A Travellerspoint blog

Peru in a nutshell


View South America and Cuba on Fletchers's travel map.

Prior to embarking on this trip we discussed going to Lake Titicaca where I was keen to see the floating reed islands of Uros. It seemed like a cool thing to do seeing as we had to stop in Lima anyway and it was only an hours flight from there. Lake Titicaca is the highest altitude lake in the world at 4000m above sea level. And it is huge. It borders Peru and Bolivia's capital Le Paz on the other side. We decided to hold off booking the flights until we reached Quito (at 3000m) in case altitude sickness prove&d to be an issue there, in which case we would abandon the idea of going to Lake Titicaca. With only mild symptoms in Quito such as shortness of breath going upstairs, we decided to do it.
Flying into Lima you can see nothing but brown. It appears to be a desert with stone 1-2 story buildings covering the landscape as far as the eye can see. From the air the poverty appears overwhelming and we are very apprehensive about what we are about to experience. From the ground however, driving through Lima, the buildings are in fact all brown brick and some have the front face painted. There is little to no achitectural variation. Whilst it appears very poor, when we are directed to a mall for lunch we discover that all is not as it seems. The mall is ultra-modern with free wifi available and designer label shops. It seems like every second shopis either a mobile phone provider or a bank.
t couls just be that we are starved for decent food after nearly three weeks of the typical Cuban fare of rice and black beans and overcooked meat, but the food in Peru has proven to be delicious and the Pisco Sours, Peru's signiture cocktail, wash it down nicely. It is just as well as I am missing my IV line of Mojitos from Cuba!
Aside from the food, the people have been so friendly! Taxi drivers are really interested in talking to us and the best part is that they speak slowly so our 'un poco espanol' manages to keep up! Not sure yet if this is how they speak normally or if they are just slowing it down for us but compared to Cuba and Ecuador we are finding communication a lot easier!
Arriving in Puno, at lake Titicaca's edge, resulted in some mild symptoms of altitude sickness by the end of the day. A foggy head like having a cold wihout the congestion, and the occasionalgasping for air, especially in the night. The following day we head off on our tour of the floating reed islands. These are islands made by laying reeds on top of reed roots which float in the water until they are above water and dry. They have then built houses out of the reeds, along with boats, and pretty much everything else. They also eat the reeds although we were recommended not to try them as they give newby's diarohea. They were the most amazing looking communities. The people support themselves my making and selling crafts to tourists who come to the islands, and also selling them on the mainland. They all wear very traditional clothing, like many of the peruvian people, especially in Puno.
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By midday my head was pounding and I'm gasping for air evry now and then whilst sitting. I realised it was no Pisco Sours for me as alcohol exacerbates altitude sickness. But an early night and all was fine in the morning. Nobody else seems affected so we are thankful for that.

Puno is known as the capital of Peruvian culture and it is not hard to see why. Whilst this town is for most tourists a necessary stopover in order to see the islands, they don't stay long. However we have discovered that this lively little town has a lot to offer. They have a great crafts market, a thriving local vege and food market, music playing everywhere and people are so friendly.
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The irony of Puno is that we are there to see the locals, and marvel and stare at their traditional clothing, which consists of many layers despite the heat, and yet we feel as if we are animals in a zoo! They all stare at our kids like they are freaks of nature. On the bright side we also have people approaching us and talking to us because of the children. We took the kids to the circus which happened to be in town at the time we were there and sat next to a couple with a 4 year old girl. They chatted to us prior to the show and were really friendly because their daughter had taken an interest in our kids. These interactions are ssome of the highlights of our trip and without the children there to break the ice I don't believe we would have had these conversations. They also spark interest from other travellers who are interested in these crazy kiwis travelling with kids. We have only met one other couple who were in Cuba with their 11 year old son. And yet, what an amazing experience it has been for both them and us.
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Having said the people are lovely, there is always the 'bad egg'. I had to pay $25NZ to get my phone back after accidentally leaving it in a paddleboat. The woman pretended she hadn't seen it but when I offered her money if she found it she suddenly perked up and asked how much - unforunately I only had large notes on me but they produced my phone from her pocket - I laughed and called her an evil witch and she replied "gracias". I suspect she understood. Later I passed a woman in the street who had been there trying to assist when I was looking fot the phone but was not present for the conclusion. I explained that the lady at the paddleboat had it all along and I had to pay to get it back. She was appalled and told me I should report her to the police. Whilst I know that this may prevent it happening to other people, I also am selfish and don't want to spend all day in a police station over $25NZ. And I learnt a valuable lesson. Irrespective of the awesome panoramic photos my phone takes, leave it locked up at the hotel!!!! Below is the shot that cost me the $25 as I took the phone out to take this photo. Worth it? You decide.
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By Rachel.

