2albatrosses

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    See the archive at the bottom to view older posts. Happy Reading. Walter & Lee Tuan

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Golden Girls Down Under

Golden Girls on a road tour of Adelaide and its surroundings Sunset at the Murray River how old is this vine

The Golden Girls hit the road again, this time in Adelaide, South Australia. Audrey from Canada flew in from South Korea following a 9-day vacation there with her friends and her home stay Korean students. Anne and Esther arrived a couple of hours later from Singapore. The Golden Girls were overjoyed to see each other and the fun began at the Oaks Embassy on North Terrace.  Lee Tuan and Walter hosted a welcome dinner at their house with home cooked pizza washed down with a bottle of 2012 Bremerton Malbec, and apple pie with a shot of Bremerton Ciel. All were impressed with the smooth earthy taste of the Malbec and resolved to make a visit to Bremerton’s vineyard and winery at Langhorne Creek.

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An early start after a hearty breakfast was made the following morning with a tour of the Adelaide city centre on foot. Then a drive to Holdfast Shore for lunch. Fish & chips in Glenelg and shopping along Pier Street. All were so engrossed in shopping we overlooked the one hour parking limit. Ouch! $50 to Holdfast Shore Council for being carried away with shopping!

cooked breakfast daily View from Montefiore Road The Golden Girls

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Arequipa, Peru, to Arica, Chile

Cruz del Sur is the name to remember if you’re travelling by bus in Peru. Surely the king of the bus companies in these parts. We lay back on our fully reclining seats after selecting our movies using the seatback touchscreens and adjusting our individual earphones. No terrible movies blaring at full volume throughout the cabin whether you wanted to watch them or not. Cusco receded further and further into the background as we glided through the desert night towards Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa, 11 hours away.

Shortly after sunrise we came upon Arequipa’s outskirts; garbage-strewn shanty town slums. This wasn’t what we were expecting. An hour or so later we were in the city centre; the contrast couldn’t be more striking. There certainly seems to be a gaping chasm here between the haves and the have nots. Arequipa is known as the ‘white city’ because so many of its substantial buildings are constructed of sillar, white volcanic stone quarried locally. Speaking of volcanoes, Arequipa has a big one as its near neighbour, being located near the base of El Misti that rises 6,000 feet above the city. It’s still active, last erupting in 1985. Earthquakes also periodically inflict damage on the city, the last just a few years ago when part of its huge white cathedral was toppled.

Arequipa has a major visitor attraction in its Santa Catalina Convent, established in 1579, less than 40 years after the Spanish arrived. Since then, many women have entered the convent to serve as cloistered nuns, never to return to their former lives. It’s a huge place, occupying a whole city block and containing a church, cloisters, a square, streets, 80 houses where the nuns lived in cell-like conditions, and these days also a religious art gallery. We spent a full morning wandering through the maze-like facility and seeing the austere conditions in which its residents over the centuries lived. A great place, and very photogenic.

Shopping was on the agenda too. With our long journey through South America approaching an end, Lee was on the trail of baby alpaca scarves to take home as gifts. And Arequipa was the place to do it with many shops selling beautiful alpaca and vicuna wool products.

When it came time to move on, our travelling party of three became two. While we turned towards home, Dylan had decided to continue travelling solo in South America for a while, so shortly after saying our goodbyes at the front of his hostel it was just the two of us who boarded an early morning bus to travel six hours south-east across the desert to the far south Peruvian city of Tacna. There we hired a taxi to takes us a further 50 km south, across the Peru/Chile border, and on to the far northern Chilean desert city of Arica on the Pacific coast. We hadn’t seen the ocean in a long time, and it was good to sit in a waterside café and have fresh fish for lunch, with Arica’s fishing fleet anchored behind us.

And that effectively brought the curtain down on our long five month journey through Cuba and South America. At dawn on Saturday we took off from Arica airport and flew a few thousand kilometres south to Chile’s capital Santiago. The six hour wait there passed excruciatingly slowly, as airport waits always do, but finally the time came to board the Qantas jumbo that had us across the ocean to Sydney in 14 hours (thank God for aircraft movies and red wine to numb the passage of time at 37,000 feet). And from there it was just a further 2.5 hours to Adelaide.

