Part one:

Sleep, if you can. It has been well documented that lack of sleep and insomnia drains the body’s physical resources and sends the brain’s mental faculties on a joy ride. On top of this, there’s what the young playwright Sarah Kane called 4.48 psychosis, which though referring to a specific experience of psychosis, is also that witching hour when in my darkest hours I have found myself waking up, night after night. Wide awake, alert and feeling constantly drained.

Take or do something to help you sleep. Now, that may be a time-honoured remedy, say hot milk with a splash of brandy, or a hot bath – a shower is not the same – or even one of mother’s little helpers. It may even mean getting back into bed and pulling out a great read, a light read or an easy read. However, in these moments, even reading becomes difficult. Usually, one’s brain is on a collision course, and if trying to get to sleep is a mental joy ride, when it feels as though your mind has, literally, been carjacked and is being driven recklessly, then waking up is like a stock-car rally for Learner drivers. Your head is full of incapacitating thoughts, racing through over and over, and back over again.

And still nothing works. There’s nothing left but to wait it out. Eventually, everything runs out of fuel, and so do thoughts if they are not fed. But there’s an art to this and it means trying all those meditation techniques gathered from books, courses and well-meant advice from friends. Imagining that they are horses racing through your mind and gently pushing them away, focusing on one’s breath, in and out, relaxing from your feet up, or even counting sheep.

If you have a friend living in the southern hemisphere, you could always call as it is not the middle of the night, and a chat can do wonders.

If you have a pet, a cat or a dog, then a cuddle and a stroke, can work wonders. If not, perhaps a cuddly toy will suffice, or a favourite blanket. In new-age speak, it’s called nurturing your inner child. Listen to it, then your emotions, your thoughts, your body and your spirit.

And if sleep is still elusive, take to having mid-morning or early afternoon naps to try and make up the lost time.

Or if all else fails,

Log in, log on and log out.

Any other suggestions are welcome as I am compiling a How To suggestion list….

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For Karim

July 1, 2007

The Mermaid
by William Butler Yeats

A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.

Knowing

Adolescent. Adult adoring;

Railing, running, roving

Innocent, in life and in death’s

Muddled magic moments.

Knowing

Adult. Adolescent adored;

Running, roving, railing

Adrift, adrift, alone.

Mother’s little treasure

In life, in death, in passing…

Summer solstice passing

June 23, 2007

It’s nearly six months since I wrote my last entry. Is it possible that, as one gets older time passes more quickly? Or is it just that so much has been experienced before that repetition causes a kind of automatic response to daily life. Or put another way, the younger you are, the more new experiences, the more firsts in your life; first breath, first steps, first word, first school, first cigarette, first love, first fight, first break up, first heart break… and time seems to move at a different speed. Fast forward twenty years, then thirty, forty, fifty and on, well, the firsts start to become lasts; last school, last cigarette, last job, last steps, last breath.

Happy New Year 2007.

A new start. A fresh perspective.

Resolutions to be made and broken, lessons to be learnt and spoken.

This year, I also want to remember some very special people, who are no longer with us, but reside in our individual and collective consciousness. I start with a request. 

This week, however you can or desire to, try and do a little something that celebrates life. Whilst doing it, remember a very dear friend, Rob Sadgrove, who died just over a year ago on 29 December 2005. He was 40 and died of cancer. He wrote a blog: www.how2die.blogspot.com, for anyone interested.  

I am revisiting my own blog and will be adding to it when I can. Think of it as a kind of meditation; a chance to let off steam, ponder the absurdity and beauty of life, and communicate with friends across cyber space. Once again, I invite you to drop in and out – as and when you wish.

If you fancy another new year celebration, there’s Chinese new year to look forward to on February 18. Unlike the Christian calendar, it is composed of lunar cycles of 12, each represented by an animal. Each animal year is repeated five times with the addition of an element – water, metal, earth, wood and fire. This in turn makes a larger cycle of 60 years and so 2007 is the Year of the Fire Pig.

