Saturday, 24 December 2011

I don't like Alpaca

In case you're interested, it's tough and chewy. No fun at all. I wasn't brave enough to try cuy (guinea pig), but though those who were have told me it's disgusting and smells really strong and bad! And yes, guinea pig is quite the trendy thing to eat over this way. It arrives on the table with fried paws, head, teeth and all.
     More on Peru. The ceviche is delicious, as is the pisco sour. Peruvian wine can be really good but is expensive to buy so it's safer to go for the Argy Bargy. 
     We started in Lima, where a clever little duo decided to rob me in the bus station. Oh how they underestimated the Foley! One of the scoundrels knocked on the window when Oscar went to the loo asking for the time. I told him I didn't have it, but he kept knocking on the window and was mumbling away, holding my attention, as I'm sure you're now guessing. I turned around and scoundrel number 2 is walking away with my bag. I screamed 'LADRON! QUE TIENE MI BOLSO!' (THIEF! HE HAS MY BAG!) Anyone who has heard me get a fright or squeal in general can only imagine. I jumped up and ran after him, and everyone else jumped up and ran after him, too (Thank you Limeños). He dashed out the door, throwing a rucksack down on the floor. A man picked up the bag and said 'here's your bag,' but I said, 'that's not my bag. This is my bag.' Scoundrel number 2 had dropped my bag right near where he had picked it up, but I hadn't seen that. Because he was being followed, he dropped his bag too! The thief who lost his bag. Ha.
     Now, don't mistakenly associate Peru with thieves because those scoundrels were the only rotten eggs we've come across so far and we're almost leaving (touch wood - about the scoundrels not leaving). Much more detail on the beautiful Peru next. To wet your senses (don't be naughty), did you know Peru has desert? Good wine? Alpaca and Guinea pig? The deepest canyon in the world and the largest lake at high altitude?     

Grinding my way to 29

Cartagena, the most expensive place in Colombia, is a wonderful bubble of wealth. Undoubtedly beautiful within the stone walls, this is where the cruisers stop to let the tourists have their peek at Colombia. On the other side of the walls is where the real life is. We happened to go to a carnival in that area and celebrated my birthday there! Music pumping and vibrating its way from car boots, flour being thrown into people’s faces, foam being sprayed everywhere, car body paint being rubbed into your skin, and bodies, everywhere, grinding, slowly, in ways I have never seen before. And let me not forget the fireworks being thrown on the ground, burning whoever was near their landing point. Oscar was on one side of the street with people showing him how to dance, and I was on the other side with my own group of teachers. Mine were 13 and 14 years old, and spoke with a wisdom and knowledge that made me feel like the child. They moved my hips, my waist, my legs like I was their doll-that-didn’t-know-how-to-dance. I don’t know if it’s coming across but it was SO much fun. Everyone stopped to talk to us with such an openness and interest. My dance teacher told me that music is the food for the soul, that on a bad day, she walks onto the street, finds her friends, listens to the music, and dances. And she told me never to forget.
     A huge Colombian asked me to dance. Nothing strange about that, you think, but you don’t know how the bodies move here on the coast of Colombia! As we danced, I nervously told him that my boyfriend was “over there”, which, of course, had two knock-on effects: 1. He thought I was crazy and 2. He made best friends with Oscar. Dancing with everyone is the way it is, and I knew that, but my modest European self couldn’t handle it.
     With a hangover we made it to Taganga. (This has mixed reviews in the Lonely Planet so it’s just as well we don’t take much notice of it. I’ve decided some typical Gringo wrote it, who likes to eat burgers and pizza and vegetarian lasagna.) Taganga is a fishing village, where normal life goes on and where tourists come to hang out and live for a while. I can see why people stop here. It has another rhythm, the fishermen fish and come to shore at 6pm where the village congregates to buy fresh fish off the boat. The people are lovely. Our hostel was called Happy Hostel, which says it all. If you go to Taganga, stay there. We met the following characters: 1. An English girl who had been there 3 months and had a puppy and a Tagangan  fiancé. 2. An Irish guy with springy curly hair and a mad laugh, who had been there for a month and was, let’s say, taking it easy. 3. A Colombian 37 year old who had been travelling for 13 years around Colombia, and next year is starting with the rest of South America. We spent our days on a tiny cove with a beautiful view called “Big Beach”, eating the regional fish called cojinoa. Yum. No pups or engagement for us.
      We left our rucksacks in Happy and headed to Tayrona National Park, only with Danielle’s small rucksack (thanks Danielle). Let’s say we were travelling very light, and very dirty, for 5 days. We got to the park and walked to a beach called Arrecifes. Here is when it became official that Colombian timing is about a third of (my) reality. Either they make huge estimates or they run everywhere. Going by what I’ve seen, I’d say it’s the former. We stayed at Don Pedro’s campsite. Mr Pedro is 78 years old and only leaves the park when he has to, about once a year. The next day we went to the beach.
     Tayrona National Park is famous for “The Lost City” ruins left by its indigenous people. What isn’t so well known is that these indigenous peoples’ descendents are still alive (Kogi people), and they lived in the park until they were made to leave to make room for tourism. The park is owned and run by a French company. If I had known this I wouldn't have paid the expensive fee to get in. One thing I will say is that we went to Pueblito, a smaller version of The Lost City, and it was the physically hardest thing I’ve ever done, and one of the most amazing.
     Palomino is a small village nearby, where you see the Kogi's throughout the day, walking around in complete families (they always go everywhere together). It had a mystic, magical feel and there we slept in hammocks on the beach and woke up to the crash of the waves (but couldn't go in because the crash was too strong!). From there we went to Uribia, which is right up near Venezuela, and it feels like you've left Colombia. Here, goats are still used in trade, marriage and disagreements. Uribia is a small, crazy town where I was scared to cross the road, where lame dogs are hopping everywhere and where taxis are beeping their way through to show that they're available. It was an amazing place to see, and the food was not good. We got a shared jeep to Cabo de la Vela, one of the most amazing beaches I've seen, where you can walk 300 metres into the sea and it's still up to your tummy: perfect for me and the abuelos! It was amazing, and very quiet, the only bad thing was that money was taken from our wallet in our room, probably from the family (I think it was the son) which is a shame. It was also the only money we had left so we couldn't eat for a day and a half in order to pay for the transport on the way back (no cash machines here...)
     We travelled south, stopping in San Gil on the way, popping into Bogota again to see Angelina and David and visiting Andres Carne de Res, an AMAZING place worth a stop and some cash to see.

