Thank you, South America, and Farewell

January 30. Time to leave South America behind.

I liked the people and travelling in both countries. They have problems to tackle, like an expanding underclass while the rich enjoy little or no taxes, and corruption at every level. But things appear to be improving, though slowly.

Both countries enjoy a moderate climate,  spectacular countryside and interesting histories.

Something else I like: Service is a recognised profession. Wait staff in restaurants aren’t Todd who’s working his way through school and suddenly wants to be your very best friend. These guys dress formally, are personable without being intrusive and are all, “Yes sir”, “Very good sir”, and “Right away sir.”

Suddenly, being called “sir” isn’t so bad.

Another thing I noticed is that traffic seems insane but nobody gets all bent out of shape if someone cuts in front of him. Maybe a toot of the horn but that’s it.

Road rage just doesn’t exist.

All that said, in this case the traveller’s maxim is true: I enjoyed visiting but I wouldn’t want to live there. It truly is time to leave.

Next stop, Costa Rica.

Ever seen a nun riding passenger on a motorcycle? Well, you have now.

Ever seen a nun riding passenger on a motorcycle? Well, you have now.

Sea life flourishes along the coast and coastal islands.

Sea life flourishes along the coast and coastal islands.

Yes, they really do eat guinea pigs here.

Yes, they really do eat guinea pigs here.

Goodbye, South America. Time to go.

Goodbye, South America. Time to go.

No Space Aliens Here Either

When I was an insufferable little kid I remember seeing a TV program based on the writing of Erich von Daniken. The book was called Chariots of the Gods, and theorized that much of human history included contact with extraterrestrials. It was this contact, and some help, of aliens that allowed our ancestors to build things like the pyramids, Machu Picchu and other massive structures.

The book also theorized that some lines carved into the earth which could only be seen properly from the air were also due to aliens.

Balderdash.

As much as I’d like to think that space aliens visited earth in our distant past, it just doesn’t add up.

I wanted to see for myself so I booked a flight over the Nazca plain. I shared the 8-seat Cessna Caravan with an Air France crew that was taking a few days off: two 777 pilots and five attendants.

The entire flight took about 90 minutes – 30 minutes getting there, 30 minutes over the plain and 30 minutes getting back.

The pilot wanted to make sure that everyone got a good look at the lines which meant for some wingstands and some sideslips which made for an exciting ride. Good fun!

It’s widely held by the scientific community – those who study this stuff anyway – that the lines and representations of animals were simply copies of what these people thought were astrological symbols in the night sky.

To account for their size, it’s not much of a stretch that the representations of birds, monkeys etc. were made in small size first, then scaled up and carved into the ground.

So why are there straight lines everywhere?

Beats me. But just because we can’t figure something out doesn’t mean our space buddies did it.

So, sorry everyone. As much as I’d like to think that our ancestors had some extraterrestrial input, of just didn’t happen.

Probably.

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If there’s something that’s of interest to you travel-wise that I haven’t covered, by all means let me know. I’ll help if I can.
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Nope, No Space Aliens Here

People think dumb things sometimes.

Some people believe the earth is only about 6,000 years old, and caveman Og shared the planet with T-Rex.

Others thought that the earth was going to end last year because of some mysterious Mayan calendar nonsense.

And some failures of the education system still think that space aliens helped build structures like the pyramids, or Machu Picchu.

Well, newsflash. Space aliens weren’t needed, at least in building Machu Picchu. Incas of the time were pretty handy folk, thankyewverymuch, and were totally capable of building the stone city high in the Andes.

You get to Machu Picchu starting from Cusco, then a 3 hour rail trip to Maccupicchu town followed by a 20 to 30 minute bus ride to the entrance gate.

My guide for the morning, Marco, has been guiding visitors to Machu Picchu for 7 years. He suggested we get the tough climbing out of the way first.