To everyone I know, I wish you only the best for the future.

The future is bright.

The future is violet, indigo, blue and green, yellow, orange and red. 

Food and drink. Without either of these we would surely die. The following are some local recipes from the sierra to the costa for the above and more. Delia Smith eat your heart out, or as you will find, eat its heart out.

Pisco is a grape brandy which I have taken a liking to, particularly as a Pisco sour, or Pisco marancuya, with passionfruit juice. Delicious. There has been a brand war between Peru and Chile over this national drink, though it does appear to be a Peruvian aguardiente. The name is derived from a Quechua (the main indigenous language) word for bird where these big sweet grapes grow in the southern coastal region in the Pisco valley. It is described as a grape brandy and the first Pisco sour cocktail was invented in the 1930s at the Morris Bar which was owned by Mr Morris from England. 

Pisco sour #1 (courtesy of a Peruvian friend of a friend)

2 ounces Pisco

3 ounces lime juice

I egg white

2 ounces sugar syrup or jarabe de goma

Pisco Sour #2 (courtesy of a restaurant in Miraflores, Lima)

2 ounces Pisco

4 juiced limes

1 egg white

2 ounces sugar syrup

Pisco Sour #3 (courtesy of a table mat in the restaurant El Parquetit, Miraflores, Lima)

3 ounces Pisco

1 ounce lime juice

Half an egg white

1 ounce sugar syrup

In all cases mix everything together in a blender with ice cubes (four or five). Shake well until it’s foamy. Serve in a glass with a sugared rim and a slice of lime. Add two drops of bitter angostura, if you like.

Cerviche (a traditional dish, which has, they say, been eaten over the past thousand years and is now eaten everywhere in Peru, particularly on the coast and comprising of lots of white fish in a marinade )

1 kg soft white fish cut into bit sized pieces (Sole and Halibut)

Or half soft white fish and half shellfish

Diced onions

Chillis chopped

6 limes

1 tbs olive oil

1 tbs fresh coriander

Salt and pepper to taste

In a dish, add the sliced onions, the chilli and coriander. Make a marinade from the lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and pour over the fish. Leave for between 10 to 60 mins until it is soft cooked.

Serve with boiled potatoes or maize.

Cuy or Guinea Pig (my recipe for this dish which is eaten in the mountains)

Take one Guinea Pig. Kill it, skin it,  then roast it. Present it with a pepper stuffed in its mouth.

Anticuchos (like a shish kebab)

Mountain street food of marinated lamb or beef hearts cooked over coals on skewers.

Chicha (Maize or Corn beer served in chicharias throughout the mountain areas. Urubamba has countless chicherias which are denoted by the presence of a red plastic bag tied to a pole outside. Royston Vasy doesn’t know what it is missing).

Germinating maize seeds are, somehow, made into a strong fermented beer which renders many of the men as Borrachados (drunks). See them walking through Urubamba’s streets after a night out.

Pachamanca (traditional roast in the mountains)

Dig a large hole and fill with stones. Light a fire and use the hot stones to cook meat as well as the three hundred plus potatoes they have in the country of the spud’s origin).

Inca Cola (can be bought everywhere)

A sweet, golden yellow fizzy drink which is nothing like its near namesake Coca Cola.

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out had a heart of glass
Seemed like the real thing, only to find
Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind

Once I had a love and it was divine
Soon found out I was losing my mind
It seemed like the real thing but I was so blind
Mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind

(thanks to the one and only Blondie, please sing with an American accent)

I promised a post on Peruvian men or, to be fair, what I have encounterd, understood and seen of Peruvian men in the short time I have been here. I have to be ever aware not to generalise.

Here goes: I arrived in Urubamba, the Andean village in th Sacred Valley in the Sierra region of Peru. For those who like to have a context, there are three regions – the costa (coast), sierra (mountains) and the selva (jungle). Some days into my arrival I came across a yellow book of tips for new volunteers written by previous and contemporary ones, highlighting Places to Eat, to Visit and Men you May Meet. One entry was simply called, Urubamba Men, and what followed was a subjective list of about eight men, listing them by their first name with a sentence or two summing them up, from a certain perspective.

