That age old saying. You have to learn to live, to love and to learn to let go. It’s a funny saying. Because so much of it is up to interpretation. These days the one of these things I find the easiest is the letting go. But I feel that maybe sometimes you can let go too much. And sometimes you can let go of the things you probably should be holding on to. At what point do we start to find ourselves in the position where we let go of things that are just too hard and walk away when we should probably stick it out?
My life in the last ten years has been so transient that everything comes and goes and learning to let go was a coping skill that you needed to develop to survive the heartbreak of constantly making new friends, only to have them leave, or meeting the most amazing guy and having a fling for a week and then having to leave. Of falling in love with a place and it’s people, and then having to leave. It has gotten to the point where I am so used to someone leaving or to me leaving something, I feel so comfortable with this trend. I now continue subconsciously choosing men, friends or situations that are leaving because it is the pattern that I know and can deal with. But what if I didn’t? What would happen if I chose things that were more permanent? Maybe it is time to let go of the notion of temporary. To let go of the belief that I need to protect myself from all of the impermanence. Maybe it is time to stick with something for a change? However, within reason.
The idea of starting everything a fresh is quite daunting. But as I sit looking at all of the things that I need to do to get my life on track I feel like I am sitting in front of a giant pile of Lego blocks. I get to choose which blocks I want to use to build my life and my story. If I don’t like the colour, or the block doesn’t fit, I toss it back in the pile and find another. I don’t have to pull down an entire house to get rid of one broken brick. I can cull those broken bricks as I go. It is an interesting situation to be in.
I have realised that once I choose my bricks, I also need to cement them in or the house will ultimately fall down. There is no letting go of things that are too hard this time and running away. It is time to make better choices from the start and that is hard. That is hand choosing every single brick that I believe will make the best house and placing it in the best position. Sometimes it might mean turfing out the pretty coloured brick for one that will be more structurally sound and it is always hard to get rid of those ones, because they are so pretty and alluring. But game on! Let’s do this. It is time to make better choices. It is time to open myself up to the pain that comes with not walking away from anything and everything that might be good for me and clinging on to those things that aren’t.
The valuable life, the one that is full of real, deep love, the one where you feel content with every single day you live. It doesn’t come from a place of being afraid and letting go of everything that might hurt even a little. It is about facing that fear and saying ‘shove off’ and then choosing to stick it out no matter how scary it might get. No matter how afraid you are of the hurt. Because while the minor highs of minor commitment to anything will feed the entertainment meter for short periods of time, it will never permanently fuel the soul like something deeper that stems from actually having to stick it out and work for it. It all starts with a choice. So which block are you going to choose first?
Given the reception to the last thirty things I wrote, most of which did not phase my mother as she knew pretty much all of them except one and even that didn’t surprise her, I figured I would have another crack at some more things people don’t know.
I took up boxing for sport after I was attacked in the street by a gang when I was 20. I have a nasty scar across my right eyebrow still.
When I lived in Canada I filmed a commercial for Edo Japan dressed as an elf. It is horrific and hilarious, especially because they made me do a Canadian accent.
I have a paradoxical vocal chord disfunction that makes my vocal chords block my airway when I do things like walk up steep hills and run.
I’ve never been able to run for more than a minute. Even when I was a kid in primary school, I could never cut an entire lap of the oval. Even at my fittest, I struggled with this.
When I was five I swallowed a five cent piece that got stuck in my oesophagus and I had to have an operation to have it removed. I have a hole on one side of my palate that food gets stuck in that isn’t normal. I am convinced it is from this.
I am never in silence. I suffer from hearing damage and ringing in my ears as a result of playing music in loud rock bands as a teenager and through my twenties for work without wearing earplugs, because I am stupid.
I was once hit by a car on the road. Luckily I jumped back quick enough that it missed my legs and clipped my arm. It swelled to twice its size and because I am so bad at asking for help from others I walked an hour and a half to the hospital to get an x-ray. Luckily it wasn’t broken.
I have kept a journal of every single day of my life for the last seven years.
One of my ears has a bump on the top part of it and it annoys the shit out of me. It looks like a permanent mosquito bite and think it may have actually happened from a mosquito bite.
If I want to annoy someone with the most foul smelling farts on the face of the planet, all I need to do is eat something that has been made with brown sugar. Beans? No way! Brown sugar every single time. Proper lethal.
The way I tell the difference between left and right is due to a freckle in the middle of my left hand which I have had since I was four.
I wish that I could do art, but I cannot draw to save my own life.
I have a proper obsession with the game Drop7 and trying to crack the million points mark which I have only ever done once. When I did I had an overwhelming urge to message my ex the score with a ‘fuck you!’ message, then thought better of it…..
I have lost three toenails at once and it was utterly gross. My dad used the edge of a fishing knife to scrape away the nail at the base to relieve the pressure, it hurt that bad.
