Saturday, 15 December 2012

Marian Keyes: in the pink

As for her own happy ending, Keyes seems, if not happy, at least content. "As I get older the stars have gone from my eyes more, and I see that life is just something that has to be lived with, that it's better not to struggle," she says. "I have had to lower my expectations and embrace the shiteyness, to embrace the fact that as a human being I'm nearly always going to be in a state of incompleteness or yearning or pain of some sort, or fear, because that's what human beings are … Joy is so fleeting – God, I sound such a misery guts – but for me it's not about chasing happiness or chasing joy, but to say, when it does happen, 'oh that's lovely'. To appreciate it, rather than to expect it."

Friday, 7 December 2012

Almost famous

I've been quiet here for a while now. But this week has been a big one: I have had my first piece of flash fiction published.

It's called Bog Standard and it's super short but it's quirky and I like it, and you can read it in the shake of a baby lamb's tail.

This week I have also had my final wisdom tooth out, and just this minute I've found out I'm getting another short story published, this time online and in print so I can look at it both on the screen and in a frame, hehe.

So basically I figure that right now I'm almost famous.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Welcome to a PROUD Madrid

"I don't need sex, the goverment screws me every day"



This is me. I'm the tall one






I hope you liked the pics. Come again soon.


Thursday, 21 June 2012

It is she

It is she
I am me
I am
The new girl in town

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Shooting stars


It’s like you’re a child running after a kite that’s
Just slipped out of your hand
And it's right there, so close you can
Touch it, but no, it tickles your fingertips and saunters in the air,
Higher, higher,
Just out of your reach

Or like looking into a kaleidoscope and seeing
What you think you can see and being sure
That’s what you can see but as
Soon as you’re sure, it’s gone,
And then it’s back and then it’s gone
Again -

Or like star gazing -
When you’re lying on the road next to your cousins
Searching for shooting stars and
Just when you can see the saucepan
Everyone’s whooping and laughing because they’ve seen
The shooting star

Or like in a dream when you’re running
And running, and you never get tired,
And you don’t know where you’re going
Or why you’re running,
But it doesn’t matter because you know you’re almost there.
Well that’s you - chasing dreams.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Poor Old Tom

Poor old Tom has a limp.
Something happened on his ramblings
Last night, and now he can't walk.
His paw is all swollen and red but
Poor Old Tom has a bad temper  so no-one
Can get a good look at him.
Take him to the vet, I say.
Listen, he says, all dogs die,
And it's Tom's time now.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Confessions on an English non-Opium Eater in a new city

"To the Reader, I here present you, courteous reader, with the record of a remarkable period in my life...."


I don't know where to start. It's all a daze. My head is fuzzy, like something fuzzy, and I can see everything but can't touch any of it. I can't grab hold of anything; it's all beyond my reach. 
      I know where I am but always forget. When I have to write my address, the one that comes to my head is where I lived a year and a half ago. I know where I live but feel like I'm leaving in two days. The only thing I can touch is Oscar, and thank god; he is what brings my feet to the ground. 
     It's hard isn't it? Life. Trying to do what you want to do. Trying to be true to yourself, be liked, be respected, be loved. That's all I've ever wanted. Along with money and to be a writer.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Look out the window. The whole world is a story, and every moment is a miracle.
-Bruce Taylor, UWEC Professor of Creative Writing

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Madrid: first impressions

People keep asking me if I prefer Barcelona or Madrid.
     I've told them to ask me again in 3 years (that's how long I was in Barcelona). That way I can make a fair and informed comparison. Right now I miss the beach terribly. Sounds awful doesn't it? Get the violins out quick.
     Madrid, Barcelona. They are very different. The people, the way of life, the bars, the food. Here there's great banter, and tapas with your drink for free which goes a long way. There seems to be a big party scene and it doesn't feel too different to London - both big, cool capital cities with a lot going on and a lot of people moving fast around you, all the time. I'm sure I'll love it.
     After 9 days I have worked a full week in my new job, lived in two flats while searching for one to really live in, still don't have a mobile but yes I do have a lot of dirty clothes. Fingers crossed I'll have a home from Tuesday and will put a wash on.
     It's all gone so amazingly fast that I have to catch my breath.
     Just three weeks ago I was mooching around Buenos Aires reflecting on my many months of travels, gazing down at my tanned feet and snapping away on the camera. All of a sudden I have a job again (a really great job), with a title and a desk and a computer and a phone and workmates and an office and it feels a little like Let's Pretend. As quickly as you jump out of reality, you're thrown right back in.
     Would I opt to live travelling? No, I wouldn't.     

