Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Week Two - Food is Good. Cheap Food is Better

Fair warning - I´m a little bit drunk as I write this post. There was this whole thing with th nice waiter at the restaurant where I just ate where I couldn´t quite seem to express that I just wanted one glass of sangria, not a whole litre. But, um, a litre I got, and what sort of backpacker would I be if I let alcohol go to waste?

Things I Have Loved
The Miracle Healing Powers of the Hot Springs - I spent less than three hours lounging around what I suspect was less a natural hot spring and more an inground pool with really effective heating, and that ugly looking thing on my foot caused by the City 2 Surf has completely disappeared!

Those of you who didn´t see of hear about the ugly looking thing on my foot can completely ignore the proceeding paragraph.

Train Trip! - I have a leftover weakness for trains after my intern stint at Railway Digest. Shut up, it could be worst ¡ I could have a leftover weakness leftover from my intern stint at Violent Bondage Digest, for instance. No judgement on those of you into violent bondage, of course.

Anyhoo, as part of the most dramatic overland crossing ever (Bus from Pucon to Santiago, plane from Santiago to Arica, train from Arica to Tacna, bus from Tacna to Arequipa, bus from Arequipa to Cuzco), I got to catch a train across the Chile¡Peru border. And it was awesome. Firstly, it cost $2. Secondly, it wasn´t so much a train as a single carriage tram. There´s one line of tracks that runs through the desert landscape between the two countries, and this is the only vehicle allowed to run on it. Just too cool (yes, inside of me there´s a trainspotter just screaming to get out). Thirdly, everyone on the train was just so...jolly. Like something out of a Carry On movie.

The train has been rolling along at a stately, ooh, 40 kms an hour for about 45 minutes, when there´s a sudden bang and halt. Turns out the train had hit a sign post by the side of the tracks. This poses a series of questions. Namely, how does a train that travels the same track four times a day, six days a week suddenly hit a fixed signpost? Did someone move the signpost as part of an international edition of Candid Camera? Is it a secret signal from the Peruvians to the Cileans? Or vice versa?

Anyway, the signpost was moved so we could continue. For some reason, it was determined that we should take the signpost with us, so it was dragged into carriage, and positioned under a group of knitting nanas´ feet. Which makes me wonder if perhaps they moved the signpost as part of a complex attempt to gain a footrest?

Amazing, Cheap Food - Arica, in northern Chile, was a bit of a hole, to be fair. I think if I was a surfer, I´d feel differently, but, I´m, er, not a surfer, so I don´t feel differently.

I had a day there waiting for the awesome train, so went for a wander around the market. Somehow, I got roped into sitting down in a cafe in the middle of the food market. There was no menu, just a series of questions from the waitress, to which I answered ¨Si¨with as much enthusiasm as possible.

I ended up eating one of the best pieces of fish I´d ever had. And bear in mind, my pa was a fisherman, my nana an awesome cook, and my brother manages a seafood restaurant, so I´ve had GREAT fish before. Plus, it was proceeded by a gorgeous vegetable soup, and accompanied by a bread basket and vegies, salad and rice.

It cost $3.

I´m kind of turning away from my frustration at not being able to speak Spanish, and embracing the benefits of not speaking Spanish. Its the Big Brother principle - if you just sit there nodding and grinning and not saying anything vaguely interesting or controversial, then people cannot hate you. This is why stupid people always win Big Brother.

Thing I Have Not Loved
The Smell of Urine in this Internet Cafe - Seriously, even drunkeness cannot remove this stench.

Ruins and Other Archaeological Treasures - Oh, look, its something else old and in a state of disrepair! How interesting!

Not feeling much of Cuzco for this reason, but am feeling the baroque churches and religious art, and I am all about the bright and shiny, which is basically what baroque is. Shh, any art history theory majors who stumble upon this blog,

OK, that´s it until I return from my exciting trekking adventures to Maccu Pichu. For the world´s biggest collection of ruins. Oh, goody.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Interlude: Bingo & the Bus, or Peruvian Coach Travel

So I was going to be all playing hard to get-like, and only update once a week, but I just had to share this list.

Ways in Which the Peruvian Bus System is Extraordinary
1. They Play Bingo. And it gets rowdy. And a bit...ultra-competitive.
2. They Play Movies. This would not be extraordinary in itself, except they play English language movies dubbed into Spanish and then subtitled in English. Except when they play the subtitles for the director´s commentary rather than the actual movie dialogue...took me a good five minutes to catch on to that one, and School of Rock was suddenly a very different movie.
3. They Make You FeelGuilty For Being a Native English Speaker. By playing PS I Love You. You thought it was intolerable at the cinema or in the privacy of your own home? You try watching it with a bus full of Peruvians glaring at you like you´re responsible for the piece of sentimental, annoying crap.
4. They Have Toilets That Cannot Be Unlocked From the Inside. Perhaps not extraordinary, more...hysterical. Me, that is, once I was let out by the symapthetic hostess and laughed at by a group of 15 year old girls.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Week One: Chile

I know, I know, a blog. Yes, I am that self-obsessed, OK? Go through and count the number of times I use "I" or "me" in this post. Who said textual analysis couldn´t be quantitative?

