Saturday, January 27, 2007

A short visit to Australia

Hanging out in Sydney, visiting Will in Newcastle and being in the land of Oz for 'Australia Day'...

I FLEW with LAN from Santiago to Sydney. It was an unremarkable trip. I sat next to a Brazilian called Bruno, who was travelling to Brisbane to study English. The entertainment program was pretty limited. I played 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?' seven times but never got above 32,000, damnit! I also watched a film called
Little Miss Sunshine which is very good, really charming and funny.

My bags were thoroughly searched when I arrived at Sydney International as I was forced to declare a box of Malteasers. After a close inspection it was decided that these wouldn't devastate the ecosystem and I was able to proceed.

I've been staying in Sydney at the Harbour City Hostel, which is alright although I'm not keen on one of the fellows at reception. The hostel is full of Swedes and Dutch, some kind of company they fly with makes them stay there. Could be full worse nationalities I suppose.

My first day here I was jetlagged like disorientated badger. I realised that 2pm here was about 4am body clock time! But I still managed a walk around Sydney harbour and the Opera House, of course. It's essential. The Opera House looks a bit dirty close up. Still good stuff, though.

In fact those first two days I did lots of touristy stuff. I went to the Natural History Museum and up the Sydney Tower, which is a bit of a rip off and full of Korean younglings. The Natural History Museum had a great BBC Wildlife Photographer exhibition. It was cool.

I've taken it pretty easily on the going out front. Everything here is super expensive compared to South America and I don't want to blow the last of my money on clubs that I could virtually go to back home. We went out one night to a terrible place called 'The Gaff' which was apparently THE PLACE TO BE! on that particular evening. Rubbish. Between 9 and 10 there was free beer, which is pretty cool, but not quite that pleasant. If you want to witness man at his most base level forget concentration camps, terrorism, the butchering of baby seals, look for a bar giving away free beer for a limited amount of time. It's like the end of civilization, people clambering over each other for a drop of the precious golden elixir. God help us if it was actually something you needed, like medicine.

Anyway, on this evening while the free beer was (for the time being) flowing, they decided to have a game of strip musical chairs. Lower those eyebrows, for shame! The game consisted of about ten contestents; five guys, five girls. As you know, when the music stops the players find one of the chairs cruelly removed. When you lose though, you're not out, you just have to take off an item of clothing. The guys took to the game with relish. They all got naked pretty quickly. They didn't seem to care if they lost or not. In fact I think there was one naked guy not even in the game. The (sober) girls were a different story. One went down to a bra, but for the most part they just left when the lost a round. If I were single I's say that was dissapointing. Soon I was left staring at a bunch of naked DUDES. Great.

Sydney is hot and a little humid. It's a nice city, very modern and everyone speaks English, which is nice. I keep feeling like saying "hola" or "que tal?" whenever I meet someone. I'm sure I said, "gracias" the other day.

A few days ago I decided to go and meet Will, an Australian I met in Brazil fishing for piranhas. He lives in Newcastle just a couple of hours up the road. I hopped on a train and soon was having lunch with Will and some friends.

Will's family are lovely and they have a very nice, modern house. His 14-year old brother Tom is a typical Aussie lad into his rugby and surfing and such. On my first of two evenings there we had a quiet night, eating barbied salmon steaks, drank some De Bortoli wine we sold at Direct Wines and all watched some Australian Celebrity Poker before retiring to bed, which was a comfy double bed. Nice.

I was in Newcastle on Australia Day, a celebration of all things Aussie. Well, really just an excuse for a party in the sun. It was bizarre, everyone decked out in Australian colours, sports tops, flags, hats, temporary tattoos, some people even had stickers saying 'fair dinkum' and 'you little beaut'. I don't think I've ever felt like such a gringo! Also, Will was the only 'native' on the continent I knew so the afternoon was a bit difficult, but by the evening I was flying, (we'd started drinking beer at 1pm), talking to random folks on the streets, my veins pumping alcohol and enthusiasm around my body. We went to party we were evicted from on account that we didn't know anyone. Fair dinkum!

Some of Will's mates were so Australian think they were on the cusp of being a parody. It was very strange being surrounded by sooooo many Aussies. Too many if you ask me. I usually try and avoid them.

