February 26, 2006

Held Hostage in La Paz

Well, I finally let Cuzco after a long stint there! Two of the girls from the hostal insisted on accompanying me out to the bus station to see me off, which was very nice of them. Boarded the coach (which looked nothing like its fancy picture on the companys brochure, by the way!) at 10:00p.m. and settled down for the llllong journey to Puno. Fell asleep almost immediately but then KING KONG came on and lucky me was sitting right next to the speaker!! Aghghghghghg. Thank GOD for MP3 players - I stuck my earphones in for the next 8 hrs!
Arrived in Puno at 6a.m. and stumbled into the station looking for coffee or anything containing a stimulant to keep me going for the next few hours while I waited for my connection to Copacobana. Watched the sun rise over Lake Titicaca as I tried to chew a dried up chocolate pancake and chatted with a Norwegian girl whom i{d met on the bus. The journey to the Bolivian border took a couple of hours. Once we reached the frontier we all had to get off the bus, get our exit stamp from Peru and then walk across the border to Bolivian Immigration. It was good to be out in the fresh air for a few minutes and I finally started to wake up a bit. All back on the bus again for the short ride to Copacobana. Once we arrived, I sussed out a lovely hostal which cost me only $5 for the night. For that, I had a lovely spacious room with own bathroom and breakfast! Bargain. Was very disappointed to find that YET AGAIN there was no hot water.
Instead of climbing into bed, I decided to push on through the tiredness and booked a tour for 1:30 to visit Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. The lake is a spectacular sapphire blue colour, and that particualr day, was very calm and serene. As the boat bobbed back and forth on the waves, the lake winked and flashed in the sun, and a tremendous sense of calm came over my frazzled body. At that altitude, you feel as if you could almost stretch out your arm and pluck the sun out of the sky. I, of course, forgot (having spent almost 3 weeks indoors sick) how easy it is to get sunburnt at this height and slowly fried in the afternoon sun. Isla del Sol was beautiful, although we just had an hour to explore. It, and nearby Isla de Luna, are believed to be the birthplace of the Incan civilization and there are many lovely ruins to see there. Not in the mood for much of that, I climbed to a high point on the island and played with some local children. I gave them presents of the many finger puppets Ihad been cajoled into buying in Cuzco. You{d think Id given them gold! They were so happy.
Th next day, after a much needed 12 hr sleep, I was up and rearing to go again! After a short wander around the town (which is v small) I hopped on a bus bound for La Paz. As the bus wound its way up the hills, we were able to see Lake Titicaca in all its glory. Its huge!! At one point, the road ends and we all had to get on a little motor boat to take us across the lake, while the coach drove on to this rickety looking wooden craft which looked as if it would almost certainly sink! The crossing was very short and a small bridge would really take care of the problem, but I suppose maybe they cant afford to build one...
Arrived in La Paz yesterday evening at around 6ish. The carnival was in full swing and we were literally dumped into the traffic choked streets wth our bags! All around us devilish looking masks leered at us and waterbombs were fired through the air. I tried as quickly as I could to find my bearings and made off in a particular direction, hoping it was the right one. Thankfully, it was and before long I found the street I was looking for. In Copacobana, I made myself a promise that when I got to La Paz I was going to splurge and book a hotel as I hadnt had a hot shower in over a month. The place I{m Staying in is costing $25 a night (the equivalent of 5 nights accomdoation just for some hot water! but its sooooo worth it!) I hopped into the shower straight away and stood there for about an hour! Bliss!
This morning I met a lovely English couple at breakfast and we ended up spending 2 hours chatting.They are both photographers and their favourite place is Cuba. Ruth is 60 and Mike 72. He{s a jazz musician. Had a very interesting morning talking to them. They{ve been everywhere and had lots of great stories! After breakfast I headed out into the streets looking forward to a day of sightseeing and exploring. Ten minutes later I was back in my room soaked to the bone and changing my clothes! You cannot go out into the streets today unless you dont mind getting wet! EVERYWHERE people are throwing water, buckets from balconies, kids with supersoakers, waterbombers! Its great fun, but considering the fact that Im just over a chest infection I thought it wiser not to get stuck in. So, along with a lot of other tourists, I am a hostage in my hotel today. Its so crazy here, even the staff in the hotel are throwing water at each other!
Tomorrow night, I leave for Potosi to see the silver mines. Apparently, its a terrible experience but worth doing, according to most travellers Ive met whove come that way. Seeing as I{m so close I might as well check it out!


