29 May 2011

A couple of curiosities

I spotted this sign while museuming with Mat last week. It’s for a mass marriage ceremony on Sunday 12 June at 10.30 am at the Convention Centre at Cusco City Hall, and the cost is only 50 soles (that’s about $18). I have no idea whether such ceremonies occur frequently or are popular with the locals. I’m tempted to go along just to see what happens!

I was sitting in a café in the middle of town having lunch last Sunday watching two women (one with clipboard, one with syringe) seemingly doing a house-to-house inoculation awareness programme. They jabbed a child in a doorway as I watched, then moved on to the next doorway in search of their next unsuspecting victim!

Also while eating that lunch, I was approached twice by an old woman in traditional costume (they really do wear the wide skirts, the multi-coloured and -striped carry-all wrap around the shoulders, the tall hat) with a llama, wanting this gringo tourist to pay to take a photo. The woman was gnarled, the llama cute – except that it tried to eat my lunch! I didn’t pay for a photo.

This is a monument to the founder of the Inca empire. According to my pamphlet, ‘it is 75-feet tall and has nine levels. On top of it there is a 113-foot tall bronze effigy of Inka Pachakueq. … An awesome view can be seen from the top.’ Imposing as the monument is, I think the pamphlet writer has a few problems with his measurements, and I’m not able to verify the awesomeness of the view – unfortunately the day Mat and I walked down to check it out, the monument was closed!

These are just a couple of the curiosities I've come across this week. I'm sure there will be many more in the weeks to come. For me, such curiosities are among the joys of travelling.

22 May 2011

'Sexy woman'?

The view back over the city as we climbed
Red-faced and almost hyperventilating, I finally reached the Incan archaeological site Saqsaywaman, pronounced by tourists ‘Sexy woman’. It’s located 310 metres above Cusco so, for us altitude-challenged gringos, it’s quite a hike up steep streets and even steeper stone stairways. Of course, the sensible tourists get delivered to the site entrance in air-conditioned coaches, but mad dogs (that must be me!) and Englishmen (that would be Mat) go out in the midday sun (actually it was about 9 am).

It was a challenge but well worth it. According to the pamphlet, ‘The remains and foundations of a colossal structure, it features three-tiered defence walls made of stones that fit with razor-sharp precision. Saqsaywaman means Satiate Falcon. It was built in some 77 years (1431-1508) under the rule of the Incas Tupac Yupanki and Wayna Qhapaq. From 1537 to 1561 the site was used as a quarry by the Spaniards to build a cathedral, a number of temples and their own houses.'

'Four well-defined sections may be clearly identified: the fortress or walls, built with Cyclopean stonemasonry arranged in zigzags that face the second section; the so-called Chuquipampa Square, which is actually an open grassy levelled ground; ...the fortified towers; and the Suchuna hill, located opposite the walls. ... The largest stone weighs about 70 tons!' The way the stones fit together so perfectly is certainly amazing and I have no idea how the Incans built with such precision.
On top of the hill adjacent to Saqsaywaman is Cusco’s version of Rio’s statue of Christ the Redeemer, so Mat and I climbed up there for a look as well. Near the statue are three crosses – presumably representing the three crosses at the crucifixion of Christ – but these were ‘dressed’ in richly embroidered garments. Beneath the statue, the usual group of souvenir sellers sat patiently waiting for tourists to purchase their wares and, parked in the car park area, was a former city tram, which has been converted for use as a motorised vehicle to transport tourists around the major sites.

Needless to say, the walk back down to the city centre was MUCH easier than the walk up, and I felt entirely justified in devouring a huge lunch of guacamole and tortilla chips at an excellent vegetarian restaurant we discovered.

The tourist ticket we’d purchased at Saqsaywaman gives us access to many different archaeological sites and museums and only lasts for 10 days, so we decided to visit a couple of museums after lunch. First was the Museum of Popular Art, exhibiting a bizarre collection of small sculptures, ceramics, photography and other works by contemporary Cusco craftsmen. The most popular subjects were, understandably, religious – the nativity featured strongly, with alpacas and llamas instead of the more traditional donkeys; St George fought the dragon; grotesque images of Christ hung on crosses; and various saints beamed out from shiny gilded frames.

