Monday, February 26, 2007

Equatorial energies

On the equator

I know Phil's not really looking like it in this photo, but in fact his body is humming with the wonderful energy balance brought on by sitting smack on the equator .... and if you believe that then Howard really does have a chance at the next election.
So we visited the equator - four times. Turns out there's actually two equators: one measured by the French, and another, apparently more accurate spot, measured by GPS. Whatever.
The funny thing is, when you are at the equator, the tour guides do all these 'demonstrations' designed to prove that the equator is some mystical point where energies converge and balance. These include strength tests that apparently show that your muscles are weaker right on the equator. Bollocks, I said. It's just that the guides push/pull harder when you do the test on the equator compared to when you repeat the test 5m to either side.
And the old chestnut about coriolis forces making water spin clockwise or anti-clockwise down the plughole depending on which hemisphere you're in also reared its ugly head. The demo involved a basin of water sitting on the equator line, which drains without rotating, then the experiment is repeated to either side and voila, the basin drains clockwise and anti-clockwise.
It's codgers, and for a good explanation as to why, read . If you can´t be bothered checking out this link, the short answer is that coriolis forces act on a grand scale on rotating weather patterns like cyclones, but have a barely measurable effect on something as small as a basin of water.
Of far greater impact on the direction of drainage are factors such as the way the water is poured into the basin and the shape of the basin. I was being an annoying smart-arse and pointing this out when it was being demonstrated, which actually scored a whispered admission that yes, the demo was 'rigged' (although not in those exact words) but it was to illustrate a point. HAHA, score one for the Big Nerdy Tourist.
Now shut-up and go away so we can pull the wool over the eyes of the two Americans behind you.

Mindo cloud forest

More hummingbirds


Snooze time

Hummingbirds are the most gorgeous and FAST little suckers. Trying to photograph them is like that trick in Karate Kid where the old bloke catches the fly using chopsticks. Ain´t easy, but thankfully on our recent 2 day trip to the cloud forest of Mindo (like a rainforest but higher up), we breakfasted at a cafe that had a garden full of specially-designed hummingbird feeders. There were so many dazzling, iridescent birds zipping around like bees dolled up for Mardi Gras. I went a bit nuts with the photography, as evidenced by the many bird pics on my Flickr site, but hard not to when they´re soooo cute!
The trip was our ´jungle expedition´ for this trip, as we didn´t have time to do a full excursion into the Amazon rainforest. But it was pretty awesome. We visited a couple of inactive volcanoes, ate fried plantain bananas stuffed with cheese, walked through the forest to some gorgeous waterfalls, and visited a butterfly farm. This was also very cool - enormous butterflies hanging around like lampshades, or parked on plates covered with mashed banana. We also saw a butterfly being born (well, coming out of its pupae). The butterfly pic here is Phil´s, using his whizzbang macro camera. And one of many highlights was being slobbered on by the enormous Bruno - canine caretaker of the butterfly farm.
Five sleeps to go!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Carnival lessons

