The Immodium Express
It is one of those immutable laws of nature that the English, whenever they congregate in foreign climes, will inevitably talk about their bowels at some point in proceedings. For our mixed crew of English, Welsh, Irish, American, Dutch and German brethren and sistren though, this has become almost the sole topic of conversation because of an outbreak of extreme gastric nastiness that has poleaxed about 75% of us. No sooner has one come back from the loos whistling “Solid as a rock” in a smug fashion, than another´s eyes start gently revolving and a Stygian gurgling is heard from their belt region. Not pleasant at all.
It´s made the trip down from Lima a bit arduous in places to be honest, especially the night in the rough camp where people were disappearing over the horizon clutching a trowel and a wad of loo roll with alarming frequency. Oddly enough though, after several days of feeling like death (including a day shivering in a hotel bed in Lima with a daft temperature), it took getting in a light aeroplane and indulging in some light aerobatics over the Nazca Lines for me to feel better. Others went green, but set me in the sky wheeling and turning over a desert and, it seems, I feel remarkably chipper.
The lines look like scuff marks from the ground to be honest – which perhaps explains why they built the Pan-American highway right through the middle of one of the figures in the early 20th century. But they are fairly spectacular from the air and cover a hostile area of barren wilderness area verging on 500 square km. The current favourite theory is that they were generated as part of a water cult, though I still prefer Erich von Daniken´s entertainingly crackpot notion that they were runways for alien spaceships. von Daniken gets the last laugh too, with one of the main glyphs being dubbed ´The Astronaut´.
Everything – lines, bowels and all - was thrown into very sharp context by the devastation of the area surrounding Pisco after the summer´s earthquake, with toppled buildings, many people still living in tents and piles of rubble everywhere. In places Peru is a grindingly poor country, and to see people with nothing actually lose even more is more than sobering.
We´ve since worked our way up from the coast (on a fairly monotonous diet of mainly boiled rice and dried bread, since you ask) to Arequipa, Peru´s second city, set at 2400m under the massive perfect cone of the Misti volcano. It´s cosmopolitan, chilled, and a nice welcome to the high country.
It´s also home to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which is a definite highlight of the trip so far. A monastery that encompasses an entire city block, it was closed to visitors for nigh on 400 years and boasts an entertainingly chequered history until Pope Pius IX decided to stop the partying and kick the nuns´ servants out in the latter part of the 19th century. It was just one of those days when the ambience of a place hit the perfect light for photographs and dovetailed with a mellow mood and we wandered round in a happy daze taking pictures of geometrical designs and goggling at some of the imagery in the religious paintings (okay, that last bit was mostly me).
Beyond the city limits, it´s canyon country out there, but we´ve not done much in the way of adrenalin fuelled nuttiness yet due to the aforementioned stomach lurgy. I don´t know about you, but after 48 hours of not eating anything and then two days on boiled rice (I fell off the wagon once and the consequences were, shall we say, explosive), the energy for white water rafting or volcano climbing just ain´t there. Still, someone mentioned the possibility of mountain biking down from about 5000m up the slopes of Misti tomorrow, so provided I can get a vegetable or two to take their normal course through my digestive tract over the next 12 hours, I might be well up for that. After all, it´s downhill and thus not really exercise.
Anyway, hope this finds all of you who read it safe and well. Let me know what´s going on in your lives and I´ll try to write more as we head towards Cuzco and the start of the four-day hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu next week. Will try to get some more pics up soon too.