Walking back to Will's to change to get into a club we were accompanied by a very attractive girl. Let's call her Brenda. Brenda had previously gotten romantic with Will's brother (not Tom) and was now being pursued by Will! She thinks he doesn't know about her and his brother. He does. As I stumbled drunkenly on ahead carrying a big bottle full of specially mixed coke and vodka they kept hanging back, stealing intimate embraces in the shadows. Naughty!

By the time we got to the club we were drunk and tired. We stayed for a bit. I danced to some funky songs, then we grabbed a burger and headed back. It was good we got back early as we were up at 8.30am so we could drive to Sydney so Will and his dad could go to a stag party thing. That's a heavy weekend.

So I'm flying to Johannesburg tomorrow. I'd like to do some travelling here but it's a lot more expensive than so much of the rest of the world. You'd have to do some working as you go. Not my usual style. I'm looking forward to South Africa. It's been nearly five years since I've been there. And it's been nearly five months since I last saw Laura.

It's good to get reunited. And now here are some arty pictures of Sydney...

Friday, January 19, 2007


Ok, so this is the route I have taken through southern South America. Some of the lines are not completely accurate and are in fact the result of a faulty mouse drawing the lines in Paint. Still, gives a raw feeling to it all, which is fitting, don't you think?

The blue line to the left shows my flight to Sydney, although I doubt I'll include a map of Australia as I'll only be there a week.

But after that it's South Africa! You can bet I'm gonna be getting in on the map action for that one!

The journey to Santiago

The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round...

OK. THE simplest way is just to say it all. I left Arequipa at 5.15am on a bus bound for Tacna, on the Peru/Chile border. I got there about midday-ish, took a collectivo taxi through the border control with a Chilean naval oficer who had lived in Croyden (so bizarre) and spent the night in a depressing hostel in Arica, which is actually a pretty nice looking city. What followed the next day was a period of my life that I will never get back - a 32-hour bus journey.

We left around 11am one day and arrived in Santiago around 6pm the next day. Quite a journey. I slept about 4 hours during the whole time, owing to the crying baby in the seat next to me. Also it was hot. Really hot. The south of Peru and north of Chile is really just a desert, albeit a nitrate rich desert that the two countries and Bolivia fought over during the War of the Pacific (1879-1883).

Yes, it was a long trip, my personal best so far, although I know people who have made 40-45 hour bus rides so I shouldn't complain.

I finished Elmore Leonard's LaBrava, which was entertaining, and read THE WHOLE of Roddy Doyle's novel A Star Called Henry which is really very good and you should read it. I've never read a whole novel on a bus trip before. Afterwards I felt very special.

When you arrive after a journey like that you feel really weird, like you've been spred too thinly over some toast. Or something.

But, anyway, I'm now in Santiago, taking it easy at Hostel de Sammy, which is one of my favourite hostels I've stayed at. I've been to see the National Museum of Art but apart from that I really haven't done anything much at all in Santiago. It's not got a good reputation amongst travellers but I like the feel of the place. It's exotic, yet kind of European and familiar. The hostel is near some universities. It feels vibrant. And the other day I stood watching old men play chess in the main square. They finish games in ten minutes - no lie.

So I like this place despite not having seen much of it. But with all the trekking, tripping, bussing and fussing it's nice to really relax for a bit. Stay in the same place for a while. It's a good place. They have cereal for breakfast, a real treat.

And the weather here is great! Three days of sun and wrath. No rain! Fantastic. It's put me in a good mood. You can't help it, the sun does it to you. It's summer!

Charles, the interesting owner of Hostel de Sammy, taught me how to play Chilean pool. It's slightly more complicated than regular pool but I think I like it. You basically arrange all the balls around the table cushions and must pot them in order. You then are awarded the value of that ball. If you knock in a higher value ball after first hitting the current number, you get the value of that ball! But if you foul you lose the points of the ball were trying to hit or the ball you hit instead! Interesting, no? It really rewards people good at setting up or escaping from snookers. At the end you subtract your negative points from your positive ones to get a total, just like with the gold and silver tickets inside the crystal dome on The Crystal Maze! Except in Chilean pool you don't have to wear shell-suits to play. I will teach it to anyone interested when I return.