Lesson 1 of Carnival in Banos: Never travel in an open-sided bus, as it makes you a sitting duck for the roadside hordes of miniature reprobates (who should be in school, or at least out milking the llamas) armed with buckets of water. What was supposed to be a nice, scenic tour of Banos´many waterfalls turned into a bloodbath, as our open bus was hit with bucket after bucket of water. And when you´re travelling at 60kph, a bucket of cold water in the face is about as pleasant as a bucket of cold water in the face, but much much more forceful. Oh yes, it was all very funny for the kiddies, but Miss Tolerance (that´s me) was definitely NOT amused, and in absence of any of my own weaponry with which to retaliate, took to screaming abuse at them (and we´re talking the full spectrum of very rude four-letter words).
Thankfully for everyone else involved, no one spoke English either in or outside the bus, so the sight of a foreign woman going apoplectic was very amusing and earned much laughter and cheers. Poor Phil, being of English origin, understood every word and was cringing onto the floor of the bus. After a while it turned into a little joke, as in one occasion when two boys threw water balloons at us, missing by a country mile. I screamed "Your aim is SHIT!" at them, and at that exact moment, the bus decided to pull up to let some passengers off. The little boys, realising their moving target was now stationary (and made a more provocative target by the mad screaming foreign woman - me) darted off and quickly returned armed with buckets of water, which they proceeded to drench us all with. Oops.
Another completely unrelated incident worth a giggle happened in Areqipa. Phil and I were strolling back to our hotel after a pleasant dinner, and passed a few boys having a hit of a softball, who we gave a wide berth to. A sensible adult would of course wait until the strolling tourists were well passed before hitting the ball again, but being kids, they obviously didn´t think of that. So the softball was pitched, whacked, and with uncanny accuracy, got Phil square in the back of the head.
There was a long moment of shocked silence. Phil turned around to look at the boys, who I swear all simultaneously shat themselves. But once it was obvious to him and me that he wasn´t injured, we both burst out laughing, partly from surprise but mainly because of the expression on these boys´ faces. They were terrified that Phil was going to string them up by their undescended testicles, or at least I´m sure that´s what they imagined.
It´s all fun and games until someone clocks the big tourist.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It´s Carnival time!

Not to be messed with

Peruvian face

Banos is apparently where Ecuadoreans come for their holidays and weekends, and as it´s Carnival, the place is jam-packed with families, groups of teenagers and backpackers. It´s not really carnival in the Rio de Janeiro sense, with lots of flesh and samba - think of it more like Canberra festival. There are lots of food stalls selling fried pork and roast chicken (smells heavenly but I have resisted so far), a few tinpot little bands playing under backyard-style marquees, and EVERYONE is armed with spray cans of silly foam. Nowhere is safe, although I´ve noticed people are quite careful not to spray Phil, probably because he´s twice the height of everyone here and they rightly suspect he´ll dangle them by their ankles if they get him. Didn´t stop one little squirt from doing a drive-by spray on me, which earned him a very rude blast of swear words (hope he didn´t speak English). There have been a few processions, including this one carrying the town´s Madonna statue around, dolled up to the nines. Wasn´t much of a cheery affair though, the brass band sounded like they were playing at a funeral. We´re spending a few days here just meandering around and taking it all in, and of course watching the locals. Seen some great South American faces of late - here are a couple of photos. Top one is taken here in Banos but the other was take in Peru at Pisac markets.
Eleven sleeps to go!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Innocent Peru

Peru is one of those countries that is still very Innocent; he outside world is very new to them. Two instances made Bianca and I grin ear to ear.
The first one was a couple of local ladies in Cusco. They were dressed in traditional gear and carried goods for market on their backs. They hovered around the back of this guy with dreadlocks who was sat on some steps in front of the cathedral. We sat watching as one of the ladies with a cheeky grin was checking to see if any one was looking and kept ducking as if to feel the dreads but never quite having the courage to go all the was so funny to watch her attempts and you could see she really wanted to have a feel.
The other was in a modern open air shopping centre in Lima. Many people walked around with big round eyes but the best thing to watch was the escalators. Many people obviously had not had experience of escalators before. There was lots of giggling, hesitation, crowding at the top etc. I remember this one old lady in a family group jumping on with the rest of the family still googling at the top. They waved at each other as she did the trip down. The other groups that I enjoyed were the cool kids who didn't want to look like they were phased but stumbled on and looked shocked with the moving handrail but then flicked their hair and struck a posed while looking nervously at the bottom step =).
We are now relaxing in Quito, Equador. 16 sleeps and counting. My laptop is now well and truly dead from altitude...oh well.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Machu Picchu

Mountain views

I swear I gave away eight of my nine lives on the train and road trip to get up to this vertiginous spot, but it sure was worth it. Machu Picchu is totally incredible, even if you have already spent the previous 2 days traipsing around Inca ruins. Nothing can prepare you for the location - perched on a saddleback ridge so high above the raging Riobamba river that the toilets gave a whole new meaning to "long drop" (actually, I´m speculating slightly here, but if I was building a citadel that high above the river with a sheer drop down, I´d sure be using that to my advantage and amusement). The mist was very atmospheric, and there were even a small herd of llamas conveniently wandering around for photo opportunities.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