Enter, Slimy (my addition) Haime (if you use the Spanish pronunciation, it rhymes), Rodrigo, Pepe, and others I don´t care to mention. The final comment was particularly revealing – and was somewhat reminiscent of a schoolgirl’s diary entry. Note: ‘Peruvian men fall in love easily’, it read. Or words to that effect. I immediately took out a coloured felt tip and added, ‘Or so they say. There´s a big difference between what they say and what they mean’. I then added a new page, Urubamba Women, and entered a few names, without any accompnaying sentences. For, without women, there are no men. It doesn´t take an Einstein to work that one out. However, the absence of a mention of women spoke volumes as to the social fabric of the volunteer community in the Casa Naranja.

Anyway, back to some observations and anecdotes.

I now present some tips for women, especially those travelling alone, in order to deter local men:

1) If you are 35 years and over: Hang out with attractive women who are between 15-20 years younger than you. It´s that simple. Amongst the Great White Hope of Youth – as an older woman – you will become invisible. As if by magic, you cease to really exist in many ways. Sounds like a trick? Believe me, it´s not. I´ve tried it and it works.

Youth, because you´re worth it.

2) When the stock question, ‘Where are you from?’, which may arise while dancing, chatting or simply hanging out, is asked, reply with, ‘From Iceland’ – while looking them confidently in the eye. The replies will usually fall into two types. The first will be a slightly bemused look from the conquistador, who will then slope away. The other will be a question again. ‘From Ireland?’, to which you reply, once again, ‘No, I´m from Iceland’. Given that many people don´t know the capital of Iceland, let alone how to speak the language, chances are you will get away Ice Free.

to be continued. Just like the telenovellas (soap operas) which are so popular the world over..

3) Buy some of the A5 magazines which are sold in the local markets. At one sol each, their entertainment value more than matches their price and with titles such as Homage to Love, Romantic Verses, Philosophy of Love and, my favourite, How to conquer Women, you won´t be disappointed. Plus, the covers are kitschy with their vignetted 70s-style photographs of heterosexual couples looking suitably romantic and loving.

And if you don´t believe me, here is an excerpt, roughly translated by me:

The article is about spousal love and women, and takes the form of a survey recounting how there are 365 days in the year when couples can make love but that, according to the survey (no precise references are given for dates and sample group numbers), men only have success on 24 occasions, which adds up to once every 15 days. You do your sums. Excuses given range from the obscure to the weird. The window was open and others could see us (9), It was too hot (23) and back ache (8). Other gems include – How to start a conversation with a girl on the beach; Hola preciosa! followed by other great chat up lines: Good afternoon, Please don´t ignore me. I only want to introduce myself. I have the best intentions towards you. Listen to me for a ratito (very small amount of time, a second, perhaps?), no more. See, that´s better.

4) You decide to accept an invitation to dinner but want to keep everything firmly above board as you don’t want to enter into the unsaid social contract of He asks you for dinner + You go = You are obliged to satisfy his male ego and maybe his desire.