The worst job I have ever had was posting stickers onto men’s urinals so that they could piss on their least favourite football team and erase them with heat activation. Awful!
Speaking of other bad jobs, up there was also dressing up as Timmy the Sheep with my friend who was Shaun and having small children we couldn’t see pull our tails.
When I am nervous, I laugh at inappropriate things, bite my fingernails and talk too much.
My first ever solo singing performance was when I was eight and sang the Twelve Days of Christmas in my primary school assembly.
I have been fired from three different jobs.
I have bungee jumped three times.
I have zero tattoos and would never get one as I feel that I could never commit to something so permanent. The things I loved five years ago I do not necessarily love now. I would extend that to tattoos.
I have a fun habit of dancing and singing into shampoo bottles in the shower. But only when I think people aren’t listening.
I will admit, that I am terrible at asking for help and hate doing it. It is a work in progress.
I will not wear sunglasses unless they are polarized. It is an OCD thing. And you’ve got to be good to your eyes, because you only get one set.
I learned to drive a manual car when I was 12 in a beat up Datsun. It was an enlightening experience that involved me push-starting the car every time I stalled it.
I once watched so many Criminal Minds re-runs that I had nightmares about serial killers for a week. I now have to moderate myself despite how much I love Reid and Derek…..
I very rarely remember my dreams as I am such a heavy sleeper (thus why point 26 is odd).
I am a compulsive list writer. I even have lists of my lists, that is how many lists I have.
My favourite flowers are orchids.
I have an addiction to Groupon. Although I am currently finding Melbourne Groupon to be nowhere near as adventurous as London’s. You can’t go clay target shooting or learn to fly helicopters on Groupon here…
Anyway, there’s another quirky thirty. For those that know me, any that take you by surprise?
There was definitely no shortage of shit to learn in Bolivia. Some of it sad, some of it angering and yet some of it hilarious, entertaining and interesting. It is a country that has had it’s ups and downs and then some more after that. Here is some shit I learned while I was there.
Bolivia used to have access to the sea
Well once upon a time, before Chile decided that the bird shit for fertilizer meant big dollar signs and that they could just essentially go to war with Bolivia and take that area of land and call it their own. Needless to say, Bolivia is now landlocked and this is one of the contributing factors to it being one of the poorer countries in South America. No access to the sea, means having to transport goods through another country overland and that is going to cost. Another win for Chile.
The dollar sign was created in Bolivia
$$$ Yep! That one. Back in the day when the mint in Potosi was working at exceptionally high output (well for back in those days when horses were operating the machinery) they used to brand the coins with symbols that signified that they were indeed minted in Potosi. These symbols consisted of the letters P T S and I merged into one symbol. The S and I merged together were what originally gave rise to the dollar symbol. Well according to the mint in Potosi…. the internet is still out with those decisions.
The Bolivian Presidential term is supposed to be limited to two terms.
I say supposed to be because the current, corrupt-as-shit president decided that if he changed the name of the country, then he could run again for a third term because he was president of a whole other country before. The locals obviously got pissed off with this as they don’t want some corrupt-as-shit wanker running their country and had a referendum they referred to as 21F because it happened on the 21st February. The majority decided they were against changing the constitution to allow dictators the capability to take over the country, but as dictators do, they take over and don’t listen regardless. There are still quite a lot of protests happening with this, but mostly they fall on deaf ears.
A man’s prowess is to be expressed through knitting
That’s right, you heard correctly. Knitting. When these boys are young, they have to get out their knitting needles and start practicing making these knitted hats that they use to demonstrate to the ladies how skilled they are. The single chaps wear different hats to those that have married, however, if ya boy can’t knit, he is gonna have some shocking lady problems. In that he ain’t gonna have one.
The Tiwanaku gave rise to the Incas
The Tiwanaku people originated on the southern parts of Lake Titicaca, which now is much smaller than what it was before as the ruins that used to be on the water are now a substantial way inland. The people consisted of different groups that spoke different languages, two of these being the Aymara and the Quechua. Today you can still see small groups of the Aymara’s living on the lake. The have built fabulous reed islands and have an interesting culture. The Quechuan speakers, however, went off and became and entity unto themselves. They became what we know now as the Incas. Majority of the building structures and styles of the Incas demonstrate a knowledge developed from the time of the Tiwanaku as can been observed by looking at the structures from both periods.
The Spanish screwed up a few words in this hood too
That famous place that they sing about where music and passion are always in fashion…. yeah that is right, the Copacabana…. that is a word that derives from Aymara. But of course the Spanish can’t pronounce ‘kota kahuana’ and butchered it like everything else.