Sunday, 4 March 2012

It's the end of the road


Moving swiftly on, from politics to geography: the Iguazu Falls. Wow.


You have to see it to believe how mind-blowing it really is. It’s the kind of thing that reminds you how tiny and insignificant you are in the grand scheme of things, like, for example, nature. Nature has the tendency to make me feel about as big as an amoeba; its almighty power, size, age, in comparison to me, a whipper snapper whose time on earth is more than fleeting. But you soon forget all those thoughts when you hit Buenos Aires, and all of its buildings and shops and offices and banks and parks are all built for you and the fourteen million others that live here. You quickly get into the swing of urban things, and we were really lucky to be taken in by a lovely couple we met earlier in Cafayate over a glass or two of wine in a winery. These lovely porteños made sure we tried the most delicious of wine, beer, asados, pizza… I can’t go on because I’m too hungry. We went for a Sunday asado at their family’s home and saw how its done: pretty damn well!
     I’m writing this back in London, but I have to explain how absolutely grateful and humble I was by the end of our trip of four and a half months in Latin America. It was when we were, as my friend Facundo so eloquently put it, with one foot there and one foot back home. It wasn’t a particular place, a thing, a person, a landscape, a sunset. It was everything. It was the whole, full, wonderful experience of being able to travel and see so many different and amazing things, meet so many beautiful people that made me so aware of being a very lucky and happy person.
     In Buenos Aires, our lovely porteña host said one day, “Europe isn’t the world”. First I thought, “Well of course Europe’s not the world”. It took me a while to think about it and understand what she meant. We have it so good, crisis or no crisis, with our access to health and education, to fresh water, to hot water, with a minimum wage, housing, social security. And some people (lots of people) have it so, so bad. At one point in Bolivia, rain water was privatised.
     So yes, I am extremely lucky and privileged, and I need to remember that, always. When you’re having a bad day and everything feels a bit shit, think for a moment that you are living in an old man’s right knee, or think of how teeny tiny you are compared to this:



If you have loved the sound of any of the places I have talked about in this journey, please, go there.

This is the end of the travel road, and the beginning of another. As soon as I got back to London I landed myself a job in Madrid. The next chapter of this blog, I mean my life, will be all about that.

 

Monday, 27 February 2012

The ones who were made to disappear

After some delicious days in Mendoza we took a 17 hour bus ride to Rosario. No disrespect to Rosario or her residents but the only reason we stopped there was so as not to be on a bus for 30 hours. That just sounds like being a hamster in a cage with no wheel. I'm glad we stopped there. It's a pretty city with a river where the first Argentinian flag was raised. But more importantly, here we visited the Museo de la Memoria, or the Museum of Memory.
     I won't pretend to know what I'm talking about so I will try to describe what I learned that afternoon.
     This museum holds an exhibition about the Dirty War; the tragic days between 1976 - 1983 when men and women, mothers and fathers, mothers-to-be, children, babies and babies not yet born into the world were "made to disappear". Hearing it is horrible, but seeing puzzles of photographs of people who make up communities, families, where blank spaces mark "the disappeared" person, where there is a red line across it stating "murdered", it is made to be quite real. Or as real as it can be when you are an observer of photos on a wall.


Neither words, nor I, can describe what "the disappeared" must have gone through, or their loved ones (many of whom were made to "disappear" soon afterwards. Pregnant women were made to "disappear" and were kept prisoners in some kind of torture centre, then later killed. Or they were kept until they gave birth, were then murdered, and their new-born babies were given to military families. Some of these babies have been found, by their grandparents, perhaps, and have taken back their original name. Others can't face the reality that they were stolen, or that their parents were complicit, so opt to live on as if nothing ever happened. This way their "adoptive" parents don't go to jail.


What was the torture centre during the period of the Dirty War is now a government building and when you stand outside and look at it, you realise how recent this mass killing was by the graffitti on the road that says "Justice. Not one child less".


It is estimated that 30,000 people were made to "disappear".