On the one occasion that I was invited out to dinner by the owner of 3 Kerros, a Gourmet Club restaurtant in Urubamba, I accepted. The man in question chatted to me while I was on the internet in the upmarket (for a pueblito) bar, Connections. He was a divorcee in his late fifties, educated in Canada, suitably rounded and creased, with a 21-year-old daughter in Switzerland. I accepted, more out of curiosity and a need to get out and about on my own. Plus, he described the food as Nuevo Andean with a air of Frenchness. He invited me to his reastaurant for 8pm and I arrived at 8.30pm. The restaurant, which seemed unpromising from the outside, had a good ambience. Once I had climbed the wooden stairs to the first level, it opened up into a fair size room with a bar, 10 or so tables and a good sound system. A table of four, all tourists, were just finishing their meal and a selection of soul classics were playing. Think Marvin Gaye´s Inner City Blues, Otis Redding´s Sitting on the Dock of the Bay and the early Rolling Stones. He showed me the kitchen, introduced me to the staff and ordered a bottle of good red wine, which we drank beside the open fire. Conversation centred mainly on him, as I kept asking questions about Peru, his family, business and his experiences. Most people love talking about themselves so that gave us plenty of conversation through which we could meander for a few hours. The food, (he ordered), was very good. Lomo a la parrilla, slices of grilled beef, (medium cooked), a tomato salad with walnut dressing, papas and a pureed bean dish followed by a sugary, but tasty, pastry dessert. During the evening, I stressed my independence and ability to look after myself and when he paid me a compliment or two, I said thank you graciously and told him that I thought he was a gentleman. This is a good tip. Appeal to a man’s gentlemanly side. When the wine was nearly finished and everybody had gone home, he wanted to turn the music up and asked me for a Harlem Shuffle or two. I declined. Dancing, in many men’s eyes = All sorts of things and, being a Latino, he would be no exception. I watched him with a slightly amused look, let him show me the unspectacular view of the road and listened to his tourist guide-like commentary of the various places we could see from the balcony. This included the local brothel. Yes, there is one in Urubamba. It has a neon blue light outside.

Leaving before midnight to go home, if it’s good enough for Cinderella, then it’s good enough for me, I avoided the Saying-Goodnight-at-the-Door scenario. Stressing, once again, my independence, I said I would get a moto (a converted motorbike with a little seat at the back) home. We said goodbye and that was that. Phew! I thought, only to find myself at the end of an unfamiliar road with not a soul in sight. So, I put my best self defense-and-aware head on, pulled on a thick, woolly hooded top and started walking in the middle of the road, where it was light, with my head down and hood up. Then, when I heard a car engine coming up the road and, with no one else in sight, I went to the side of the road and stood, as man-like as I could, and pretended to have a piss. All shoulders hunched, feet slightly apart and confident. The car passed, I returned to the centre of the road and jogged the final five minutes back till I saw the painted Inca Kola sign which heralded the proximity of the volunteer house.

SAFETY TIP NUMBER ONE

Take a hooded top with you, wear trainers, stay in the middle of a well-lit road away from doorways and dark recesses, and practise pissing like a man.

Be Safe, because you’re worth it.

You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper,
You prisoner, and shine!

(Thanks to Pink Floyd for the lyrics to Shine on You Crazy Diamond)

I have untill seven pm before I have to catch the bus back to Urubamba, so I decide to visit the Seven Waterfalls and find a collectivo. A collectivo is a shared taxi, usually seating four people (cramped) in the back seat, two in the trunk and two in the front. However, if they are gorditos (little fatties) it´s quite a squash and probably not possible, or advisable.  Here, there is no PC-ness and people regularly refer to each other as gordo, or gordito, so I am also entering into the humour, if not the spirit, of these words. With seven of us, (each paying 2-3 soles), the driver is happy to take us on our way, even though it is prohibited, I believe, to carry two people in the trunk. But, many of the drivers prefer to take the chance – and the money – regardless of whether they may be stopped at a police control, asked for documentation and fined.

Once we are on our way, I can enjoy the tropical delights; the dust track, the banana and coconut plantations and the ambience. As I am not sure where I am going, I don´t know where to shout, Baja! (meaning I want to get off here), and after about forty minutes the car stops on the dirt track and the driver gets out. I wonder what is happening and then he motions and tells me that he has gone past the entrance to the waterfalls and that I will have to walk back down the path towards it. When I see the entrance, it is easy to see how one could miss it. The painted sign has seen better days. It is faded, covered in dust and marks the start of a narrow path winding its way beside an adobe hut. I follow my senses and the sounds of water and children playing and come across the waterfall and a Peruvian family and friends enjoying the icy water.