Well, I´m STILL in Cuzco. Made my way to the bus station yesterday to book a ticket out of here today, but apparently there is some strike on which affects all the private bus companies (makes no sense to me but there you go), so I have to stay here tonight, and then I have a long day tomorrow as the bus doesnt leave here until 9:30p.m.
So, for something to do, and because I never really did it before, Ive decided to tell you all about the beginning of my trip and the few days I spent in New York. At the time, I was too busy running around trying to squeeze everything in, and then internet access costs a bomb there, so I never really got around to describing what I got up to in my 3 days there. Here goes.
The Pain of Separation
The usual flurry of Christmas distracted me from the arrival of the Big Day - Jan 3rd. It arrived suddenly and I wasnt prepared for how difficult it was saying goodbye to my family. It felt as if I was saying goodbye to them forever, that I was never going to see them again. I had such an enormous lump in my throat that morning I couldnt even say what I really wanted to as I left home. Driving to the airport in the fog and the darkness, the trip suddenly lost all its appeal and I just wanted to turn the car around. Deep down, I knew it was just a knee-jerk reaction though, and once I checked in survival instincts kicked in and I had to focus on boarding passes and security checks and not getting arrested for ridiculous things like packing scissors in my hand luggage.
Hours later, sitting on the Aer Lingus flight half-way across the Atlantic, I had a surreal feeling as if I was suddenly going to wake up in my bed at home. It was hard to take in that I was finally on my way, after a year of planning and preparing. This was it! The whole time, I had this nervous knot somewhere in my gut about what lay ahead. I tried not to think about the trip as a whole and just focused on the NY part. I watched the in-flight movies to distract myself and bought stupid things that I didnt really need from the gift trolley.
Getting through JFK was fine - no hitches - and I even managed to get on the right train out of there. At the subway station, I met another backpacker who was falling over with the weight of her backpack and we huddled together on a bench for warmth as we waited for the train. She was from Manchester and was pretty friendly, so it was nice to have some company for the journey into Manhattan.
I managed to find my hostal, Jazz on the Town in the East Village, easily enough. As luck had it, it was right next to the subway so I didnt have much wandering around to do. It´s a poky enough little place with no communal area but it had internet access and the rooms had their own bathrooms which was great. I spent the first night with a guy from Texas and a couple from Australia. Once I had dumped The Great Weight, I set off walking with my little map of the city in my pocket, hoping to cram in a few sights before the day´s end.
Doing the Tourist Thing
Brian was right - I ended up like a big Paddy wandering around gawking up in awe at the skyscrapers! You jsut cant help it really, at least for the first hour or so anyway. I walked up to the mid-town area of Manhattan and spent an hour getting my bearings and figuring out the layout of the streets. New York is idiot-proof! You cannot get lost there! Anyway, I managed to get to the Empire State Building, Rockerfeller Centre (fab Christmas tree!!) Radio City, Times Sq., the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Station and Broadway on the first night. The weather was perfect and the city twinkled everywhere with Christmas lights! I went into an Irish pub just off Times Sq. in the hope of maybe bumping into some other backpackers. Ended up chatting to the barman who, it turned out, was from Kilkee and knew my uncle Tom really well. What a small world! He couldnt do enough for me after that and gave me my drinks on the house. Was shattered when I finally got back to the hostel - I had been walking for hours and my poor feet were in shock! Slept like a baby.
On Day 2 I was up at 9, refreshed and rearing to go again. It was a fabulous morning - crisp, cold and sunny with blue skies. Perfect for sightseeing. Decided to head downtown towards Little Italy, Soho and Greenwich Village. Stopped for some people-watching in Washington Sq. Pk. While I was sitting on a bench taking pictures of squirrels and the like, this guy came up and asked me where I got my camera, which put me on my guard straight away, but I think he was just being friendly. Of course, he was "Irish" too!
