On the Road Again – Lampa Day 7

Half finished development for sale

We are joined by a local guide, Angela (pronounced Ang hella) who speaks excellent English and tells us that she comes from Cusco, the old capital of the Inca Empire. Our van retraces our route back through the hideous city of Julinca. There’s traffic and major roadworks. Everywhere I look, building is in progress or abandoned, but rarely completed. A huge concrete works dominates and dozens of Petrol Stations are being built side by side along the road. There is a lot of drugs money in this city and money laundering is rife.  All kinds of industry flourish; motor bikes (not common in Peru) are maufactured here and everyone has one – they use less petrol. Every sort of fake you can think of is also made here, rivalling China giving Julinca the name of ‘Chinese City’. I notice the many blue and curved windows in new buildings. Apparently this is a fashion and I know that curved window panes are very expensive. Even though the houses are not finished, the windows display wealth.

Election candidates

Eventually we reach the Altiplano again on the road to Cusco. Back in the other direction this road leads to land-locked Bolivia. Along the roads here and elsewhere, the images associated with various politicians can be see painted on walls and buildings. As four percent of the people are illiterate in the countryside, the candidates chose a symbol so they can be identified. One candidate has a football with the word ‘Gool’ in the centre. Someone has a tree (possibly Green), another has a sandal and there is a pencil, perhaps signifying a clean slate. It is mandatory to vote and you will be fined if you don’t. You also don’t have to pay the fine, but in future, if you want something official, like a mortgage, it comes up on the system and you have to pay.

Lampa Town Hall
Victor Humareda – Artist
by Victor Humareda
Unknown artist
Unknown Artist
La Pieta

Lampa is one of those sleepy hollows that appears unremarkable. We are here to see the Town Hall/Library and Art Gallery. Lampa is the home of the Peruvian expressionist, Victor Humareda Gallegos.

There is one of his paintings here, not his best, and several other works of art. Their pride and joy, however is an exact copy of La Pieta in St Peters in Rome. When the original in Rome was badly damaged by vandalism, the Vatican visited to see how  the statue could be retored. The Pope also came to look and they even tried to persuade the town to give them thiscopy. The Town held out and here it remains. Lampa was once one of the richest towns in Peru, a centre of gold and silver mining, now all ceased.

Lampa Cathedral Nurses in PPE – Vaccinating?
View of bones from the chapel above
The Chapel, lined with black marable from Italy

We cross to the Cathedral to look at the catacombs. There is a wedding in full swing, so we feel quite awkward squeezing past to look at a chapel where we can see a display of skulls and bones. I don’t go down to the catacombs – Rome and Lima have convinced me that once you have seen underground tunnels, bones and skulls, there is not much more to be experienced.

Waiting for the wedding party
Here they come
Sweepping up confetti

Getting out of the church is also interesting as, although the wedding is over, there are professional photographers and video-makers snapping and shooting away. No expense is spared on Peruvian weddings. I must take years to save for. It is also worth noting that in spite of Catholic rules, couples here follow the ancient tradition of living together before marriage, to see if it works out. There are other concessions the church had to make to keep their congregations. We get outside in time to watch the (Mature) happy couple emerge to clouds of confetti purchased from the women outside the church. A band strikes up and the bride and groom (with small child) processed round the town square.  The remaining women, sweep up the confetti and bag it up ready to sell for the next wedding.

Mural depicting the Inca era
Mural continues depicting the Spanish iniquities
Mosaic detail on Town fountain
Mosaic -Inca drummer on town fountain
Squatters shacks another scam to get land
We are now in cattle ranch country
Vicuna on Dairy Farm

We travel on to have lunch at the highest functioning dairy farm in the world. They survived the warlords of recent times by sleeping with their guns under their pillows. We have potato soup followed by meat pie – a sort of warm meat loaf with more potatoes then fruit to finish off. Everywhere we have the ubiquitous and delicious Chica Morada, made from the red corn and pineapple juice. Outside in the ‘home paddock’ are a couple of Vicuna, the smallest of the Peruvian Camelids. They are skittish and not easily domesticated compared with the Alpaca and Llama (pronounced Yarma) .







Delores and welcoming party.

Tonight, we are hosted by local families – a homestay. Our van stops on the side of the road with piles of pink mud banks and no sign of a village. Suddenly local women in traditional dress appear. One of their boys has a wheelbarrow to carry our heavy suitcases up pathways to the homes. Delores seems to be in charge, calling neighbours on her mobile phone. None of them speak any English and we make do with gestures and maybe the odd word of Spanish. Almost half of the group disappear up and alley way, while we find ourselves on the main road, but through some gates to Delorus’ compound. The rooms are basic – just a bed and chair. The toilet is across the compound and the shower further around a corner. Both work,  and Delores shows me a light switch outside my room, which illuminates the yard.