It's a nice crowd at Sammy. I'm mostly hanging with a crowd of Scandi's, Ozzies and English, for which I make no apology. We hang out A LOT in the hostel, playing pool, watching movies and drinking tea (which is free, hurray!)

I'm in a (nice) dorm with a Japanese guy called Rich. He can do karate, so I don't wanna get on the wrong side of him. He lives in Los Angeles and has sparred with Dolf Lugdren. Fantastic! He was offered $500 an hour to do some martial arts training for X-Men 3, but said he didn't do it because he didn't have the time. Fool! Below is a picture of me doing the Karate Kid 'crane' move on him. Take that!

Sadly the X-Box containing the movies is now broken, a tragic day for all but we get day at a time, y'know?

Another sad fact is that I've finally cracked after a run in with a rubbish book exchange and am now reading....Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code! Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Don't look like that! Don't! I've only just started and it seems fine. It's trashy, obviously. And prosaic. Lacks any kind of interesting character development. And at times it reads like an overly enthusiastic history homework assignment as if Dan is saying "look here, look how much I know about art and history and the geographical locations of Paris. I am clearly very clever."

But apart from that I'm sure it'll be great. Maybe even "brilliant!" as it says on the cover. By someone I've never heard of. And never will.

Yesterday I went to the Australian Embassy to get a visa. They gave me an Electronic Travel Authority thing, which is the same but no sticker in the passport - boo! Travelling is becoming less fun, soon there will be no stamps, no passports, just eys scans and DNA testing...if Blair gets his way!

So today is my last full day in South America. I fly to Sydney for a week's stay tommorrow night at 11.10pm. I'm looking forward to it. I love flying. I like the take-off when you suddenly acelerate to speed and the plane goes chrrrrrrrowwwwwWWWWW...and then you're in the air and it's time for one of my favourite things ever - in flight entertainment! Sometimes I don't want to leave when the plane lands. I should really try to get some sleep and not watch films all night.

Where was I? Yes, South America. It's nearly all over. Emotional. Lots of ups, a few downs, pretty much always interesting. Apart from 30-hour bus rides. They are less interesting. But the trip has been very nice. I've learnt a few things. What, I cannot say at the moment. Time and perspective is needed, to analyse, absorb and process these experiences. Yes, it's all about absorbtion.

So my next entry should be from Sydney. I've only a week as I can't afford to do a whole trip there and never planned on travelling there as part of this trip. Sfter that it's South Africa again, baby! I hope Mandela doesn't die before I get there else it'll be REALLY depressing.

Ok, so this is me signing off for Santiago, Chile and South America. I'm gonna miss the sights, sounds, smells, rain, steaks, colours, canyons, ruins, wines, smiles, buses, llamas, cold showers, language misunderstandings, good hostels, bad hostels...the whole thing. I'll be back hopefully.

One day...

Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

Trekking through canyons, eating guinea pig and spying on nuns...

IT'S BEEN a busy time doing touristy stuff in Arequipa (pronounced a-reh-kee-pa). The trip here was a comfy, uneventful overnight ride from Ica. Arequipa is a nice city, a change of pace a little from Cuzco. You certainly get hassled less. I was here to see a couple of city attractions and do a little excursioning, if in fact that is a word.

There's a big famous monastary that's 400 years old that was very nice and yielded some lovely colourful pictures. Different areas are painted their own individual colours and there are flowers and orange trees and it was really lovely and I can feel myself turning into a girl. Urghh! Er, football, war, bbqs, poker, cigars, Sparticus!...right that's better.

The Monastary is called Santa Catalina and is made from the rock type 'sillar', if indeed anyone cares about such a thing. I clearly don't, because I'm a ruddy man! For many years rich families in Spain paid doweries so their daughters could go and live there, in relative luxury with servants and such. Basically they lived it up in a fashion they were accustomed to, I think. Then a strict nun, like the old girl from Sister Act, came in and straighted things out.

The Monastary first opened up to the public in 1970 and the nuns there now live in a newer part of the complex. The whole site is huge, the siz e of a city block. It even has it's own street names and stuff. It was really interesting and I even spied a few nuns hanging out, looking kinds holy. I did enjoy the experience of walking around. Places like that have a really peaceful, relaxed feel to them, still a bit removed from the outside world. Check out the pictures below. I think they're pretty good.

