check in at Ushuaia airport for my DAP flight to Punta Arenas  in Chile. I figured that any spare time could be used to charge my gadgets, update my blog and have lunch. It didn’t work out like that.

Checked my bag, went through security into the rarely used international departure waiting area and found myself alone.image No food outlet and lavatories were locked. All I had was half a bottle of water and with a stomach like mine, the morning after the night before, I started to panic. With no charge points I could not even while away the time on my blog.

After some time I was joined by four chinese who were as bewildered as I. I paced the area, occasionally looking out of the window, when I saw a small twin prop aircraft land. It then dawned on me that with few passengers DAP were not using their jet but the De Havilland twin otter that I had wanted to fly on in the first place.

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If only I had known I wouldn’t have had the last Jamesons or two, I would have eaten something and I certainly would have used the lavatory, as there are none on a twin otter.

The fear was transferring to my bowels when I remembered some emergency medication I was carrying and with an hour to go before take off it should kick in. First a sublingual quick acting immodium tablet followed five minutes later by a temazapam tablet. My old company doctor used to give me temazapam as it is a relaxant enabling sleep on long haul flight. It has other properties for which it is not prescribed so often. It is a strong anti-emetic for cancer patients and it also prevents travel sickness. Just the job for this turbulent flight lasting 1.5 hours as opposed to less than one hour by jet.

Six other US and Spanish passengers completed the manifest and finally someone came to unlock the bathroom doors and there was a stampede.

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Time for boarding and we were led with an escort fore and aft along corriders through domestic arrival halls and on to the tarmac where or plane awaited. We scrambled aboard, sat where we liked and because there were only eleven of us on this 19 seater there was plenty of room. Both my tablets had kicked in and I was feeling good. I took some pics as we took of and watched for a while as we passed the mountains.

Then I had the relaxant benefit of the temazapam and fell asleep for an hour!!