The Potter
Karakia and Wiata from Aotearoa

We all gather at one of the homestays to look at pottery being made – the process of getting the clay and turning it into soft pliable material. A very ancient man turns out a perfectly formed bowl. Next, we are introduced to a spiritual ritual with Coca leaves speaking to Pacha Mama the Earth Godless and the sky god. The Kiwis in the group want to respond in a traditional way and Ingo lead us in a Karakia and explains that in the tradition of the first people of Aotearoa we would all sing a Waiata or song. Angela translates and we see their recognition and pleasure of our acknowledgement. We sing the standard waiata ‘Aroaha’ about peace and love. I can just remember both the words and tune.

All dressed up against the cold nights
Around the fire







Suddenly, a fire is lit and our poncho-clad bodies and hat-covered heads are warmed.  We return to our homestays for dinner then to bed. Most of us report being very warm under Alpaca and Llama wool blankets. Because of the altitude I’m drinking more water than usual with the result that I make numerous trips across the compound throughout the night.

Quite a blaze

Swimming and hospitality on Taquile Day five

Taquile Island – Lake Titicaca
The beach Taquile
Our beach on Taquile

Back in the boat we motor on out into the clear water of the lake towards Taquile Island. Our guide tells us that officially the people are Catholics, but revert to Inca Customs when they need to. Taquile is one of the larger inhabited islands on Lake Titicaca and our guide’s family still lives there.

Getting changed


I had an idea to swim in Lake Titicaca inspired by my friend Vicky Carter, who has swum here. I hadn’t promised as I didn’t know if it would fit in with the tour schedule -Taquile seemed the best place as the water is clear, unlike the slimy green water around Puno. Several others in our party are open water swimmers in Aotearoa (NZ) and are keen to join in, so a plan is made. Our guide suggests two possibilities: on the beach just after landing or after lunch at the end, jumping off the stone jetty. None of us want to jump so the beach it is.

Taquile swim team

We are joined by two young Netherlanders, also on our tour boat. We have all come equipped with swimming costumes and in some case, goggles, but the Netherlanders swim in their underwear. It’s a brisk ten degrees and quite delicious. Swimming at this altitude is a challenge and we are all breathless. I manage some front crawl but switch to backstroke as breathing is easier. I only manage four strokes of butterfly before again switching to my back for some double arm backstroke – my favourite. I don’t think we last more than a minute and spend the rest of the time floating around. The Netherlanders sit huddled together with just their shoulders out of the water, looking cold. It’s incredible to be swimming near the top of the Andes Mountains of Peru.

Invigorated, we dry of in the hot sun, apply sun-block and adjust our sun hats. The Netherlanders choose to keep their wet underwear on for modesty – it takes the rest of the afternoon for them to dry out.

Dancing on Taquile

The Islanders have built a wide pathway up the hill and we gather to watch a traditional dance. It has various recognisable steps – the Hokey Cokey; a Middle Eastern Line dance, which includes Jewish dance steps. It‘s interesting to note that various civilisations world-wide find similar solutions independently.

Netherlanders and dancers

We are invited to join in but I’m not planning to dance. After the swim and walking up hill, I’m short of breath but one of the young Netherlanders asks me to dance, takes my hand and draws me into the circle. How can I refuse? Fortunately, the dance is not too taxing. The next stage is a retail opportunity with yet more textiles, scarves and hats for sale. We climb up another straight path which reminds me of a ramp up the side of a pyramid. It is hot, and the only way is to go at a slow and steady pace, taking regular deep breaths. Finally, we reach the top to find a small pyramid which our Guide’s Uncle has built as a look-out/ photo opportunity.

On top of the Island
Exhausted by the climb
What have I sat on?








A few more steps take us to the uncle’s shaded patio for lunch. All around the Island, various boatloads of tourists are sitting down to eat at different homes. We start with Quinoa soup in terracotta bowls – delicious – seconds are called for. The main course is grilled trout (a Canadian species introduced into the lake) with rice, chips and vegetables – simple tasty and filling. I’m not sure about the double serving of carbohydrates though. To wash it down we have the option of buying beer or fizzy drinks like Cola. Mint tea is included, you just put a few twigs from a shrub, which looks nothing like the mint that we know, into a cup of boiling water. Coca leaves are the other option – they are said to be good for altitude sickness, but they also act as a diuretic.

Our guide tells the story of his island community. Before 1970, babies were born on the island, then hospitals became free but the journey into Puno was too long so the islanders built a house in Puno where pregnant mothers could go one week before and stay on, if needed. To finance this they turned their Island into a tourist destination by building the pathway and steps across the island as there were no roads, only narrow tracks and steps.

