The cold hard face of Cusco

One of my most memorable holidays would undoubtably be Peru. Even getting there is an adventure. Melbourne, to Auckland to Santiago (Chile), to Lima and finally Cusco. There’s not many airports in the world where they sell cans of oxygen instead of selling cartons of duty free cigarettes. The lack of oxygen hits you like a mother in law request you can’t ignore. You just have to grin and bear it. Somewhere between tipsy but with a nagging headache. But the buzz goes and the headache beckons. Once you’re in town the place is painstakingly beautiful but the altitude doesn’t get any better. Oh and for good measure, there’s plenty of climbing up the long, steep undulating streets of Cusco. It’s so much of a work out, that you can come back and go to the gym for 3 months and STILL not be as healthy as when you got back from Cusco. So the first few days, just write off to altitude sickness. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Being a bit adventurous we decided to up the ante and stay on the outskirts of Cusco’s old city. About 20-30 minutes from the Plaza De Armas. It doesn’t sound like much, but most streets are too narrow for cars and have steps. Having said that where we stayed had amazing views of the town, was family run and just breathtaking. It felt hundreds of years old and had a dark, almost Gothic Spanish ambience. During the day, the alleys are scattered with grandmothers selling home spun woollen beanies and scarves. At night they’re quiet and dark....

Victoria Police are getting needy!

Tonight I was walking through the Jam Factory in Chapel St with some friends. We were approached by two women who said they were doing a quick one minute survey for the police. I kind of reluctantly obliged. Hold up, the police are doing a survey!? WTF? They asked ‘did you notice the extra police presence tonight?’ At first I thought ‘yeah sure’. Then it occurred to me, Chapel St is chock a block full of cops every Friday and Saturday and changed my answer. They setup a police truck and have cops by the dozen flanking it; usually next to the KFC near Commercial Road. Especially on a hot summers night. If anything, there were actually LESS COPS out tonight! But they did have police out on horseback for a change, which was unusual.Not to mention the roadworthy spot checks and booze buses they’ve been doing for years behind Chasers nightclub. The next question was something like ‘do you feel safer with the extra police around?’ My response was an resolute no! By this stage it was clear that the ladies were more than likely coppers themselves (decent looking and nice to talk to too!). Public opinion was taking its toll on them. For a start, they’d copped (no pun intended) a bunch of flack for the massive V8 police cars patrolling in 40 kph urban zones. And particularly the fact they’re always en route to somewhere or in police stations that basically resemble military barracks (most in the south eastern suburbs virtually are). Interestingly one of the ladies, cop or not, and I got talking about experiences...

Is duty free a rip off?

In my travels in Arequipa Peru, we decided to venture out of tourist town into Normalville. In our travels, we came across a bottle shop, so I took a look. Wouldn’t you know it, booze is pretty cheap in Peru. A bottle of local rum is about 15 Soles ($5 AUD), Johnny Walker Red 30 Soles ($10) and black label for well under $30 AUD. Even in department stores, they had better prices! So logically wouldn’t you think that the duty free shop would be even cheaper? Not by a long shot. Because these prices aren’t for Joe Gringo. Prices at the duty free airport for a bottle of Johnny Black were about the same as they’d be in Dan Murphys at home. Full retail price! Naturally this is all a bit of a rort and sadly given that I’m not that well traveled, I’m really curious to see if you’ve com!e across anything similar in your travels. Please leave comments and let me know. Otherwise, if you’re off to Peru, enjoy the cheap booze and leave some space in your...

Chillin’ in Cusco: the fun part

OK, so once you get over the altitude Cusco (or Cuzco) is one great little place. It’s a city of about a million people. The Plaza De Armas has two beautiful churches, heaps of great places to eat and sits bang in the centre of a great many Inca ruins. A place where you could easily spend a week or two looking around town and the neighboring sites such as Saqsayhuaman and Pisac. As always, pleas leave any comments if you want to know more, have something to share or simply have a question. Will be glad to help! Seeing the sights? Get a guide When you visit the churches and Inca sites, hiring a guide is very highly recommended. It’s a good idea with Inca sites especially because some of the sites are nothing like they were back in the day and are a bit abstract to say the least. So getting the full story from a guide will transform a 5 minute in and out into a fascinating display. I’d almost go as far to say not using a guide would be a waste of time. Guides are usually local women, often students, who will approach you asking you if you want any information about the site. Basically what they’re asking is ‘would you like a guided tour of this place!’ Usually they work on tips, and you’re helping kids learn English, which is very expensive in Cusco. So it’s a real job for locals! Typically we paid ten Soles (about $3.30 AUD) for a guide. But you can negotiate what you want. Be warned at Saqsayhuaman...

Fear and Loathing in Lima

On the gringo trail in Peru, talking to other tourists, Lima gets the worst rap of all. It’s an over crowded capital city rife with petty crime and shitful drivers. I mean really shitful drivers, but I digress. Strangely, it never rains in Lima – ever. It just kind of spits when it does. There’s only 3 months in the year when the sun does shine and the rest of the year it’s plain clouded and moggy. But is there anything to do? Well not hugely. We stayed in a nice middle class suburb Mia Flores away from the hustle and bustle. It could be a suburb anywhere in the world, like Toorak in Melbourne, San Francisco who knows. There’s not a lot going on but it’s safe and there’s all the normal US style shopping malls etc.  It’s a nice big warm fluffy comfort zone. Walk down to the JW Marriot Hotel and there’s a massive beach side plaza full of TGI Fridays style restaurants and fashion stores. When we did venture into Lima proper, it was not the lawlessness and debauchery I expected. Typically for Peru, they have a Plaza De Armas, some great churches. If you’re lucky enough, you can see the changing of the guard at the government buildings, a la Buckingham Palace in UK. Despite all that, Lima isn’t gringo central and there are nowhere near as many street hawkers and crap merchants hassling you as in say Cusco. Wandering around the town centre, there’s a few very cool bookshops and plazas. Even the odd tapas and vino bar. Sadly I didn’t spend too...

Coca is not a hell of a drug

Well I’m back from Peru and after an exhaustive customs check, I’ve got the all clear. But it did make me think of something that was topical while I was over there. See Peru has a great reputation for growing and cultivating coca. Their neighbors, specifically Columbia, an even greater reputation for taking the bi-product cocaine and selling it to the US. But it’s important to know that coca leaves and cocaine are almost mutually exclusive. So I am going bullshit detective on coca leaves get you high. Cocaine is a drug that takes a ridiculous amount of coca leaves to make. The leaves apparently are chewed until you have loads of it and somehow refined into the blow we all know in the movies. As I’ve now discovered first hand, chewing a mouth full of coca leaves will not get you high. You’d could chew all day and night and not get anywhere! What coca leaves do do is help with altitude sickness, digestion and general well being. In our travels in Peru, we actually found coca flour. It must of been made from ultra ground coca leaves. Basically it’s in a green powerdery form. A teaspoon of that in hot water a day and it will cure whatever ails you trust me! I swear by it. Very high in calcium and a bunch of vitamins too. In daily life, Peruvians especially will drink mate de coca (coca tea, basically a handful of coca leaves in hot water). Farmers chew the leaves as they work. There’s even coca lollies. They ain’t chocolate flavour but it is an acquired...