Saturday, January 23, 2010

Traveller Fashion

While traveling you come across traveller clothes. The more a person has been travelling the more they acquire. You find people wearing Llama sweaters, socks, leg warmers, wool hats from Peru and hats in Ecuador. Bracelets from hippie artisans are collected in each stop along the way, they reach up your arms and on your ankles. You see travellers with the baggy MC hammer pants which are a favourite in Argentina. There are also the cropped stripped pants that tie at the bottom. I wasn’t that impressed with the clothing, although I did buy an Inca Kola t-shirt and a Llama sweater to keep warm in Cusco.
Then I came to Huanchaco, a small village to the north of Trujillo on the coast. I arrived at the Naylamp hostel very early in the morning. There was the choice of a private room, a dorm or camping. I was shown each option and knew exactly where I was going to stay when I saw a guy with the longest dreads I have ever seen immerge from his tent. Camping it was, in the garden oasis of Naylamb.
After I put up my tent, and I can proudly say I managed it all by myself,I spotted a Peruvian girl laying out a bunch of clothes, curious and a huge fan of clothing I went over to chat to her. I found out that she is friends with the owner of the hostel and is opening a shop in the front of it. Most of the clothes she brought back from India but her and her husband specialize in making clothing and sandals from leather. She also has a shop near Cusco in the Sacred Valley. I dived right into her bag of beautiful silks and leather trying on everything that I could. She told me she wanted to open up a shop because the area lacks nice clothing. The clothes the souvenir shops sell are quite awful. So I gave up on the budget I had made for myself for the remainder of my time in Peru and treated myself to two wrap around silk skirts and a silver anklet with bells.
People are more open to try new things while travelling and fashion is a part of that. You can get inspired by what you see while traveling. One of the English girls I was with previously in Arequipa and Bolivia was inspired by the artesian hippy clothes and decided to start a blog documenting the fashion she sees as she makes her way around the world on her gap year. You can check out Allegra’s blog at . She will be studying fashion at university in England and is quite the trend setter herself. I am sure her year abroad will bring new elements to fashion in England.

The Chocho Mystery: Huaraz, Peru

Every different place I visit holds new treats to be tested that are unique to the region. I am always eager to try out a new sweet, chocolate, drink or street food. In the beautiful mountain town of Huaraz set in the Cordillera Blanca with snow capped mountains, curiosity was getting the better of me when I saw signs for Chocho everywhere. What could Chocho possibly be? The bar beside my hotel had one such sign so it had me convinced that Chocho was an alcoholic beverage. Could it be a chocolate alcohol?
After days of pondering Chocho I finally had the chance to go out and try some. I was sitting in a restaurant when someone handed me a flyer for a party in a bar. Huaraz is in low season for tourism so I was alone but thought I would go to the bar anyway. I was also eavesdropping on the good looking guys at the next table who were going. When in the bar I introduced myself to said good looking guys who happened to be Peruvian university students doing research in a small village near Huaraz. They were quite funny and I had a good laugh chatting with them. When it came time to order a drink I said I wanted Chocho. They looked at me like I was crazy. They had no idea what I was talking about. Maybe I wasn’t saying it right. They thought this whole Chocho business was pretty funny and it became a running joke throughout the night. After many beers we were saying salud for Chocho. My nicknames became Tracy Crazy and Teresita Chocho. I wasn’t crazy there is such thing as Chocho! When we left the bar, I dragged Omar (one of the guys) to the bar beside my hotel, but the bar was closed and there was no sign for Chocho. How could it be gone? Maybe I was going mad.
The next morning I walked outside and there it was Chocho, where was Omar now? He came by my hotel later on and told me he was surprised to see the Chocho sign as well and thought I had made it and put it there. We decided to end the mystery and find out what it was. I walked in and straight up to the owner and asked what is Chocho. We found out it is like a bean or chick pea. People eat Chocho in the afternoon with beer. It’s a social thing to sit with a beer and chocho and talk. We then ordered Chocho and a beer on a Sunday afternoon.
The bar was actually quite cool but dated. Looked like it had its hay day back in the grunge era of the late 80’s early 90’s and looked like my dad decorated it, with pictures of Elvis and the Beatles, light fixtures made out of beer crates and wood beams everywhere. After having quite an interesting conversation about the bar and Peru with the owner we emerged into the daylight full from Chocho and beer. I haven’t gone mad just yet.