He also relates the procedure for marriage. The prospective husband has to knit a hat and weave cloth to a suitable standard before asking for the hand of his sweetheart in marriage.

The way down the hill to the jetty

We take perilous steps back down to our boat now tied up at a jetty on the Puno side of the island. We had landed and swum on the Bolivian side but we can barely make out that far shore. In addition to our ten Outside the Square travellers the boatful includes a Mexican Couple, some Danish youngsters, two Bolivians and the afore-mentioned French couple and Netherlanders. There is also one young man with an American accent, on his own. As Ann and I carefully negotiate the perilous steps down to the boat, the young man is standing by the path reading his book. He catches us up, overtakes and can be found further down the hill reading again.

Most of us sleep on the way back to Puno as the boat skirts around the floating islands and dropping people off at various points on the way, leaving only our group and the Netherlanders to disembark at Puno. They are also heading to Machu Pichu but we will not coincide. Coming back to Puno you can see clearly why it is called the Ugly City on a beautiful lake. Most of the buildings appear to be unfinished – few of the houses have been rendered or painted. Reinforcing rods of iron stick out of pillars awaiting the addition of another story. People only pay their house tax when work is completed or after ten years. Even then it is possible to claim that further work is planned, when they can afford it. We have seen this in outer suburbs wherever we go.

Only a few of us have the energy to go out for dinner at one of the best restaurants in Puno. I try the Guinea Pig Compote. I may have had Guinea Pig before, but can’t recall where – Argentina? Cambodia?

The Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca Day 5

Tour Boats in Puno in green slime
On the way

The people of the floating islands originally lived on dry land around Lake Titicaca. They were a peaceful people but invaders forced them to move into the shallow parts of the lake, they filled in the area with layers of reeds cut from the lake on which they built their houses. When the Spanish arrived, they invented their floating islands far out in  deep water. Many boats are taking tourists out into the lake and each one visits one of the Islands. It is carefully organised so that each island gets a turn, hosting a a boat. Dressed in bright colourful costumes, the island people greet us.

floating on air tanks – a modern solution
Walking on an island

We have collected a young French couple on our way here from a hotel on the peninsular which used to be a prison. Now converted, guests have been known to complain that the rooms are too small. The girl is a wheel-chair-user and uses two walking sticks to negotiate the spongy surface of the Island.

Mary, a local woman from our Island, assists our guide to demonstrate how the floating Islands were made. They were forced to move further out to the deeper parts of the lake when the Spaniards arrived.

Our guide tells the story
How the Island is built

A solution was found in the roots of the reeds – they are porous, trapping air inside and therefore float well. Huge sections of roots were cut from the lake bed and tethered together, originally with twine but now with nylon rope, which lasts longer. Next layers of reeds are laid on these foundations which need replacing as they rot down. The top layer is green and freshly laid. It’s a bit like walking on a mattress. On top are the houses, the kitchens and other buildings, all made out of reeds and now lashed and woven with nylon twine.

Growing crops is not possible here, but there were fish in the lake and birds eggs were plentiful and the birds could be caught or shot. In this way, they traded with the land people, exchanging their goods for potatoes, corn and Alpaca wool which they turned into textiles to wear and now sell.

Solar panels on the laundry/bathroom
Ann and the cook-house

We are divided up and my small group is with Mary, who shows us ‘her’ house full of textile products. It’s a retail opportunity and doesn’t look as if anyone lives here, in spite of her claim. Most of the items are too brightly coloured for me, and I haven’t brought much cash as I wasn’t expecting to shop. However, a natural-coloured hanging has caught my eye. It’s more cash than I’ve got on me so I wave my Master Card and say ‘ VISA’. To my astonishment, Mary calls out to someone – low and behold a portable credit-card machine materialises and the transaction is completed via wifi in the middle of the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,827m.

My purchase

Everyone in our group is incredulous, so I show the print-out receipt as proof. Lloyd tries to get Ken’s attention (both from our group) but he gets caught up in an old nail sticking out of Mary’s doorframe. In the confusion, a sale is lost. Lloyd, however, brushes off his wound even though there is blood everywhere and someone sticks a plaster on him, I think.

Not only do they have wifi but solar panels produce electricity. They used to use candles for light, but dried reeds are flammable – accidents happened. Now light bulbs are powered by the panels. Water is drawn from the lake and toilets are on separate islands. There can be some rather quick paddling to be seen.

The rowers who don’t need to row

Boats are also made from reeds and are quite elaborate, if cumbersome affairs. We are taken across the water to reconnect with our tour boat. There are two rowers at the stern, but mostly for show. The real power is from thin aluminium painter with an out-bord motor which skilfully manoeuvrers us across the waterway. From the upper deck we look down on these mini-communities, all charming but kept up for the tourists. The original need for these islands has gone and young people have left for education and an easier way of life. Perhaps they will come back later  to continue their traditions, but it is uncertain. Their traditional subsistence way of life has disappeared, so tourism and sale of hand-made goods keeps them afloat.