Moved on to Bleeker St., Canal St. and then turned towards the river. The walk through Battery Pk. was beautiful and I couldnt stop smiling. Crossed over for a quick look at Ground Zero, and it was very sobering to think of the images from TV from 2001. It was a very strange feeling to look around the streets and remember the smoke billowing down them. Its just a scar on the landscape now but there is a sense of possibility there with diggers and men with hard-hats milling about the site. Queued for over an hour to get on the ferry to Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty, but it was worth it! I did an audio tour of the island which was really interesting. The statue is amazing up close and more impressive than I had expected it to be. When I got back to Pier A, I was freezing from standing on the ferry and was glad to start walking again. I made my way towards Wall St. and the financial district of the city. I stopped for a few minutes in the Trinity Church which is like an oasis in the middle of all the mayhem. Did some shopping in Soho (couldnt help myself - I had to buy a Ramones T-Shirt!) Took a quick detour right to see Brooklyn bridge, but didnt have time to walk across it which I was disappointed about. Back in mid-town later that night, I got chatting to a waiter, and I´m not sure how, but we ended up having a very philosophical conversation about people´s personal gods and "the meaning of it all". I was really enjoying it as well, but I think he got the evil eye from his boss and had to go.
Spent my last day in uptown NYC. I shared a taxi as far as Times Sq. with a girl from my dorm and then walked the rest of the way. This is the more residential part of the city and there are a lot of nice buildings and less shops. I was blessed again with spectacular weather and it made wandering around Central Park very enjoyable. It funny - I recognised so many areas of the park just from movies and TV. Walked all the way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was one of the highlights of my stay in NY. Good tip given to me by Anne: You dont have to pay the amount they ask for on the Tarifs Board. For example, for adult entry they have $17.50 (I think), but if you dont look carefully, you miss the very small writing beside it saying "Recommended". Thanks to Anne, I was wise to them and asked the girl what I should donate. She said I could give as little as 1 cent, so I gave her $5 and off I went, delighted with myself! The Met is great, and I got to see some amazing artists I hadnt heard of before, such as Georgia O´Keeffe. Was thrilled to find a big Santiago de Calatrava exhibit there. They had models of all his most famous erections around the globe. Funnily enough, the Dublin bridge wasnt represented. I also saw some Picassos and Chagalls, and a LOT of American art, some of which was very dull. All in all, a very enjoyable morning!
Spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the shops in mid-town and finally tramped back to the hostal to make my way out to JFK.
I fell in love with NY. I cant wait to go back - if only for the shopping I couldnt do this time!!! I found the New Yorkers very interested in the fact that I was alone - they´re funny because they arent worried about appearing nosey. They jsut ask you straight out "Hey, where you from? Why are you on your own?" When you tell them you´re doing a round the world trip, they are just amazed! and think you´re the best thing since sliced bread. I loved them - they seemed to me like a very positive, helpful bunch, and of course they LOVED you if you were Irish! In my 3 days in NY, I felt like the city opened up its arms and welcomed me, and I cant wait to go back there.
Little Things I Loved about NY
  • You dont have to ask for anything twice, or even once. e.g. if you buy a yoghurt, they´ve already popped the spoon in the bag. In Ireland you have to sell your soul to get the spoon off the harodin behind the counter!
  • The food! You can get anything you feel like at any hour!
  • You get a little napkin under your drink instead of a big soggy beermat.
  • Steaming manholes! (ok, I know thats stupid)
  • Anyone can fit in in this city
  • The way the New Yorkers yell at each other one minute and are best friends again two minutes later
  • The Shopping....lost for words...
  • The firemen! Yum!
  • Attention to detail - like, in the shops, when you buy something they wrap it up perfectly for you
  • The buzz of the city

