I hope you are enjoying catching up with my activities.
Apologies for the length of this blog. It seems to have grown arms and legs but I wanted to give you more of a feel for what my life is like here..to see it through my eyes...scan or ignore as you see fit. Part 2 will contain more of the little events and fun things I have experienced.
I’m sure I mentioned before it is harder to live here unless you have a regular/good source of money thus allowing you to have a cook and cleaner. The rest of us just make the best of it. Vegetables and certain fruits are definitely a cheap and good option. The downside is keeping them fresh so you don’t have to visit the markets so often. In the towns, outwith the city these are more easily accessible. In the city it is more difficult. The supermarkets carry a reasonable amount of stuff but the Megas (of which there are quite a few) often are missing stuff and the largest of them all often has vasts of empty shelves with no fruit, chicken and stables..unbelievable really! They also only have white rice and sugar and a limited range of better ingredients. Going to Canasta (of which there is only one) or the more expensive Gato markets allows you to pick up some of the other ingredients you may wish. In general there is no one stop shop. You get to learn where the foods you want are, stock up on these items if it is not part of your weekly or regular route and make do with what you have in your cupboards. I had quite an extensive supply of tins and cereals when I left Pumacurco as I was expecting to move to outskirts of Urubamba and knew getting this heavier or unavailable stuff would be difficult to get to the house. Although my current rental is in Cusco it is on the very outskirts....a bit like Newton Mearns and the centre of Glasgow; about an hour to get there so a little easier but not by much.
Cooking if you are in the mood is fine but often it would be nice to have the option of a quick freezer meal...not happening here! Occasionally I have a carryout chicken and chips which is nice. Often I look for quick and easy options. I am lucky to have a small freezer so can have a couple of meals in reserve. The rest of the space is used up storing a little chicken and bread. Microwaves are few and far between so novel ways of reheating come into play! Fridges are also a luxury here to be honest. However more and more new shops are springing up with electricals. I can see quite a difference even in the last 2 years!
Cleaning of the houses..now that is fun! Not many fancy gadgets to make life easier for that. Hoovers - well there’s not a big call for them as most floors are wooden. The house I am in currently however has hardwearing carpets in the bedrooms and living room which are proving a b**ch to clean. I am now borrowing the hard brush from Lilo’s which is hard work I can tell you. I did bring a few things with me to help which have been a godsend, just not for carpets. As this property is a business and Lilo has also been trying to sell I must keep things is really tiptop condition and very tidy. There are times when I would like to be lazy and not tidy but am conscious it is Lilo’s property and she has reminded me on occasions, so I do my best. It is a beautiful place to stay so it is a small sacrifice.
As I travel in and out of the city (and everywhere to be honest) there are street vendors every few feet selling everything from bicycle trolleys filled with sweets and drinks, women with wheelbarrows selling fresh fruit ready to eat (fresh slices of pineapple or water melon are the norm) or the latest fruit in season, people walking up and down the streets selling pens, cleaning equipment, money exchange; shoe shiners checking out your footwear (often at the bus stops polishing as people wait) ,even your old dears selling individual sweets, small packets of corn or nuts ready to eat. I’m not sure why some seem to get away with staying in the one place selling and others not but you do see the police moving some of them along.
The true entrepreneurs have sussed out providing ready-to-eat food at all the schools, larger colleges, universities, ruins, outside taxi stances etc is the way forward. Everyday they bring their buckets of hot food and drinks with small bowls, forks etc ready to serve you from an early hour and they are often busy with local people. Cleaning is interesting..a quick rinse in a bucket of water and they are ready for use again!
In the city you are also plagued with artisans trying to sell you their wares..from the young Picasso's (as they call themselves ) to lots of jewelry offers. After a time you try to avoid the tourist areas, using the back streets so as to miss these guys. Standing at the bus stops I constantly have to shake my head at the taxis who seem to think as a gringa we wouldn’t take the buses..Why would we be standing at the bus stops then?? Strange!
Peru is also like the US in that billboards rule. They are everywhere! Every wall has something on it, every lamppost..everywhere..from government announcements to advertising. The most interesting one I have seen is advertising how to recognize tuberculosis and to encourage a visit the doctor. These are new signs too!
This and construction. Every available space seems to have a concrete structure going up,; some are not completed and no-one seeming to be working on them, probably because the money has run out, a common problem here; they start something without thinking through exactly how much money they will need; and other constructions still full speed ahead and looking to rent out for large amounts of money. Windows are always last to be put in (if at all) so it doesn’t seem to be an issue to have buildings left only partially finished, if a little ugly.