Holiday stay
Mormon Church

Some of the modern buildings such as the Primary School (Highschool pupils have to go to the mainland) and the Mormon church (not a huge number of members) are floating on metal air-tanks. There are also small huts where holiday makers can stay the night.

The Condor in straw
The Inca rainbow flag flies here.

Off to the middle of the lake

More Altiplano on the way to Puno

Day 5

Another long drive today through valleys over four thousand metres high. Mountains on either side of us are straw-yellow with a hint of green. We continue to feel the effect of the altitude and some of us are not adjusting well.

The scenery is grand and the skies are big. Evidence of corn fields – random strips up the side of a mountain – begin to appear as do flocks of Alpaca, tended by a herder. Stone corals, some seemingly abandoned, can be seen. The Alpaca shelter in these overnight but these low dry-stone-walls can’t possibly contain Alpacas.

The ones my sister-in-law had were always jumping fences. I conclude that they must be hobbled at night to prevent escape. Further on there are cattle and sheep who are tethered so they cannot graze the green lucerne grown and clipped by hand to feed the stock. This farming practice is much the same as Egypt which I observed some years ago. Compared with the mountains this agriculture seems very small scale.

We stop at a beautiful lake where I observe a very stunted Alpaca scratching a living from the ubiquitous Ichu grass – a kind of tussock. The animal attacks the green roots of the Ichu from the outside leaving the centre to continue to grow. Suddenly I notice that much of the Ichu has been grazed and the herders are rotating their flocks around to different areas. It also looks like some had been clipped to feed to other stock. The Alpaca are key to this area, able to live at high altitudes and survive the cold nights in their woolly fleeces.

Alpaca and herder
Stone enclosure for Alpacas or growing potatoe?

They provide meat to accompany a diet of corn and potatoes. The wool is woven and every stop along the way and urban markets offer ‘Baby Alpaca’ accumulated during the lack of tourism during the pandemic. The Peruvians are not pushy sellers, but you can tell that they have been severely affected. There’s a mountain of textiles and hand-made garments for sale post- pandemic.

Puno on Lake titicaca

We arrive to a view of Lake Titicaca, far below. It is blue and inviting but the foreground is grim. The road snakes down through the outskirts of Puno, an ugly city of half-finished buildings in a beautiful setting.

Puno from Lake Titicaca

We walk out to explore the older heart of the city and to find a laundry service. There are none to be seen so we take our dirty clothes to dinner. A google search reveals several Laundries nearby, but they will be closed by the time we have eaten. It just seems easier to do it via the hotel.

Get thee to a Nunnery – Arequipa

Day 4.

I have the morning to myself and return to the main square, to find the buildings are white in daylight. People are sunning themselves on the benches as the temperature rises. At 2,335 metres above sea level, the temperature drops at night. I return to La Compania De San Ignacio Cloisters, just off the square to explore.

San Ignatio

Church is open, so I divert. It’s gloomy and I get about five metres in the door and turn around. The Cloisters are light grey, almost white and are deserted. The artist stalls Richard mentioned last night have all gone. Apparently many things have not returned after COVID, all that remains here are a couple of Alpaca shops and a few cafés, which are not yet open. I climb up stairs to a walkway overlooking the cloister – it is beautiful and calm looking down.


I wander back to the square looking for a bench in the shade of a tree, but none are vacant, so it’s on to the balcony where all the coffee places are. I order a cappuccino and chose a seat looking out on the Square, get out my laptop and begin to write. When the cappuccino comes it is dreadful and I soon order agua con gas to clear my palette. Suddenly, I hear my name, Richard and another are three cafés along to my right and four others from our group are two cafés to my left.

Political rally

Some time later my concentration is broken by drumming and lout hailing. I suspect another demonstration. It is, but in favour of a local mayoral candidate. It’s time to pack up and return to the ice-cream place opposite San Ignacio. It’s only mid-day and an ice-cream alone won’t sustain me through the afternoon so I start with a ham and cheese empanada. It is all puffed up – filled with air – a thin layer of cheese is melted into bits of ham. These are not as I remembered in Argentina a few years ago. The traditional Peruvian Ice Cream, Queso Helado, is unusual and delicious.

The afternoon is devoted to the Monastery of Santa Catalina, an order of Dominican nuns established in the sixteenth century. Our guide speaks good English but is initially a bit brisk , but warms up when we start asking questions. She is grateful to be back at work after COVID as during the pandemic there were no tourists. Peru was particularly badly hit initially, one guide claimed they were the worst in the world and even now masks are mandatory and a majority still wear them.