After that I went to the Museum (whose name I momentarily forgot) which is all about Inca sacrifices. They put on a National Geograhic video, give you a tour showing artifacts like clothes, trinkets and even a mummy, frozen in a -20 degree chamber under low light. It's creepy but tastefully done.

The Inca's used to offer the purest children as sacrifices to appease the mountain Gods and maintain the blance of nature, thus insuring a good crop harvest. Which is rubbish, obviously, but they believed it. And after young children were chosen they made a journey from the Inca capital, Cuzco, to the highest mountains (about 6,500 metres high!) in order to carry out the sacrifice. It took months to get there. Imagine the dedication. Incredible.

Once there, they gave the children a seditive then bashed them over the head with some rock to kill them, which is, ironically, not very bashful. Then they buried the kids in graves with all the other gifts and trinkets. Because of avalanches and the temperature at this altitude (which is a bit nippy) the bodies were frozen and preserved for scientists/gravediggers to discover. Fascinating stuff. They even have the coat type cape thing of one of the mummies, Juanita, that was still covered in blood from where they struck the fatal blow. Scary.

Being sacrificed was kind of like an honour, as only the purest and most beautiful children were chosen. It was thought you would go straight up into the heavens and become a god of sorts yourself. If you believed such things, of course. Otherwise I imagine you'd be pretty scared.

It is though there are still many sacrificial burial sites out there waiting to be discovered/plundered.

So Monastaries and museums were visited in Arequipa and I felt very cultured. The other big thing in/around Arequipa was a three day trek in the Colca Canyon, which is this really big canyon. It's famous too. Our guide was a very interesting guide called Luis. We were also joined by a Dutchman, a Scotch girl, and a couple who were from Austria and Germany. I wish them luck, although alliances between those countries have not suceeded in the past.

Anyway, twas a good group. The main purpose of the trip was to see the small communities that live in the canyon, to see who their lives differ from those in the big cities, etc. The walk down into the canyn took three hours, then a further hour and a half walking to a village along some paths and across a stream, crossing a makeshift bridge built by the villagers. There was a man from the village to meet us with a mule to carry one person, which I thought was a nice touch.

So it took us 4-5 hours to get down into the canyon. I noticed that the family we stayed with had a really big fridge in their kitchen. You cannot access the canyon by car. I was confused. Apparently it took the family SIX DAYS to bring the fridge from the nearest big town, Cabanaconde. I think after I few days of carrying that thing i'd be like, "you know what guys, I don't mind if my beer gets warm, let's just leave it."

But they didn't leave it, and that evening we enjoyed lovely cold Coca-Cola! Good job!

There was a lot of walking on that trip. The company we went with, 'Land Adventures', promised that they 'go the extra mile'. The German guy said, "I fail to see how that is an advantage." Quite.

The next day we were up for a pancake breafast at 7am, then we walked to the local museum a lovely woman called Doris had set up. The museum showcased local culture and was really interesting, especially all the examples of natural medicines. It's crazy, they spread melted donkey fat on broken bones and for birth pain they wrap a LIVE snake around the woman's abdomen. Apparently it helps.

After the museum, (where Doris let us try cactus fruit which is nice but has lots of seeds in) we walked for a few more hours to a little oasis in the driest part of the canyon where we had a dip in a nice pool and ate Luis' spaghetti.

We then endured one of the hardest walks I've ever done - 1,200 metres up and out of the canyon. It only took two and a half hours or so but it very nearly killed me. It was steep! And it started raining at three o'clock, as it does every day in the canyon in the wet season. It was an arduous challenge, and I can't say I particularly enjoyed that bit. My legs at times felt like they just wouldn't go anymore! But I did it. I made it. We all made it. The Scotch girl a little behind everyone else.

The next morning we went to see some condors, which are famous for their role in Inca mythology. They are massive creatures and one of only three species of bird that can fly without flapping their wings, avian fans. However, they are also vultures, too slow to catch any prey or anything, so most of the time they sit around waiting for animals/tourists to die so they can eat them. In fact to keep the birds in the canyon, the villagers, still to this day, sacrifice a donkey every month for the condors. Poor donkey, but it's tradition so what can you do?