Posted by Fletchers 11:36 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Brodin's blog about Peru

The reed islands


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We are in Puno in Peru. We went on 2 Reed Islands man made. The reeds where squishy. It was kind of Fun when you walk on them.
A long boat ride and a long walk and back to the boat again. The reeds are living in the water the people weave the reeds together to make the Island of reeds. They also put a rope between the reeds to stick the reeds together, then they build houses on top of the reed islands and the houses are made out of reeds too and they sell things in stacks on tables that they make. I was going to get something but it was too expense so we weren't to a different place and i got a red necklace for me and a blue necklace for Eve.
By Brodin.
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Posted by Fletchers 06:09 Archived in Peru Comments (1)

The Contradictory Nature of Cuba


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Socialism versus capitalism/commercialism.
The basic premise of Fidel's socialism is a classless society. Everyone has the same opportunities. People are provided with the basic neccessities for living, i.e. food rations of rice, black beans, sugar, and of course rum and cigarettes for the older generations, a house or apartment, a job, free medical care and free education, including university, and on top of this a minimal wage to pay for other necessary items. Privelages such as better housing and vehicle ownership are awarded to people with higher ranking jobs such as the military. Money sent from relatives overseas also provides oportunities for improved lifestyle. But essentially everybody has very little. However with the introduction of tourism in the 1990s (prior to the mid 90s tourism was restricted to resort holidays and locals were forbidden to mingle with foreigners) came opportunities for increased income above their wage and hence opportunity to improve lifestyles. Today Cuba appears to be a population aching for capitalism. They see foreigners as a dollar sign. At times it feels as if everybody is trying to make a buck out of you. The sad effect of this is that it reduces the quality of the interactions foriegners experience with locals. We had children as young as five approach us asking "un dollar?" and holding out their hand. It is interesting that despite the pro-socialism slogans painted everywhere - on trees, bustops, motorway overbridges, and walls of buildings, the human drive to improve upon what they have is still alive and well in Cuba. They may well be a very happy people, however they seem to think that they will be happier if they have more. It does seem to me that life would be more rewarding if they sought genuine interactions rather than trying to acquire money all the time. And I or one am more inclined to chose the taxi that sits quietly waiting for me to approach rather than the one chasing me down the street yelling "Taxi, lady?!? Where are you from? I give you good price! Where you want to go?" But that's from the perspective of traveller tired of being harrassed. My friend Clare and I were offered "Taxi? Boyfriend? Husband?" more than once!

What I do find interesting is that despite being such a proud nation, they have no qualms about sticking their hand out and begging or using scams to try and trick people out of money. Although in saying that, for every beggar we have encountered we have come across ten people trying to earn a dollar by dressing up to pose for photos, selling peanuts, playing music, etc. I asked our host if milk was expensive or hard to come by as we had several women stopping us in the street pointing to our kids and asking if we have milk for their children. We are thinking maybe we should talk to Fonterra about sending milk as aid but our host then informs us that they get milk powder as part of their rations, enough for 24 litres per month, and extra rations if they have children. UHT milk is readily available at the mercado, and is not really cheap but is affordable enough for most people to get if they need it. Her thoughts were that they are hoping we will say 'no' (because who carries milk with them for a 4 and 7 year old???) and then feel bad and give them money instead. Begging without asking directly for money.
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Daisys own private playground - A two-tiered system in a classless society.