Next was the Qorikancha site museum. The Qorikancha, which means golden courtyard in the local Quechua language, was apparently the richest and potentially most important temple in the Incan empire. It was built in the mid-15th century, much of it was covered in gold, and there were also solid gold statues. Of course, soon after the arrival of the Spanish in 1533, the gold was melted down and, in 1534, Qorikancha was turned over to the Dominicans who dismantled much of the temple and used the site (and the stones) to build the Convento de Santo Domingo. Only the smooth basalt foundations, typical of Incan architecture, still remain.

Convento de Santo Domingo
The museum is under the old temple site, in small cramped ill-lit rooms, which don’t exactly encourage visitors. There were some interesting exhibits, however. Skulls, and photos of skulls, showed the Incan practice of trepanation, skeletons crouched tightly into foetal positions alongside large pottery urns showed Incan burial practices, and then there were also several bizarre cone-shaped skulls. ‘Aliens in Cusco?’, I asked myself. But, no, apparently Incans of wealthy lineage were into binding with bandages the heads of their babies and young children to create these strange shapes. No one quite knows why. It was almost a relief to escape the museum and emerge back into the sunshine!

21 May 2011

What's behind the blue door?

I’ve developed a fascination for the doorways here in Cusco. There are so many variations … in colour, in size, in decoration, in their simplicity or splendour. And the question of what’s behind each door is intriguing.

These are just some of the doorways I’ve photographed so far, plus some quotations about doorways that appealed.

“Every doorway, every intersection has a story.”  ~ Katherine Dunn

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”  ~ Helen Keller

“You must not for one instant give up the effort to build new lives for yourselves. Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway to life.”  ~ Daisaku Ikeda  

“Kind words will unlock an iron door” ~ Turkish proverb

“The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.”  ~ E. B. White

And the best quote of all ... “When having a smackerel of something with a friend, don't eat so much that you get stuck in the doorway trying to get out.” ~ Winnie the Pooh ... so these are WIDE doorways to allow fat Winnies to leave!

14 May 2011

Remembering my darling dad

My darling dad, Ronald George Collins, was born on 15 May 1922, so today would have been his 89th birthday.

Ron sitting behind his brother Digger
The fourth child in a family of five, Ron had three brothers and a half sister. Though he was born in Hamilton, the Collins family lived in the small settlement of Horotiu, where his father worked at the local freezing works and, as a sideline, trained racehorses. From a young age, Ron and his brothers were at home around animals and all rode early morning trackwork to help train the racehorses.

Horotiu Primary School was across the road from the Collins homestead but this was not Ron’s favourite place. An often-told family story tells of the day he punched his teacher in the belly and ran away, only to be discovered some time later hiding in the calf pen. Ron was naturally left-handed but, like most children of those days, had been rapped over the knuckles every time he tried to write with his left hand. I imagine this was one of the reasons he disliked school so much.

As soon as he could, he departed the education system and followed his father and other family members into the freezing industry. Though slightly under the legal employment age, Ron pestered manager Joe Cotter for a job at Auckland Farmers Freezing Co-operative’s Horotiu plant, and, having taken a shine to the lad, Joe took Ron under his wing. He liked Ron's attitude and his desire to work, so gave him a start sweeping the floors. Ron soon progressed to labourer and then knife hand, and so began Ron's long career in the industry.

Except for a short interlude helping his brother Digger and wife Eileen to run a billiard room in Cambridge, six months working at a freezing works near Invercargill, and short periods of military training during World War Two, Ron worked at the Horotiu plant for more than 50 years.

Season after season this young man learnt every aspect of slaughter and processing at the plant. He was competent at lambs, beef, pigs, bobby calves, goats and sheep. He spent his time on each of the boards, as a solo slaughterman, working on the chain, as a boner – you name it, he was able to master it. He was so competent that, in time, he was selected to join the staff as a supervisor and trainee of slaughtermen. By applying his skills, he rose to become foreman of the slaughter boards, supervising up to 500 men in the peak season, a position he held and persevered with until retirement. Dealing with management, veterinary and meat inspectors, and workers was never dull and often full of tensions. Liaising with plant engineers, electricians, freezer staff, boning rooms, chiller staff, stock yards – it was all go for Ron from the time he set foot on the plant each day.