I know how he feels

St John the baptist mosaic
Originally uploaded by Mistress B.
After firing from both ends for the past 36 hrs, I now look quite similar to poor old St John the Baptist here (photo actually taken all the way back in Istanbul). What IS it with us and tummy bugs? Haven´t even eaten any meat! No fair. But I have dosed myself up with the antibiotic equivalent of a nuclear warhead, so should be fit and ready to enjoy the splendours of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
I´m sure none of you are interested in the workings of my gastrointestinal system, but I´m feeling sorry for myself, and I have BLOG POWER!! hahahahahahahah......

On hold

We are currently in Cusco. Beautiful place with lots to do, see and eat =)
Bianca is not well though. The usual travellers double ended water works but the worst we have had so far (poor kitten). So the doing, seeing and eating is being put on hold and we are hibernating in a hotel room. Drugs are administered and hopefully she will be on her feet this arvo.

Day treck to Capua Waterfall

Capua canyon - Moss and Bianca

Capua canyon - Bianca rock hopping

Bianca has already described the waterfall and my trip underneath so I thought I would fill you in on the beautiful treck we did to get there. The trek is fairly new so isn't in guidebooks yet. Well worth doing.
Capua waterfall is at the head of a volcanic valley. To get there we stopped a a little town called Yura which was only 1 hour from Arequipa. From there we headed into the start of the canyon which had lots of green terraced fields and bubbling irrigation channels. The canyon was beautiful and lush at the bottom. The walls had a thick bed of moss in places which you can see looks like a green tide mark in one of the photos.
Often we were walking through the water which was crystal clear in most places. I had my rubber crocs shoes on which were ideal and fun when the mud squirts through the holes.
By the end we were bitten by little insects, scratched from the very sharp tall grass and I was sun burnt BUT it was well worth it! And yes the waterfall really stung when it hit my head and shoulders.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Phil meets his waterfall match

Me entering Copua waterfall - 20 Meters!

Those who know Phil may be aware of his fetish for sitting under waterfalls, but I think he bit off slightly more than he could chew when he ventured under the 20m Capua waterfall at the head of Capua Canyon. The force of the water was so great it just about pounded the skin off his shoulders, but he was determined to stay under there as long as possible. Our guide was very impressed! I did the dutiful task of recording the whole event on camera, which thereby gave me an excuse not to go under.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Flight of the condor


You looking at me?

Frankenstein squirrel

The highlight of our recent two day excursion to Colca Canyon was seeing condors up close and personal. These magnificent birds with a wingspan of up to 3m are carrion eaters, but that didn't stop me going into paroxysms of delight at seeing them so close. Our guide told us that condors are Inca totems. When they die, they don't go easily - none of this drifting off on a cold night, they crash spectacularly. The guide said he'd seen two condors go kamikaze, and given the size of them, it would certainly be a pretty quick way to check out. p.s, Phil took the second photo.
On this canyon trip we were also priveleged to see the once-endangered vicunas, plus many herds of gorgeous alpacas and llamas. Such cute animals, with dainty little feet, big eyes and eyelashes ... but like most beautiful divas that probably means they have the temper of a cranky camel. We also saw a very strange creature whose name escapes me but looks exactly as if some mad scientist grafted the front of a rabbit onto the bottom of a squirrel. Good eating on them though, our guide said!
And special bird-watching award to Phil, who spotted (and even got excited about) a hummingbird, a flock of fluorescent green parrots and another feathered thing that makes its nest from the spines of cacti - talk about inviting trouble.

