Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Peru thoughts

Arrived safely in Lima after a long, long flight: Melbourne – Sydney – Santiago – Lima. There was a seven hour stop-over in Santiago so bought a one day’s subscription to an ‘executive’ lounge and crashed in comfort.

Lima was a surprise; seemingly endless fast food chains lined the road from the airport to town. All the usual chains plus a local one called NORKY’S. Presumable only sells breast meat. The other surprise was the large number of casinos. Who goes there? The city itself appeared a little grubby but there were large numbers of cleaners working the streets, cleaning buildings, even polishing lamp-posts. Part of it’s problem is that it doesn’t rain in Lima. Quite odd.

After a couple of nights in Lima, headed to Puerto Maldonaldo, in the Amazon jungle. A bus, a boat, a walk and another boat got us to a lodge on an ‘ox-bow’ lake. Did all the normal jungle things: watched monkeys, macaws, kingfishers, caymen (alligator-ish), strange bird called the ‘stinky bird’ which had a permanently surprised expression, went for walks in the forests where we saw various jungle nasties, tasted trees, dodged trails of leaf-cutter ants, you know, all the normal stuff in the jungle. And all done in a faint haze of insect repellant.

A little more on the tree tasting: The good end of the scale were the brazil nuts (ok, we were in Peru but they were called brazil nuts.), the bad end was the Quinoa (?) tree that is the source of quinine and an all round unpleasant taste. In between these two extremes was a tree of no particular merit other than it had a termite nest high on the trunk. Connecting this nest to the ground was a mud tunnel of two way termite traffic. Our guide pointed out that there was nothing in the jungle that was safe to eat except these termites and broke open the mud tunnel. “What anyone like to try them?” Quick as a flash, Margaret was over there licking the tree! I was the only other person to try one but I used a more cautious approach and used a wet finger to lift a termite off the tree. It tasted like nothing in particular, perhaps a little surprised if anything.

On the LAN flights within Peru our seat cushion was deemed to be our life vest.: “Use bottom cushion for flotation” was the instruction on the back of the seat in front of me. They may have well have advise me to put my head between my knees and kiss my bottom good-bye, cushion or no. The Andes are no place for flotation vests anyway.

Mind you the flights into Cusco were a little lumpy. There are no afternoon flights because of the unpredictable winds; if the morning flights are anything to go by, that is a wise move.

Cusco is tourist central for Peru. Which means it is a hive of local activity with people on the streets wanting to sell all sorts of things from chewing gum to paintings to hats to massages. There are also quite impressive Inca ruins in the area, despite the best efforts of the Spanish. Actually it is quite surreal at times; Cusco today was built on Cusco then, so many buildings have Inca walls as their ground floor walls.

The altitude here is about 3400m (abt 10,000ft; that makes it 3000ft higher than Australia) so altitude sickness is a real issue. Most of us felt headachy on the first day. A local drink, coca tea, is supposed to easy the symptoms. Not entirely convinced but the devilment of drinking something made from coca leaves outweighs the doubts about yet another herbal wonder tea.

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