Other fun word meanings
Lake Titicaca. Titi in Quechua means puma, and caca translates to rock. So Lake Titicaca is essentially a puma rock. Which is somewhat odd. How they ever knew what the shape of a lake that size was in astounding. The lake itself is shaped like a puma, so it makes it somewhat believable. The jury still isn’t on this one though, as there are many different ideas of where the name came from including more Spanish butchering of indigenous words. The truth? Nobody really knows what it used to be called before. There aren’t enough artefacts to tell us.
After a very long journey, through a very long valley all the way from Cochabamba to Torotoro to learn about dinosaurs, I learned a great deal about how they train tour guides…. in fact I am pretty sure that they don’t.
“So um, how were they preserved?” I ask.
“Well the dinosaurs just walked here and then over time the mud dried and it got hard.” Ummmm….. and then?
It is fair to say that we had a rather beautiful, humorous and not so informative journey through here. Who am I kidding? I didn’t learn shit about dinosaurs! (Chuckles internally at the thought of making tour guide consistently awkward by asking too many scientific questions in Spanish that he didn’t seem to know the answers to.)
Bolivia! Incredible country. Some of the most incredible nature that I have come across and somewhere that I would definitely return to and explore some more if I ever have the time and money!
One of the biggest joys of travel for me is food. Oddly though when people ask me what foods I miss from home, I tell them none really. I don’t really miss any of it. Most of what constitutes “Australian foods” are candies, chocolate biscuits and all round unhealthy shit.
After time spent in Canada and the UK, I can safely say that a Tim Horton’s chilli is probably the only thing I miss from there. But despite my adversity to Western foods, there are specific foods from other parts of the world that blow my mind that I do occasionally get cravings for and that I cannot replicate and cannot get in the authentic manner where I am.
So one can imagine my excitement when I am walking around downtown Melbourne and in the market I find a stand that sells Burek, an Albanian pastry most commonly filled with ricotta and spinach or minced meat. I am well excited! And gözleme from Turkey! Momo’s from Nepal! Arepa de choclo from Colombia! And I am now well excited. I even managed to find an amazing woman who was so incredibly lovely selling pre-mixed packets of Indian spices to make things like Goan fish. Authentic Goan fish. Not the shitty, watered-down, westernised, jar sauce rubbish that tastes nothing like curry from actual India. I’m talking the ones that will blow your head off and still be considered “mild”. Real. Curry. Mmmmm…..
I miss my standard “menu del día” from Colombia with my fried plantains and chicharrón. I miss real Mexican Tacos made with maíz tortillas and not the shitty Old El Paso box crap with crunchy tortilla shells. Not once did I see those in Mexico. I miss a proper ceviche from Peru with those little toasted corn kernels of white corn on the side…. Any authentic empanada from anywhere South American. Venezuelan arepas. Pad Thai cooked in Thailand. Tom kha kai….
Mussaman curry. Mango sticky rice. Actual Vietnamese Phó from Vietnam. Amok Curry from Cambodia. Egyptian falafel…. Ugh…. All of this is making me hungry as I write. Proper gelati from Italy and those little tortellini things that float around in the beef broth from Bologna. Norwegian brown cheese. All cakes and hot chocolate from the Republic of Cacao in Ecuador…..
As is, half of my backpack coming home was filled with Ecuadorian Cacao paste and packets of Sancocho soup mix from Colombia. Throw in some David’s tea from Canada and an authentic Indian chai…. Ugh….. Take me back!
Anyway, the point is, I managed to find places in Melbourne that sell these things or ingredients to make these things authentically. And upon this discovery, I was the happiest I had been in a long time. Because if I can’t go to the food, at least the food can come to me and remind me of all of the good times I had with such foods. Venezuelan arepas dripping down my chin as I drunkenly smashed one down in the street. The pupusas I ate every day in El Salvador on the beach. The falafels I ordered on my own with my very limited Arabic on the side of the road in Egypt, despite arguments with my guide. The targines we ate every single day in Morocco with couscous and Morrocan BBQ in a dingy market. All the days I sat with locals, the only white person in the place munching down on Indonesian bakso or ayam Goreng.
The food opens doors to my memories. It allows me to keep them alive through my taste buds and the connections they have to events. I expected to find some, but never this much here. And now that I have, I’m excited to get in the kitchen and cook. It is my own little time machine at home, when jumping on a plane cannot suffice. And for now, it will have to do.
I was picked up this morning by a very funny local man by the name of Antonio Banderas. He tells me that there is the famous Antonio Banderas of Spain who sings (?? I thought he was an actor) and then there is famous Antonio Banderas of Potosí who dances (him).
We first went to his office where we were equipped with sexy red pants and jackets, helmets and torches, ready for a bit of industrial spelunking. On the way of course, we had to stop and acquire some supplies. Such supplies consist of coca leaves, a 96% bottle of booze, and snacks to give as presents to the miners. Why you ask does a person need a 96% bottle of alcohol in a mine, well, we will get to that later.