The rest of the trip passed without incident. Luis told us about a quasi-religious novel/spiritual history book he was going to write and we went for a swim in some local hot springs.

Back in Arequipa we all went our separate ways. I was staying in Bothy Hostel with Martin the Dutchman. He had an evening bus and I went out for dinner with three guys from New Zealand; Will, Andrew and Peter. We decided that we should try Guinea pig, which is a Peruvian delicacy. After making numerous jokes about what expression the guinea pig might have we were a little shocked to see that the animal was served pretty much intact, with it's head still attached and a full compliment of teeth, ears, eyes and whiskers. Yum!

We tucked in. It's nice, slightly sweet and the skin was reminiscent of fried chicken. Not a lot of meat on the bones, though. My guinea looked up at me with what I interpreted as an expression of bewilderment. I enjoyed it, but I don't think I'd go for another one.

We left the heads, but kids kept trying to sell us things (gum, chocolate, ciggarettes) so we managed to dispose of the heads by offering them to the working steet children. Friends, they looked at us as if we were mad, as if we were getting rid of the best part of the pig. We even tried bargaining a chocolate bar for the price of a guinea pig head. It was no deal, however.

Following dinner we had a drink in a nice bar where I met up with a nice American guy called Matt who I had seen in Loki in Cuzco a week previously. By chance I had passed him in the main square. His friend had had her camera stolen and was upset but these things happen and you just gotta deal with it I guess. I haven't had anything stolen so far (although I have lost my mobile phone) but I think it's just a matter of time before I get something nicked. I might pay someone to rob me, just to get it over with and thus embrace the law of averages on my own terms.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


A few hiccups over transport and I find myself in the cute (if slightly smelly) desert oasis of Huacachina.

ONE DAY on my own following my separation from Beat and already I have run into trouble. I caught the 6pm bus from Cuzco intending to get off in the town of Ica. But there was no stop in Ica and I didn't know where it was, and fatally didn't ask anyone. Well, I was tired. It was a long journey and I didn't sleep that much.

So I missed Ica and went straight onto Lima, an additional four hours on top of the 15 I was supposed to travel. Lima has a KFC and Pizza Hut, I noticed. But Lima was not where I wanted to be. So I hopped onto another bus and hurtled four hours back down south along the Pacific Ocean. And this time got out at the right time. An uneccessary extra EIGHT hours of travelling spent eventually getting to Ica. Nightmare.

But I had nothing elseto do, and besides, I was on Cruz Del Sur, the best bus company in Peru, and perhaps the world (they have their own private terminals!) Security is tight, too. They video you as you get on the bus. For security.

On my intended 15 hour trip (or actually 19 hours as we've nowestablished) we watched no less than five movies, which were curiously all English language films dubbed into Spanish and subtitled in English. Confusing. Among our celluloid treats were Robert Redford's enjoyable melodrama An Unfinished Life (which has a bear in it that mauls Morgan Freeman, but by the end of the movie he's ok with it), Al Pacino playing the lovable meat-seeking Jew Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice and Tom Cruise battling his (fictional) alien demons in War Of The Worlds.

And hey, it wasn't all bad missing my stop, I got to watch Cheaper By The Dozen. TWO!

So I arrived in Ica. But I didn't want to go there either! I caught a taxi the 6km to the little desert town of Huacachina (pronounced "whacka-cheena"). Here I've just been chilling out. Reading in a hammock or by the little lagoon. My room is/was a bit of a hole, with ants crawling up the wall and everything, but I just needed somewhere private and quiet to rest. Well, at least it was private.

You can go on dune buggies here and sand surf, which of course I have not done. But you can do it. If you want.

I have been doing to much travelling in the last few weeks. Too many cities. Stress. Needed to rest. So instead of engaging in adventure I have been reading about it. In particular I refere to Endurance, Sir Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated attempt to cross the whole continent of Antarctica in 1914. He would have been the first. That's why he wanted to do it, obviously.