February 21, 2006

The "All Clear"

Hurray! Rejoicing. Today, I got the all-clear to get back on my feet permamently again! Doctor #1, the slightly goofy one that I had the first day ever, came back this morning to have a look at me. I was expecting more of a physical inspection though or repeat bloods, but he just asked me a few questions and seemed satisfied that I was back to normal working order.
I have to hang around for a day while I wait for a letter for my insurance company and organise a bus ticket out of here and a few other bits and pieces, but all going to plan I should be on the road to Bolivia on Wednesday! Happy Days! Hopefully, this means that I now have the immune system of a superhero and will have no further mishaps.
Oh, the thoughts of moving on to somewhere new!! I cant wait!
Next stop: Copacobana, Bolivia!

February 19, 2006

Rearview Mirror - Peru

As I begin my final preparations to leave Peru, I start thinking back on the 2 months I have spent here and what I have learned about the country and the people. My diary is full of interesting little facts and figures picked up along my way.
Being part of a tour group is obviously a great way to hear the best bits, but also talking to local people has produced some great stories!
Here are some of the things I learned about Peru:
  • The city of Lima is divided into districts. Each district has its own "governor" and its own taxes. So, the wealthy districts, because they pay higher taxes, obviously have better public services, are cleaner and safer, while the poorer districts are destined to remain filthy, dangerous and full of crime. Its a bit sad that they cant work out a system where they look after each other.
  • There is a 70% unemployment rate in Lima, thats UNemployment. Even the people who can afford to go to college find it extremely difficult to find jobs related to their field when they graduate so they end up being taxi drivers.
  • Anyone can be a taxi driver in Peru. All you have to do is pull into a garage, buy a white plastic sign saying "Taxi" and off you go! This is why the taxi drivers are completely crazy and nearly run tourists down trying to get their attention on the street. The competition is FIERCE!
  • The average monthly wage in Peru is US$100. I think for teachers, its $200. Obviously, doctors and specialised professions earn more again. Pretty crap though!
  • The Peruvians claim to kiss more passionately than the French and have a very raunchy monument to attest to this on the beachfront in Miraflores, Lima
  • Inka Cola, which is a yellow fizzy drink that you see everywhere here, became so popular at one point that it started outselling Coca-Cola, so the Coca-Cola corporation had to buy out Inka Cola, and that is why there is so much advertising for Inka Cola here in Peru.
  • Peru is the home of the potato, and they claim to have over 4000 different kinds.
  • Peruvians are very very superstitious and, especially in the mountains, they take their pagan heritage very seriously. When you drive through the Andes, you can see these little mounds of rocks everywhere, usually constructed with a large stone on the bottom and increasingly smaller ones on top of that. These are little offerings to Mother Earth (or Pachamama). Its very bizarre when you suddenly come across an entire field full of these little mounds. Every year, I think in August, the Andeans have a special harvest festival where they celebrate the year they have just had and pray for a good year to come. They give coca leaves and other foods to Mother Earth to please her. What strikes you is that this isnt just something that the older people believe in, the young people are very respectful of the traditions as well, and there is a strange marriage between the Peruvians religious Catholic beliefs and their ancient pagan ones. They dont seem to see any conflict there.
  • Most Peruvians guides that I have met are very anxious to stress that there is a history in Peru that pre-dates the Incas. They seem frustrated that everyone focuses on the Incan history alone.
  • The ordinary Peruvian people have no appreciation of their own culture. This is something I have been told and then began to take note of. There is no funding for Arts here and the people have very little pride in their heritage. Most of the people here have very little education, and those who do have had to work very hard to get it. It made me feel very guilty about my own blaze attitude to my education at home.
  • There is huge corruption in the cities here - the police, the banks - because everyone is on such a shit wage, they are easily corruptible. This can be a nightmare for tourists. Thank God, I didnt experience this first hand (apart from getting some fake dollars from an ATM in Lima) but I have heard some terrible stories from both Peruvians and tourists about what goes on.
  • 90% of the Peruvians I met are lovely, helpful people - they smile all the time and just want you to see the best of their country. The other 10% i have met are some of the rudest, shiftiest looking gangsters (and that includes some kids) that I have ever seen. You can see that they despise you because they think you are rich.
  • It is a country of a thousand landscapes! I have never seen such beauty. It has miles of gorgeous pacific coastline, desert, jungle (which I didnt make it to), enormous mountains - the scenery changes all the time with the light. A lot of it is very unspoiled yet and it takes your breath away.
  • Lots of Peruvian cars are imported from Japan - cars which are put off the road over there are bought very cheaply here. So, most of the taxis are beat up little suzukis and mitsubishis.
  • Because Peru can experience a lot of earthquakes, a lot of the buildings are constructed from a material called adoebe, which bends under pressure instead of crumbling. So, if your on the coast and you feel the earth moving get your ass to a buildling made from adoebe. They are usualy marked with a green sign!
  • If you dont finish your food here, you get dirty looks. They dont waste food here, but the portions are huge. For the last two weeks, with my schizo digestive system, I wasnt really finishing anything, so I was getting a LOT of black looks as I paid my bill!
  • The word "gringo" orignated during the construction of the Panama canal - the American workers used to wear a type of green uniform, and the locals began a sort of chant "green go"...which i supose eventually morphed into "gringo".
  • On the Inka Trail a few years ago (well, more than 10 I think), a group of 4 guys (2 Spanish and 2 American) set off to do the trail on their own (you were allowed to back then). In the place where Camp 2 is now situated, they too decided to bunk down for the night. A couple of days later, just two of the guys arrived back (cant remember which nationality) and they were asked by control officers where the other two from their party were. They said that they had lingered to take pictures and would follow shortly. Five days later the two guys had not reached the end of the trail, and a search party went out to find them. They were found murdered in that valley. The story has it that the four took some sort of Peruvian drug and two of them turned on the others and killed them. Our guide told us (the day after we camped there, thank god!) that tourists have claimed to hear a baby crying in the valley at night, and also someone trying to open the zips on their tent. Different groups of tourists have claimed to hear these same things....which is very creepy. So, the guides believe that the valley is still haunted by the ghosts of these two backpackers. SPOOOKY!
  • They cannot fathom a girl travelling alone at 26. People get ready for marriage in their teens here, im told. They think that I cannot find a husband and want to know why my friends wont travel with me. Some of them have even asked if there is something wrong with me! Very perceptive lot, the Peruvians.