One of the exquisite joys of travel is the coming home; unlocking the front door and seeing all the familiar things not seen for weeks or months, slipping between your own sheets on your own mattress, not having to work out new things throughout each day. The comfort of sameness. Of course that’s a temporary phase and it’s that same sameness that before long begins to chafe into action the dormant urge to travel. And so the cycle continues. But for now our immediate priority is to open and respond to five months’ mail.  OMG!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Cusco & Machu Picchu, Peru

An eleven hour bus trip from hell (only because of the consecutive, totally inappropriate violent movies screened at ear splitting volume) took us across the border from Copacabana, Bolivia, into Peru. The villages and countryside we passed through didn’t have an air of prosperity and a couple of cities we stopped at to pick up other passengers were, it needs to be said, quite ugly.

Eventually we arrived in Cusco. Whoa!! What a city. It was like arriving in another country; a fantastic place, similar in many ways to Italian or Spanish hillside cities. Cusco architecture is substantial and imposing, reflective of its Inca and Spanish colonial roots. You want some stonework done? Call in the Incas. The Inca era stonework in Cusco that forms the foundations of many buildings (the Spanish tore down the rest and built their own creations on the solid base) is astonishing. You’d be hard pressed to push a cigarette paper between the huge multi-sided bevelled blocks that fit together perfectly without any mortar having being used. And it’s been standing there now for 600 years or so, withstanding some big earthquakes along the way!

Built on hillsides, Cusco has a myriad of steep, winding, narrow cobblestone alleyways lined with interesting shops and cafes. It’s an easy place to spend a week, which we did. The city is very touristy, too much so, but has a vibrant café scene providing varied food that was a welcome break from the culinary monotony of the previous weeks.

We struck it lucky on Saturday – there was a regional dance troupe competition going on in Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s city centre square. The competitors and crowd created a riot of sound, colour and action.

Cusco has been one of the pleasant surprises of our long trip – it’s a great city with ample reason to visit for several days at least. But most people who come here have another destination in mind, for Cusco is the kicking off point for one of South America’s greatest sights, the fabulous former Inca city of Machu Picchu, built around 1450 and abandoned in the late 1500s.

To get there we took a 90 minute taxi ride to Ollantaytambo, from there a 100 minute train trip on Inca Rail to Aguas Caliente (where we had an overnight stay), and the following morning at dawn a 30 minute bus ride up a steep mountain switchback road to the Machu Picchu entrance. It’s a spectacular creation in a spectacular natural setting. Machu Picchu easily justifies all the hype that surrounds it.

We also had tickets to climb Montana Machupicchu (‘Machu Picchu mountain’) that towers over the Inca city ruins and surrounding peaks. It was a hard hot slog up a near vertical rock staircase, with Machu Picchu slowly being absorbed into the landscape as we winced our way up the mountainside. We went up far enough to get some good photos of the Inca ruins below; Dylan soldiered on to the summit.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

From La Paz, a 3.5 hour bus journey west brought us to the small town of Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca, just short of Bolivia’s border with Peru. At one point along the way we came to a narrow strait where all the passengers had to get off the bus and cross on small boats while the bus itself was floated across on a timber barge barely bigger than itself.

Lake Titicaca is a vast high altitude lake; more like an inland sea. And it’s the lake that gives Copacabana its popularity with tourists, being the jumping off point for all manner of lake excursions. The most popular by far is the three hour boat ride, on vessels of questionable resilience, to the large Isla del Sol (Sun Island) out in the lake. Isla del Sol has several indigenous communities clinging to their largely traditional lifestyle and also a significant Inca-era settlement ruin.