Next stop, El Peru.

Monday, 12 December 2011


I can't seem to keep on top of my updates, and to think that before we started travelling I worried in case I would get bored. No chance! It's a struggle even to check email, write the diary, write on here every now and again, book hostels for where we're headed and read up on them. It's amazing how far from your life you become, and how quickly you get used to it: following basic needs like eating, sleeping, excreting, seeing and learning. A huge indulgence, where your time, your day, tomorrow, is all your own. 
     In every hostel you have to fill in your name, age, occupation and passport number. Marketing and communications feels very alien right now. Once I wrote Engineer. I think I'll make up a new occupation wherever I go, ha!
     Once we left our adoptive Colombian family we headed for Salento, in the coffee region; a tiny little town beside the Cocora Valley, where the wax palm trees are that are symbolic of Colombia. We spent a day walking through the mountains, crossing rivers on bouncy bridges and jumping over cow pats and horse pats (can you call horse poo pat?). After a few days here and lots of rain, we went to Medellin, the land of the Paisas. I learnt afterwards that the Paisas get their name from back in the day when Antioqiua wanted independence from Colombia, they wanted to become 'Paisa A', 'Country A' with A for Antioquia. Interesting huh? And the Paisas are different. They have a recognisably different accent and are uber friendly. I also later learnt that in this region a strain of Alzheimers is common here, possible due to a Basque back in the 18th century who moved here and who had over a hundred children. The family is now up to 5,000 members and through them and lots of intermarriage, the strain has grown. There is now a study here into Alzheimers. That's my lot for silly information for today.
     Two interesting things to tell of our experience in Medellin are that we went up the cable car to Santo Domingo which was a day to remember. Walking down that slope gave me thighs of steel (if momentarily). It was a gradient of 50 degrees I swear. Later we were told that walking down there a few years ago we would have come out naked. I'm glad it was this year we did it. This change may well have something to do with the fact that a huge library of modern architecture has been built here and a metrocable developed to join this poor area with the city. The mayor invested a lot of money in improving the situation for the less fortunate, which not many mayors around this neck of the woods do. 
     The other thing of interest is that we had a run-in with a mad American off his head on drugs at 10 am on Sunday morning. It was like seeing someone thinking he was in a computer game, scarey at the time, sad in retrospect.
     From Medellin we went north to the Carribbean, Yeah baby. 

More of that soon.