The waterfall is not as impressive as I had expected, but it is pretty, and I lap up the relative tranquility. Camera to hand, I spend most of my time watching butterflies and taking abstract photos of the water and water-worn stone as the sun hits and reflects of the shiny surfaces. Splashing my face under the penultimate of the seven mini waterfalls, I also smother myself in Jungle Formula and, when the family leave, I have the place to myself. That is until a woman, who I take to be the proprietess, wants the one sole entrance ticket fee from me. How can one be a proprieor of a waterfall, let alone seven? But she has heard me arrive and I oblige. Yet again, I consider how there is a price on almost everything, man-made or not. After a while, I decide to head back to town as I know I will have to flag down a collectivo, bus or even a truck and, being the newly-responsible traveller that I have become, I am not going to do my usual last-minute rush.

The next half an hour is spent with the Peruvian family waiting for someone to pick us up. Finally, a truck, which is laden with people, goods and all manner of bags and boxes, pulls up and the family board the back of the truck and I join them. The next forty minutes is a bumpy, dusty ride back along the same path but with the most spectacular view of the Rio Urubamba weaving its way beside us flanked by stupendous mountains and buzzard-like birds circling above. This is a highlight. I love the feel of the wind on my face, the smell of the jungle, the expressions on the people we pass and those on the truck as we navigate steep, windy, dirt tracks and waterfalls that cross the path. It´s bliss. It´s open and invigorating. I feel light as a feather and as though, if I were to dissolve into dust, I would just float away. Soon, we hit the outskirts of the town and an outdoor public swimming pool. We all descend and I pay my 2 and a half soles to the driver. I am not exactly sure where I am in relation to the centre of the town, but I follow my instinct, enjoying the warmth and the scenery.

I am thinking about so many things, but at this point, Rob is especially on my mind. For those of you who didn´t know him, Rob was a special person. I say was, as he died at the end of last year. Way too soon for me to come to terms with easily. Like Carlos before him, who died in 2000, I often talk to these friends in my head, especially when I am seeing or doing something I would like to share with them. I also send out thoughts and love in the hope that a little atom or residue of them may be with or around me. So, Rob – the crazy diamond – is in my thoughts as I walk towards the centre of town, not sure where I am heading but certain that it is, generally, the right direction. Then I see it and I stop in my tracks. An arco iris (a rainbow) has appeared and straddles the mountains and the town in the distance. It is wonderful, colourful and is light itself. All seven colours that make up white. I feel instantly connected to him in a way which is too subtle to explicate. This is Rob´s Rainbow and I revel in the light and the beauty of it. For a short while, I feel light myself. I think of Elsa, his parents and family, Cornelia, Ian, Jean-Marie and the Gang of Five of us that are now, after twenty-four years of friendship, four. I say a little prayer and walk on towards the town and my return bus journey which will take me back to the Sacred Valley and another Arco Iris – the school where I am volunteering. It´s the end of yet another chapter and what is happening on a physical level is, in some ways, matched by an internal journey.

Hasta la vista, baby!