Ron's the man in the centre
Bob Short, the presbyter at Ron’s funeral, had worked with Ron at AFFCo for many years and had this to say about him: ‘Ron gave of his knowledge and skills to the freezing industry. He was one who was creative and a developer of techniques and skilled in man management. He observed and partook of every aspect of slaughter and processing of stock and plant. His quiet, patient, professional manner and his incredible practical application skills saw him designing and overseeing the instalment of mechanical equipment that changed the face of the industry – machines designed to remove the hides from cattle, lambs, sheep and bobby calves. Cutting tools, mechanical saws, lifts and rams and moving belts, all with specific cuts and jobs to do in the process of preparing the animal for human consumption. He was a team member, but at the same time the leader of the team, and his contribution cannot be emphasized enough … his relationship with Meat Research Ruakura and the engineering staff set him apart as a creator. Ron and his team persevered and many of today's modern machines were developed through his personal contributions. A great debt is owed by the industry to men like Ron Collins. His man management skills were something to be observed. A huge staff existed at Horotiu in the best season, and the roistering and maintaining of staff and production meant many sleepless nights for this man. Seasons in and out – energy and tensions, industrial disputes, men and women were trained, cajoled and supported by this man and his team at Horotiu.’

Around 1952, at a local dance, his brother Ted introduced him to a young lady named Shona Johnstone. In his own quiet and inimitable manner, Ron courted this friendship as it deepened. Ron and Shona were married at the Presbyterian Church in Ngaruawahia on 11 July 1953. So began a loving partnership that survived the inevitable ups and downs of relationships for almost 50 years. More details of their life together can be found in my previous blog about my mum. 

It was not all work and no play for Ron. Golf became his sport for relaxation. He loved to walk the primitive Ngaruawahia Golf Course that was his old horse training ground of days past. He helped it grow into today's modern course with its new club house and up-to-date facilities, frequently helping out at working-bees and volunteering as handicapper for many years. Something about hitting that little white ball helped relieve the tensions at home and at work, and golf became Ron and Shona's shared experience, one that gave them great pleasure as a couple.

When duck-shooting season came around, Ron proved himself a competent shot. Often the floor at work would be covered with duck feathers as Ron and his workmates plucked their quotas from the weekend shooting, and the stories became almost unbelievable as the day progressed. Many winter mornings at home were also spent plucking ducks, with mum, my brother and I all roped in to help. I got my first biology lessons when dad was gutting the ducks: ‘This is the heart. Here’s the liver …’

Ron was also a follower of the sport of kings, often seen with Best Bets in hand, looking for the works’ bookmaker or off to the TAB or a day at the races. He was lucky and careful and often a quiet winner, well rewarded. Mum wasn’t a fan of the horses but, for several years, I accompanied my dad to the races every Saturday, sometimes continuing on to the night trots as well. After dad died, clearing out his huge pile of racing paperwork brought back many memories of the wonderful times we spent together.

Fishing was another passion Ron pursued – surfcasting at Ruapuke, Coromandel, Waihi Beach and many other favourite locations. He was also a keen white-baiter, and those little silver fish held great excitement and interest for Ron in the season. A creative man, he would make his own nets and gear, including rods of Rangoon cane for casting.

He and Shona took great pride in their homes, and sections and gardens were always well tended. Ron always maintained a plentiful vegetable garden and a selection of fruit trees, which kept our family in fresh produce all year round. He was also passionate about orchids, growing some beautiful specimens and, in his final years, became keen on growing gerberas.

Though he hadn’t smoked for over 35 years, Ron developed lung cancer in late 2001. The discovery of this debilitating disease was a major blow for both Ron and Shona, but he was able to maintain his positive attitude right. He hated hospitals so Shona brought her beloved husband home and nursed him for the three short weeks he had left.

Tuesday 22 January 2002 was the worst day of my life. I spent most of it, sitting on the bed, holding dad’s hand as his life slipped away. We were very close so I was devastated when he died just after 10pm that night. At the graveside funeral service presbyter Bob Short described dad very well, as a ‘not-so-tall man, straight-backed, with longish arms and hard-working big hands, whose open face, wry smile and twinkly eyes welcomed you into his personal and private space.’ I miss those twinkly eyes every day.

My first week ...