So a bit of background history. Locals lived here for thousands of years happily. The Spanish rock up with their guns and evil trickery and take over pretty much the entire continent. Upon the discovery of a boat load of silver ore underground, some of which being up to (oddly) 96% pure, they decided to base their entire South American economic operations out of Potosí. Problem though. Who is actually going to work in these unsafe mines in shocking conditions for the profitability of the Spanish? Certainly not the Spanish.
According to Señor Banderas, up to eight million local Quechua died working in these mines from either accidents or lung failure from the silica dust. They were forced to work there as slaves. My fact checker journalist friend finds a mere hundred thousand in comparison on the internet but no doubt these numbers have been fudged a bit along the way by both parties. As it stands today, there are 7,500 people still working across 40 different cooperative mines in the area and there are on average approximately three deaths per month. One of the last they had to haul out in pieces after he exploded himself with dynamite.
In an attempt to protect themselves from the evils of the mines, there are several rituals which miners undertake to ask Pachamama and their devil friend they call Tio, for sparing. At first we throw coca leaves and some alcohol on the ground at the mine entrance to ask Pachamama for her blessings and then we enter.
Back in the days of the Spanish, when the Quechua would refuse to enter the mines, the Spanish lied to them and told them that unless they went and pulled as much silver out of the ground as possible that they would seriously piss of the God of the underworld, also known as Satan, and that he would rain fucking hell down like you’ve never seen. All lies of course, but what this started was super interesting.
Scattered throughout the mine are devil statues of varying sizes that they call Tio. Tio means uncle in Spanish, but it is more likely the case that they were trying to call him ‘Dios’ without the capacity to be able to pronounce the letter ‘d’, thus ‘tios’. Each Tio has his hands on his knees in sitting position with an optimistically giant erection sticking out from between his legs. The ritual proceeds that one gives coca leaves and alcohol to each hand, to protect the hands, to each feet, to protect the feet and lots for the penis for “lots and lots of sex sex sex!” Antonio Banderas tells me. Of course he is joking, the significance of the giant schlong is fertility and they make the biggest offering to it in hope that the mine will be rich with ore and give back ample dinero. Antonio then also sparks up a doobie, has a few puffs and inserts this cigarette into Tio’s mouth so he gets the trifector of all vices of miners. Most of the Tios have black noses for this and black lips. This is still something that is performed in devout manner to ask for protection and safety every single day in disregard to occupational health and safety measures. Despite losing both his father and grandfather to lung disease from working in the mines, Antonio still didn’t wear a mask.
What he did do however was sing the Indiana Jones theme song quite consistently and recommend that we use hands to crawl like ‘Spider-Mans, Spider-Womens and Spider-Pigs’. I can say that I not so graciously attempted to follow this advice as I squeezed my way through some of the small cracks where we observed the miners working in their actual conditions with hammers to break up stone, shovelling rocks into carts and pushing them along the tracks. These days the ore is lucky to contain ten percent and as such, not a lot of money is to be made from such a gruelling process.
They are however a proud people. Proud of their jobs and proud of their history. I can tell you this right now, I don’t think you could pay me enough money in the world to make the daily sacrifices that these men make, with their lives and their long term health, just to sustain their families. But then I was fortunate enough to be born with such a choice. Many of them don’t and come from generations of miners like Antonio Banderas. He did something smart though. He learned to speak English and started doing tours of the mines.
“Six years”, he will proudly tell you he has been speaking English. “Fuck is the first English word I learned”, he chuckles as he adds in “fucking tourists, jejeje”. He is one of the most friendly and jovial men you will meet, and very, very funny. But his face takes a hard worn look to it as he discusses his friends that died in the five years he was working in the mines as a miner. A reality that every single man in the mine faces.
It’s all fun and games crawling around a mine as a tourist, in all your gear, with your helmet, but at the end of the day, that’s what we are. Tourists in the unfortunate lives of others. These men work in appalling conditions that will either lead them to rapid accidental death or the eventual death by age forty from the constant inhalation of silica dust. It is hard, dirty, and completely unregulated in what we would consider a western standard. Nobody here survives in the end. They just accept that it’s their card and get about it until they die, with the exception of the odd ones like Antonio and a few others who defy this and find work elsewhere. It certainly gave me an appreciation for the options I have for work in my life. At least I don’t have to die to provide for my family for the short working span of life I would have working here.
Going home. It doesn’t really have very strong connotations for most of us. Going home from work. Going home from a holiday. You can pretty much expect things to be exactly the way that you left them. But what if you’ve been gone for four years? What if you don’t even know anymore what you are going home from? Or even better yet, going home to?