Well, what happened was old Ernie's ship, The Endurance, got stuck in ice and drifted in said ice for months before enduring no more. It was crushed and finally sank. What's an explorer and crew to do in such a predicament? Well, they lived on the ice for ages. And ages. Then they sailed to different islands to try and survive in what you can imagine was not pleasant weather. They lived on seal meat, some kind of dough balls and instant tea and coffee. INSTANT! Needless to say, it was not a jolly holiday. In fact at one point they had to shoot their dogs and eat them which, come to think of it, is probably more horrible than having to drink instant coffee, actually. But no-one died! And it could have been worse. They could have been in the fields of the Somme in France, say. I'd personally rather live on the ice floe!

But seriously, they endured an awful lot. It was two full years before they were rescued. Two years! Thankfully now you can go on safer trips to Antarctica and they don't make you kill your own penguins and seals, which I think would put tourists off somewhat.

Anyway, Huacachina is nice. But they need to employ some people to clean up litter.It smells of nasty stuff at some points by the Lagoon, distracting me from Shackleton. Photos are needed to fully emphasise the place, but if you 'Google-image it' you might find some nice pictures. Just imagine me there.

I am now reading Nabokov's Lolita, which is actually a very good book, surprisingly funny and enjoyable, if it does drag over the second half somewhat.

It is now at times like this when I have said everything I meant to say that various important questions come to mind, such as what is my Swiss amigo Beat doing right now? Who will Argyle sign in the transfer window? And what are Tom Hanks best films? With this latter matter I believe there are two schools of thought. Some prefer his earlier light-hearted works such as Turner and Hooch, The Money Pit, Splash, etc. Others prefere altogether 'worthier' fare, such as the Springsteen soundtracked Philadelphia, Forrest Gump or Road to Perdition. In my opinion Mr Hank's best films are probably Big, a coming-of-age comedy, and Saving Private Ryan, an, if you will, coming-of-death drama.

And that is all I have to say about that, to quote Mr Gump. Tonight I'm bussing to Arequipa, 10-12 hours south of here.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Macchupicchu and The Sacred Valley

At long last Beat and I get around to visiting THE sight of South America. Along the way we see a few other bunches of rocks and get annoyed with a tour guide called Reuben.

GUIDES. I really hate them. Guided tours too. You feel like such an idiot and almost always realise you could have done things yourself. I feel this way because of one man; Reuben. We booked a two-day trip around some sights in the 'Sacred Valley' featuring many different Inca sites, and finishing with Macchupicchu.

Don't get me wrong, I do lot's of indie travelling too, but for ease we decided to take up a tour offer this time.

First of all the tour was an hour late kicking off, and Reuben kept rushing us around. "You can have 20 minutes at this market." Twenty minutes! Around a market that you could have killed an afternoon in. Estupido.

Just above Cuzco we drove past a site called Sacsayhuaman, which means 'satisfied falcon' in Quechua. But when pronounced it sounds fantastically like 'Sexy Woman'! Ironically, no women sexy or otherwise would have lived there as it was an Inca fortress housing up to 5,000 warriors. We didn't stop.

The trip was worth it, but in spite of the guide rather than because of him. We visited the Inca ruins at the sites of Pisac (left) and Ollantaytambo, both which were very cool, but it was too crowded going at tourist o'clock. It was just...argghhh. Stupid tours. Ten minutes later lots of tourists dissapear, you can get good pictures, but by then 'Reuban Group' has moved on. It's quite frustrating.

Pisac is known for it's many terraces which the Incas used for agriculture, keeping them in full supply of corn and other foodstuffs. There's also evidence of living quarters, temples, sanitation and a water supply. At one site there is a circular ampitheatre type land structure, where apparently on each level crops had their own micro-climate. Clever people. As we ascended the path a delicate-looking child in traditional clothes played haunting pan-pipe music of the Andes to earn some pocket money. He needed practise. Lots.

Ollantaytambo (right & below) was a fortress and spiritual centre for the Incas. It sits high above a market town and was one of the only places where the Incas won a battle against the Spanish, firing down arrows, stones and (maybe) potatoes to thwart the advancing cavalry. Would have been fun to watch. Apart from all the death.

But then the Spanairds came back with more men and this time won - boo, forcing the last Inca king Manco Inca to retreat to the jungle in Vilcabamba. The Spanairds tracked him down and killed him 8 years later. I've really got into the Inca history, especially the decline, which is the most interesting bit of any society. Just look at Hitler. When I get back I'm definately going to get a big book. A glossy one full of pictures. Of the Incas, not Hitler.