Cusco city street
My first week here in Cusco has sped by and I’m slowly getting acclimatised. I still feel the altitude when I’m walking up hill, especially if volunteer Mat’s in front ‘cause he sets a cracking pace. I’m still getting headaches during the night, or waking up with one in the morning. I’m not sure if that’s from the altitude or the pillow or the bed – sleeping in a single is very strange and I tend to wake up to roll over – I think my brain triggers my body to wake up so I don’t fall out! And I wake up with puffy eyes every day, even though I’m sleeping well – not sure what that’s about. The climate here is very dry so plenty of moisturiser is a must and, as the air is clear and altitude high, sun block is also a necessity as my pink and peeling nose testifies!
Delicious fruit at one of the markets

The weather here is ideal for me. Most days the skies have been clear and blue, with only occasional cloud, and it gets hot, so I strip down to a t-shirt. But, as soon as the sun is obscured by cloud or goes down (and that’s early here – it’s dark about 6pm) then it gets cold and I need to rug up. We have had one thunderstorm, with no lighting that I could see but huge claps of thunder that echoed off the high hills surrounding Oropesa, Cusco and the towns in between. I think the average daytime high this week has been about 19°C and the night-time low about 5°C – just perfect!

I’ve met some really nice people. There’s Mat, a 28-year-old lawyer from Norwich, who’s been travelling and volunteering in various countries – Vietnam, Cambodia, China, New Zealand, Guatemala – for 10 months but is off home after his 5 weeks here. He arrived the day after me so we’ve chatted a lot together. Monika, a Canadian English professor, and her 14-year-old daughter Natasha arrived Tuesday and we’ve also spent some great time with them. We eat out together most nights, so I’m been enjoying the company and the conversation. I think getting to know the volunteers, who come from all over the world, will be one of the many highlights of my time here.

Judy, the current project manager, a young Canadian, is great – very friendly and helpful and she has the project running smoothly. She will be a hard act to follow! Nelida, the Peruvian teacher at the project, is lovely – very patient with my totally inadequate Spanish (and I will almost certainly employ her to teach me once I get settled into a daily routine). I know I will be relying a lot on her in the coming months.

And as for my new job at Picaflor House ... well, my orientation so far has been going well. Globalteer has changed its focus in Peru this year, from supplying volunteers to help out in various orphanages and other projects around Cusco, to running their own dedicated project in Oropesa, a small town about 45 minutes’ ride outside the city. Globalteer only acquired their own property at the beginning of April so the project is in its infancy but already Judy has got three separate classrooms furnished, one for the English classes, one as a library area where Nelida works with the kids on their reading and helps with their homework from public school, and the other room for arts and crafts. Jim’s wife Camilla currently runs that but, as she’s expecting their second child in September, we’ll be looking for a new art teacher soon. There’s also an office – Judy used to run everything from her house – and a bathroom – a huge novelty for the kids as they’re not used to a sit-down toilet. It seems the fields surrounding their houses are where they usually go.

Picaflor House
The facilities are quite basic but over the coming weeks we hope to add some paint to brighten the place up, and clear the large yard of the junk and stones left behind by the previous occupant. Then, the plan is to have a football field, a basketball/volleyball court, a covered area for outdoor activities in the rainy season, a sandpit, paths between each area and a garden, plus we want to leave room for more classrooms as the project expands. When few children came to the project yesterday, we made a start, clearing most of the junk and starting to move the stones into one large pile. The painting and setting up of the sports areas will take money, of course, so all donations are welcome!

The children’s attendance is quite spasmodic – it depends on what’s happening at home, whether their parents need them for child-minding or other chores. Another thing Nelida and I will do in the coming weeks is visit the local schools, village people and families to explain what we’re offering and try to encourage more regular attendance.
Monika and Natasha teaching body parts
At the moment, the weekly routine at the project is at follows: on Mondays, there is often a smaller number of children, so we split them by age into two groups, and they have English or Library for an hour, then half an hour of sports, then English or Library for an hour. On Tuesday and Wednesdays, the increased number of kids means we split them into 3 groups, with 45 minute lessons of English, Library and Art. On Thursdays, the high school children are encouraged to come for English lessons and homework help, with one period at the end for other activities – this week it was traditional Peruvian dancing! And Friday is sports and games day for everyone – and so the most popular day with the kids.
Kids enjoying the birthday cake

And this week, Friday was also my birthday party. Judy had organised two cakes so all the kids could have a piece – what a treat that was! Some of us dressed up in funny hats, the kids sang me Happy Birthday in Spanish, and one little girl performed an extra item then rushed over to give me a big hug. It was just lovely! And as the kids trooped out the door, happy from their sweet treat, volunteers Monika and Natasha gave them each a new toothbrush and toothpaste to take home – a timely gesture!