February 16, 2006

Song of the Open Road

Song of the Open Road
From this hour I ordain myself
loos´d of limits and imaginary lines,
going where I list, my own master
total and absolute
listening to others,
considering well what they say,
pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
gently, but with undeniable will
divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
Walt Whitman

February 15, 2006

Taking "Bible-Bashing" To A New Level

I had to come back and share this tear-inducing piece of trivia with you all. Was doing a bit of reading about ganglions and the like, and came across the following piece of information:
Apart from aspiration, the more commonly used and medically correct procedure, another way to "get rid" of a ganglion or cyst is to give it a resounding thwack with the family Bible!! I´m not joking - you can google this if you doubt me!
Yes, a good hammering with a Giddeon is what will sort me right out! Now, all I need to do is find an English-speaking zealot! Stay tuned......

February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day

No-one has to read this. It´s not going to be interesting, as I have no news other than sickness-related stuff. Yet again, I have been forced to flee my cell for a few hours in search of sanity and something remotely edible that I wont throw up.
Firstly, Happy Valentine´s Day to all!
Secondly, some more photos added to Peru album, and Ive created a New York one too.
Have just been reading about what the Chinese are planning to do with "The Playboy" - it´s going to be set in a Beijing hairdressers. I´m very upset. I might have to kill, or at least torture, some Chinese people. There´s a Chinese restaurant beside the hostal, maybe I´ll start there.....
Cuzco is rapidly losing its lustre. Once I leave, i´m sure I´ll remember all the best bits, but God! I just want to get out of here. NOW!! For one thing, I have little or no privacy now. The girls in the hostal have gone into Florence Nightingale Overdrive or something, one in particular. She means well, but I'm just to ill to deal with it. She´s 18, has just gotten this job and is taking her duties very seriously, so I think she has made me a project of sorts. She is telling absolutely EVERYONE who checks in about me, brings random strangers up to the door to see me (like I´m an exhibit or something! although I suppose I sort of am with my crop of wild hair and smelly pajamas...), :D even made me go to an internet cafe yesterday and wave at her mother over a webcam. As I say, she does mean well. She is constantly buzzing the room and asking me about what Im eating, she examined all the plates to see what I havent eaten. Help!! She´s wrecking my head!!!!!! She´s so nice and genuine that I cant take say Id just like to be left alone to wallow in my misery.
This morning sort of took the biscuit as I began to feel violated. She rang very early, asked if I wouldnt mind getting dressed and coming downstairs, as she had something very important to talk to me about. Grudgingly, I hauled ass downstairs scaring a few passing tourists on the stairs. One of the cleaners, whom I know by name but thats about it (she has no English), was with her looking embarrassed and sheepish. It took about 10 minutes of them giggling hysterically before I could get any sense out of them. Basically, Lourdes (the cleaner) has spied my €300 Gortex jacket in my room and liked the colour. She wanted me to trade for this absolute CAR ACCIDENT of a painting that she had done herself. She still seemed to think her painting was worth the cost of the jacket and pushed. I said that my parents had given me the jacket as a present before I left home (a lie) and that seemed to work. Were I in the whole of my health, I wouldn't feel so bothered maybe.I feel like my things are being rifled through when Im not there, and that I now have to go back to padlocking everything everytime I go out.
So, I was feeling a little wrankled as I left the hostal today for lunch. I had to wait a few hours before I could leave for my hair to dry. I was two minutes down the street and I got water bombed twice from a balcony above! I got soaked!!!!! Hair, clothes, everything! GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
You´re allowed to laugh. I might see the funny side next year sometime!Okay, it is kind funny. :-)