Like the houses the roads are in varying stages of preparation so even in the city you can get incredibly dirty. The soil is red here so the bottom of your jeans, trainers, boots etc are always coated in red dust especially if I use the combis.
The drive in and out of the centre of town is about an hour. To save some money I use the combis as much as possible. The difference in the cost is considerable if you travel a few times a week. A taxi will cost you 12 soles (just over £3) each way, the combis 70 centimos ( about 17p) ... worth it I’m sure you would agree! It is longer time-wise and it is a bit of a walk to the first combi called Batman.
I'm sure I told you about the combis but I will mention it again briefly. The combis can pack an incredible amount of people in them. If you are lucky and at the start of the journey then you are in luck. The nice thing is people do get up for the elderly, pregnant women and with young children. Some of the ones I travel on are struggling to be called good modes of transport as the seats are very close together and there is not enough head room to stand up straight. I'm small so you can imagine if a taller person comes on! The conductors call out each bus stop and relay the info to the driver. The conversation for example. " Primero, Primero......nadie, nadie" In other words; " Bus Stop One......no-one,no-one". If you want off you say which stop...so " Primero bajo". The conductor then repeats this to the driver. The driver in turn watches the stops to see if anyone is waving them to slow , otherwise he keeps going and believe me they drive fast and break hard..you have to hang on. As well as driving he also has to provide change when the conductor needs it. They only have a small amount in their hand..it's amazing how much they can hold in their hand as well as hopping on and off the buses...and a little in their pockets! If someone gives them something larger they ask for this to be changed by the driver, so while driving he is getting change of the relevant coin or note! Not particularly safe! The main road to the centre here is Ave de Cultura and this road is incredibly busy and fast. Time to cross is minimal so the elderly really struggle. We saw someone getting knocked down a few weeks ago!
The walk to the Batman combi is downhill on the way there but there is a short cut that I can use depending on what I have on my feet..you need good grips as you drop down a steep gorge, which is dry just now, and up the other side. There are no real foot-holes so you negotiate the rocks as best you can. On the other side there is a lot of construction of cheaper housing so scrambling over rock piles, negotiating the small holdings makes for an interesting walk. There are turkeys, pigs, chickens, cows and sheep sleeping isn small shelters not really fenced in but dogs sleeping nearby so probably guarding them. It’s quite funny when the piglets start squealing at something or other.
On the way back it is all uphill and negotiating the gorge with a heavy backpack and a bag or two is just too difficult I have discovered, so sometimes I take a taxi from the end of the road if I have a lot of shopping. There is a longer way which is by road and lately I have taken to using that. The walk back uphill is a little longer but take your time and you get there. If I am out with Lilo we need to use taxis as she struggles with the combis and buses but at least we split the costs.
This rental as you can probably guess is considerably different to my last one. In Pumacurco where we all lived in each others pockets with 8 properties all within the little compound, with dogs and renters too as my landlady also took in young students staying for a few weeks at a time so there was always lots of coming and going. The dogs were lovely but a bit of an issue in that they liked to “dump” outside my house. Sonia got quite upset about it but only complained to me about it. I did say to them a few times and eventually started using their broom to push the mess over to their side. This did eventually do the trick and more was cleaned up. This, the bug bites and a few other things made things difficult at times. Using petrol to coat the floorboards seemed to help the bug bites for a time.
When I got back after Christmas there was a new dog next door (at Liz’s- the landlady). It was an older dog and they seemed to have inherited it from a cousin. He was a nice thing and I didn’t have any trouble with him. I was working downstairs on the NGO work one day about a month or so later when I started to notice a constant crying. The noise of dogs was not unusual with the number of dogs around so I didn’t pay too much attention until Sonia came down from her room very upset and said there was a dog in real pain and could I look. I went out to see and then could see Liz’s dog in his hutch crying. His teeth were bared, flies were at his bottom and he seemed in a lot of pain! I went to find someone. Liz and her father-in-law came and didn’t know what to do. Eventually Sonia screamed get a vet for him! The father-in-law got gloves and tried to lift him out but he died before they could move him. They reckoned he had been poisoned. It is normal for the council here to put down poison to kill of the stray dogs but first they post notices for a week telling people which night it will happen and to keep their dogs in. Most dogs are not neutered so there are lots of pups born. Most dogs here are mongrels. You do need to be careful when out walking until the dogs get to know you and you know which ones are liable to bite and those that are harmless. I’m sure I mentioned way back about the dogs ruling the steps in certain areas and a volunteer who was bitten as he passed a group, resulting in him needing to take the rabies injections. Seemingly taking the rabies vaccine beforehand only reduces the number of injections you need if bitten and gives you a little longer to seek help. In the case of the poor dog next door they reckoned it might have been the lady who lived below me who poisoned him. She is lady you never really see. A few weeks later Liz and Guillermo bought a little pup for the girls. It was a cute wee thing and often stayed in the house with them at night. When I left all seemed to be well there.