The nunnery is like a large village and covers between five and seven acres. It was a closed order with no contact to the outside world and there remain sixteen nuns in a modern closed of area of the compound. There is s video of them happily cooking, sewing, praying, singing and playing musical instruments. The products from their cooking are on sale.

From the 16th century, the second daughter of every wealthy family went into the monastery, there was no choice. If the second daughters were twins, they went in as well. Families paid large amounts of money plus gifts of carpets and art works for the privilege of having a family member serving God. Most of their time was spent praying but they were forbidden to read the Bible as that might have led them to question the Catholic doctrine. That makes sense to me as my interpretation of the New Testament as a child and teenager, was that Jesus was a socialist.

Nun’s House
One of many kitchens

The nuns lived in ‘houses’ which were little more than one room, even the Mother Superior lived in one room, albeit a larger room. Kitchens were attached – there are kitchens everywhere – and lower class nuns, those from poor families, did the work for the upper class nuns – cooking, washing and so on. You can see why they were denied access to the bible.







The 16th century was not a safe time for girls and young women as those who married had to work hard, were usually abused by husbands and often died in childbirth. Only the eldest son inherited for the father – the other sons would go to be soldiers.

Our guide painted a grim picture of the lack of choice for young people. The colours painted on the walls look stunning and may have been similar in the 16th century and may have helped to foster a sense of safety.

The Laundry


Small revolving doors allowed messages to be sent out to families and presents to be given to the Monastery. Often these presents were abandoned babies, who were adopted by the nuns. The girl, were brought up to be nuns while the boys left when they were about 8 -10.


Many of us are experiencing fuzzy heads as a result of the high altitude.  Paracetamol and keeping hydrated is the key.  After dinner and walking back to the hotel, the pedestrian streets are alive with sellers. Their wares are displayed on mats which can be easily collected up in a bundle and removed if the police sirens are heard. One of our party comes across a book-seller and is intrigued. The man says he is not Peruvian but Arequipian – a bit of regional pride doing on?

Day 3 The Heart of the City

Peru Day 3 The Heart of the City

Central Square – General Grau

Our  guide today is Giermo. He tells us that every city has a heart, a centre or central square  where people gather to identify, communicate and protest. Does Aotea Square do this for Auckland? Perhaps for protests. London has many hearts depending on your interest. Trafalgar Square for celebrations and demonstrations, the financial heart is now split between Bank and Canary Wharf in the old Docklands. Theatres are in Soho and so on. But today we are off to find the heart of Lima and perhaps Peru. A minibus collects us and all our luggage and we ride as Giermo tells us that Lima is a city of eleven million, but only one hundred and forty metres above the sea. There are forty-two mayors  who govern the different districts of the city. Each mayor has a cabinet of councillors, so there is a lot of politics in the City which also has a top mayor. Only twenty percent of Peruvian politicians are women and there are now one hundred and thirty  in Congress. Election posters with images of friendly-faced men can be seen everywhere as there is an election soon.

We learn that Peru exports mangos and asparagus – to be found most of the year in British supermarkets. Coffee beans from the Amazon are also exported as Peruvians don’t drink much coffee, preferring coca tea, the leaves of which also come from the Amazon. There is not much smoking here, though we did smell weed on the cliffs yesterday, just as one does walking around London. There are one and a half-million Venezuelans  in Peru and they do smoke, according to Giermo.

Pre- Inca temple around 2000 years old

Inca culture (centred in Cusco) spread extensively over  neighbouring areas  of what is now Columbia, Bolivia, Chile and northern Argentina. It was the dominant rule until the Spanish turned up, but it’s important to know that there were great civilisations here before the Inca and our first stop is at one of many pre-Inca temples around the city and according to Giermo, human sacrifices were made here. The temples have survived two thousand years because there is no rain to wash away the mud bricks. Giermo doesn’t remember rain in his lifetime – the last downpour being in 1978. The ancients also understood earthquakes and employed anti-seismic construction methods, so that the buildings moved with the undulations of the Earth. Now we drive through the historic upper-class suburbs built by the Spanish. The whole area is planted with Olive trees brought from Spain and planted in the green spaces between the houses. The olives are harvested, pressed and the oil given to local people. Some of the trees are four-hundred years-old and an ancient oil press is preserved and on show.

Central Square

The main square is home to the usual colonial architecture of the period: solid,impressive and grand but nothing outstanding.

Theatre and ruined building for sale

It is dominated by an equestrian statue of  General Grau. In the other, more colourful square, there is a Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, a Theatre  and various government buildings. It’s not crowded with people, so I suspect that any talking here happens indoors. It also says nothing of Peru, from what I’ve seen so far.