Colca Canyon and valley

Church Colca Valley

Maca - Colca valley

We went on a two day trip to Colca Canyon. We ended up very tired and I had a bit of a sunburned nose but it was amazing. The trip took us over 4900 meters again to get to the town Chivay which is where we stayed for the night after a visit to the local hot spring baths. After the sudden increase in altitude again and hot spring baths for 1½ hours we got to bed before 9…getting old. The next day we headed out to the canyon itself which for 100 kms averages 3400 meters deep which is the second deepest canyon (no the deepest isn’t The Grand Canyon this is way deeper). The history and geology was amazing. The terraced fields were pre-inca and the towns had lovely white colonial churches. The land is formed from a mixture of volcanic activity and the geological plates crashing together to form the Andes.

Santa Catalina in Arequipa

The first picture is from Bianca. I think she is better at architecture shots than me. Santa Catalina is an old nunnery (although they kept calling it a monastery) right in the centre of Arequipa. It is totally walled off from the town centre so it was like a town within a town. The place was very photogenic so if you are in the area it is a must see.

santa catalina Bianca

Door to a window santa catalina

Arequipa Markets

Spuds! Lots!

Cheese in Arequipa Markets

The markets in Arequipa were great. Bread, flowers, cheese (with or without fingerprints all around it), olives (great quality), herbs, fruit, vegies, meat, and LOTS of different types of potatoes obviously. It was all in a big covered area with the fruit and veg taking up the main aisle. It was funny that the fruit and veg aisle had an overriding orange colour about it rather than green…

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Great Vegi Restaurant!

If you are ever in Arequipa you need to try the Mandalay Vegetarian Restaurant…yep even if you aren’t vegi. A lot of the traditional cuisine is vegetarian and many can’t afford meat. Bianca found this one for me (In't she good!) and we had the most amazing set menu for 5 soles (that’s 2aud or 80p)!! I felt so guilty paying so little for a 4 course meal. So what did we have for our hard earned cash?
1) Salad with a slice of bread
2) A drink made of black corn which tasted like a berry drink
3) A shot glass of a home made sweet yogurt drink
4) Soup made up of corn, rice, potato, other root vegies, herbs and anything else sitting around. It was so healthy and yummy.
5) Vegetarian lasagne with rice and beans (we guess lima beans as we are in Peru)
6) Mango fool for desert
I know! Ok you can close your gob now…
Tonight we might be going to that all time international vegi favourite Govinda’s which is a Hare Krishna joint (Hi Andy and Kate, wish you were here).

Dancing Peruvian Klingon females

hot Dancers

Arequipa festival horns

On our first day in Arequipa, we happened upon a street festival to celebrate something religious. One normally associates religious festivals with sombre people in penguin outfits but this was like a Star Trek convention on happy pills. Girls and boys dressed in the most outrageously blingy and OTT costumes danced up the street pursuedby brass bands, and in the middle of it all was a float carrying a statue of what I presume was the Madonna, all tizzed up in frills and lace. It was very exuberant but we felt sorry for the costumed dancers as it was high 20s in temperature in full sun and they were all looking very hot and sweaty. I got to dance with a giant llama - now there's a first.


Inca Cola - drink of champions

I've been downing gallons of this coca tea in the hope of getting some kind of buzz from it, but all it's done is make me head to the toilet every five minutes. Coca tea is supposed to help you adjust to altitude - OK, so we're only 2k above sea level, but no harm in starting early.
Meanwhile, Phil takes a swig of Inca Cola - drink of Peruvian champions. It's supposed to be a tasty lemon grass-based alternative to Coca Cola, but in fact tastes like yellow creaming soda and should be avoided like the plague.

Friday, February 02, 2007

You know you're in an earthquake zone

This sign was fixed to the wall in between two rooms of our Lima hotel, and I think roughly translates as "secure zone in case of earthquakes". Always good to know these things.
So now we've crossed to the other side of South America, to Peru. I'm afraid we haven't got any exciting photos as we've been wasting a couple of days doing sweet FA in Lima, which is fine because there's not a lot to do in Lima other than eat, drink and spend hours abusing the free internet at our hotel.
But tonight we board a sleeper bus bound for the Andean town of Arequipa, which sits beneath the shadow of the El Misti volcano, and is also near the two deepest canyons in the world (take THAT Grand Canyon).