While living in this property with all my frustrations I had 2 outlets for my stress..... no not alcohol!! One was the wonderful sacred rock just below the house. As well as the wonderful feeling I got from sitting on it, it was lovely to watch. There was a swing park, bars and see-saw around it and often it was filled with children playing happily. There was an alpaca which grazed on it and seemed to be the guardian as it chased the dogs away from it. Sometimes there seemed to be a game between the alpaca and one or two of the dogs as they chased each other around the swings. I visited this rock most mornings and did a little meditation. I was often there to see the sun rise which was lovely. Needless to say it was quiet at this time. My meditations didn’t always work, in that getting my brain to switch off could be difficult. Many times my experiences were different. There were days I could feel the energy from the rock the minute I stood on it and it could really settle my emotions and energy. I always went onto the rock barefoot..even in the cold! Other times it was just a nice way to start the day. There were even days in the rain that I took a mad notion and decided to use the swings afterwards and get well and truly soaked...that felt great!! Sometimes as I came off the waca there would be one or two guys there using the parallel bars and parts of the swing construction to build muscle mass....cheaper than a gym I suppose! The sunken pool at the side of this was often used by boys to play football, or for a small cost they could use the basketball court for football which was directly outside the compound we lived in and next to the waca. Men and women also used this court. There was always lots of activity in the area. Two houses along were volunteers and often they would hold parties so often the loud base music could be heard; fortunately not into the night. You could hear local discos some nights but not enough to keep me awake...earplugs are a godsend!
The other way I liked to get rid of my frustrations (and actually did this most nights) was put on my headphones, switch off all the lights, go out onto my little drying area which was only open on the side of the waca, so I was bathed only in the streetlights from above and below and dance myself silly! I found this very helpful before I went to sleep. No-one could see me or hear me so I could really let go!
In Santa Maria life is very different. The rent is a lot higher and I only rent the top half of a guest house which is quite large with 4 bedrooms, but I can use the kitchen and occasionally use the living room. I do clean the whole house though as I am the only one there just now. It does feel like home which is lovely. It is mostly quiet which is exactly what I need and the mountain..well that is very special...again this is for another blog. The house is actually a shamanic retreat with its very own meditation temple. The energy is just amazing and when I walked through the door to the grounds I just felt an overwhelming sense of relief and the tears started to roll down my face. An incredible experience actually. There is a beautiful garden which is mostly private when Lilo hasn’t got visitors or workers there.
When I first moved in Lilo explained I may need to share the house with others but that has never materialized although it has come close a few times. The reason for the rush to meet me and potentially move in way back in April was she needed to go to the U.S. and needed someone who could be here all the time looking after the animals with the housekeepers coming in at times. This worked well. When the housekeepers (Alicia and Virginia) weren’t here I fed the pets and made sure her house sounded lived in. Chikita and Michi both slept with me when the housekeepers weren’t there. Chikita slept under the covers in the crook of my knees all night..how she breathed down there I don’t know!
The animals are just lovely. Chikita, her small dog loves the walks; we have a routine where we climb part of the mountain most days unless I am unwell. Sometimes we have company from Choko (the forester’s dog ) or Leon an lovely older dog from next door. He is accompanying us and visiting much more often just now as we are looking after him while the neighbour is away for 5 weeks to Lima. They used to just leave him and the gardener would look in and feed him. He is never allowed in their house so lives outside. He was very lonely Lilo would tell me but this time they have asked if we will feed him and let him out so he is spending more time with us and enjoying it. He is also allowed in our houses which he is enjoying immensely. Unlike Chikita, who is very timid and frightens at so much he is so gentle and quiet.