Friday, 17 February 2012

Argentina: the land of vino and asados


First stop: Salta.
     Salta feels like a little Madrid or Rome - lots of Argentina does. So you understand when everyone tells Oscar that one of their grandparents or great grandparents came from any number of regions of Spain and the Basque Country. They smile with twinkly eyes as they tell you who from their family lives there now. I knew there were links, but I hadn’t imagined they were so strong and alive today.
     After three months of a pretty unvaried diet of soup, rice and potatoes you can imagine our delight at being in the land of empanadas, pizza, pasta, choripan, milanesa, provoleta, bife ancho, bife de chorizo, and vacio that looks like this:


     As if we weren’t having enough fun with food and wine, we moved on to Cafayate. Here we had a ball with wine, wine, wine, more wine, and alfajores. Yum! We hired bikes and cycled to wineries until the tyre went flat, returned the bikes and carried on by foot. We tried Torrentes, a delicious white, the only wine with 100% Argentian grape, as well as Malbec, Bonarda, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat in Nanni, Esteco, Etchart, Las Nubes, and other wineries. We hooked up with a couple from Buenos Aires who were having as much fun as we were trying wines, so we went to a bar and bought some really expensive ones to share. That myth about not getting a hangover from expensive alcohol was tried, tested, and failed.


     In our 19 hour bus ride to Mendoza, after the pane of glass beside me getting smashed (by thieves who wanted to rob everyone onboard), we had to change buses. I was half asleep and left my bag under the seat. I remembered half an hour later; the driver rang the station, they got my bag and gave it to the driver of the next bus to give to us in Mendoza. It found me safe and sound, with everything inside. That was a lovely moment.
     In Mendoza, with faith in the good in humankind, we continued our journey of wine, and asados with the best steak I’ve ever eaten, and facturas, and alfajores, with dulce de leche on top. We were lucky enough to be taken in by Rodolfo, with whom we ate, drank and rested like real Mendocinos. Life in Mendoza is good! Demasiado deli.

Friday, 10 February 2012

A salty end to Bolivia and - hello Malvinas!

Uyuni. A small town from which you take a tour to the famous salt flats: isolated, windy, dusty, boiling hot and freezing cold. Full of tourist agencies and, yes, tourists. Tourists hanging out on the streets in big groups like they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Suffice to say, I didn’t like Uyuni: a victim of its own salty success. Of course, the locals can’t stand the sight of the tourists, either. I got into a pickle with a man working in an internet café where everyone was paying to watch pages load. He followed on my heels as I walked out, silently threatening to hit me. That was when I realised what machism really is. I’ve seen how women sometimes barely look at you, how their man speaks for them, how the man who speaks louder gets served first. But to see a man in his forties threaten me so publicly was frightening. I couldn’t imagine what he’d be capable of behind closed doors. Sometimes I like to think I’m such a modern woman that I can break through gender barriers, that there are moments when I’m genderless, but in that incident I was reminded very clearly that I was a female, and that, in Bolivia at least, there is a marked difference between ‘her’ and ‘him’.

With the tour came other-worldly landscapes that made you feel you'd stepped off Earth, and the world's largest salt flats:


 the red, white, and coloured lagoons, the stone tree, Dali's desert, and various breeds of pink flamingo:


geysers (huge stinky holes that smell of rotten egg where sulphur is bubbling away), and a locomotive cemetry.    
     Our driver, Javier, was lovely. He drove us in a jeep for 3 days, prepared lunch at mid-day and cooked dinner as soon as we arrived at our resting place for the night. On the third day he told us about a bus accident he was in on his way home for Christmas - the brakes failed and the bus flew through the barrier and 200 metres down the mountain. Javier lost his memory, ability to speak French and English and had to have several operations. I knew buses were dangerous around these parts: I have blessed myself on more than one occasion, and we had our own scare when a chunk of the engine fell off our bus in Peru and I woke up to shouting and whistling.
     After the tour, being offered a shower by a little girl in the street and a night bus, I was on the bridge, officially in no-man’s land, waiting to get into Argentina. Standing in the queue under the scorching sun, I watched a pig eat a dead puppy. She got every bit of meat off that corpse, I can tell you.
     Stepping onto Argentian soil, after getting through with no search or questions (not everyone got through so easily), I was welcomed by a huge sign: “ The Faulklands are Argentinian”.



Thursday, 2 February 2012

The poor old devils in Potosi

I wasn't going to do a tour of the mines - the LP warns you of extreme conditions like no air, darkness, lack of safety in descending etc, but the guy in our hostel was an ex-Miner and had good reports so I found myself suited and booted and ready to see the mines of Potosi.