Later, Mat, Monika, Natasha and I went out for a delicious dinner and lively conversation at a local restaurant. It was a wonderful end to my first week here in Cusco and a birthday I will always remember.

11 May 2011

In loving memory of my darling mum

Today would have been my mother’s 78th birthday. Shona Jean Johnstone was born on 12 May 1933 in Hamilton Hospital. Her mother Marie, father Dick, and brothers, Stewart and Colin, had recently moved north from the South Island and were living in a farmhouse in Te Rapa. Soon after Shona was born the family moved a few miles north to Ngaruawahia, where Shona lived for much of her life. Her youngest brother Don was born soon afterwards.

She attended Ngaruawahia Primary School and then Hamilton High School, travelling to and from high school each day by train. Shona studied secretarial subjects at high school, then went to Hamilton Technical College for more secretarial training.

After her father died suddenly on 2 February 1950, when Shona was just 16, she left Tech and worked in the office at John Chambers Motors, a spare parts company in Hamilton. She enjoyed the job and was popular with her work-mates. Her brother Don remembers them coming to the Johnstone family home for social get-togethers.

Around 1952, at a dance at a nearby town, neighbour Ted Collins introduced Shona to his brother Ron and so began a relationship that would last for the next 50 years. One night in 1953, as they sat on the couch at home, Ron tossed a slipper into the air and said: 'Whosever slipper this is can be my missus!' It was a novel proposal which Shona was delighted to accept, and she married Ronald George Collins in a delightful family ceremony at the Presbyterian Church in Ngaruawahia on 11 July 1953.

The newly weds set up home in Thomas Street with Shona’s mum Marie for a time, then moved down the road to their own house in North Street, Ngaruawahia. I was born six months later, on Mother’s Day, and my brother was born two and a half years later. A couple of years after that, Shona’s mother moved two doors along to a smaller unit, and the Collins family moved back into the Johnstone family home.

Shona and Ron were wonderful parents and us kids have great memories of Sunday trips to the beach at Raglan, and to visit relations at baches in Whangamata, Kawhia and at various locations along the Thames coastline. There were also frequent day trips to visit extended family in Auckland, Morrinsville and other local towns.

But life was not all plain sailing for Shona and she suffered from several health problems over the years. In her late twenties she suffered much pain from arthritis and was told she might end up in a wheelchair – she fought that problem by walking more, and she and Ron were enthusiastic walkers from that time onwards. And they both took up golf, a passion they also shared for the rest of their lives together.

On 6 June 1968 Shona was rushed to hospital suffering from a burst duodenal ulcer. The first ambulance that arrived broke down, and a second ambulance had to be called. It was a very worrying time for family and friends, but Shona pulled through.
Once us kids were both at school, Shona started working part-time and she was employed in a variety of jobs over the years: doing office work for Fred Bradley’s transport company (something my brother and I enjoyed because we then got to ride with the truck drivers during the school holidays!) and Colin Cotter’s CAC Motors, serving in Barry and Irene Collins’s milkbar in Ngaruawahia, as secretary and later part-time office assistant at the Ngaruawahia Golf Club where her continued efforts were eventually recognised with life membership of the club. For a couple of years she worked in the office at Ngaruawahia High School and she continued supervising the examinations for many years after she left that job, and she also ran The Shoe Factory, Hollywood Shoes’ factory shop in Hamilton. She brought her excellent organisational abilities and exceptional people skills to each of her jobs, and was always much valued and well liked by her employers and co-workers.

Mum and I, Boxing Day, 2006
When Ron retired in 1982, he and Shona used his superannuation payout to buy their first house in Keppler Street, still in Ngaruawahia, though they later decided to move to Whangamata for a more relaxed way of life. They soon made friends in the local community, but Shona found the lifestyle too relaxed and missed her Ngaruawahia friends so, after about 18 months in Whangamata, they moved back to the Waikato, this time buying a house in Camden Place in Hamilton. A further move followed, to Sequoia Place, followed by yet another couple of years later, to 280 Te Rapa Road. Shona and Ron always took great pride in their homes, and their gardens were always a picture. Gardening was one of Shona’s great passions, and her blooming gardens and healthy pot plants were a testament to her green fingers.