I have had a couple of issues with our daily walks and Chikita. One day a couple of months ago she took fright as she saw a man coming down the mountain and disappeared. I shouted and shouted but she was nowhere to be seen. I was on my way up and thought she would join me. She didn’t. On the way down I continued to shout but to no avail. When I got back I checked with Lilo to see if she had headed home. She knows this mountain better than any of us so we all felt she would be OK. We had agreed when I first started taking her there would be no need for a lead on our walks. Anyway Lilo was a little worried so we all headed off..Lilo, myself and the housekeeper to try and find her. Two hours later we gave up and hoped she would return. She did about 2 hours later. After that Lilo agreed we should have just trusted her to come back. Last week however, while I was meditating she disappeared again. This was not like her, normally she sat and waited on me. There was no-one to spook her but she was getting more adventurous climbing up the bankings as we walked up and I would call her down. As I headed down I began calling her and about 5 mins from the top I met a man who I bumped into occasionally. We talked for a second and then I saw her appear down a steep slope minus her little jacket, which I had put on as it was cold. I reckoned she must have got caught on a bush and backed out of it. She was pretty subdued and it was only when we got back and we were all talking that I realized she had a problem with her eye..a thorn probably; so off to the vet they went and she remained at home for a day or two as one of her paws was also bothering her. I now tie her to a pole at the top so she isn’t tempted to wander off again.
The man I mentioned above is someone I had seen a few times and I was curious as to what he was shouting when he was at the miradors (viewpoints). I discovered it was the name of his 11 year old son who had died just 2 months beforehand of a rare type of leukemia. One day when our walks coincided and we climbed together he spoke to me at length about the lengths he went to, to help him recover, flying him to Spain and elsewhere. Unfortunately the treatments failed. He seemed to be the life and soul of his class, old for his years, a budding musician with a wonderful voice. I suggested Luis (the man) might want to visit Lilo to see if she could help them (he and his wife)..she is a great healer as I will explain in a future blog. So far he hasn’t but I think he might. Interestingly his son’s name was Hamish! I didn’t twig this until I asked him to spell it..said in Spanish it sounded very different. Again it is the huge success here of the film “William Wallace”. The number of people that say to me, when they find out I am Scottish..William Wallace..or why do your men wear skirts..to which I have to explain the strong traditional roots relating to the kilt and the family name.. just out of interest the Spanish word for kilt is “Scottish skirt” when translated literally. The story of this man and his son was so touching and still very raw for him it was hard not to cry when I saw his eyes welling up talking about him. He was obviously his world, being the only child they had. He has given me a picture of Hamish which I will bring to Scotland and place on a mountain. This feels right.
Other than Chikita, Lilo has 2 cats. Chaska, a beautiful black cat who is very shy of new people but is slowly getting more used to me so I see her closer at hand now and she even let me stroke her! Michi, the older cat, didn’t take long to get used to me. The first day I came to visit Lilo e sat on my knee which was lovely. He has taken up residence in my house now sleeping on my bed and now expects to get fed here too. I have resorted to buying dried food for him and get some from Lilo too on occasions. He's a big cat, looking a bit like a Puma and is really good company if a bit of a character. Being a cat he is enjoying all the attention and it is a fight to know where to put my feet in bed at night as he lies where I am, fortunately it is a double bed! Just to point out unlike Chaska he is no light weight cat! In the early hours he usually likes to come under the covers. I need to make sure my arms and back are covered as he stretches out claws which can make you jump at times! I have a few scratches from him. He also likes to give little love bites which I am not so keen on. A tap on the nose and he is learning that I’d rather not have that kind of affection! We have a routine where in the early morning, if I get up to the loo, I open my bedroom door giving him access to the kitchen where his food is and open the bedroom window a little so he can climb out onto the roof and down the tree at the side of it. If I am late of a morning and he wants out he stands on my chest! He knows how to get my attention! In the early evening once the patio doors are closed downstairs I leave the window open, if it is warm enough, until he is in or leave the curtains open so I can see him. He has a piece of chord which he likes to play with ..and if it not handy or I am busy he resorts to the end of the duvet cover!! All in all it seems to work well and we have all settled into this routine.
There is a little jealousy between Chikita and Michi but we are smoothing that over by making sure everybody gets the right amount of attention. Even with Leon over just now Chikita is a little jealous..pets are really just like children!
I lead a very quiet life here, not going out much. Getting a taxi late at night is not really great and to be honest I have enough going on personally - again which I will explain later. A good video and/ or a good book are all I need, tucked up in bed with my hot water bag....not to be without here I can tell you as it gets pretty cold at night! Although the sun is very hot you can’t forget you are also at altitude so any clouds or wind cause the temperature to drop dramatically. Layering is the key here. I always start out with a vest - that doubles as a vest top..they are lovely, a T shirt or shirt if going out, a scarf (essential), a fleecy or cardigan depending on where I am going and often a waterproof of varying weights depending on how cold it is, either on or in my rucksack. We have just come through their winter, the dry season so much less rain. The cold mornings with frost are now giving way to warmer days when the sun is out and milder nights. There seemed to be less frost this year so more of the flowers in Lilo’s garden survived. Sun hats are also a must and suncream. I sat out for an hour the other day when I hadn’t been feeling well and just wanted outside for a short time. I burnt my legs quite badly. I was glad of Lilo’s offer of fresh aloe vera from the garden. That worked a treat.