     Potosi is where silver was mined years ago from the Cerro Rico hill when it was discovered by the Spaniards, and back in its day, was the richest, largest city in South America. Millions of African and (later) Indigenous slaves died in the mines extracting silver. Now there is none left, but there are other minerals like zinc here to be had, working underground so as not to destroy the UNESCO protected hill. The tour began in the market with how to light dynamite, then we bought gifts for the miners (who work in a cooperative - which isn't as great as it sounds) and we went in.
     Not only is it freezing, it's also pitch black, and you have to tread very carefully so as not to fall into the huge holes that are everywhere. There are 400 explosions a day, and 2 to 3 miners die per month. Before, this figure was 5 to 6 per week. Welcome to the world of the Bolivian miners.
     We saw 2 miners working, pushing a cart of 1 tonne of rock along the tracks. "Mind your feet," Antonio, the guide said, "lots of people have lost their feet this way." When the men passed, he continued to tell us they would live until about 35 years of age. Each of the men had a cheek bulging with a ball of coca leaves, and their teeth covered with a green film. Antonio told us several times of the importance of coca: it keeps them going with energy, it suppresses their appetite, and it marks the time. They chew leaves for 4 hours, then break, spit the ball out and put a fresh ball in for the remaining 4 hours. That way they break up the day and keep track of time. Why don't they have lunch? I thought. "Why don't they eat, I bet you're thinking," said Antonio on cue. "Because, with food in their bellies, they will have two problems: deadly toxins in their lungs, and in their stomachs." The air is thick with toxins, and asbestos is everywhere. The walls and roof of the mines glisten with beautiful stalactites of asbestos. And these toxins cause the fatal disease silicosis which kills the miners one by one.
     When we were buying gifts I decided not to buy cigarettes so as not to support an unhealthy habit. When I saw these men literally breaking their backs, inhaling toxins that are killing them, and chewing coca that is rotting their teeth, I realised the cigarettes are the least of their worries. It was hilariously sad.
     In the mines we saw several statues made of clay and earth. These are the devils worshipped by the miners, called "Tios".

This comes from when slaves worked the mines and the Spaniards told them that if they didn't extract minerals the devil would take them and they would never see daylight again. The devil slowly became their friend and they now worship and adore them, bringing them gifts such as cigarettes to smoke, 96% pure alcohol, and coca leaves which they sprinkle on the devils' hands, feet and penis. In return for these things they ask for the following: strong hands to work and push the carts, feet that carry them out of the mine alive, and fertility of the mountain to produce minerals, as well as their own fertility to produce more children to continue working the mines.
     Their motto: "For you today, for me tomorrow."

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sucre and the search of a better life

Weed-out and dehydrated we arrived in Sucre, with its white-washed buildings and beautiful churches on every corner. We went to see dinausaur prints here - they were the longest trail in the world until a chunk of rock fell off - oops.
     In Bolivia in general there are children everywhere. They are on corners, on streetcurbs, in plazas, selling sweets, selling on jewellery stalls, begging, working in shops, restaurants, or hotels. So you often find yourself ordering food from one, checking into a hostel with another. One little girl sold us a magazine for an organisation working with child workers, and it was only then that I realised the number of child workers there are, everywhere. I had gotten so used to it that I no longer noticed.
     We went to a museum of masks and folklore, which was filled with amazing masks of all different shapes and sizes, from the various regions and cultures of Bolivia.One was over 1 metre high. A particular person wears this mask in carnival, and afterwards, sleeps with a virgin. Much more than old fashioned fancy dress!
     Anita, the girl working in our hostel, got chatting to us about Spain. One of the wonderful things about this journey is the ability to talk to people in Spanish. In such a small moment, you can learn so much about a person, about their culture, about what it is like to be from their country. Our chat with Anita over breakfast was one of those moments. One of her brothers and two sisters moved to Spain eight years ago, leaving their children to their mother and sister Anita, to bring up. Between them, they left six children behind,including two babies. When her sister returned five years later, the babies didn´t recognise them or want to know them. Now, though, they have moved away, bought houses and are relatively well off.
     Anita´s brother, though, won´t come back. He refused to come back with his sisters, and refused still when his wife died in a car accident and left their two sons alone. He lives in Madrid with another name. His mother wants him to be thrown out of Spain so he is forced to come home and face his responsibilities. It must be so easy for him, so far away, with a new name like Miguel to help him to forget.
     Anita goes to university studying Plastic Arts. She wanted to move to Argentina to work but now has her own baby. Her mum told her to go, that she would look after her daughter, but she doesn't want to leave her. I imagine this is because she has lived it once, and she doesn't want her own child to forget her. She's not studying this year becuase she needs to work in the hostel, earning 50 euros a month. I hope she studies next year and becomes a Plastic Arts teacher. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

I am

I am not Irish, I'm not English,
I am not Catholic, but there are moments when I bless myself,
I am not Jewish, but my name is Miriam.

