Friday, October 29, 2010

Bring the hat back

Cusco was horribly touristy and there's a limit to how many times you can politely say 'no gracias' to offers of 'massages sir massages?' or embarrassing bobble hats made from genuine llama (and definitely NOT cat) hair.

Arequipa however, seems a great place. A bit like Brighton or Bristol, lots of good places to eat, lively bars, markets and no offers whatsoever of genu-eeeen 'Ray bin' sunglasses. Yesterday we headed to Moleno Sabandia, a local ranch. We hired a couple of horses and for two hours I felt a bit like Clint Eastwood and cantered around the dusty paths and whistled western tunes in my head. Although I felt like Clint Eastwood, I looked very much like a gringo in flip flops, board shorts and a sombrero which despite being the largest they had, still sat on top of my head like a skull cap. Nonetheless my outward appearance won't affect the (completely false) memory of being a nearly genuine cowboy for an enjoyable, if chaffing, afternoon.

Before we came to Arequipa, we went out into the mountains around Ausangate ( link). It's a giant mountain at 6372metres and pretty remote. We hired a muleteer named Chino (so called due to his, well, chinos) and a mule named Pablo (he didn't have a name, but Chino pandered to his new gringo friends and their instant emotional attachment to his beast of burden). The trek itself is about 80km and is a circuit around Ausangate and takes about 4-6 days. The whole circuit is very high, all above 4000m and the Palomani pass at 5165m is the highest point, a couple of hundred meters higher than Mont Blanc. On the second day and as an aside to the trek, I climbed Qampa, at 5500m. The scenery is truly amazing in its variety and vastness and you felt like you were somewhere that people shouldn't really be. Chino was a great muleteer, and despite our initial reservations due to him looking about 14 years old, he proved competent. He was actually 18 and strong willed and a polite struggle over who would prepare dinner and more importantly what to cook, became more pronounced each passing day. He usually came out on top and refused me the four eggs I wanted for dinner on the third night, telling me that 2 was enough. The conversations usually went something like; Me - 'Si si si', him - 'no no no' repeated enough times until I got the huff and went off to pretend to do something more important. He is in training to be a mountain guide and at the end of the trip I gave him my binoculars and have rarely seen anyone so happy. Fay however didn't quite have the time of her life. The altitude effected her badly and although she had moments of appreciating how spectacular the whole adventure was, they were almost certainly outweighed by sheer, undiluted anger at me for persuading her to come along. Freezing temperatures, steep paths, a severe lack of oxygen, a couple of angry Alpaca shepherdesses at 5am one morning and 'green bean ready brek' (imagine) are all difficult to handle when you have a stinking cold and an annoying boyfriend who can't let 'Egg-gate' go. Often throughout the trip we were hassled by local dogs that would bark at us menacingly. They were all bark though, and would get confused, stop barking and look a little embarrassed when we didn't run away (which we probably would have if it weren't for Chino and Pablo). Then with two days to go the shaggiest, dirtiest of dogs approached as if we had just saved him from a burning house. We named him the borderline racist name 'rasta' as his hair was in what looked like dreadlocks and he was, well, black. He then followed us for two days, sleeping in the snow outside our tent, encouraging us up mountains, chasing his tail in happiness every time we stroked his pungent fur, until we got back to the tiny town of Tinqui. We had to say an emotional farewell from a taxi as we left him sitting in the middle of the street, silhouetted against the afternoon sky, feeling very much like we had just punched a puppy in the face, which wasn't that far from the truth.

That same night we got the overnight bus from Cusco to Arequipa and arrived here on the morning of 27th and checked into a comfortable hostel to make up for the nights in my damp, cold tent. Today I've felt naked. The taste of a sombrero has left me wanting more, and I've been irate today that people everywhere only wear stupid American baseball caps. It's time to bring back the hat. Anyone know where the BFG sombrero hat shop in Peru is?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ausangate Oct 2010

Ausangate circuit and Qampa mountain (5500m), near Cusco, Peru. Click on the photo to see the album, or click here

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Yesterday I managed to persuade a couple of locals to take me climbing. There is a nearby spot with some good bouldering and we managed to avoid the banditos en route. The place consists of a group of small caves and a local drunk has made one of them his 'home'. If Heenan ever makes it out here then he should start there.

A little lost as to what to do today, as Fay is now doing the Inca Trail, I asked the caretaker (Louis, who has a mouth full of gold teeth making him look like a well off, although very short, Jaws. Actually not much at all like Jaws then) and he suggested going to watch Cusco v Huancayo at the Estadio. I arrived an hour early and wasn't sure whether the huge armed police presence with riot shields was a good or a bad thing. I was basking in being the only gringo there. Shortly after kickoff however, my place as honorary gringo was soiled by the arrival of a group of braided, dreadlocked, stinking travellers who were almost certainly from the UK and all had just bought the Cusco FC shirts. My unfounded anger only subsided when Cusco went down 3-0 in the first 15 minutes which soon put a stop to their girating, toolish behaviour. Turns out the police shields were used to create a tunnel for the Huancayo players to leave the field without being clobbered by the missiles thrown by the Cusco fans.