La Bamba… Part three

July 14, 2006

It´s weird when I arrive in Quillabamba. There don´t appear to be any other extranjeros (foreigners) in sight and I am a solo women. What´s more, it seems to be a place where Peruvians visit and find time to stroll through the Plaza de Armes (there seems to be one in every town) hand in hand and dressed in modern clothing. It´s quite a change from the Andean village of Urubamba and feels like a place where middle class Peruvians go to visit the start of the selva. It´s also a place where some tourists, (later, I spot some, but no lone women), get together in groups to head down the river to Kiteni. Apparently, Michael Palin went into the jungle here in one of his travel programmes. The temperature, at 30 degrees centigrade or so, means that some women and young girls are clad in strappy tops, sometimes with midriffs showing and it provides a stark contrast to the layered, woven and brightly coloured Andean dress I have become accustomed to in the Sacred Valley. I´m told that, as you descend towards sea level, you gain one degree centigrade for every 100 metres. Still, the warmth is wonderful and, after a false start, in which I book into Hostel Don Carlos (45 soles), I find the far more comfortable and cleaner Hostel Quillabamba (45 soles). It has a TV, two beds and a balcony overlooking, of all things, a small, algae-ridden swimming pool. But, at least the windows close properly so I am not at the mercy of the countless mossies here. Jungle Formula and 50% Deet to the rescue. I unpack, take a shower and head out to the market to buy a local bag in which I can hide the camera which Garry so kindly lent me before I came out here. I would be lost without it now and am enjoying taking photographs rather than just writing about everyone else who snaps and shoots.  After searching for a veggie pizza, I settle for Papas Fritos and a Coke – the drink not the plant. Though coca mate (tea) is on most menus in mountain areas, we even have a bag of leaves in the volunteer house Casa Naranja on Plaza Pintacha, Urubamba. Chicken and chips, odd-looking meat cooked on skewers by street vendors as well as a host of strange meaty food abounds. Later, after reading an Insight guidebook about the Machista culture, politics and the Shining Path group, I return to room 404 and watch a bit of American cable TV about home decorating and rival US chefs in Las Vegas. When I sleep it is with only a sheet, rather than the usual silk sleeping-bag liner, sleeping bag and two blankets plus hot water bottle, which I have in Urubamba. Tomorrow, I will visit Siete Tianjas (Seven Waterfalls) which is another 40 mins along a dusty road still following the Rio Urubamba.

I’m a million different people from one day to the next… I can change but I´m here in my mould.. It´s a Bittersweet Symphony, this life…(The Verve continued)

REWIND. I´m back again and, obviously I arrived safely as I wouldn´t be writing this now, would I? Unless, I’m writing from another place entirely, a place not of this world…. who knows? How do you all know that I really exist and that this isn´t some great pre-planned ruse on my part? I could be anywhere really…. I could be down the road, somewhere in London just making this all up. Which is why it is so important for me to see things for myself, to find out if they really exist, to explore this world…

Let´s back track a little to before I arrive in Quillabamba and finish the road trip. One thing that distresses me is the litter. Sadly, everything, including plastic bags, is thrown out of the window. In some towns, like Cusco, as you come in on the local bus (2 nuevo soles) or in a shared collectivo (5 soles), plastic bags, bottles and other assorted debris spills down the mountain slopes. As in many countries, this is a big problem. But it is not confined solely to Peru – just take the Silverlink train through Dalston Junction, especially in the summer. You´ll smell the litter before you see it. There goes another plastic wrapper casually tossed out of the window. It seems to be a case of, out of sight, out of mind, and is a very big problem. Education and changing behaviour is key, but how? Better start in my own backyard before I am accused of a form of colonial imperialism.

Diatribe finished, so back to the scenery. Adobe walls are painted with political sloganeering showing voters where and how to mark their votes as crosses. The sides of shops are painted with fizzy drink signs, including the appropriately-named yellow and blue Inka Cola, Sprite and the ubiquitous Coca Cola alongside churches which emerge from every village – symbols of the Catholic conquistadores. As we move through different ecological zones, from sub-glacial to sub-tropical, the plants change dramatically. Rhodedendrons, geraniums and hollyhocks provide beautiful splashes of colour, crimson and deep pink set against verdant backdrops. Fields of potatoes abound. Apparently there are more than 100 types of papas and Urubamba´s market has Potato Alley (more of that another time). Then we move through a cloud forest and it´s damp. Ferns unfurl, lichens cling to rocks and bright orange, trumpet-like flowers hang like upside-down fluted glasses from unfamiliar plants. I want to reach out and touch and smell them. Waterfalls cut across our path and, at one point I see bouquets of wild blue, purple and white flowers tied with a leaf, lying in one spot, denoting a recent accident and fatalities… but I don´t ask. I merely ponder. Then the bus hits a more tropical region and I feel the warmth and it´s bliss. Now, I can see banana and coconut trees, palms and other tropical trees, flowers and plants. I feel a surge and am glad to be on the road, alone-ish and free. Though apprehensive, the landscape comforts me and the plants and flowers are reassuring. Not long now, I can see the town ahead of us and the Rio Urubamba is snaking its way towards it as we get closer and closer to our final destination… (to be continued)