I'm not fat, I'm not thin,
I'm not tall, not short,
I'm not grey, yet.

I'm not a doctor, not a dentist,
I haven't studied emotional intelligence, but am emotionally intelligent,
I'm not a hairdresser, but cut my hair.

I'm not a writer, I just write,
I'm not political, I just vote,
I'm not a philosopher, but sometimes like to think we live in an old man's right knee.

I am not Irish, I'm not English,
I am not Catholic, but there are moments when I bless myself,
I am not Jewish, but my name is Miriam.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Crossing borders: to Bolivia

We went into an office for a stamp, walked up the road and went into another office for another stamp, got on a bus and drove away. All in under three minutes. I thought: if only it was this easy for anyone to cross a border. Wouldn't the world be a different place?
     We arrived in Copacabana, still beside the Lake Titicaca, still the same languages, (Spanish, Quechua, Aymara), people of the same appearance and dress, the same landscape, but - a different country. It made me think of the old days when those borders weren't there, when the Andean people were the Andean people, whether in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina.
     We brought in 2012 in Copacabana. Had a lovely dinner, wine, went to a bar that suddenly emptied. Decided to go to another and found everyone on the street getting ready for midnight. Fireworks are a huge thing around these parts and once again we saw the sky light up. Let's just say it was a great night that involved fireworks, beer, wine, cuba libres, caiphrinas, more beer, a badly cut finger and a crippling hangover: a fantastic new year.
     Day 2 of 2012 we were in La Paz and wondering around the Witches Market where you can find anything including llama foetus. A llama should have one baby but somethimes there are many foetus' so they pull out the dead ones until they get to the live one. The dried llama foetus are then for sale to be buried under your house as an offering to Pachamama for good luck. Afterwards we were nearly robbed at knifepoint but I saw the man, the scenario, the knife all beforehand and we miraculously escaped that one. Phew.
     In the Plaza de Murillo we watched the families and the children in the christmas mood. Every other child had a puppy, and the ones that didn't have a puppy were getting their photo taken with a puppy. I almost asked for a photo too but Oscar stopped me, saying, maybe I was a bit old for that? Maybe a teeny bit.
     Next: Coroico. The beginning of the tropics without the 12 hour journey to Rurrenabaque we unfortunately didn't have time for. Our first night we shared a table in a restaurant (common here if it's full) and we made friends with a lovely Swiss/Chilean/Bolivian lady who lives in Coroico, a Bolivian girl and American guy who live in Florida. The next day we went for breakfast at Doris' house (the most beautiful, peaceful, paradisiacal house I've seen) and went walking through the tropical mountains where we saw banana trees, avocado trees, coffee plantations and coca leaf plantations, ending in an animal refuge called La Senda Verde which has birds, parrots, turtles, caiman and monkies - all but the caiman are walking around freely in the large refuge. The only problem was we made a friend along the way - a dog - which got into the refuge. Suddenly all the animals started screaming and I spotted our friend. The owner started screaming at me to get him out of here now! And I said he's not our dog! and she screamed that she didn't care, that I brought him in here! Who knows how he didn't attack any of the animals - he had been pretty aggressive with all dogs and cars on the way - but we got him out. At the exit I asked the guys working there how he would have got in and they showed me the gap in the door. Well surely that's not a great idea for the door of an animal refuge...
     Oscar had a baby monkey on his shoulders which made me jealous and relieved at the same time. It came off safely.
     We headed on to Cochabamba and then to Sucre - both journeys with no toilet so I had to starve myself of liquids for several hours before and then take advantage of the driver taking a leak or checking the tyres to nip around the back of the bus and take a leak myself. Fun - not. One bus made a toilet stop at 2am in a village and everyone got off and walked down the road to a nook, cranny, tree, rock and I realised there was no actual toilet. I felt sorry for the village.
     Sucre is beautiful. More of that another day. 