I´m one week out of Sydney, and instead of curled up with my pretty, temperamental little girl (ie, my Powerbook)I´m sitting in an internet cafe/touring agency/coffee shop in Pucon in the Chilean Lakes District. Using a Windows machine (shudder). In the grand tradition of traveller´s establishments worldwide, they´re playing Bob Marley.

I purposely gave myself a bit of a gentle introduction to South America with Chile. Other than thinking myself unlikely to be murdered here, I hadn´t given it much thought. As such, its come as a bit of a surpise to have TOTALLY FALLEN IN LOVE with the place. There was a moment yesterday, half-way up a snow covered volcano, when I was seriously considering applying for a work permit and spending the rest of my life leading people towards lava, the outline of my singlasses permenantly burnt into my face.

Things I Have Loved
Climbing the Villarrica Volcano - Pure bliss. Yesterday, the volcano was covered in snow that looked almost like marzipan on a wedding cake, and the sky was the most blue blue I´ve ever seen. We didn´t get to the top (the wind, omg, the wind) but for the first time in my goal-and-objective-driven life, I really meant it when I said it was all about the journey.

I spent most of the climb looking at the heels of the guide´s boot (you have to step in their footsteps because the snow is so deep), but everytime I looked up, I´d be staring either at the awesome volano against the sky, or down at the Lakes District.

I, erm, kind of only came to the Lakes District because Lizzie tours the (English, obviously, Jane Austen heroines not being the kind to stuff their muslin frocks into a backpack and jump a ship to South America)Lakes District in P&P, and it turns out really well for her. I´m so glad I followed my stupid irrational desire. That view down over the blue lakes and the green forests and across to another, more active volcano was the most stunning thing I´ve ever seen. Like the top of a chocolate box, only real. And low-kilojoule.

My Volcano Guide, Viktor
- You haven´t lived until you´ve heard young-Chilean-mountain-climbing-hotness say, "Penelop´e". Or, "Penelop´e, you have an excellent level of fitness". Or, "Penelop´e, when you return to Chile, we will climb many mountains together".

Oh, Viktor, you complete me.

Chilean Men, Generally - The three days I was in Santiago, it would have sat between 10 and 15 degrees - very similar to a Sydney winter.

However, Chilean businessmen don´t let a little thing like a temperate climate stop them from showing off an OUTSTANDING winter wardobe. Leaving work, they all seem to slip a beautiful cashmere overcoat on top of their suit, and then swing a gorgeously complementary scarf around their necks. It´s like living in The Satorialist´s World.

Valaparaiso - This awesome, small city about 120 kms out of Santiago. I went there a day, and its the most perfect mix of Newcastle, Newtown and Havana that you could imagine.

Plus, I learnt an important travel lesson: never point to the dreadlocked hippy at the next table, and express through liberal use of hand gestures and, "Si, si, si" that you´ll have what she´s having. It will end... artichoke-juicily.

Cultural misunderstandings - Sitting on a park bench in Santiago, Lonely Planet open on my knee, a sweet security guard called Nick comes over to offer his assistance, and practise his English. We´re talking generally about where I´m from, where I´m going, and I tell him I plan to work in the UK.

NICK: Ah, London, you have very narrow streets and a lot of fuck there.
PEN: Excuse me???!!!
NICK: You know streets... not big.
PEN: Um, but about the fuck...
NICK: (points to the sky) You know, a lot of fuck. Like Jack the Ripper!
PEN: Oh, fog.

I like how I knew he meant fog by the Jack the Ripper reference, when fuck was probably more apt for a prostitute serial killer.

Things I Have Not Loved

Not Speaking Spanish - Obviously, my own stupid arrogant fault. I have come to rely on the kindness of middle-aged men, who first tell me I´m a naughtly girl for not learning Spanish before coming to South America, and then go out of their way (there have been some very interesting drawings, and fabulous charades work) to help me.

Chilean Hot Water Puzzles
- Funny thing about Chile... everywhere has hot water. They just want to make sure that you work really hard to get it. Like, in my Santiago hotel, I was convinced that I didn´t have hot water, and was ready to go and ball my jet-lagged eyes out to the recption desk. turns out you just have to wait three and a half minutes in this particular establishment for the hot water to heat up.

Arriving in my Pucon hotel after a 10 hour bus trip, I thought I was so smart, and settled in to wait out the hot water, 10 minutes later, there was still nothing.

Turns out in this place, the hot water tap is the one marked "C" for caliente, rather than cold. I´d actually thought of that, but still hadn´t beeen able to get anything really hot out of the showerhead.

Once again, reception had to come up and reveal the second part of the puzzle... to get water above lukewarm, you have to turn the tap as far as it will go. Which increases both the colume and temperature of the water. Of course. Why didn´t I think of that?

Having an Overfull Backpack
- No shopping for me. I already look like a pregnany Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle as I wander the bus stations and airports. There was this t-Shirt in Valpo that I SOOOOO wanted, but I cannot fit a single additional thing in my bag.

The t-shirt was fabulous... it was in the men´s department of an upmarket department store, and said, "Jhon, Paul, George & Ringo". I can´t figure out if its just a proof-reading error (so glad its not my proof-reading error), or a clever statement about fighting the ubiquity of western culture. Either way, loves it!