First of all, this is no easy climb. I mean, that warning shouldn’t stop anyone from going, just be aware that you’ll break a sweat. It’s also over 2400 meters above sea level (almost 8000 feet to the metric-challenged like me) so there ain’t as much oxygen up there, folks. You step, step and rest. Step, step and rest. All the way to the lookout.

So how did the Inca get those huge boulders up the mountain without Marvin the Martian helping?

Leverage. Tough, but doable leverage. That, pluses rounded stones that acted almost like ballbearings under the granite slabs, and good old muscle power did the trick.

You can find those rounded stones on the site, and there has even been a huge piece of granite found with those stones underneath it.

These folks were pretty ingenious.

Now, I remember what Ankgor Wat was like. Crawling with tourists (me included). I had thought Machu Piccu might be the same.

Well, yes and no. Marco told me that in high season the citadel hosts up to 4000 pairs of tramping feet per day. Rainy season is about half that.

Thing is, Machu Picchu is such a large site and spread out over such a large area that it doesn’t give the appearance of bring overwhelmed.

Day 2 at the site had Marco and I climbing to part of the site called Sun Gate. It’s about a 90 minute climb, and I wasn’t sure if I’d make it, but I did. Marco and I stopped for about half-an-hour, then I made my way back to town and an industrial size lemonade.

My Peruvian adventure is almost at an end, but first I’m off to see the Nazca lines from the air.

Safe bet that there aren’t any space aliens there either.

Photos to come.

Lima, Peru. Your mother was wrong.

I promised to be honest in the blog.

In that spirit, I have to say that I wasn’t terribly impressed when landing in Lima.

It was brown. All brown. Brownbrownbrownbrown. Little square buildings, also brown.

Hmph.

Airport & the like, though, were hassle-free. Well, almost, as these things go but no big deal.

Robert, the Goway rep, ensured that I got to the right hotel. No problem there.

Time to explore.

My first stop was, of all places, a hidden mall.

“Hidden?” you ask?

“Yeppers, hidden,” I answer.

Lima, a city of 10 million (!!) is situated on basically a cliff that overlooks the Pacific. To spoil that view would be a crime. So what’s been done is to situate the mall – mostly restaurants from little coffee shops to TGI Friday’s – below line-of-sight into the cliff itself. In order to access it, just go down some stairs and an escalator.

Cool idea. Works well. I had a snack & continued wearing out my sneakers.

My first impressions of Lima were wrong. Very wrong. If your mother said that first impressions are lasting impression, she’s wrong.

This is a vibrant, colourful and dynamic place. Traffic is chaotic, just as you’d expect in a city like this.

I took a walk down one of the main thoroughfares and was impressed with what I saw. Busy shops everywhere. Two guys arguing, in a good-natured manner, about something. Looks like they’ve been friends for years.

People look you in the eye here. A smile offered gets one in return.

I’m liking this place so far.

I’ve been walking for a while.

Totally lost.

Thankfully, these people have all the time in the world for a bumbling stranger like me. I get back to the hotel easily with the guidance of strangers.

My first impressions were so wrong.

And I’m glad about that.

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Remember all the agony trying to get my pictures from my camera to the tablet so I could upload pictures in the blog? Well, I now have a new camera since the old one quit and it might be a while before I get the new one working with the tablet too. I’ll get it figured out as fast as I can.

Welcome to the Traveller’s World

For those who have been asking, yes I’m still working with the busticated tablet. It’s a laborious process, having to turn it in 90° angles to use the a, q and w keys.

And yesterday my camera decided to expire. So another line item in the budget I didn’t expect.

Landing in an unknown destination, especially when it’s a place whose primary language isn’t English, poses a whole array of hurdles to jump.

Even getting on the proper aircraft in the first place can pose particular challenges.

You hear over the airport address system, “Rmmm skwarr freen lay teo hat Virjeeeen Atlahhnteeec freen lingtahoo. Craney hut voor wak butter ses porta clarm let.”

And when the announcements are in, say, Spanish, the intrepid traveller may as well just curl up on the floor and weep.

