Archive for October 9th, 2008

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October 9

October 9, 2008

And for something completely different, an aeroplane. I feel like I’ve spent the last few weeks constantly in the air, but at least this plane was one of the nice, new type that serve you breakfast and have mini TV screens where you can choose some mind numbing entertainment. Not like those stingy American Airlines types. I heart LAN.

Our early flight got us in to Santiago at the nice early time of eleven thirty this morning, when we collected our luggage and studiously ignored the taxi men, finding instead a bus (!) into town, where our prospective hostel had guided us. We found ourselves being followed by a couple of Melbournites, who we slowed down to acquaint ourselves with as we walked on. Once getting to our intended destination we found it was impossibly large and full of, well, backpackers. Luckily, on our way we’d been very subtly touted by a guy who worked in a hostel just around the corner, the Luz Azul (“Blue Light”), whose name brought back memories of early highschool. So we tried there instead.

The Luz Azul was the answer to our prayers. A funky little place with a full kitchen, two sitting areas, dining room, rooftop terrace, natural wood staircase … need I go on? We wangled a small discount on beds and ended up in a ten-bed dorm, all by ourselves for the time being. The rest of the day was shamefully slack. We did a lot of sitting. We walked in to town in search of a bank, only to arrive at five past two and find they all shut at two, which is just a little early to be convenient, if you ask me. We then bought groceries and I cooked ridiculous quantities of pumpkin risotto for dinner, which, after we’d eaten our fill, we packed in to a container for tomorrow’s dinner, then offered the rest around the hostel to anyone who was hungry.

Santiago is so much like home it’s not funny. Well, a bit larger than Perth, but the buildings, the pedestrian malls, the undercover arcades, the fashion-clique teenagers – all very familiar. The weather at the moment in grey and a little chilly, though we had some sunshine this afternoon that drove me to wish I’d worn a short sleeve shirt. We currently have very little in the way of a plan in Chile, which is a very relaxing change, and is helping us both get into a very coasty vibe. Hopefully we will actually make it to Ushuaia by mid November!

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October 8

October 9, 2008

Having cunningly decided not to get a cash advance yesterday in case the AUD recovered a little today, we woke to discover firstly that the dollar had been smashed again in overnight trading, and was at $US0.66 or so, and secondly that all the banks in Peru were closed (on Wednesday!) because of some sort of national holiday, or feriado. Typical of our luck lately.

So now, once again, we have barely enough cash to get us to our next possible point of cash-obtainment, in Santiago de Chile. These realisations, which occurred just as we first left our hotel in the morning, stringently curtailed the scope of the day’s activities. What fun! I dearly, dearly hope that this’ll all be sorted out before we leave Santiago – that looks possible. But we’re still going to get screwed on the exchange rate for the rest of the trip thanks to our (Did I say our? I meant my …) previous mistakes.

We stayed in in the morning and watched Hancock on the telly, which was OK if more than slightly contrived, and then bought a cheap-ass menu on Avenida Arica (a main road to the south of our hostel, away from the city centre), which turned out to be great value, consisting of two plates of sauced potatoes followed by Milanese chicken and stir-fried chicken respectively.

We thought to visit the Central Bank Museum in town (in lieu of not being able to access a real bank), but it was also closed for the holiday, its massive, beautiful metal doors extinguishing that small hope of a tourist tick. Mildly dismayed, we strolled back to Lima’s Plaza de Armas, and sat looking across the fountain to the Cathedral and Archbiscopal Palace. Here we conversed, profoundly, on the one hand about the stupidity, and silly artefacts of design, of international finance markets, which are run by people too dumb even to admit that they don’t really know what they’re doing, as far as I can tell, and on the other hand about how hard it must be to self-identify as a “writer” or “artist” given the egotism, or high self-evaluation, implicit in the terms.

Back once more at the hotel via a pitstop at an icecream bar which Max had vowed not to miss on our second stint in Lima, I got on the internet and applied for a few interesting-sounding jobs in Perth for when we return at the end of the year. There seem to be an encouraging number of openings for people with my vital statistics, so I’m hopeful all will go well – and I also have a fallback that might not be too bad either. It’s hard to tell much about a job from the sort of vagaries (and incorrect re-transcriptions of selection criteria) typical of IT recruiters, who truly are the spawn of the Devil.

Then it was to snack lightly, blog, plan for Chile and pack until bed. We have to get out the door of the hotel at about four o’clock tomorrow morning.