In 1996 Shona battled another health crisis when a malignant tumour was discovered on her right kidney. The cancer – and the kidney – were removed, though it took many months of continuing treatment to finally eradicate the problem. Then, just after Christmas 2001, Ron was diagnosed with lung cancer. After being told on New Year’s Eve that the disease was untreatable, Shona took her beloved Ron home and nursed him for the three short weeks he had left. She lost the love of her life on 22 January 2002.

It was a devastating blow which she suffered with dignity and inner strength. She continued living at the Te Rapa Road house for another year or so before making her final move, joining the community of the Perrin Park Retirement Village. There she soon made friends and joined in the group activities of bowls, putting, exercise classes, and line-dancing, not to mention the Friday night Happy Hours and nights out at the local Cock ‘n’ Bull.

A highlight of Shona’s last years was the arrival of a granddaughter, born to her son and his partner. Shona had abandoned hope of ever having grandchildren, so Alisha’s birth and subsequent family visits were a source of great happiness to her.

In March 2008 Shona was admitted to Waikato Hospital where, after a week of tests, she was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. Though three types of treatment were administered, sadly none proved successful and on 6 April 2008 Shona slipped peacefully away.

Today, as on every single day since she passed away, I remember my darling mum. I miss her more than I can say.

A dangerous commute!

The programme at Picaflor House starts each afternoon at 2.30 and to get there I have to catch one of the local mini buses. These range in size from 12-seaters to 20-seaters but there is no limit on the number of people and produce they carry, so a 12-seater can, and does, carry as many as 40 people, crammed in like sardines, clinging on tightly to any overhead railings and seatbacks, with the ‘conductor’ frequently hanging out the side door trying to attract even more customers to squash in.

The journey to Oropesa takes about 45 minutes and, as we head out of Cusco, the number of passengers tends to thin out and we manage to find a seat. Today’s bus was more crowded than usual and we (Peruvian teacher Nellida and volunteer Mat) stood for over half the journey, squeezed and prodded and pushed as passengers came and went. Eventually I got a seat on one side of the bus and managed to free up my camera to grab a couple of photos of the jam.

Moments later I rescued a very sleepy little girl from being squashed between the big people and within a few minutes she’d fallen asleep on my knee. She was about 5 and was travelling with her ‘big’ brother – he must’ve been about 7. They got off the bus as we neared the first country town outside Cusco, and he led her off into the fields, presumably heading for home. Children learn responsibility early here!

We eventually reached Oropesa and were just about to stand up to exit the bus when there was an almighty crash, schoolgirls screamed, the interior of the bus filled with red dust, broken glass and one of the bus’s speakers fell onto my lap, and passengers started pushing in panic towards the side exit.

As the bus had turned left across the main road, another vehicle had hit us just behind where I was sitting, scraped along the side of the bus and then obliterated its entire back end.

Amazingly, no one was hurt, though many were shocked and frightened. The driver of the other vehicle hadn’t stopped – maybe he was worried that he’d be in trouble if he’d killed anyone on the bus!

A policeman materialised out of nowhere and started shouting at our driver, so I assume it had been his fault. Though some of schoolgirls who had been at the very back of the bus were crying from shock, most of the locals seemed to regard the whole thing as a source of entertainment!

Luckily the bus trip home tonight was totally and completely UNeventful!

08 May 2011

Mothering Sunday Cusco-style

I awoke a couple of times in the night. The first time was before midnight because of incredibly loud booming sounds. Had Peru gone to war since I arrived? Luckily, no! It was, in fact, the sound of huge firecrackers going off, and they’ve continued throughout the day. I asked my new boss Jim about this – it seems they’re common for any kind of celebration. It may be a saint’s day – I did see some women dressed up in national dress parading a religious statue through the streets on my way out this morning – or it may just be because it’s Mothering Sunday here in Peru.

The second time I woke with a splitting headache. I took a couple of Panadol and it soon passed … luckily, because the last thing I want is a bad dose of altitude sickness. I have medicine for that, the procurement of which was a mission in itself. My doctor prescribed Acetazolamide tablets, which the travel doctor (I had to go to a specialist travel doctor for my yellow fever jab) subsequently told me was NOT a good idea as I’m allergic to sulphur-based drugs, which it is. Great! If the altitude sickness didn’t get me, the severe case of anaphylactic shock might have!

