Tuesday, 1 December 2015

In the Footsteps of the Incas Part 1: Space Centres and Sunburns

The idea of going to Peru first really started taking hold in my imagination when I was about 16. I was in Italy on vacation at the time with my family and that of our ex-neighbours from our time living in New York. We were discussing where we wanted to go on our next joint vacation.

I would love to take credit for the idea of going to Peru, but I am pretty sure that it was actually my friend Sarah who posited it.

My dad was talking about going to some remote island chain to spend a week on the beach, an idea that appealed to a number of other members of our party, most certainly not including myself. I was the one ranting about the uselessness of such vacations, wanting to do something more cultural. I tended to get bored quite easily as a teenager (actually I still get bored easily) so I argued that I could spend about a day maybe two on the beach before I would go crazy and attempt to drown myself in the sea. I was also a very dramatic teenager.

Sarah took a more constructive approach and attempted to suggest alternative places that offered a lot of culture and also relaxation. One of her many suggestions happened to be Peru. My father picked up on this and asked of all the places why Peru, Thailand, Egypt, Turkey, he could understand those, but thought Peru was an odd one to throw into the mix. By this point I had joined team sensible teenager and began to state a number of cool things in Peru, the nasca lines, Macchu Picchu, Spanish colonial churches and of course lots of llamas.

About 7 years later I finally had the chance to put our plan in motion when my partner and I decided to go visit our friend in Colombia. While I am 100% sure we could have spent the whole 3 weeks I was in South America trekking around Colombia (and my friend did suggest it at one point). I was dead set on going to Peru.

In the end I managed to plan my trip so I would be in the US for the 4th of July, in Colombia for a week and a half and then to Peru for about a week and back in Melbourne in time to celebrate my birthday.

I tried to coordinate this trip with 4 other people including my partner, his brother who was in Europe, our mutual friend in Colombia and my friend Sarah who was in the states at the time. As is often the case with international planning, something went wrong and Sarah ended up booking a different trip from us. The dangers of online miscommunication. Seriously guys if you are trying to plan something take the time to call people, I didn’t and it caused me a lot of stress.

Anyway we booked our painfully long flights (everything is far away when travelling from Australia), gave notice of our leave to our supervisors and departments and when July came around we finally headed out on our trip.

Our first stop, Texas was ridiculously hot and humid, but the festive 4th of July atmosphere, and a trip to the Johnson Space Centre made the weather more tolerable. I personally find space travel and study fascinating so I just love the Space Centre. I mean you get to see rockets and mission control and the astronaut training centre, what’s not to like. Plus they have a ton of information on the history of NASA’s space programs. So basically Disney land for any history/sci fi geek. Also if any of you happen to go to the museum make sure to try to find the copy of Asimov’s Foundation and the little dinosaur toy. I mean if I were an astronaut those are probably the things I would bring to space, that and possibly a vacuum packed box of Oreos.

After a very short stop in Houston we headed off on part two of our journey. This time heading to Colombia. After a brief encounter with a US passport control officer who literally told us not to bring anything funky back from Colombia. The fact that he felt the need to tell us this is quite a sad reflection on how tourists have aided in driving the drug trade in South America, a trade that is tearing many of these countries apart. Something to think about… After reassuring the officer that we were going to visit our friend who is a doctor and finds such things disgusting, we boarded our flight.

My visit to Colombia was the first time I encountered an airport where literally none of the staff I encountered spoke English (since then I encountered it again in Iran). People still tried to help us and with a lot of gesturing and guesswork we managed to find where we were going. Our friend’s father kindly came to pick us up so we didn’t have to navigate the problems of finding a cab, which I was personally very happy about. In fact both his parents were ridiculously hospitable. Maybe it is a cultural thing but his mom would cook us meals every day even though we all were perfectly happy to go out and buy our own food. From tamales, to bean soup, to chicharones, she let us try all the local favourites, and she was an amazing cook.

We were treated to a full tour of Bogota including the lovely hilltop church at Monsettate with an incredible view of the city, the gold museum where everything is distractingly shiny, and the hip downtown area for some live music. He also introduced us to the local 'drink of choice' Chicha, which I personally found non potable. Just a word of caution, always try a sip before asking for a full glass of the stuff no matter how amazing those around you might say it is. I would compare its effects to marmite, you either love it or you hate it.

We took a few days out of the big city to visit the old colonial town of Cartagena. It was beautiful and warm and relaxing. There was a massive modern area with a historical centre nearby and beaches ran the entire length of the town. As we were told the beaches by the town itself were quite touristy and overcrowded, two of Julian’s friends who were locals organised for us to go out to Playa Blanca, a short boatride away. We ended up having our own tent out on the edge of the beach away from the tourists. From where we stood all we could see was a clear blue stretch of water.

It was beautiful and sunny and relaxing until a storm came and we literally had to be rescued by boat, mostly because we (the European tourists) had decided to go for a walk and hadn’t paid attention to the distant dark clouds. Still we had a good number of hours in the sun, enough for me to get ridiculously sunburnt, which became exceedingly uncomfortable in the next part of the trip as we were heading off to the cooler climes of Peru…

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