Reuben rushed us round the site slicing our way through hordes of tourists, telling us how heavy all the stones were. He was an expert on the weight of stones and the altitude. Everywhere we went, he knew if it was 2, 897m or 3, 356m above sea level or if a stone weighed 15 or 25 tonnes. Of course he could have been making it up, we wouldn't know.

But he didn't tell us enough of the context of the places. He didn't set the scene, put us in their place. I'm a man - I want to know about BATTLES and WAR. Rubbish Reuben.

Opposite the Ollantaytambo site is an Inca prison. I'd like to go to Inca prison.

We then hung around for a few hours and caught the train to Aguas Calientes, a town deep down in the mountains and a sort of base camp for excursions to Macchupicchu. I felt a bit like Michael Palin. Trains are definately more comfortable than buses. Less bus, less fuss. Good slogan.

Agauas Calientes is quite petite and probably wouldn't be there if it wasn't for the ruins above. We stayed the night in Inkatambo hotel - everything there is called 'Inka-something' - and the next day got up at 5am to get up to the ruins early. After a half-hour bus ride we were in the ruins by 6.30am after paying a fairly extortionate price of $38 to get in. Well it is Macchupicchu. And we were there! Great, except one problem - it was so misty you couldn't see anything. And it was raining. In fact it was the worst weather possible!

Things cleared but never enough for a good chance to get the classic Macchupicchu shot (right) overlooking the site with the towering Huayna Picchu in the background. Shame. Still, looks pretty cool.

We ditched our large tour group early on as the thought of following a grown woman waving a purple flag shouting "Ana Celia's group!" was just too much after Reuben the day before.

Finally we had what the Scottish wanted in 1147 - freedom. We wandered around in the rain exploring the nooks and crannies of the site on our own, although armed with a guide book. And if you want toknow more just hang around untill a tour group arrives and listen to the guide. It's a bunch of rocks of course, nothing happens. But probably it's the best bunch of rocks there is. The thing that makes the site so good is that it is so complete. Throw a roof on most of the houses and people could just move back in.

It is thought that the city was abandoned and never discovered by the Spanish. There is no mention of it in Inca history or Spanish journals. So it lay forgotten by everyone bar a few Quechuas untill an American called Hiram Bingham (his name is everywhere) found it in 1911, thinking it to be the site of Vilcabamba which I mentioned earlier. So just like Chris Colombus, a lost explorer got lucky and hit the jackpot.

A bit like Stonehenge, no-one really knows what Macchupicchu was all about. Spiritual centre? Royal retreat? A last ditch attempt to preserve the culture and hide from the Spanish? Some believe the site was abandoned before the Spanish arrived and others that it was a even pre-Inca society. So far no-one thinks it was an alien landing site. Yet.

But with the impressive stonework and layout of the site it must have been very important and would have looked really awesome in it's day. On both sides it has spectacular views down into the Urabamba valley. Along the edges of the site are many steeped terraces which were used for agriculture. Along with animals like sheep, llamas and alpacas, the people who lived here would have been virtually self-sufficient. Which begs the question; if they were never discovered by the Spanish, why did the people of Macchupichu abandon the city?
I suppose we'll never know. Macchupicchu has been called 'The Lost City of The Incas'. From the HUGE amounts of people that really begin to arrive from about 10am onwards, you can be absolutely certain it's been found. Soon the site gets quite crowded in most of the good viewing points and it's almost impossible to take a photo whithout another person in it.

So later in the morning Beat and I went for a walk along the steep narrow path to see the cliff-hugging Inca bridge (right), which you can no longer cross owing to the fact that it is too perilous, a fact supported by the fate of the last person who tried to walk across it. Which was death.

About midday we decided we had been in the 'lost' city long enough and headed down the mountain. I think 5 or 6 hours is enough to spend at any archeological site (unless you are an archeologist, in which case I recommend staying longer). People were heading back in and the day cleared to be bright and sunny in the afternoon, but we were halfway down the mountain and couldn't be bothered to go back to take one or two better photos.

In fact on the walk down we took some lovely photos of the Urubamba valley (left).