Jim's beautiful daughter
I awoke this morning to a brilliantly sunny day, unpacked my bags and enjoyed a hot shower before a taxi collected me from my hostel and took me the 8 kilometres to meet Jim, his wife Camilla and daughter Ariana at their house. The main road south alternated between smooth tarmac and corrugated dirt, and the buildings on either side varied from semi-modern blocks with reflective window-glass to half-built adobe-brick hovels, the latter being the most common. The cars and multitude of mini-buses are mostly old and the traffic chaotic, but there are traffic lights, which people obeyed, and there were traffic cops on duty.

From Jim’s place we grabbed another taxi (they’re cheap, if you know Spanish and haggle hard – I, of course, got majorly ripped off coming in from the airport!) and headed further out of town to a restaurant in the countryside. This was where Jim and Camilla had their wedding reception but don’t imagine a fancy building with expensive interior décor. There was an open-air kitchen, from which mouth-watering smells filled the air, surrounded by grassy fields alongside a stream. And, though it was only 11 o’clock, the place was packed with local families, sitting around tables under shady trees or on blankets on the grass, some playing football or volleyball, others just chatting. We met Jim’s mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who had grabbed us a table, but sadly the anticipated meal was not to be, By the time Camilla got to the front of the queue, the kitchen had run out of food! You’d have thought they would have anticipated the higher than average demand on Mothers’ Day, but no! You have to remember this is Peru, as Jim explained, where almost nothing runs to plan and patience is the greatest virtue! Lesson one!

We packed up our belongings and grabbed another taxi to head further out along the main highway to the little town of Saylla, renowned for its chicharrón – that's deep-fried pork – restaurants. (I was particularly grateful that we hadn’t gone on to the next town, where guinea pig is the specialty!) This is no place for a vegetarian, as I’m quickly learning, and we were soon tucking in to huge platefuls of the pork, huayro potatoes, boiled kernels of corn called mote, and a salad of onion and mint, with a side dish of crackling – but not the conventional western-version. Here the pigskin is hung in the sun to dry (see photo, above left) and then deep-fried to produce something akin to rice wafers. It was all delicious, and it was far too much for anyone to eat but it’s normal here to take a doggy bag home – nothing is wasted!

My Spanish is severely lacking so I couldn’t follow much of the conversation, but Jim explained much of what was being said … and provided so much more information about everything else besides. And Camilla and Ari both speak English and smiles seemed to work well with the in-laws, so, all in all, it was wonderful welcome to Peruvian family life. Thanks, Jim and family, for sharing your Mothering Sunday with me!

Who said Kiwis can’t fly?

My first view of South America
According to my itinerary I’ve flown 9401 miles in the last 2 days to travel from Auckland to begin my new life here in Cusco in Peru (via Santiago, Chile and then Lima).

My first impression is the cold!!! I snoozed away the late afternoon after I arrived here and now that the sun’s gone down, my hostel room is freezing. I was warned that it would be cold and, of course, this city’s at an altitude of 3,300 metres (that's 10,800 feet) above sea level so cool nights are to be expected, but I wasn’t expecting to be this cold. Mind you, my hostel room has wooden floors and very thin curtains, neither of which is helping with the heat. But I’m sitting in bed, with my lower body under the covers, and wearing a merino long-sleeve jumper, a t-shirt and a thick hoodie – with the hood on – and I’m still cold. However, I haven’t eaten much today so that’s probably not helping.

I don’t know what the time is. My phone can’t find a network connection and neither can my laptop. I’ll need to work it out ‘cause a taxi’s picking me up at 10 tomorrow morning to take me to join Jim, my new boss, and his family for lunch.

I liked the sign outside my hotel window – “clear” it was not!

Apart from those minor hiccups, all is well and at least I got here safely. The flight from Auckland to Santiago was LONG but I was physically exhausted from packing up my life in Auckland and emotionally exhausted from saying goodbye to so many wonderful people so I managed to get a bit of sleep. And I was lucky enough to have two seats to myself – not enough to lie down but good for stretching my legs out. I overnighted at the Holiday Inn, literally a two-minute walk from Santiago airport. It was foggy when I arrived and still foggy when I flew out again the next morning so I still have no idea what Santiago is like.

From Lima to Cusco, and the view out my window

It was four hours to Lima, then an hour to clear my bags through Customs and check back in again, by which time the plane was boarding for Cusco. The flight here was, not unexpectedly, over mountainous terrain with a steep final drop down into the valley where the city lies. I haven’t seen much yet, just a quick ride through the city to my hostel and the view out the window.

But now it’s time to snuggle down under the covers and catch up on some more shut-eye.