How many corners do I have to turn? How many times do I have to learn? All the love I have is in my mind, Well, I´m a lucky wo-man with fire in my hand I hope you understand… Happiness, coming and going… (thanks to The Verve for the on-the-road sounds and Laura the volunteer who lent me her MP3 player for the 6-7 hour journey)

It´s 9.45am and it’s already hot. The winter months are drier here so this journey to the hopping-off point for what is billed as Peru’s little explored southern jungle, is possible as the roads are now passable. So, I’m on the 9.30am bus, which left Cusco at 8am, and goes via Urubamba – the little pueblo where I am living. I’m leaving Urubamba, (population 8,000 approx, altitude 2,871m), which sits in a saucer-like valley and is surrounded by spectacular mountains, including the glacial peak of Chincon, for a couple of days away to the tropical entrance to the southern jungle. Why here? Well, who could resist visiting a place known as the city of eternal summer due to its hot and humid tropical climate? Certainly not me. I have been known, on previous trips, to travel to a place simply because the name intrigued me. In Mexico, Baja California – where Andy and I stayed with Johnette – it was the puebloita (little town) of Los Ojos Negros, or Black Eyes, which captured our imagination. Here, it is the promise of warm, or rather, hot, sweaty nights. I’m aboard the bus and it’s a local one with fairly comfortable, slightly reclining seats. I find number 20 and am happy that it’s a window seat. It seems that I am the only Gringa, apart from two other foreigners (Gringos), who are both sunblistered, both dark and one is bearded. I guess that they are Israeli as I overhear a young Peruvian man talking to them in Engish and surmise that they are on the way to a drop off point for Macchu Picchu. Later, when we have to get off the bus – only an hour and a half into the journey because essential road works prevent us from going any further until 11.45am – I find out that, as well as having another fair-haired and light-skinned Israeli guy with them, they are heading for Santa Teresa to start a one-day bike ride on the Inca trail followed by a two-day trek. They seem to be well-prepared and, as well as bikes on the roof of the bus, they only have small rucksacks with them which is v sensible as you don’t want to be lugging the kitchen sink with you on the road to the Inca marvel of MP. The sky is slightly hazy and the mountains are muted tones of brown, green and yellow. The vegetation and shrubs are like a soft down covering the mountains sides and ridges giving it a velvety appearance. Suprisingly, there are Eucalyptus trees in abundance, apparently these non-native species have been introduced as they grow quickly. Their slender trunks and branches stretch like fingers from the dry earth and the Rio Urubamba courses its way alongside the bus and will accompany us the entire trip and beyond our destination. Houses here are one or two-storeys high and are made predominantly of adobe with tiled or tin roofs. Washing hangs from balconies and on washing lines in small courtyards, fields are demarked by stone and adobe walls as well as shrubs, cacti and trees. There are cows, donkeys, goats and numerous cacti and dogs to be seen along this section of the journey and it’s dry and dusty. We are lucky as the road, this far, is paved and relatively smooth – that is, until we reach the stomach-turning, hairpin bends of the Abra de Malaga pass which zigzags its way across the mountain range. I´m listening to Urban Hymns and Bittersweet Symphony is playing, then Lucky (Wo)Man, see above. The songs all seem to make sense and convey how I have been feeling… PAUSE HERE. I have to go and catch the bus back now, it’s 6.46pm and my return bus leaves at 7.30pm. Better not miss it as I have to be at the school at 9am sharp and won´t get back till 2am. Think of me making the return trip at night through the twists and turns which are accompanied by load horn tooting….