Government buildings
Presidential Palace
Private buildings

The group is to visit the museum to look at Inca gold in a vault, but we all need to have our vaccination passports to show, plus a mask. I can’t find where I’ve stored it on my phone and my NHS app doesn’t work here.

I just wait and another of our party, desperate for coffee also gives it a miss.


Anti Mayor Demo

Suddenly, we come upon a very loud demonstration. Peruvian people are demonstrating in lines, chanting and blowing very loud plastic horns. The protest is against the corruption of the current Top Mayor. They are supervised by the police and the only violence is on the ear-drum. Suddenly police reinforcements arrive, but it seems they are to relieve the current force. The demonstration seems to be on the move and we find ourselves walking along side them in the opposite direction.

We walk beside the demo

This central part of Lima is awash  with protected historic buildings built by the Spanish. Many of these have wooden balconies which are shuttered with lattice-work so their inhabitants can see out but no one can see in.

Basilica Neustra Sénora La Merced

Around the corner is the Basilica Neustra Sénora La Merced. It is, like many South American Catholic churches, packed with gruesome imagery with bloody statues of Christ, emphasising his suffering. The message is clear that the suffering poor are better of than the Saviour. The grandeur is designed to intimidate.

Home of the Inquisition, npw a Tech store 


Opposite the church is a building which once housed the Inquisition, so that once tortured and converted, the victim could be escorted across the road to be guided in the faith.





Pink House with balcony

We have time for a visit to the catacombs. The Spanish were here for 300 years and buried their dead under the church above. We are required to wear our masks to get in and descend into the earth and walk along tunnels either side of which are bones (mostly femurs) and skulls. Bodies were buried in lime and after a time, the remains were fished out for a new lot. Gruesome remains are displayed and lit. No photography is allowed.

Historic city street

Everywhere people are wearing masks, in busses and on the street. Peru was severely affected by Covid and it looks as if masks have been their main weapon. Peruvians are gregarious and gather in public spaces, but you can see the apprehension in some when a non-masked person approaches.

Women used to drape their heads for modesty – The balconies of the Bishop’s palace

We walk to our minibus and are taken to the airport for our flight to Arequipa. Showing my boarding pass on my phone works just like most other places in the world. It’s a short flight but the Hotel transport has failed to arrive, so we taxi into the city through ugly looking suburbs of half finished houses and other unidentifiable buildings. It takes forever as this is the second largest city in Peru.

Arequipa Cathedral
Araquipa square

Once settled into our hotel, we venture out for an evening stroll – straight down the hill to the main square.

It is busy with people and with the buildings lit up, looks very beautiful.  It is dominated by the Cathedral and the other three sides have arched walkways where small shops are plying their trade. On the bottom side of the square there are balconies with inviting looking cafés. Young people with menus are trying to entice us upstairs. Further around is another interesting-looking church, closed now but the cloister looks worth an explore tomorrow.







We are off to a recommended restaurant in the other direction.

I try a lemonade made from a berry found in the Amazon, it is delicious and it goes with my fresh-water shrimp dish. We are in a covered courtyard surrounded by heaters like the ones in London and everywhere else in the world. Suddenly a man at the next table falls backwards onto the floor. Doctor Ann, who is our tour group, leaps to help, asking questions, inspecting the back of his head for wounds and dispensing empathy. He looks pale but is otherwise unharmed. Dr Ann returns in time for her food. A few minutes later the man’s partner also faints and collapses to the ground. She also recovers and they continue their dinner as if nothing had happened. A mystery.

Lima- the city where it never rains

Jade Rivera mural

The first thing I notice about Lima is the morning fog which, like San Francisco, rolls off the sea, blocks out the sunshine and heat. At this time of year (September) it burns off by lunchtime but around dusk at 6.30pm the temperature plumets to below ten degrees or colder. This requires up to three changes of clothes or layers which can be added or removed.

The Pacific Ocean

All this is caused  by the cold Humboldt current which shoots up from Antarctica scooping up nutrients from the Pacific Ocean floor as it goes, to feed the plankton. Consequently the seas are rich with fish and seafood. The Humboldt eventually meets a warm current travelling south at the Galapagos Islands resulting in incredible diversity of flora and fauna.

Arturo and General Grau

Arturo is our guide today and explains the weather of Peru to us. We are playing at being locals by jumping on one of the numerous busses which are the main method of public transport. We travel out of the suburb of Milefiori  to pick up tuk tuks. They are forbidden in the posh areas of Lima. We make for the sea past expensive apartment blocks with views of the mist-shrouded sea. We travel south along the coastal road to observe that the land is indeed a desert. Nothing grows in Lima that hasn’t been watered daily – fed by reservoirs and rivers from inland rain and snow from the Andes. Because the mountains are only ten kilometres inland and extremely high, they prevent the fog from drifting inland and dispersing.