We visited the town's hot springs, which were exceedingly hot, and stayed the night in Aguas Calientes before heading back early this morning (5.45am!) to Cuzco via train (Palin again) and taxi.

I am now back at Loki and am wondering where to go. To Pisco, home of pisco? But I don't like pisco. Do I? Or I could go to Arequipa. I just don't know. I need to relax. Think. Maybe get a massage.

Anyway, Macchupicchu was good, I enjoyed it. People say it's a must but if you have zero interest in ruins and history it's an expensive trip up a hill. Beat was less impressed than I. He gave it "5 or 6 out of 10." I don't know how he arrived at thatrating but he's from the contintent so I don't always understand him.

Anyway, now I have to go as we bought a copy of Rocky VI (that's six) from the market and we need to watch it.

Rocky's out of retirement for one last fight. Probably against arthritis.

New Year's Eve in Cuzco

The New Year's festivities are spent in one of the tourist hotspot of South America...

PARTY HOSTELS are pretty hit-and-miss. 'Loki' is definately a party hostel and as such is full of a LOT of people that ordinarily I wouldn't rub shoulders with. It has a lot of folks that are a little too cool for school to be honest, and as such a lot of people aren't the friendliest. Reminds me of being in a pretentious club back home. Thankfully Loki is HUGE and well over 150 people were around for new year's eve, so lot's of nice people to chat to as well.

I spent most of the evening with an English brother and sister combo called Henry and Amber. I met them on the island hopping trip on Lake Titicaca. Nice people. Beat was preoccupied, having met up with a Peruvian woman that he had been 'communicating' with for several months over the internet. They are now very much in love and are going to marry and have loads of Inca children. Probably. She is called Maribel and lives in Lima. She flew all the way to Cuzco for new year, just to see him. Pretty desperate if you ask me. Still, true love, eh? It's marvilous.

The new year's eve party was held in the hostel. Full to the brim like brimful of asha, the party rocked untill about 11.30, when everyone dissapeared to the main city centre Plaza to celebrate the arrival of 2007. It was slightly confusing as there was no definable countdown. Instead, around 12-ish everyone just decided it was pretty much new year and started throwing fireworks at each other. It was madness, so dangerous. Explosions everywhere. Memories of 'Nam started flooding back, which was weird because I've never been. Not even on holiday. I blame the movies for these quasi-PTSD feelings. Damn you messers Stone and Ford Coppola!

After the 'celebrations' we headed back to the hostel where drinking and chatting was engaged in untill I felt it was my bedtime around half past three, having had my fun and feeling plum tuckered. I haven't actually been feeling too brillant recently. The stomach again. Still, 3.30 is a reasonable time to retire, right? I really need a holiday to get better. Recharge. Buses, hostels, excursions, different cultures, languages; these things are all very stressful. I need a break. I don't know where I'll go but it must be private and quiet.

And I'd like cable TV. Actually it's essential.

Speaking of entertainment, on the book front I recently read Leviathan by Paul Auster, whose imagination is so vast his main character is A WRITER CALLED PAUL AARON. Way to go Auster. Also I read Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel. It's a '28-year old coming of age' type thing. Very enjoyable. The main character is not called Benajamin, but Dwight. See, it's called FICTION Auster!

I now have a strange mixed bag of books to read; Lolita, The Best Detective Stories of Agatha Christie, and Endurance: The True Incredible Adventure (which is the story of Ernest Shackleton's heroic trip across Antarctica. I'm actually quite looking forward to it. In fact I may read it first!).

Hmmm, what about something cultural...let's see, Cuzco was the capital of the Inca empire, which stretched, well, all over the shop. Now it's a party/tourist city where everyone is trying to sell you something; "Bus tickets?...Machupicchu Tour?...Marijuana?..." Everything is for sale. EVERYTHING.

Cuzco (right) has some nice Inca walls and restaurants and stuff. It's a South American tourist hotspot and prices reflect that. The competition between bars is so fierce that it's happy hour almost every hour. Some places offer 3 or even 4 drinks for the price of one to get you in. Incredible.

It's a strange city. I don't know if I like it. Sometimes I just want people to leave me alone and not try to sell me a tour or massage or anything. It's annoying.

Anyway, that's the end of this entry. Bye.