February 12, 2006

Getting to Grips with my Ganglion

Im partially back in the land of the living today. Lying in that room is starting to affect my sanity! and there}s another week to go. Super! I arrived in Cuzco on 20 January with a plan of staying 10 days (2 weeks tops). It}s nearly a month later and Im still here. Its unfortunate, although I am very glad that I got sick here rather than in the back of beyonds in Bolivia!
Anyway, the first round of anitbiotics I was given had little effect and during the week I ended up with yet another high fever. So, the doctor was called again. This time, two doctors came and they were much more thorough than the first guy. They took blood tests, took temperatures, asked lots of questions, gave me a lot of advice and were back one hour later with the test results! I had typhoid and paratyphoid! I felt very reassured by them. They were such lovely doctors. So, I was told that I have a ganglion at the back of my head (which Im not allowed to touch). "I have a what now?"
I have a vague memory of coming across ganglions in my early days as a science student, but any extra knowledge about them is lost in the fog at the back of my head. I dont think its a serious thng anyway.
I also have a chest infection which seems to be quite slow in clearing up, and then there{s the typhoid - not too happy about that one, especially considering the euros I parted with for vaccinations in Ireland.
I have ZERO appetite (an entirely foreign experience for me!) EVerything tastes like paper, ugh. I really have to force myself to eat. Last week was full of throwing up and other bodily eliminiations, but thankfully this week I seem to be...um...stabilising. The dizziness is the worst. Walking down the street is such a physical effort! it feels really strange.
Anyway, the travel plans were thrown totally out of whack. My biggest concern was sorting out my Easter Island flights, which initially set me back a cool $500. I was expecting to have to pay an exorbitant change fee to alter the dates at this late stage, but was pleasantly surprised today to find, after 15 minutes on hold, that they are going to change the dates free of charge. HAPPY DAYS! So, Ive rebooked them for 3 weeks time. That should give me plenty of time to get better, and I might even squeeze in some of Bolivia after all.
I{, praying that Ill keep improving. Its very unpredictable, this thing - one day you feel like youre fine, then three hour later, youre back in bed with a fever and dizziness and a sick stomach. Whimper. Mam keeps telling me that this is character building ad will make me a better traveller once I come out the other side of it. Well, thats about the only good thing you could take out of the experience! ALthough, I was thinking about it last night, and in a way maybe its good that I was on my own - imagine how bad you{d feel for the other person(s) if you held them up for 3 weeks! That would make you feel 10 times worse probably.
ANyway, Ill stop whinging now. FIngers crossed that Ill be back on my feet and on the road again very soon. I nned to get out of Cuzco - not only am I sick of the sight of the place now, but Im liable to kill a finger puppet kid soon.

February 10, 2006


I have typhoid
Need some serious bedrest for a couple of days. Back soon...I hope!

February 8, 2006

The Magic Taking Hold - Some Very Dark Days

Remember that slightly high temperature I told you all about in the last entry? Well, the next morning I woke up with a raging fever, convulsed with shivering and drenched in sweat, and for the last week I have been confined to the shadows of a tiny poky room with no hot water on doctor´s orders.
I´m very sick. The only reason Í am typing this is because I´m starting to go a bit crazy being in that room on my own all this time. It might pass some time.
I´m so miserable and it's hard to fight the urge to want to go home. (Well, no I suppose thats not true, although I really wish I was there right now.) Basically, I'm too sick to even get home! The doctor was called and due to some translation issues I couldnt really understand what he was saying was wrong with me. I got "infection" and "no go out" and "lots of liquids". He prescribed some antibiotics, relieved me of $60 and left. Delerium set in, as I was too weak to go out with my prescription. It got so bad at one point, I found myself laughing hysterically at a "melon balls" joke on Dharma and Greg. THANK THE LORD there is a tv in the room with some American stations on it. Never have I been so overjoyed to watch Friends and Smallville!
The girls in the hostal are great and they keep checking on me. According to them, the doctor said Im not allowd to drink cold water, but today I realised that I have all the symptoms of bad dehydration so feck that! Im overruling him! CAnt eat, the smell of food makes me heave, and the girls, though meaning well, are watching me like hawks on the doc's instructions.
Came off those awful antibiotucs today which hopefully will mean that the vomiting will stop at least. My plans for Bolivia are screwed! Its´looking now like I might have to miss it entirely. :( Boo-hoo! I´m going to see if I can change my Easter Island flight dates..if I could do that, I´d have some spare time on my hands.
In the meantime, I´m stuck watching repeats of crappy American sitcoms (although I´m not complaining!). RainMan is on tonight - the absolute highlight of my day. I have it all figured out, I can position myself right inside the door of the loo on a stool for easy access and using the mirror from the wall, I can watch TV indirectly! Ingenius!