Obviously I am going home to my family and a lot of exciting and not so exciting things that involve my family, whom I adore to pieces. But everything else is more scary. Everything else is so unknown, and for someone who has lived unknown for such a long time, you would think that I would be used to it. But this is different. This feels more permanent. This time I don’t have an escape and somewhere else to go to. This time, I am back to stay.
And that is hard when I don’t feel like I know or relate to my country anymore. For the last few times I have been home, I have felt like an alien walking around a land that looks so familiar to me. A foreigner in a land where everyone sounds just like me. A stranger to people who I have known for a long time. The truth is, in moving around and meeting so many other people, I have detached myself from the parts of being Australian that I didn’t want to associate myself with. The parts that get involved in ridiculousness like national outrage over shaved cricket balls and supermarkets banning plastic bags. The parts that need to be in everyone else’s business because there is nothing else to get worked up about in a place where people are so fortunate. The parts that have a reputation globally for being racist and unaccepting. Or better yet, drunk all the time and disrespectful. I left them behind somewhere along the way and I don’t want them back. A part of me went about collecting the best parts of other cultures and trying to incorporate them into who I am. Will this person be accepted? Or shunned by others who will go about isolating me and keeping their distance, which something I experienced last time I returned for several months.
I fear the lack of being able to communicate with others on the same level. After leading such a different life for such a long time, it is hard to come back to what is considered normal. It is harder when people don’t like to acknowledge that you haven’t been living normal. That you’ve been living something unexplainable. How do you make new friends when you’ve forgotten how to talk to normal people about normal everyday things that aren’t “Where are you going? Where are you from?” How do you communicate with old friends when so much of who you are has changed? Half the time I feel like I am sitting as an island witness to conversations I no longer have the capacity to be a part of because I lost pop culture along the way.
I fear not making enough money to survive and yet I also fear having a job where I wind up in the same stress cycle I did last time, ending up in adrenal fatigue and nervous breakdown. How do I manage to navigate a network of obtaining a job that is considered acceptable or do I just blow the whole thing off and go work as a card dealer at the casino or serve ice cream or something? Will I again be judged for choosing something that isn’t considered ‘professional’ in a society where what you do for work is a large part of defining who you are and what your worth is? If I shun the standard view of worth and work, will I still be accepted by others or will new people I meet walk away and decide I am not good enough because of it?
The biggest thing for me is that I fear that I cannot make this work. That at some point in six months from now, I am going to want to pick myself up and go somewhere else because I am unhappy and it is too hard. The truth is, I am at an age where I need to consider whether I want to have children and a family and if I can’t stay in one place long enough to meet someone that I connect with at that level, then I am giving those things away. And if I don’t manage to meet someone because I have waited so long to do so, then I have given it away with my choices up to this point already. And that, well it will be a bridge I cross when I come to it. But I actually need right now to commit to it. I need to commit to opening myself up, putting myself out there, meeting people with the knowledge that I am not saying goodbye to them in six months from now and making myself a life. I tried in England. I failed. After two years, I walked away with very little to show for myself because of several different factors that I don’t want to repeat.
So here we go again. Like always, I feel the fear, and I get on the plane and I tell it to shove off and I go home. I go home. To what I don’t know. But to home, nonetheless.
The Bolivian ladies are a special breed. They don’t take any shit, I can tell you that right now. In comparison to their other South American counterparts, these women have got it going on. Just be prepared for them to kick your arse good and proper if you piss them off though. So here’s the four-one-one.
A ‘Chola’ means a lady that uses traditional clothes. However, over time, and through inappropriate use by the Spanish, this word took on a derogatory tone. The women, however, adopted the name ‘Cholita’ which translates to ‘cute, little women dressed in traditional clothes. Have no fear though. These women are indeed not as timid as the ‘ita’ would have you believe. In fact, some of these women are involved in a local Bolivian pastime; Cholita Wrestling. I was fortunate enough to go and watch one of these shows and the women here are brutes, yelling and screaming at the crowd, threatening audience members, one even threw her opponent on the laps of two of my friends. Somewhat hilarious, but very much staged and a funny thing to see.
From the word Chola, mixed with the Swiss word, chalet, you find yourself with ‘Cholet’, a very expensive and posh house that you mostly find up in the area of El Alto, in the higher and richer area of the city. These houses are all developed with extravagance to demonstrate wealth and every house has to be designed differently. Some are used for actual houses, some are used to house Cholita wrestling, and others are used as function rooms. They are however, impressive.
The women in the markets, with their Chola-heritage, also don’t take shit. If you take a picture of one without asking, expect rotten fruit to be piffed at your head and god-forbid you actually touch the fruit. You will get the mother of all slaps. You see, they choose the fruit that they want to give you, you don’t get to choose the ones you want. The best way of not getting slapped is to repeatedly go back to the same lady for the same product day after day. She will then get to know you and reward you for your loyalty by giving you the best fruit. You can also ask for an ‘yapa’ (I think this is the spelling, I am not sure) and they will give you a little extra. However you should never, ever ask for a discount as this is considered rude and devaluing their product. If you manage to score a regular lady, she becomes your ‘casara’, which comes from the word ‘casar’, which means ‘to marry’. Go see someone else next week and she catches you, you’re as good as divorced and are going to have to find somewhere else to get your juicy goods.