Open water swimming course in the cold Pacific

We stop to observe the Pacific Ocean. Arturo spent a few years in Aotearoa and points in a south westerly direction with some fondness. There is a statue of General Miguel Grau splattered with guano. He is one of the heroes of Peru, even though he didn’t quite win the Pacific War in 1879 when Chile invaded and grabbed some of Peru and Bolivia lost its access to the sea. Originally Bolivia asked Peru for help but later withdrew leaving Peru to put up resistance to the incursion. A story currently playing out in Eastern Europe. Below is a sea wall, which encloses an open water course in the cold Pacific Ocean. One swimmer in a wet suit is doing the circuit. There is a small boat with people fishing, but no sign of a life guard. I haven’t got my swimming gear and there seems no way down from here.

A lpolopop seller
Cliff-side Crosses

Arturo tells us about the conquest of the Inca Empire by the Catholic Church. A cross by the cliff edge includes many of the Christian symbols. Far above on the hills is a pylon-style cross which lights up at night and can be seen from afar. This was made for the visit of the Pope Francis.

Further on is a rocky promontory where a young man is struggling to get into his white monk’s costume whilst removing his red pants. Legend has it that a young monk fell in love with a beautiful girl. Her family took her away, leaving the monk so heartbroken that he jumped to his death from the rocks. Our young man has managed to remove his red pants and now stands on the rock with a knotted rope attached to him. We wait – video buttons poised. He might be waiting for the waves to be at the right level or perhaps he is psyching himself up for his dive. Whatever his motive he has created suspense and anticipation in his audience. I miss the start, but notice that he bends his knees so that his lower legs will retard his entry into the sea. A great strategy to avoid breaking his neck on the bottom. He surfaces, quickly hauls himself up the knotted rope and scampers up to collect our money. There’s a group watching from the road, so he has to get there before they all drive off in their cars.

Horse shoe Bay

Onwards to Horseshoe Bay, once the most beautiful beach. The mayor of this region had ambitions to create a highway right around the coast. The hillside was blown away, resulting in rocks and pebbles covering the beach. The highway was never built.

Richard and Ceviche

Lunch is at Tacu Tacu – a no fuss restaurant where we are served jugs of Chicha Morada and Passion Fruit juice. They are both delicious, the former being made by boiling purple corn and adding some pineapple juice. Looking like the darkest red wine you ever saw, it originates in the Andes and is now ubiquitous in Peru. Our meal begins with two traditional starters: Ceviche – made from  fresh raw fish marinade in lime, with corn and salad. I’ve never liked the idea of raw fish and am unsure about large chunks of it. It was fantastic – add fresh finely sliced red chilis to give it a bite. Causa – which looks like a small cake has layers of yellow mashed potato (there are over 4000 varieties of potato in Peru) then a layer of seafood or chicken then Avocado (native to the Americas from Mexico to the Andes) and finally  another potato layer. Our main is grilled fish with rice and corn with spices – a tasty way to brighten up these inexpensive grains left over from yesterday.  Filling and delicious.

Prepareation of corn
Fruit for sale
Market stall
Pureple corn
A man and his stall

We walk it off through the market area bright with multi-coloured fruit and vegetables and onwards past a mansion which was, in colonial times, part of a ranch retreat overlooking the sea. Not far away and behind a grim looking brown fence topped with electrified wire is the second best steak restaurant in the world. It seems the Peruvians are proud to be second best – there is quite a list. What comes across is the politics of Spanish colonisation and the legacy of the Incas and their empire which is still remembered. Not forgotten are former great civilisations thriving around the time of the Romans. There will be more to learn I’m sure.

Ruined Church
The Barranco looking down to the sea

Another local bus takes us to The Barranco district. We are looking at a valley going down to the sea. A recent earthquake has destroyed the roof of a church on the other side and other buildings made from adobe bricks are also damaged. Many years ago, this was a route the fishermen took down to the sea. The fog was so heavy that often they could not make out the path back up with their catch. One night they saw a light at the top and followed it to find a burning cross. This was a sign and the place became holy. We follow the path to discover the most amazing art on walls. Many artists are commissioned to paint on buildings by local governments and companies. Near the top of the Barranco is the work of Jade Rivera and his studio/shop. Jade has murals all over the world – it’s evocative work and this mural is stunning – a popular location for photo shoots. The photographer and model had infinite patience waiting for a shot clear from other people.

Jade Rivera
Jade Rivera

The underside of a bridge has become a mass portrait demonstrating the diversity of people in Peru. There’s an interesting mural representing The Amazon and the drug Ayahausca  – a hallucinogenic concoction used by Samans to heal. The essential ingredient is like the synthetic drug DMT and patients must fast for three days before taking it and then only under the close supervision of the Shaman, who strongly disapprove of casual use. Lastly and most importantly, the woman who multitasks and holds the rest of the world on her shoulders

Amazon tribute

In the evening we visit the Aqua Park – water fountains by night. We have no expectations an discover a delight that rivals Bellagio’s in Vegas. I’ll just let the pictures tell the story.