As I think I mentioned internet is a bit of a problem where I now stay. I currently borrow and pay my landlady for the use of hers when she is not using it. Unfortunately Skype seems to need so much more power and is not great here so I go to an internet cafe about once a week to Skype with the girls which is just lovely. The waitresses have been interested to see what the girls look like which is quite funny when I see their reflections in my computer screen having a quick look This weekly chat is a great way to hear all the little bits of news as well. I do miss them but Skyping helps enormously. I can keep up with Mum and friends too making distances seem much less. To get to the cafe I need to allow most of the day due to the travel time here but time is something I now have. The internet is better in the cafes but not fantastic. It is a long way off the service you have in the UK and elsewhere! There has been a promise of an upgrade of internet into the area Lilo’s house is situated but so far it is still not here. They first promised it for July but if it is in before I leave mid November I’ll be surprised!
One of the big frustrations for everyone here and I have had a taster of this on a few occasions is trying to get anything done. Service is not a word they really understand. The people here are either are incredibly rude and just won’t do it or charge a ridiculous amount because they don’t care (taxi drivers are the worst) or often promise this that and the next thing and then don’t deliver! Making an appointment doesn't mean they will turn up and they never call so if you have organised people to help you can be left with that additional cost. Times don’t really matter so turning up an hour or so late is no big problem to them and they wonder why you are angry. Apart for all the internet fiasco with the NGO when I moved I had fun with my mobile phone recently as it was just eating my credit and I wasn’t not using it! I was in different stores on 4 occasions before I got it resolved. On each occasion I had to wait nearly an hour to be seen! I found out laterally that the phone which I bought myself 2 years ago when I arrived wasn't even registered in my name!
So while I am complaining I shall touch on the men here!
What is it with the Peruvian men!! I’m sure there are a few exceptions but to be honest I haven’t seen or heard of many yet! They seem to think they are a law unto themselves! The machismo society here just beggars belief and the women put up with it!! From abuse of the children (mostly in the mountain communities) to having sex and children to various women, nothing seems to be taboo or feel wrong to these guys! I recently heard that one of the housekeepers here has discovered her husband is running 2 lives while married to her and as well as the 2 children he has to the housekeeper he also has 2 more to another lady and others are suspected elsewhere. I remember the look he gave me the second time I saw him and that was enough to make me wary! Honestly a lot of these guys are not great looking but they have an ego the size of the Empire State building!! I feel so sorry for the women and the children here and this feels like what may be next in line - helping to empower the women and help the children recover from the abuse and become the true, wonderful little beings they should be. We shall see how things unfold but this feels like a great cause and a passion of Lilo’s too.
I touched on my last place and the problems with my landlady’s husband. It’s not right that you are wary of being caught out alone at night and don’t want to use the garden because you’re not sure how many eyes are on you! Going to a disco isn’t safe unless you have a reliable male with you (a group of 3 with the friend’s husband has worked well in the past). Even then the bare faced lies these men tell you, like “I am a friend of theirs” or whatever just to strike up a conversation. I’ve been hit on by taxi drivers that seemed nice and one that my landlady had used for quite some time so I thought to be safe. He was even telling me about how difficult it was to pick up girls in some of these discos because they don’t speak Spanish. He actually phoned me up out the blue and asked where I was and did I want to meet for a drink!! I discovered later ,when I told Lilo about this, that he has a wife and a little girl for heavens sake!! Uuugh!
One of the issues is the standard way of greeting each other here. Everyone, male or female when greeting you kisses you on the cheek. The thing I have since learnt is be careful not to kiss back especially if it is a male, which is difficult for us who greet people in a friendly way at home..but here they can get the wrong impression and that you want to avoid. As you can imagine the men like to hit on “gringa” girls or women..we are different. Age seems irrelevant. Lilo who is 73 ( and looks great on it, mind you) often receives attention. I do think though, with the experiences and changes in me, I am having less issues which is great. Long may this last!
OK I think I have droned on for long enough and you are probably wondering why on earth does she stay?? Well the truth is there are fun times and what I am learning (albeit painfully at times) is well worth me sticking this out even without the NGO work at the moment.
Entonces.....Hasta luego mis amigos..part 2 to follow....