But let’s assume, by no small miracle, that the traveller actually makes it on the right flight and the proper seat.

Hours later, dishevelled and staggering, comes baggage return. Always – every single time – comes the worry if one’s checked luggage arrives.

Don’t tell me that you’ve got all confidence that your bags aren’t going to end up in some distant land. I know you don’t.

Next, Passport Control. Again, not in English. You present your passport. A fast series of vowels and consonants fired in your direction. They kinda sound like words, but you can’t really be sure.

She fans through your passport and looks at the photo. Then you. Then the photo. Then you again.

More fast noises that might be words. She may be speaking in Martian for all you know.

Then the exasperated look from the passport officer, as if to say, “You really have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” And you nod yes, even though you have no clue what’s been said.

She shoos you away. “Go. Gwan. Get lost. Loser.”

That’s what it sounds like, anyway.

Then customs. A line for Nothing To Declare and one for Items To Declare. Pick the Nothing To Declare line. And you never can really be sure if you’re nonchalant enough. What if they pull me out of line? I’ve got nothing, will they make me empty my entire luggage to prove it? And what if there’s something I’ve forgotten about? Is my upper lip sweating?

Your tired smile is met with a stone glare. “Your CD 34 please.”

“My what?”

Rolling of the eyes. “Your CD34. For customs. You did fill one out, didn’t you? No? Fill one out, then back of the line. Idiot.”

Sounds like that anyway.

Finally, you’re officially in your destination.

If you have a pre-arranged pick up, fall to your knees in thanks. She will drive you to your hotel and walk you through the check-in process as if she’s managing a toddler.

But if you’re on your own upon arrival, just hang the words “Easy pickings!!” around your neck. A cabbie will gladly take you to your hotel. For 76 American dollars. Normally it’s about $12.

Finally, you’re in your room. At last. A comfy bed for your aching, exhausted body. Unpack, put things in their proper place so everything’s organised and easy to find.

Then, naturally, you jolt awake at about 3 in the morning, because you can’t remember where your passport is. A short, frantic search. Found it. But your body is on some distant clock, and besides, you’re too wired to sleep anymore.

And so your day begins in your new destination. Your travel agent has arranged a city tour. Pick-up is set for 5:30. In the morning.

Welcome to the traveller’s world.

Tigre and a River Cruise

My last full day in Buenos Aires.

My original plan for today was to check out a gallery or a museum or two.

But all that changed when a friend put me in contact with a fellow who lives in BA so we made plans to get together in a place called Tigre.

First thing to do was to find the train station and get a ticket.

After much fumbling and bumbling I found the right ticket counter and got the right ticket for the right train. (There’s more to that story but I’m saving it for another time.)

These trains are past their best before date, no question. They heave and squeak and thud and rumble. But they do the job.

And they attract street people looking for a handout. Now, I’ve no clue what they were saying but it sounded like one long monologue. One fellow was blind – at least, that’s how he acted, white cane and the whole bit.

I got up and changed seats. Ended up sitting beside a sullen teenager who was throwing small balls of paper at her sister, sitting across from her.

I got up and changed seats again, then offered my seat to someone else.

Ended up in Tigre ahead of schedule and met Martin, the friend-of-a-friend.

Good guy. He suggested a boat ride along the river so we hopped on board a vessel and made our way upriver.

Martin was telling me about the area, like some houses that were originally in Chicago were transported to Tigre.

From there to a fancy-pants restaurant for lunch, then a quick tour of the area and then back downtown BA where he dropped me at my hotel.

Martin’s a good man. Glad to call him a friend now. He’s got an open invitation to Chez Morgan anytime he wants. Probably sometime around the next Toronto Rush concert.

End of Argentina with a heavy heart. So much to see and do that must wait for the next trip.

On to Peru, starting with a hotel pick up at – get this – 4:00 a.m.

New friend Martin & I on the river cruise.

New friend Martin & I on the river cruise.