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October 7

October 9, 2008

We had that strange experience again today of returning to a city we’ve already visited, and knowing the ways between the things we need. The familiarity serves to remind me of our lack of stability and the inate need to call something home.

Nothing much happened today. Our 7am flight from Cusco this morning was late, which was rather expected as Cusco airport is notorious for late and cancelled flights. It was ten o’clock when we took off, and a little after eleven when we arrived in Lima, the intervening period being typical of short flights and not very printworthy.

Everything went the way it ought to when we got in,and we saved ourselves twenty five soles by walking outside before committing to a taxi. We’re back at Hostal Iquique, in a slightly better room this time, and after we’d settled in we went for a walk up to centro. The afternoon was spent browsing in shops and checking if there was a film we were interested in, which there was not. Lunch was composed of pastry based snacks and a coffee in a little bakery on Arica, and dinner of a bottle of white wine in front of the telly on the hostel roof. We filled the in between with both getting our job applications in order, me for outposting my current job and Tom on re-writing his resume.

That is all, really.

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October 6

October 9, 2008

“Let the healing begin.”

For the first time in one hundred or so hours I acquired no new mosquito bites, and I was able to sleep, after three unpleasant nights previous, without waking to the sensation of my legs burning with foreign toxicity. I can say without reservation that Peruvian bugs are the worst I’ve experienced. I’d rather have a leech stuck in my armpit for days (thanks Nepal!) than endure them again without long pants or insect repellent.

Over a slice of cake today Max remarked that she’d henceforth regard the attentions of Australian mosquitos with fondness. “At least they bite you a dignified number of times, they don’t leave these little bleeding dots on your skin, the bites ease off after a couple of hours, and they don’t hunt in clouds!”

But we had the world-class wonder of the Machu Picchu site to compensate. Despite the hassles with the tour and the bugs, yesterday was a terrific day, and I could say nothing to falt the view down to the Andean valleys from Waynapicchu.

On the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo, as we felt the effects of our 4:30AM start, vows were made not to set any alarms for this morning. I still woke, like a machine, at half past six, conditioned by several consecutive days of early rising. But today only walked, still machine-like, to the window, where I drew the heavy curtains to cut out more of the daylight. Then I resolutely re-mounted the bed.

Max stayed in bed hours longer diarising and “housing”. By nine o’clock I’d showered and collected myself, and I went out for breakfast alone, struggling out through the layers of security doors at hostel the entrance. The people here, at Hospedaje Familiar Intikahuarina, are wonderfully nice, and the main gate-keeper giggles charmingly every time either of us talks to her.

Travelling up the main road adjacent to the hotel, past a busy local market filled with junky electronic gadgets, hanging carcasses and puffy jackets, I found a little cafe that served sandwiches and massive glasses of coffee, and sat contently for forty minutes reading the opening of Sandor Marai’s Embers. Max had already read it and informed me of its insufferable pretentiousness, and the first fifty pages did nothing to dissuade me. If the protagonist is going to break into a five page monologue elucidating his cod philosophy of life, the reader shouldn’t be left, afterward, feeling as if they’ve consumed a bowl of custard with an indefinably wrong flavour.

(Later in the day I finished the book and decided I didn’t mind it. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone though.)

I brought a juice and a sandwich back to Max – still enthroned in bed – and we reordered the frightful mess of our trekking things and the haphazard collection of superfluities we’d left in the hostel deposito. I dowsed for wifi at the window and was rewarded with an open network from which to steal bandwidth, prompting half an hour or so of web-surfing.

After all of these banalities, you’ll be relieved to hear that at midday we decided it was time to do something interesting with our one day in Cuzco. Just down from the hotel was the dual-heritaged site of Qorikancha, a huge Incan construction dating from when Cuzco was the Incas’ capital immediately prior to Spanish conquest, and Iglesia de Santo Domingo, the Catholic church dedicated to St Dominic that was built atop it post-conquest.

As we approached on Calle Awaqtepa, the hand-hewn granite blocks of the Incas began to loom on one side of the road, so perfectly carved from solid rock that no mortar is visible, nor joints, and of epic size, each one perhaps the size of fifty to one hundred conventional Australian housing bricks.

After passing inside, the Spanish colonial architecture of the church, and its attached convent, were mingled with the preserved structures of Qorikancha, low-lying granite buildings once roofed with thatch, now standing baldly amongst murals depicting the life of Dominic, and Moorish arches.