In Trinidad, we attempted to take Daisy to the playground. The first time we arrived at 12 noon and the children were all filing out. Th gates were then shut by an elderly getleman who saw us and invited us to come in. The local children stood outside jeering at the man. We weren't entirely sure why the playground was closed, or why they needed a man there enforcing it. We wondered if it was in order to ensure the children went home for lunch - as there were no adults supervising as there would be in New Zealand. The children all just wandered down there unaccompanied. After the first attempt to go down te slide, Daisy discovered there was another good reason to close the playground. The equatorial sun is inceddibly fierce and Cuba at midday is scorching. The apparatus was unbearably hot, and there was no shade. We abandoned the attempt and promised Daisy we'd return later in the day. Around 6pm when the heat had left the sun and the afternoon rain had cooled the air, we returned only to find that once again the children were being ushered out and the gates locked by the elderly gentlemen. He beckons us in and gestures to the apparatus indicating it was ok for us to play. Little white girl Daisy ran around in her pretty dress playing on the playground while hoards of black and brown children watched through the fences, apparently pleading to the elderly man. The coincidental timing made it felt like the playground had been cleared for our little princess. I commented to my friend Clare that it did not feel right for Daisy to be given this special privelage in the face of the local children. In an attempt to ease my middle-class guilt, Clare reminded me that that the Cuban classless society extends only to locals and if they wish to charge us 3-4 times more than locals for everything else, then it works both ways, and that means because we can afford to pay a tip to the playground guard, we get to use the playground out of hours. Eventually a woman entered with two girls and appeared to be yelling at the man while pointing to us and the gentleman wandered over and indicated we had to leave. We paid him a dollar for the privelage and his overtime and left. Whilst he didn' ask for money, we assumed that was what he hoped for when he let us in. And even if he didn't expect it, he appeared to have copped a lot of flack for doing us a favour. An interesting social position which despite the discomfort was well worth it for the smile on my girls face for the 20 minutes she had as 'queen of the playground'.
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The Weather
Cuba is incredibly hot. We arrived to amost unbearable heat. The air was thick with humidity and barely a zephyr could be felt. We sat in a sticky chair and drank cool mojitos dreading the time whne w would have to move again. However, over the next few days we acclimatised and a breeze did develop. Heat is not the most significant feature of Cuba's climate though. Most days we have experienced torrential rain which comes on almost as suddenly as it dissappears again. Several centermeters appear to fall within anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes and then the sun returns as if to say "sorry I made a mess, I'll clean it up again now". Within an hour there is little trace of the downpour other than the puddle-filled potholes that are the defining feature of Cuban roads. Most days there is thunderstorm, sometimes witht he rain and sometimes without. In Trinidad each night as the sun set, lightning forked across the sky every few seconds lighting it up like firworks. It was the most phenomenal sight. And the thunder sounded like someone was starting a Harley on loud speaker above your head! There were more than a few times when we lept out of our skin! Then there was the hurricane. Because if you are going to Cuba in hurricane season you have to be there during a hurricane! Luckily we just caught the edge of it and although their was some decent wind and some brief heavy rain, it wasn't much compared to what we are used to in Wellington. Not many places in the world could rival Wellington for dramatic weather but I think Cuba beats it. Whilst it doesn't appear to have the cold it certainly is unpredictable and extreme. My weather highlights are the lightning and thunder storms and getting caught in the horozontal but warm torential downpour at The Plaza de la Revolution, just as the final photo of the kids and I was taken in front of the giant iconic Che Guavara outline. The run back to the car left us drenched (and showered) for the evening. The best thing about the heat is that getting caught in the rain is actually a pleasant experience!
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I have to say that all in all, Cuba was a place that definitely grew on me. It was overwhelming initially. The noise, the harrassment, the decrepitness. But once we got used to that we started to relax and enjoy it. Especially when we knew our way around each place. All in all it was good. I would like to write some more when I get the chance and post some more photos.

Posted by Fletchers 18:58 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

Cuba Pics-Random Selection

Update by Sean

A random selection of pics from Cuba while we still have i-net access....

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Posted by Fletchers 18:44 Comments (0)

Hurricane Sandy: Santiago, Cuba

NOT Havanna, Cuba

Hi family and friends,
we have news from NZ that many of you heard about Hurricane Sandy which resulted in some fatalities in Santiago , Cuba.
We were in Havanna at the time. While the wind and seas got up a bit hurricane Sandy fortunately by-passed Havanna.
We are all fine,
Sean & Rachel

Posted by Fletchers 18:09 Comments (2)

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