Friday, 4 December 2009

Going Out With A Bang


Back in Cusco, Goof hit the roof when we got our bags from the luggage store room at the hostel and found someone had half-inched $40 from a side pocket. This despite myself and Speckled repeatedly telling him not to leave anything valuable in his rucksack. Youngsters have to make their own mistakes, though. So he's having a go at the night porter, and arguing the toss with the owner, while we unpacked and got settled in our old room. A disgruntled Garfield informed us that there was no way he was staying in a den of thieves, and was going to find another hostel. Speckled and myself wanted to stay put, rather than traipse around Cusco looking for somewhere else. He decided to stay put for the time being.

This obviously soured relations with the family running the place, but with no proof as to who took the cash, Garf was on a hiding to nothing. So out we went for my leaving do. Several pints were downed with Rich, the Welsh fella we'd met in Mancora. Chris, the manager of the Hawley Arms in Camden, joined us for a few. He pulled out the bottle of rum which was to lead to allsorts of trouble.

Rich is a psychiatric nurse, and decided to psychoanalyse Garfield, who'd become much the worse for wear. The two of them got into a heated debate, Garf's mild arguing and protestations of not being a violent man degenerating into threats to "take apart" and "bust up" Richard. Speckled, being the mild-mannered type, was content to observe and giggle. After I'd chipped into their argument, and had a few of my own with Garfield (these ranged from the Vietnam War to historical incidents in our own relationship), Richard decided he would analyse the lot of us. He started by saying I am a narcissist. I didn't deny it, and just laughed affirmatively, but saying I wasn't an extreme case. Garfield disagreed, as he did when Richard described him as just needing to be loved, and needing me to do the driving in the group. This opened up a whole can of worms I'm not going to spill on here, but suffice to see me and my best mate took our Old Married Couple routine to a whole new level (Think Den & Angie on a comedown from a particularly heavy crystal meth session. Goof'd have to be Angie, obviously...they have the same haircut. And I'd be Den because he was a right cunt, and so am I.) So unpleasant things were said, dirty washing was washed publicly, and off we went to the next bar.

Somehow we lost Garfield, and myself and Speckled started playing pool with some Peruvians who constantly changed the "local rules" whenever we started gaining the upper hand, as we did most games. On spotting a leathered-looking Garfield outside in the square, we debated going out and getting him; only to decide it was better to let him sleep it off, and avoid him and myself coming to blows.

A few beers later, I remember coming to on a sofa in a club. A Peruvian girl was kissing me, and a grinning Speckled was sprawled all over the opposite sofa with her friend sprawled all over him. I was puzzled as to how we'd got there, but didn't argue when the girls wanted to leave for a hotel. My enthusiasm evaporated when we got outside to find bright daylight awaiting us. A check of my watch revealed an hour before I had to check-in at the airport. I shook hands with Jim, and watched as he sped off in a taxi with the girls, then shook my head and headed back to the room. This was where the fun really began.

I'd wisely packed before I left for the evening, and took the opportunity of a quick nap. Woke up still pissed at 5.45am, cold showered and brushed my teeth. Still absolutely, staggeringly pissed. Shouldered the bag, and headed for the front door of the hostel. Locked. A woman turned up, and I indicated I had to leave. "You pay." I tried to explain that I had no cash, and my friends would cover it, as they were still staying here. "No, you pay." I cursed, and went to awaken Garfield. He had no change of a big note. I explained, in Spanish, that Speckled had said he'd cover it for me...and that I was going to miss my plane. This resulted in folded arms from her, as I looked exasperatedly at Garfield, stood blinking and just as pissed in a pair of baggy white Y-fronts. This wasn't looking good. Time for Drastic Measures. I walked out into the reception area, right up to the front door...and booted it. Several times. Then, again in Spanish, shouted for help and the police (who probably would have arrested me). A frustrated scream added to the Madman Effect, and the woman hurriedly unlocked the front door, eager to get me out. I smiled and bowed graciously as I eased past her with a sarcastic "Gracias...? Now then, that wasn't so hard, was it?" Understandably, she glared at me as if she wanted to kill me. I know I'd have wanted to kill me.

A taxi ride through the quiet streets later, I was trying my best to act sober enough to board...then shutting my eyes in a state of relief as the plane taxied down the runway, bound once again for Lima.

A Grand Finale

You're not likely to ever visit a place more touristy than Machu Picchu Pueblo. If it wasn't for the proximity of the famous Inca pile of stones up the road, it obviously wouldn't exist. Consisting of guesthouses and restaurants whose prices would have you checking the eatery next door if in London, it's a shameless tourist-milking spot. We'd arrived here fairly early in the morning, taking the train from Cusco. It was a fairly pleasant, sedate trip over the hills; the train scales these by a series of switchbacks, so effectively zig-zags up the hill and down the other side. Quite an engineering feat for this country.

Having exhausted the entertainment possibilities of this dump way before 8pm, we decided to get our heads down for an early start in the bus queue the following morning. Arising at 4.30am, it was a good job we had: there were at least 100 people queuing in front of us as it was, and there were another 200+ behind us when the first buses arrived.

It's a quick 20 minute ride up to the summit, and we passed through the gates in the first 100...thereby gaining access to Wayna Picchu at the far end of the plateau and it's higher viewpoint. There's only a limited amount of visitors allowed to scale this jagged piece of rock each day, and it's worth the early start.

We crossed a narrow ridge and began our arduous climb upwards. How the fuck these little bastards lugged all these pieces of stone up here and built a civilisation is beyond me. Breathing hard, my heart almost jumping out of my chest, I fought my way up the steep route. At times it's almost vertical. My pulse throbbed in my temples, and I was soaked in sweat as I approached the top, making a mental note to get back down the gym on my return to Blighty.