Getting away to Peru

Getting away

Peruvian Mural in LIma

The taxi is booked for five am and the alarm set for four-fifteen. No wine tonight, lights out at nine-thirty. It’s too early and I need to pee. I toss and turn, going over the last minute packing to be done in the morning  – dozing off, only to be buzzed by a mosquito. This has happened several times over the last week. It’s officially Autumn but nights are still warm and the windows are open. Summer has been dry, so until the recent rain there has been nowhere for them to lay eggs. Now there are puddles, half-filled watering cans, buckets and other receptacles which have been transformed into nurseries.

Lights on, wide awake, I leap out of bed, one hand ready with the can of insect spray, firing wildly and not sure where it has gone and If I’ve killed it and so go back to bed. Got to pee again and dream again – half dozing. I haven’t killed it, it’s back; I closed the window, so it must be the same one, Bastard! All this, plus the lads in their noisy cars, farting up and down the road on a Saturday night.

My hotel from the side. Art on buildings is popular

By three-thirty,  it’s no use, I’m wide awake. Time to get up, turn off the alarm and make tea. There’s time for my full morning exercise programme and even another shower – it’s a long time to Lima. By four-thirty, I am waiting for the taxi – he’s sent me a link so I can track his journey from Woolwich to Stepney Green. Last minute things like emptying the dishwasher; checking  the doors and windows are locked and all non-essential appliances turned off.

Terminal three by five fifty-five am; there’s a long skinny, dark haired youth, the first in the check-out queue, sitting on a trolly laden with suitcases and bags. He’s reading a kindle. What looks like the Iberian check out staff gather to be briefed by their team leader. They take ages – a few other passengers arrive – the briefing continues then just as they take up their positions, two ‘Yellow Jackets’ turn up with a passport. Apparently, a young woman has been ‘denied entry’ and has to be processed and sent back on the next flight. The leader asks if anyone knows how to do this – one of the women does and then we all get called forward.

My anxiety over the health affidavit  turns out to be un-called for. I present the print-out  and it’s fine. The Peruvians may not even look at it and my vaccination record exceeds their requirements. The nice check-out man says the flight is on time and I’ve got plenty of time between flights at Madrid. Time for some breakfast and more hanging around – nothing in W H Smiths that even looks like a good read.

Iberian are quietly efficient boarding us and we are all seated in good time. I doze and wake to find we are still not off the ground  and are thirty minutes late. Heathrow management of aircraft traffic is not working well.  Once in the air, I press the call bell and ask the cabin staff if I’ve now got enough time in Madrid to get to my next departure gate and is there a way I can move up towards the front to be near the exit – I may have to run!  She asks someone and moves me from right down the back to the first row behind the business class – separated by a curtain I can see them being served omelettes and orange juice. I’m too worried to eat or drink but a helpful young steward gives me a printed map of the terminal and assures me that it is only five minutes’ walk and we will be only ten minutes late. As we approach there is encouraging news – we will be on time as they have negotiated a closer runway at Madrid. In the end we are only five minutes late. The next obstacle is finding the way out. It’s not just a matter of walking along to Gate 44 (I had a text from Iberia) I have to get down to the lower level and go through security again. The plane has just started to board and there is a long queue and I’m at the back of it and I’m also at the back of the plane again.

I’m finding flying more of a challenge every time I do it. Taking the Eurostar to the Continent twice this year was relatively stress free.  I must, however, be grateful to the Iberian crew who were gently optimistic that I would make the connection. I just hope my baggage gets there as well.

Ten hours later, I’m being ushered into the ‘priority’ queue at immigration along with some Peruvians and other old people. The general crowd looks horrendous and I’m glad I won’t have to stand for too long. The biggest surprise and relief is to see my small suitcase on the carrousel. I race to grab it before it disappears and fail – I catch it half way up the other side.

Mural art seems to blend in with the tangle of overhead wires

The official taxi ride into the city is unremarkable and I arrive at my Hotel to find a message from Richard, our Outside the Square tour leader, to join him and the others at a restaurant. I’m desperate for beer and so venture out almost immediately. It takes a while to reconcile which restaurant I’m going to with Richard’s verbal instructions but find them I do, but only Charlie and Robert (Californians) are with Richard. The rest of our ten strong part are either arriving very late at night or have been horrendously delayed – in Dallas – and are not expected to arrive until tomorrow or the next day. I can truly count myself lucky to be here and the beer is good, I have a second.