Women’s calves are considered attractive here (Bingo! I’m in!) As such it is not uncommon to see the single ladies let a bit of ankle slip out of the bottom of their skirt to show just how strong those lovely legs are. The married ladies, cover those babies up because hubby wouldn’t be impressed with the exhibition of his lovely calves.
The hats that the women in Bolivia wear were originally designed in Europe and bought over by the Spanish. The women originally wouldn’t wear them and then the Europeans thought up a fabulous idea and decided to lie to them about the hats special ability to increase fertility. Next thing you know, hats are everywhere. They are worn straight on by married women and tilted to the side for single ladies so that the men know who the eligible ladies are. They don’t secure these hats to their heads either. They maintain the hat’s position through posture and head tilting.
Of course, each lovely Cholita is somewhat different and for the most part, lovely if you don’t piss them off. I, in fact, like these women. They are definitely more spirited than those that sit around placidly waiting for a man to come along and do everything for them and tell them what to do. They got sass. And you have to respect that.
So we’ve covered politics, and we’ve covered Incas and the Quechua, what else did I manage to learn in Peru? Loads. That’s what I learned. So here is some more random shit I learned whilst travelling Peru.
1. There is a type of dog here that has no hair. At first I thought that dog had mange and all of his friends too. So I asked the owner and he was offended. Oops… Turns out ugly, hairless dogs are a thing here.
2. Beware women in traditional dress holding sheep. Yes they are sheep. They will tell you “baby alpaca” but this is a farce. Those babies are too busy getting shawn for their expensive threads to be sitting on the side of the road with a lady for one sol pictures. Also of note, they’re so cheeky that they will insert themselves into photos or videos you are taking of other things and demand money. Very very sneaky.
3. In the middle of Lake Titicaca, there are families there that descended from the Aymara, and these people created islands made from reeds that were not easily accessed by other tribes in the region. They would put down several blocks of reed roots compacted with sticks driven through the middle and tie these together to form the base, then anchor it down with rocks. After this, they would lay several layers of reeds down to form the land. These reeds are constantly having to be replaced and the whole island needs to be replaced every fifteen odd years.
4. Peru’s most famous author, Mario Vargas Llosa was a sly dog. Not only did he run off with his cousin against family wishes, he then got sick of her and decided ditch her to marry his aunt instead. Talk about keeping it in the family. After that all went to shit though, he swiftly settled on Enrique Iglesias’ mum and if he’s anything to go by, she’d be a right hottie. Possibly a good life choice.
5. Señor Sipan was one of the only kings of the time that didn’t have his tomb looted and all his shit taken. As such, his grave was in impeccable condition when found. They had fourteen layers of jewels and offerings buried with his body among them. He was also buried with guards, whose feet they cut off so they couldn’t go wandering in the afterlife and ditch him. This clearly worked given how well it was protected from thievery. And just for good measure, they threw some alpacas, women and kids in there with him too.
6. Even though ritual slaughters of humans were quite popular with the majority of cultures throughout the Americas for thousands of years, the Chachapoyas decided to be trend setters and go against the general killing of people to make rain and food grow. Clearly progressive.
7. Peru is home to about four hundred different species of potatoes. It was the main crop, along with corn, for feeding the masses during the day. They even developed a method of dehydrating potatoes at altitude so that they can keep for twenty odd years.
8. The Incan’s used to grow their crops on terraces that they had established on the hillsides of their communities. It is suggested that they developed this system to develop different microclimates so that they could grow different crops at different levels. They also added different layers of sand, dirt and gravel to act as a water filtration system so that the water would feed downwards and not be wasted.
9. The Nazca lines are only on average about ten centimetres deep. Given the amount of makeshift small canals from where the water has carved out the land it is a wonder that they managed to find them at all. There is a local lady that walks around and sweeps them every day so that they are maintained and can still be seen.
10. The food in Peru is insanely good. Compared to most other countries in the region, Peru’s food kicks some serious arse and is one of the top countries in the world to visit for gastronomy. I am particularly a fan of the ceviche and the estofados. You come here, cashed up, you will get fat. There is nothing more to say about it, it is just too good.
And there we have it! Three weeks of solid shit learning in Peru. On to the next country!
After two months of travelling around Peru, one may say that I learned quite a bit of shit. I definitely learned a lot about the predominant indigenous culture, the Quechua, also known as the Incas. So here are a few fun things I learned about them.