Monday, 9 January 2012

Goodbye El Peru

The Uros Islands are a wonder. People living on little islands made of something like hay that is soft and spongey, and where, if you fall out with neighbours, you take out the anchor and float somewhere else. Six to seven families share an island and when young people marry they make a new one with others. There are over 60 islands and 2,000 Uros people. Amantani is further in the middle of the Lake Titicaca - it's the second highest populated place after Tibet. And it feels extreme. Surrounded by a (sea) lake, freezing temperatures, a scorching sun, barely any animals. And you see lots of women with their children but no men. Where are they? In the cities working. The people here are largely vegetarian due to the lack of access to meat. I have so much access to everything I need and want that it's a surprise to see people living without their husbands, fathers, meat, showers, hot water and who knows what else. Here we stayed with Basilia and her children. She was so untalkative and uninterested that I thought she was really rude, but with a little time I began to understand she has a whole other way of being. No questions, no conversation, very few words in general! She was actually really sweet, and danced with us when we went to this outrageously touristy dance thing dressed up (get a bucket). When we left she gave me kisses and I realised how different we can all be.
     On Amantani we walked up to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and followed the tradition of picking up four stones and walking around the ruins three times to the left. The stones represent health, love, work and wisdom, and you have to make a wish for each as you walk around, before leaving the stones at the door. It felt good thinking of my wishes and focusing on what I want. It focuses your energies and makes you think about what is really important, and what you really, really want.
     In Taquile, apparently, the men don't need to leave because this island thrives on tourism. Then you step on it and they charge you an entrance fee and a fortune for lunch and you can see why!
     On our last day in Peru we went to Sillustani where pre-Incan tombs in the shape of towers were made with huge stones and built on top of mountains. There are loads of them, dare I say hundreds, and they were once filled with VIP's remains, along with gold, silver and other artefacts, until the Spaniards came and looted it all. There are other phallic ruins (yes, stone penises) in Chocuito, but I'm sorry to say we missed them. Maybe Jesus' mother Mary went to see them because they say you just need to sit on one to get pregnant. :-)

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Huffing and puffing in Peru


Where were we? Oh yes, trying to leave Lima with all our belongings… Well, we finally got on the bus, only to stay on it all day due to a strike in a town we had to pass through. Strikers in Canete were against the development of a prison in their small town, which, they said, was to house all the criminals from Lima. I doubt I would be happy. So, they burnt things, including passing buses, threw stones at the windows (while the passengers were inside), and rocked them. Thankfully it was night and they had gone home by the time we were allowed through. That was a long day.
     The next day we went to las Islas Ballestas, known as the poor man’s Galapagos islands. We saw dolphins, penguins, sea lions, and thousands and thousands of birds. It was amazing, and being the poor man’s version, only cost 10 euros! That same day we moved on to Huacachina, an oasis in the middle of the desert, with sand dunes as far as the eye can see, and Julio, an 80 year old sand buggy driver who was full of life and had as much, if not more, fun as us by driving like a lunatic and flying us through the air.
     If you go to Peru, you must try the chocatejas: the typical chocolate, with pecan and dulce de leche….yum! And the best are in Ica, so when we passed through Ica, we undoubtedly stopped to buy some (as you do). And when we were there we discovered that Ica suffered a big earthquake in 2007, and all over the region, many towns are in rubble. In the main plaza there were empty spaces in every block. The line of arches suddenly stopped mid-arch. It was the first time I saw a place devastated by natural disaster and it was weird and very sad. The Cathedral was in ruins, and the people were gathered around the corner in a hall to celebrate mass. There is no money to restore and rebuild, apparently, so the ruins sit there untouched, being walked around every day.
     On our way to Arequipa we stopped at Nazca to see the famous lines. We didn’t fly, but spent the afternoon in town and got a bus out to the mirador where you climb up to see two of the images. You really do wonder, where on earth did they come from? Who made them? Why? And then you leave, with all of your questions unanswered.
     After a few days in the lovely white city of Arequipa we did a trek to the Colca Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world (tick). We saw condors of 3 metres sail through the air, although at that distance and height, they could have been red breast robins, haha. We climbed, descended, suffered altitude sickness, sucked on coca sweets, chewed on coca leaves, and huffed and puffed our way through pure nature, amazed that people actually live out there, isolated and surrounded by walls of mountains, leaving you only with a patch of sky. Children leave this region at ten years of age to go to secondary school, working by day and studying by night. I realised that these children must be some of the ones you see working on the streets, selling sweets, cleaning shoes, washing windscreens, or, maybe later, begging or stealing. We were told afterwards when we were in Cusco that the night education is sub-standard, and so, even though these children try to learn and develop further, it’s impossible for them to get out of the vicious poverty cycle.