The sight from the top is worth the strain; there's a piece of rock you can climb onto which affords you a full 360° view of the valley, surrounded on all sides by huge jagged peaks. No wonder the Spaniards never found this place...the location is stunning. I think the ruins themselves are a bit of an anti-climax, it's just the setting and the sheer logistics of building this city which impresses.

After the physical trial of Colca, and scaling Waynu Picchu, my knees were burning. Any more of this, and I'd be coming home to a Zimmer frame. But it was pleasing to have a sight so impressive as my last on the trip.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Taxi Drivers

They're not my favourite people back in London. Especially black cab drivers; bunch of wankers, if ever there was one. I rejoice every time I hear a tale of someone throwing up in the back of one. In fact, I may sponsor bulimics to get off public transport and use Hackney Carriages more. Just a thought. A sick one, perhaps.

Deciding not use a bus to get back to Lima and my Rio De Janeiro flight, for fear of missing the bloody thing, I hailed a cab to take me to the airport to buy a ticket with the Peruvian version of Ryan Air. An amiable chap I later discovered to be 75 years old picked me up in a battered piece of shit a scrapyard dealer in Bermondsey would knock back with a disbelieving shake of the head. He laughed as the seatbelt came off in my hand, and off we went in a screech of tormented rubber and accompanying blue smoke. We got chatting; I judge my developing Spanish by how good a chat I can have with a Peruvian cabbie. The usual topics were covered, family, football and places you've been. He told me a little about Cusco and his children. As we sat idling at a set of lights, a creature Mother Nature spent longer than usual crafting sauntered across the road. I grinned, he drew breath sharply. As we set off again, he commented on the size of the girl's breasts. I casually mentioned I prefer the long legs and shapely rear. He smiled knowingly and asked me if I "liked it in the arse"? I took this moment to make a mental note of my surroundings and driver's description in case I was being taken to the kind of back-street bar I'd usually care to avoid. I casually told him I wasn't fussed either way. He roared with laughter and told me, as incredulously as if I'd said I'd never heard of Machu Picchu "But this is the best thing about Peru...the girls are the best in the world, because they love to get fucked in the arse!"

I know a Welshman in Southwest London who'll likely be on the next plane out of Heathrow.

Cusco And Around

We pulled out of dusty Cabanaconde on a bus headed for Arequipa. The nearby Valley Of The Volcanoes would have to wait for another trip. Besides, I'd seen volcanoes all over the Philippines and Indonesia...and once you've seen one, right? The next one would have to be erupting near me to generate a modicum of excitement.

I'd like to have seen more of this region, it is truly stunning. Having arrived at night, it was good to see just how we'd got up here, the bus following the ridges of the valley, at times hair-raisingly close to the edge and the void below.

The bus wasn't as packed as it was on the journey up. We'd obviously been on the last bus from Arequipa via Chivay on the outward trip...as a quick toilet break had us returning to a bus crammed full of locals. Myself and Garfield had had the foresight to leav
e a sweater and books on our seats. Anyone who hadn't now had a ripe-smelling peasant occupying their seat. The smell really was something awful. Simple country folk, maybe...but they have running water, there's no excuse. Happily, this time we had the windows open, and only the odd local to perfume the otherwise fresh air coursing through the bus.

Arriving back in Arequipa, I really was in need of a falafel wrap from Fez. If you visit this gorgeous town, you've got to go there. Muy delicioso, as Speckled would not say. The boys were unsure of whether to accompany me to Cusco; they were all for slowing down a little, and I couldn't blame them. I was on a headlon
g drive for Machu Picchu, and in their position I'd have let me get on with it. But they decided that they didn't want to wait for the weekend to see if Arequipa's nightlife would improve (it wouldn't) so they took a punt and bought a bus ticket with me.

The journey was uneventful, and as morning neared we sensed we were near our destination. Pulling into Cusco's outskirts, the place looked a shithole, to be quite frank. A taxi rip-off took us to the picturesque main square, though. My inquiry to the taxi driver, and mention of the fact it was cheaper in Lima, was met with a nonchalant pointing out that were weren't in Lima. Fair do's, you robbing bastard. Served us right for not asking the price, but we were pretty tired, and not on the ball.

We had a quick wander about, and found a nice little hostel 50 yards up from the main square. We were on the ground floor, our windows looking out onto the narrow cobbled street. The glass was one-way, and reflective on the street side. So it was quite disconcerting that every person who passed appeared to be peering in...in reality looking at themselves. Some even stood and messed with their hair, which was quite amusing if you were stood by the window in your undercrackers. I got on quite well with the family running it, which made the events leading up to my departure all the more bizarre.

It's a beautiful town around its centre, the tiny winding streets leading up into the surrounding hills. Small bars, shops and cafes peppering these thoroughfares. A little touristy, the prices reflect this; it's probably the most expensive place to visit in Peru. I gave up looking for somewhere authentic to eat, and regularly ate at Barney's...a lovely Western place with the best Tuna Melt Salads I've ever tasted. Another place I forget the name of did possibly the worst Indian curry I've ever had the misfortune to guzzle. But as Garfield was fond of saying whilst eating food he wasn't impressed with (almost every meal, actually) "I've paid for it...so I'll eat it."

Cusco is notably for its handicrafts and alpaca wool. It was here that Speckled went a bit mad and started trying to buy every hat in town. It got so we couldn't go for a beer without him being waylaid be every street hawker with a stupid bobble-hat to shift. He was actually binning tee shirts to make room in his rucksack at one point. I did like the fact that Jim looks even more gormless with one on, though.