The majority of Santo Domingo exists now as a museum, although the Catholic church there still functions. Within the museum, we saw examples of the “Cuzco school” of paintings far superior to what we’ve seen elsewhere, for example in Arequipa. These were paintings of popular Catholic subjects made by the graduates of a large oil painting community in Cuzco, mostly made up of mestizo painters with a close connection to the indigenous population. As a consequence, though the themes are European, the symbology, and the garnish, have a strong influence from the local peoples – the Collas, and later the Incas (whose religious beliefs shared many common elements anyway).

Rather than continuing to hand-wave vaguely about this syncretism, here is a striking example – a painting of Mary being crowned as Queen of Heaven by the Holy Trinity. In the painting, Mary is the central figure, and above her are painted side by side three figures with the aspect of Jesus – young to middle-aged man, brown beard, long brown hair, beatific expression. Each holds a different implement to indicate his role in the Trinity – leftmost Jesus holds a jewelled orb, and is the Father; central Jesus is crowning Mary, and represents the Holy Ghost; and rightmost Jesus holds a sceptre, and is the Son. In this schema, the Father is Mary’s father, the Holy Ghost her lover, and Jesus her son, and yet they are one and the same.

Beneath this disturbing scene of Jesus-clones in an incestuous triangle with Mary, a host of cherubs wielding local instruments – pan-pipes and guitars – sings in chorus with an illuminated inscription “Come, You Will Be Crowned” in Latin. Wish I could’ve photographed it for you, but that was against the rules.

Another interesting Cuzco-and-Catholicism factoid: when a strong earthquake struck the region in 1650 but the city’s main cathedral withstood the tremour, local clergy attributed the miracle to the statue of Christ within. This statue became “Our Lord of the Earthquakes”, a local name for Jesus. Each year, this effigy of Christ continues to parade the streets of Cuzco on the anniversary of the quake, protecting the city from geological disaster.

There were many other interesting exhibits in the museum. One was a display of fine furniture woodwork by the church-led Don Bosco collective of artisans, including an awesome bed with secret slide-out bookshelves in the bed-head. Another was a pair of modern oil paintings by a local artist, one depicting Incan astronomy, which is guided by the study of absences of light (dark patches rather than constellations) in the Milky Way, perceived as having the totemic shapes of llama, fox, warrior, snake, and the like; the other showing the system of “seqs” in the local region, holy sites for each day of the Incan calendar, at each of which an offering would be made on the allotted day.

Sneaking out into the active church proper, we found interesting oval portraits of the archangels based on photographs of small Peruvian children. Raphael was a small boy holding a just-caught fish almost as large as himself, smiling cheerily.

By the time we departed Santo Domingo, it had begun to rain. We walked downtown towards the Plaza de Armas – the central square – and stopped at a cafe, where I had a chicken saltena, and Max a delicious bowl of adobo (named after the pot), a thick curry-like pork stew. In this precinct the roads and public spaces were beautifully cobbled, and the whole area wonderfully well preserved. We crossed the square as the rain stopped, and began to climb up the hill towards a connected area called San Blas.

On the hillside, we found a pedestrian alley called “Siete Diablitos” with reliefs of angels and devils carved into its walls, and a small park with a view across town to the words “Vive El Peru Glorioso” burned, fifty foot high, into the opposite hill.

This wasn’t the only slogan about, however. In this part of town there was a lot of political graffiti railing against privatisation and soul-destroying jobs, and urging solidarity with the workers’ strikes that are a regular occurrence here (tomorrow a strike in support of doctors and nurses across the south of Peru is expected to mostly immobilise the transport sector). We also saw one saying “TOURIST = TERRORIST”, hardly surprising given the contrast between the well-preserved touristic regions of Cuzco and its unnappealing outer orbits.

Coming back down the hill, we stopped at a hiking shop to buy ourselves some much-needed new long pants, and then at an internet place to check-in early for tomorrow’s flight (and check that, given the impending strike, it still existed). At this point, mild ongoing exhaustion got the better of us, and we decided to get back to the hospedaje.

Later in the evening, after a little relaxation and before we reorganised ourselves for a six o’clock morning departure, we walked around the corner and had coffee and cakes for dinner at a little bakery, and stocked up on a couple of pastries for tomorrow’s breakfast, which will be at the domestic airport.