February 2, 2006

A Soundtrack to Life

I woke up early this morning feeling feverish and I couldnt go back to sleep, so to pass the wee hours I reached for the trusty MP3 player, my constant companion on my travels. It was still on the same music that I had been listening to on the Inka Trail. I managed to download more than 2000 songs before I left Ireland, but for the entire four days of the trail I listened continually to the music of Rolfe Kent, who wrote the score for the movie "About Schmidt".
Something must have inspired me to choose this music, which I had never listened to before this week. There are times when a piece of music just fits perfectly some place or moment in time, and, for me, the broad dramatic sweeps and sweetness of this music seemed to be a perfect match for the immense cinematic backdrop of the mountains all around us. There were a lot of periods on the trail where you had a chance to walk alone, time to reflect and think, times when it was physically impossible to spend your breath on chat, and it was during these times that I turned to the player for company.
This morning, when I played this music again, I was brought straight back to the beauty and the remoteness of these places, and for some reason a huge wave of emotion came over me, and I had an incredible yearning to be back there. I felt ridiculous but I actually had to fight the tears.
Okay, so you can argue it was the fever, or the altitude, or an ole bout of homesickness, but I know it was none of those things. I´m starting to realise what a very special experience walking the INka Trail has been for me, and it has taken a few hours for its magic to really take hold.
For me, music enhances every experience, and is better than any journal entry or photographic record. Those things can describe very well the places and experiences, but returning to a piece of music you can associate with a particular time or place transports you right back to the feeling, the essence of it.
For me, Rolfe Kent´s score will always evoke memories of walking the Inka Trail.

Photo Update

I have finally managed to upload a few photos out of the hundreds I now have. They are mainly of the Inka Trail, but I just thought you´d like to see some of what Ive been up to.
For the technophobes, go to the photos section to the right of the screen. Click on slideshow and away you go! There´s only a few there. It takes FOREVER to upload them so I probably wont add any again for ages.
Update: Back in Cuzco and I have a temperature of 103! Weyhey! Thought I was dying last night. My whole body was freezing and my head was on fire. That´s what I get now for my pilgrimage up the mountains! Planning on leaving Cuzco tomorrow if I´m up to it. Really need to get my ass in gear - i dont even have TWO WEEKS to get to Santiago for the 15th! I´ll be hard pushed to fit in all the Bolivian stuff....
The train journey down from Aguas Calientes yesterday was AWFUL! What was supposed to be a one and a half hour jounrey ended up taking 5 hours because of a landslide on the tracks. Lovely! Everyone emerged from the train in a stupor, and then one poor man slipped as he was getting down the steps, fell right down between the platform and the train, but smashed the front of his face really hard on the platform. BLOOD EVERYWHERE! My solution was to shove my precious roll of loo-paper at him. I reckon the poor man has lost some front teeth.
I hobbled the three blocks from the train station back to my hostal and I really had to psyche myself up to have a shower and get ready to head out. In the end, I only lasted one hour in the pub and had to go back to bed. Really hope I dont have a flu coming on...last thing I need. Even chronic diarrhoea is preferable....
well, maybe not....