From Skye to Sao Paulo.

> (In voice of that doctor from simspons) 'hello everybody!'
> Today has been cafe day. Mate de coca is the local brew, and my addictive personality has taken to it like a llama to banana. It is made from the coca leaf, of which it takes a kilo to make 1 gram of cocaine. It is supposed to help with the altitude and I undoubtedly start feeling very rough if I don't have a cup for a couple of hours.
> Yesterday we took a local bus up to pisac to take a look at the ruins. The weather was ominous but the locals assured us the lightning and thunder would pass around us rather than above us, they were wrong, we were I'll prepared. We got wet. Great ruins though and spread out along a mountain ridge which made for an atmospheric visit. The market in the town was terrible, full of the same landfill at tourist markets worldwide and Fay saw the exact same scarf she'd bought for a friend in Malaysia a week earlier.
> Cusco itself is an ok city, approximate 350000 people and lies at a height of about 3300m. Very touristy, but the ruins around the town are fascinating and the local markets worth a visit.
> En route here we had a day in Sao Paulo and it's a shame it was only a day. Massive dirty city but the people were open and friendly and I felt less like such an obvious gringo there than here where the locals are shoulder height. I should head over to my homeland in India where I wouldn't get a second look.
> We're heading up to do some trekking around Azunguate in about a week and looks amazing. Far more rural and we've been told that having a basic grasp of some Quechua will help. So far I've been taught:
> Hello everybody!
> I don't eat meet.
> Thank you everybody.
> Goodbye everybody.
> Which is going to make for some deep and meaningful conversations with the locals.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Blair witch vs miike snow

No doubt everyone has been waiting with baited breath for this next exciting instalment of 'where's ollie?', well I'm in mallaig, just over the water on the mainland near the isle of Skye.
I returned this morning from a couple of days out in the wild. Skye is a genuinely dramatic setting. I hitched to elgol then followed the coast round to camasunary. The cuillins appeared in the background and were appropriately shrouded in mist and looked every bit the tolkeinesk mountains everyone says they are. I wanted to head on and see coruisk but the river was too full to cross so the seals at coruisk bay would have to wait another day. I spent the whole evening sitting in the bay window of the camasunary bothy, reading the entries in the bothy journal of those that had stayed there in the past, nearly all of which were positive except one entry from two English lads who got on the wrong side of an uncompromising scotsman who ended up defecating next to them on the beach. The bothy seemed reasonably friendly during the day but when the night set it I realised it had a not uncanny resemblance to that room from the last scene of the blair witch project when the lad is standing on his own facing the corner of the room. Not really the place you want to spend alone for the night but the options were limited. Still I survived a restless night with the aid of some good earplugs (cheers Spink) to mask most of the more sinister creaks and groans the house had to offer.
I set off at sun rise the next day and promised myself that if there weren't any seals at the bay then I was going to kill them all. I had the wind at my back and made good time. There's a memorial hut at the bay but I was a bit disappointed to find it both empty and locked. The bay is a beautiful spot, and when I turned the next corner I found it full of seals, all but one still asleep on some small islands. They're really playful things and just as interested in you as you are in them. The one that was awake kept popping up and checking me out then sliding back under the water and repeating indefinitely. It was good to have some interaction, even if it was with a blubbery fishy mammal. Towards the end of the day and without further interaction, the mind does start to entertain itself and I was a little worried when I caught myself wondering 'who am I most like, frodo, samwise or gollum?' maybe fay can give me some help when we meet up on Saturday. Anyway ipod it was after that and I doubt if miike snow and plan b have much of a following in the cuillins (apart from the Blair witch of course who is a MASSIVE fan) but they got me back on track and up to sligachan where my new tent got it's first outing and thankfully passed it's test in some horrible conditions. Click here to see pics -

Friday, October 1, 2010

So here I am on the isle of skye, about as far from Brighton as you can get in the uk. It's wet and pretty miserable and I got a headache earlier and had to go for a sleep. An inauspicious start, so as the song goes, things can only get wetter. I'm sure it's a beautiful island, but visibility is about 10 foot so type 'isle of Skye summer' into google for pictures as I doubt if I'll be uploading any soon.
I'm heading into the hills tomorrow, probably camping in coruisk or staying in the bothy at camasunary.
Forecast- rain, wind and tears.