Majority of the town names around Peru are butchered versions of Quechua, also the name of the language, because the Spanish lacked capacity to either listen, or pronounce words properly. As such we have the following.
Cusco – from the Quechuan word Qosco, meaning ‘navel’ or ‘belly button’ as it was considered to be the heart of the four Incan territories that divided up the region.
Inca – meaning ‘king’. “Who is they?” ask the Spanish pointing at the Quechuan king.
“Inca”, respond the Quechua.
“Excellent, they shall all be called Inca” decide the Spanish. The tribe of kings.
Lima – Named after terrible pronunciation of the river that runs through this area, the Rímac. Though the Spanish will tell you it has some fluffy and lovely meaning in Spanish and this was not the case.
Perú – We believe takes its origins from a local ruler called Birú, whose name the Spanish also couldn’t properly pronounce.
Charky – the process of taking alpaca meat and drying it with a boat load of salt from one of the many natural salt resources here. This was obviously butchered to become ‘jerky’…. Mmm…. Beef jerky…..
Other Quechuan Words
Solpayki – Thank you. Stock standard manners.
Hakunchis – Let’s go. Clearly my favourite word in every language and one that I need to learn every time.
Callpa – meaning strong. It was the name of my first trekking group through the Salkantay but it should have been called team moan instead because that was all they did.
Machu Picchu means old mountain. Machu meaning old, Picchu meaning mountain. There is actually a mountain out of Arequipa called Pichu Pichu which literally translates to mountain mountain…. Not exactly sure why this is.
Anyway, whilst trekking the Salkantay a local guide told us of the dangers of pronouncing things wrong. You see there is picchu, and then there is pinchu, and pinchu means, you guessed it, dick. So if you don’t pronounce your Quechuan properly you could wind up going to old dick instead of old mountain and that would just be embarrassingly.
What is fascinating is that this wasn’t the original name for the city. The original name was lost when the city was abandoned upon the arrival of the Spanish. Majority of the people living there were professionals, architects, priests, royalty. Parts of the city indicate that is was also used as a part training facility and an old school research lab for architecture with the structure of the terraces. However the food for the people was supplied by Cusco as their terraces were not large enough to support the population, which mostly only stayed during the summer months anyway. When the Spanish invaded Cusco, food supply was cut off and they were forced to leave and as such, the Spanish never found the city.
There are four different types of camelid in the Andes that were used by the Quechua, llamas, alpacas, vicuña and guanaco. Mostly they used the llamas for the heavy lifting and the others for wool and tasty snack.
Once the wool has been taken from the alpaca, they wash it in water with a plant or a root that contains saponin to make it all foamy. After drying it, the women then spin the wool onto a thing that looks like a spinning top to make the thread. From here they dye it using loads of natural dyes, the most interesting to me being the blood of a parasite they find on the cactus. The colour of this blood changes depending on what you add to it. It is a darker end in its normal state, a very vibrant and orange-red with the addition of acid in limes, and purple when you add soap and try to wash it off your hands. They also use other plant-derived dyes.
After the dying process, they use looms to weave blankets, clothing, back braces for those working the fields to protect their backs and a number of other different fabrics they need for daily or ritual purposes.
The Incans/Quechuans were big on ritual sacrifices. Some of these were things, some were animals, and others of course we’re humans. We will start at the soft end and make our way up.
Chicha was considered a drink of the gods. It is a fermented alcoholic drink made out of corn, that is still very popular across South America to this day. The tradition is that the first cup of each batch of chicha is donated to Pachamama, or Mother Nature, to say thank you for the offerings from the earth that keep them alive. As such, the first cup is poured on the ground. This was a problem when the Spanish conquistadors first arrived. The Incas offered them a cup of chicha, thinking it could be poison, the spanish throw it on the ground, the Incas are happy because they offered to Pachamama. Then the Spanish give the Incas a bible and the Incas donate it to Pachamama and all hell breaks loose. It is fair to say that for such ‘disrespect’ of the bible, the whole lot of them were slaughtered.
If you would like to build a house, you need to ask Pachamama for permission. To do this, you must make some ritual sacrifices in which a shaman comes over, but not just any shaman, it has to be a specific one that is high up, and he makes the ritual. One of the things offered up is the foetus of a baby llama. None of these foetuses are killed for the purpose of this exercise, they are usually taken from mothers that have died from the cold or been struck by lightning. Baby llama, coca leaves and a few other tidbits are burned and construction of your house can begin because Pachamama is now happy.
Nothing but the best for the gods, and of course there is nothing more pure than a child. As such, child sacrifice was a thing back in the days of the Incas. Often, in times of famine or great duress, families would have to put forward a child for sacrifice. These children were often taken to high mountain tops for the sacrifice and many have been discovered as ice mummies that you can go and visit in museums.