We joined too many others on a boat on Wednesday 6 April and made the journey out to Isla del Sol. Fortunately we arrived safely and disembarked at the northern end of the isle. There we hiked to the Inca sites before turning and hiking the full length of the island to its southern end. In all it was only about 10 km, but the combination of the high altitude, hot sun and big undulations made it feel like 30. Shortness of breath accompanied us all the way, and we were happy just before nightfall to flop onto a bed in a very nice hostel pn the south coast. We made the return voyage to Copacabana the following morning, this time on a boat with even more question marks hanging over its head, the most concerning being the strong smell of gasoline pervading the cabin. None of the passengers was silly enough to light up.

Despite playing second fiddle to the Isla, Copacabana is a very pleasant place in its own right with great water views and a nice restful ambience. We put our feet up for two days here, and lunched at the excellent trout stalls along the lake shore. You might be short of oxygen in Copacabana, but never Omega 3.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Sucre & La Paz, Bolivia

From Uyuni we took a bus further east to what many consider is Bolivia’s most pleasant city, Sucre. After having spent a couple of days there we couldn’t disagree; it’s very pleasant. Although Uyuni and Sucre are only about 100 km apart as the crow flies, our bus took 9 hours! This part of Bolivia is steeply mountainous and the roads circuitous. But it was worth the trip. Sucre’s pleasant bustling streets and fine buildings made for an interesting place to wander around and admire the sights. Even better, we discovered the local market where our months’ long quest for some decent fish to eat came to an end. A nicely cooked fresh whole trout and vegetables for the equivalent of AUD$3. This was the moment when I decided a fella could hang up his backpack and settle down in Sucre.

But it wasn’t to be. We wanted to see La Paz, the highest capital city in the world (although strictly speaking, under Bolivia’s constitution it is Sucre that is the nation’s capital but these days nearly all national government activities are run from La Paz). We faced a 16 hour bus trip to get there. Not a pleasant prospect. Bolivian National Airlines came to the rescue with an internet special air ticket of just AUD$73, and so 50 minutes after taking off from Sucre we landed in La Paz. 50 minutes versus 16 hours! Looking down during the flight onto the mountain roads far below, it was easy to see why there was such a difference. Some of the steep mountainside switchbacks were incredible.

In La Paz in the bohemian suburb of Sopocachi we checked into the spacious modern apartment we’d booked on airbnb, owned by chemical engineer turned beer brewer Remo. La Paz has more than Adelaide’s population crammed impossibly onto the sides of a steep valley. Apparently it’s a dodgy city after dark with muggings and the occasional kidnapping to motivate the victim to divulge his/her bank card’s pin number (with added painful inducements should he refuse), so we were extra careful to avoid potentially risky situations. And we had no anxious moments during our four days in La Paz.

Just below the cemetery, La Paz’ outdoor market spills out along several blocks of streets. We’ve never seen a larger market; one whole long street was devoted just to shampoo, soap and similar items.

Bolivia certainly has a distinctly different ‘look and feel’ from other countries we’d visited on the trip. It’s also obviously quite a bit poorer, with plenty of beggars about. Many women, even younger ones, wear the traditional clothing we associate with Bolivia, particularly the ‘bowler hat’, making for some distinctively Bolivian streetscape scenes.

Having steeper streets than San Francisco, and the altitude of Lhasa, walking around La Paz can leave you breathless, as it did us. It was here where we started to experience the altitude symptoms of shortness of breath, and inability to sleep properly, the latter a real nuisance.

I mentioned La Paz’ cemetery earlier. It’s huge and fascinating. With space at a premium, burials are above ground in horizontal layers of rectangular crypts. We were there on Saturday, an apparently popular day for funerals. There were many taking place with sadness in every direction. One procession, for the burial of a toddler, was led by a guitarist playing Sounds of Silence. Many other people were attending to the crypts of their previously interred relatives and/or friends, replacing flowers and rearranging ornaments.

With steepness ruling out a subway system, the Bolivian government recently installed several lines of cable cars that soar above the city and provide an efficient means of public transport. We spent an afternoon riding these cars, giving incredible views of the city and life in La Paz below.

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