February 1, 2006

The Pain of Pilgrimage

So, I've been off the radar for the last 4 or 5 days. I´m in a serious amount of pain - PAIN!! My legs wont work and my body is in a general state of shock. What the hell just happened? I survived the Inka Trail!! HURRAYY!!! God, there were some pretty hairy moments where I thought I was dying but I made it.
Pain aside, I will never forget the last four days - I think they have been the most amazing of my life so far. I have never had to push myself so hard before, and I have never had so much fun. It was worth every agonising step and every Peruvian sole. We arrived back to Aguas Calientes yesterday (which is also known as Machu PIccu Pueblo), and after saying goodbye to my group I booked into a hostal which promised hot water 24 hrs a day and my own bathroom. All I could think about was the relief that hot water would provide to my aching body and the comfort of an actual mattress! Things didnt go quite as planned...
First of all, my lack of Spanish let me down as I tried to tell the "nice lady" that I didnt want the 3rd floor room she was giving me because I couldnt actually make it up there. I was met with a blank face. I took the room, only to realise 10 mins later that there was no glass in the window and the room was bloody FRIO!! SO I dragged myself back down three flights to try and explain my predicament to her. More blank stares. So I had to wayleigh a passing stranger who was able to speak Spanish. I was then told to wait 30 mins while "Christian", the local Jim´ll Fix It, went up to put in a window!! After sitting freezing for an hour with my muscles completely seizing up, I lost my cool and tried to cancel the booking. More blank stares. In my state of exhaustion, I couldnt argue any further and collapsed into a chair in reception with my poor head in my hands. Another hour later, I was roused from a deep sleep and was ushered into a different bedroom complete with real glass panes! I´m still baffled as to why they couldnt have just done that to begin with.
Dreaming of a shower, I peeled off my mudsoaked clothes and ran the water. Ten minutes later it was still ice cold. Tears were beginning to well at this stage. I couldnt face going back out to the plank at reception so I crawled into bed at 7 oclock and slept until 11 this morning.
I´m heading back to Cuzco on the train today so I have a few hours to spend here in Aguas Calientes now. There doesnt seem to be much here - it is really just a base for people visiting Machu Piccu.
Anyway, back to the Inka Trail. Every morning was a really early start. The first day I was picked up by the tour company at 4 in the morning. We had a longish drive through the Sacred Valley to Ollyantaytambo where we had breakfast and a chance to buy any remaining provisions for the trail. After another hours´drive we reached the foot of the trail. It was a beautiful sunny morning and everyone was in great spirits setting off! But it wasnt long before people started to really feel the difficulty of the climb. One girl from AUstralia got particularly bad altitude sickness, her nose started bleeding and her heart rate was very high. When the giude realised that he didnt have enough oxygen for her, she had to turn back. (We actually met her in Machu Piccu yesterday, as she got the train up to meet her boyfriend who had continued on, and she told us that she had been lying in bed sick for the three days.) Other people started throwing up and had very bad headaches but managed to keep going.
The first day was a huge shock to everybody! Even the fittest people found it really really difficult. We climbed 1100m, sometimes almost vertical climbs, and you just had to set your own pace and take it easy. The scenery really helped to distract you from the pain in your limbs and the tightness in your chest. We passed the most beautiful mountain scenery I have ever seen. So, that night we camped at 1100m - the tour company gave us a fantastic dinner and, despite everyone´s exhaustion, we had a great laugh just sitting around chatting.
Day 2 - up at 5 a.m. The guides woke us with coca tea in bed. After breakfast we had to climb another 400m which was really difficult. It was constant steep steps all the way to the top. What really takes your breath away is the speed at which the porters move. They carry huge weight on their backs (which is probably illegal in most countries!) Once we reached the top, Hamilton (our leader) gave us all a shot of rum, which is tradition when you reach the highest point on the Inka Trail. Before we could drikn it, we also had to give some to the Pachamama by pouring a drop on the earth. The next few hours involved a steep descent to the floor of the valley, which was very hard on the knees. Torrential rain started to come down which made things even more difficult but it was infinitely preferable to climbing up! After lunch we climbed up again, and then down, down, down. At this stage, your body is in complete exhaustion but I was finding breathing much easier.
Day 3 - this was more like a half day. 5a.m start again and it was a constant descent. Despite the fact that we werent on the go for as long on Day 3, this was the day that really took an effect on people´s bodies. By that evening we were all in severe pain, and any movement was absolutely excruciting. But we were able to forget about our troubles because Camp 3 had proper facilities, such as showers and a bar, and once everyone had a beer and washed the dirt off spirits were high again. The dinner on the last night was a great laugh and we were introduced to all 22 of our porters and had to show our appreciation.
On the final morning we had to get up at a quarter to four, everyone was DYING. We walked (or limped, in my case) for one hour to the Sungate. From here, you can catch the first view of Machu PIccu, but because it is the rainy season the valley was covered in a thick fog and we had to move on. After anohter half an hour the sun started to come out and the mist slowly started to clear. The first glimpse of Machu Piccu takes your breath away. There is something totally surreal about it. Once you have seen it, you just want to get there as quickyl as you can! We were very lucky with the weather - the mist was gone by about 7 oclock and the whole valley was bathed in sunlight. The next few hours were spent with Hamilton giving us a tour of the fortress, although it really was difficult to take it all in - everyone was shattered! What was really funny were the looks we were getting from the lazy tourists who had trained it up from Aguas Calientes. We had been walking for four days, some wihtout any showers, and all our clothes were COVERED in mud! Two Americans, who saw how much effort it was for me to walk, beamed at me and said "Oh we were just like that yesterday!" I had to hold my tongue!
In total, over the four days, we climbed to 4,200m above sea level, 35km of walking, got soaking wet and sunburnt. When we finished the trail we all went to the local thermal baths for an hour which was bliss! but overall hasnt provided long-term relief! I think it´s going to be a few weeks befoire I can walk properly again!!! I had planned to move on to Bolivia tomorrow but I dont see that happening for a few days. My shoulders are destroyed as well, so hauling 75litres around is probably physically impossible at this point.
It has been a very rewarding experience, something I think Im really proud of! You dont realise what you are capable of achieving until yuo really push yourself. Yes, it was the most difficult thing i have ever done physically but we had a great time. I ended up with a brilliant group and great guides and we spent most of the four days in tears laughing. Ive eevn met a few ppl that I might travel with for a while.
We´re all meeting in Cuzco tonight for a meal and a few drinks afterwards.