The Homeless Guy
At first, upon hearing this, many people believed it to be a joke. Unfortunately it is not. If undertaking the construction of a very large building, Pachamama requires more of a sacrifice to ask permission to use the land than just a baby llama. Pachamama needs a human (apparently). Given that these days killing people is against the law and you can go to jail for it, finding a suitable sacrifice is a difficult one. People turn to the drug addict and alcoholics that live on the streets to find a suitable sacrifice. Such sacrifice is chosen by asking a range of questions to assess if there is anybody about that would miss them if they were gone. If not, full steam ahead. They invite said homeless person to a massive party with lots of booze and drugs, get them well high and plied, offer up a few prozzies just to make sure they really enjoy themselves and when they have eventually had excess to the point of passing out, they take them out back, roll them into an empty hole with some coca leaves and other offerings and pour the concrete on top to make the foundations.
While they believe that this is happening less, evidence has been found in some cases that this is still recently happening. So if anyone asks, loads of friends and family to miss me and mum expects a call in an hour….
Anyway, I’m sure that’s about enough for this week, but plenty more shit has been learned, so until the next.
About a month ago, I was fortunate enough to be in the county’s capital city for the recent elections. They weren’t for the big job, the president, but for all of the governors and regional representatives around the country. Without getting into the nitty gritty, there were a few very interesting things I learned while being in the country during this period.
1. Everybody seems to get involved.
And by everybody, I mean mostly the elderly representatives of the country. They are out, they have their signs, they are protesting until they are hoarse. Many of them have their houses painted with political propaganda to show their support for their candidates. Candidates also paint any free standing structure they can get their paintbrushes on including cliff faces, gutters, bridges, you name it. The thing is, these people remember a time when things were much worse than they are now, so they are heavily on it with protests and campaigns.
2. To vote you have to be in the jurisdiction of where you vote.
Unlike with other countries, if you’re registered in Cusco and currently in Lima for work, you cannot vote. To vote, you have to be in the actual region where you are registered and go into a specific office that they allocate you for voting. That means on voting weekend, transport and booking buses is a nightmare because if you don’t vote, you get fined. It is compulsory.
3. There are political parties, and then there are political parties.
You will see many symbols down the road for different political parties that people are representing in Peru, such as the Maicitos, Somos Peru etc. but of more interest to me as a foreignor were the actual parties. In the lead up to elections in an attempt to convince you of their awesomeness, candidates will have street parties. One blocked off our road in the middle of a tour to Chavin as they were handing out free chicken, rice and potatoes off the back of the truck to all who came and sat in the square to listen to the propaganda. This is mild campaigning. Some take it to a whole new level.
Back in Huaraz, an entire hostel of very shitty people trying to sleep for trekking at five am, were enduring a party in the middle of the street attended by about twenty people with flags. Why was this a problem? Because they had a stage with a ten piece band that had been playing from 1pm until 11pm and at that stage still weren’t looking at stopping, despite a crazy English girl in the hostel hanging her head out the window and abusing them in Spanish for their lack of consideration of others.
I went briefly to investigate this fiasco while on the hunt for food and discovered that not only was there a band, but they had back up dancers in g-strings and I could see what they ate for breakfast. My sensitive western ways wanted to blindfold and cover the eyes of all small children everywhere to protect them from the sexually provocative images being promoted to urge people to vote for this clearly above board chap. But then, maybe I’m just a prude.
However you look at it, they aren’t campaigning with good values in mind, well most of them…. So what values are they campaigning for?
4. Politicians in Peru earn a shit ton of money.
I have it on authority from a local that many of these low level politicians can be earning as much as $8000 USD a month!?! Yep. That’s even more than most westerners earn and we’re talking about a country where the minimum income is a bit over $200 USD a month. So despite not knowing what you’re doing, you ain’t really got a whole lot to lose by running for parliament. As it was, in the area of central Lima alone, there were over 450 candidates running. No wonder people have no idea who to vote for and no wonder it winds up being a shit show.
5. Roadworks tend to increase when elections are called.
An insight from a friend’s Peruvian mum is thatroadworks always start happening when elections are on. For two reasons. Firstly it is the most blatantly obvious way to point out to people that something is getting done. Because hey have to deal with it every day.
Secondly, because based on a survey of the average cost of a kilometre of road around the world, the cost of road in Peru is approximately three times larger than that of road in Europe. One has to wonder where exactly that money is going, and one can also take a pretty good guesstimate that it is going straight into the coffers of those in fear of not being re-elected. You know, saving for a rainy day, when your opportunity to steal from the general population disappears….. Last minute panic.
About a month on and everything seems to have settled back to normal. The houses are still painted and there are still billboards and advertisements everywhere, but the hype has definitely settled and it is back to business as usual. Less roadworks, as they have now started to steadily cease. And backpackers everywhere rejoice because they can sleep without the noisiest of campaigns happening outside their windows.