27 Apr 2003, Puno
I am now in Puno, after a rather unique journey, thanks to my friends at PeruRail.
Started off normally enough - overnight bus from Lima to Arequipa, about 16 hours. Spectacular scenery, marred only by the knowledge that 20 people have died in 2 coach crashes on that road... in just the last 2 weeks. Sincerely hoped things wouldn't come in threes.
Had to whizz through Arequipa, but will be going back there for longer at a later stage. My deadline was the 10pm departure of a cargo train for Juliaca, which I had to catch if I was going to make my connection to Cusco.
It's not normal practice for the average punter to be allowed on a cargo train. OK, so most people might not WANT to spend 10 hours on a deafeningly noisy cargo train, mostly in the pitch dark, with no heating, no seat, and most alarmingly, no toilets. There were moments in the wee (no pun intended) small hours when I really thought I had gone loco getting on this loco. But then the dawn came, and the world became a rosier place, literally. We were high up in the Andes, the air breathtakingly clear in the dawn sun, wildlife all around, blue, blue lakes and rolling mountains.
As we got nearer to civilisation, I went to sit on the platform at the very front of the train, so my toes were the foremost point of our locomotive plus 17 freight cars, the track whizzing by beneath my feet. I saw doughty Andean women plodding alongside the track in their characteristic outfits of bowler hats and voluminous petticoats, and little children waving to us as we trundled past.
As we got into Juliaca, there appeared to be a market in full swing, right across the railway line. Our driver was going crazy on the bell and air horn to try and avoid casualties. I was still standing at the front rail, and it was interesting to watch people's reactions - they don't get many tourists here, as it's not the most attractive of places, and they didn't know quite what to make of this pale stranger. Or maybe it was my clothes they were staring at - it had been bitterly cold during the night, and I was wearing just about everything I had. Some people just stared, some waved, some pointed and laughed. And I don't know what came over me, but I starting giving it the full wave-and-smile, wave-and-smile treatment. No matter that I looked like the back end of a bus - I was on the front end of a train and felt like a filmstar! I just about held myself back from blowing kisses... The people were lovely (or confused) - some looked at me like I was mad, but most waved and smiled back.
Almost without exception, I've found the Peruvians warm, helpful and friendly, and the image of that marketplace stands out for me as one of my favourite memories so far.
(Photos to follow when I get teched-up in Cusco.)
24 Apr 2003, Lima
Really like Lima. Went down to the beach yesterday afternoon - the weather has been glorious, really hot and sunny. Unfortunately I've got a rucksack full of thermals!
This morning my hostel manager called on me to be a Spanish/English interpreter. Never thought that would happen - obviously it was a desperate situation.
I leave Lima tomorrow. Last night I went out for a couple of drinks in the bohemian district of Barranco. Made mistake of getting in an unlicenced taxi, purely because the driver was female and therefore presumably safe. As we drove the wrong way down a dual carriageway, I had cause to regret my decision. But I'm still alive to tell the tale.
23 Apr 2003, Lima
I've made it to Peru! A bit later than planned - our v dodgy little plane had 'hydraulic problems' in Miami, so we didn't touch down in Lima until 11pm last night.
The promised driver from my hostel didn't materialise, so I got a minibus into the city, through the shantytowns with their ramshackle buildings and home-made shop signs, then past the anonymous urban strips of nightclubs and casinos, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC and Blockbusters. Then into the well-manicured suburb of Miraflores, where the top hotels would rival anything in the US.
Funnily, the passengers for the swanky hotels got dropped off early on, and my $3 hostel seemed to be rather low down the pecking order. And I was absolutely pooped. So change of plan - we pulled up outside a really pretty little hostel in Miraflores to drop someone else off, and it looked so nice, I decided a bed RIGHT NOW was the top priority. Or maybe it was the prospect of my own room vs a night in a dormitory that swung my decision.
They didn't speak much (indeed, any) English at the hostel, but I muddled through, although I suspect my Spanish teacher would have been less than impressed.
It had been a long day, but I felt the need to chill out and write my diary for a little while, so I sat in the courtyard garden and cracked open the miniature bottle of Baileys that my sister had given me in my Peru survival kit at Christmas - obviously, what no intrepid explorer should be without. It was very much appreciated, especially as American Airlines now charge $5 for an alcoholic beverage, so it had been a very dry flight.
Have now checked in with the helpful guys at the South American Explorers Club, and started to explore the city. I've already been touched by how friendly and helpful everybody is to this very novice traveller. Weather good, natives friendly, off to a good start.
20 Apr 2003, Kew
Off to Peru in 2 days, and by the skin of my teeth, am just about ready. Huge flurry of activity last week - final jabs, bought dollars and travellers cheques, bought SPF35, learned how to use my new digital camera, all those things I'd intended to get sorted months ago, but never mind. Work expands (and hopefully contracts) to fill the time available. If only a similar concept applied to my kit and rucksack. That's my final challenge - to get everything into what is currently looking like an unfeasibly small backpack. And then manage to lift it.