New Years in Lima

I decided to take a 24 hour bus from Cusco to ring in the new year in Lima, my Peruvian home. Its nice to have somewhere to come back to with familiar faces and a comfortable bed. Time escapes me in Miraflores I lazily sleep in, watch TV and have delightful lunches with my friend and his Dad. New Years was an intimate affair spent with the wealthy twenty somethings of Lima. The location: on a beach south of Lima in a house which is built into a private rock island. I didn’t drink much due to a headache from drinking beer all day in the heat without food. Perhaps it was better that way, I remembered everything and rung in 2010 with champagne while witnessing fire works being set off in the distance along the bay.
What will 2010 bring? More travels, more friends, more adventures, more happiness. It can only get better. Feliz Ano Nuevo

Machu Picchu

When most people are asked; why Peru? The general consensus would be to see Machu Picchu, and yes I admit that was one of the main reasons why I had an interest in Peru. That and one of my tourism college Professors really liked to say Titicaca a lot. It’s a major tourist attraction and now one of the Seven New Wonders of the world. It may be a bit over rated and overly touristic especially after staying a night in the fake town of Aguas Caliente built solely to house the Machu Picchu traffic. In the end it is still Machu Picchu, an ancient mystery, an advance civilization and it will always be breath taking. It is ruins of a lost civilization that will never be forgotten. What makes it more incredible than other ruins it its location, high up in the mountains with the peak of Wyna Picchu towering over it. A lot of people take the infamous Inca trail to get to it. I on the other hand didn’t want to pay a left nut (or a left boob for that matter) to get there. Instead I took the cheaper but still adventurous option of the Inca Jungle trek.
The first day we biked down a mountain in the cold pouring rain through rivers and mud slides. The second day was a tough hike in the hot jungle with the reward of hot springs at the end. Day three was more jungle trekking. Our guide snuck us off the trail and away from the other groups through palm trees of every fruit you could imagine, to a beautiful cascading waterfall. It was freezing cold but refreshing. The final day, the day I had been waiting for since I jumped on a plane to Peru was the hike to Machu Picchu. We left at 4:00am in the pitch black and pouring rain. Heaving a bag full of extra clothes and food I forced my way up every one of the Inca steps. The air was moist and the altitude high where breathing wasn’t so easy. I was convinced I was going to die before I would make it to Machu Picchu. The guide said this wasn’t a competition but somehow I was lagging behind as the young American college students flew up, apparently they didn’t listen. The rain died down and I knew I was close. With some encouragement from the guide I made it to the top and we were at the gates waiting by 6:00am. Everyone was assigned a guide, mine was Miguel. Once in and with Miguel the rain came again and in full force. We were all freezing and wet. To top it off there was so much cloud and fog from the rain you could barely see 10 meters in front of you. This is it? I thought. Yes, I went to Machu Picchu but I saw feck all. I had almost given up hope when Miguel finally shut up and the rain stopped. The cloud and fog cleared enough to see the grandeur of Machu Picchu. I got some amazing photos and views before the swarm of tourists arrived and I found myself stuck in a mob of photo happy Asians.
Peru isn’t just Machu Picchu but no matter how touristic it is one cannot come to this country without seeing it. It’s like going to a Japanese restaurant where they don’t have any wasabi.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Christmas in Cusco

Growing up I couldn’t imagine a Christmas without snow. I loved the holiday season and couldn’t wait for the first snow fall. As I got older Christmas lost the magic. It was all about buying unnecessary presents and completely commercial. Without young children in my family it was just another day.
The last four years I have been in a different country for Christmas. It has had a different meaning for me. I have escaped the commercialization of western society. My first Christmas abroad was in a desert Oasis in Egypt. Being Muslim in Egypt they don’t even celebrate Christmas. I celebrated with my boyfriend at the time and a Jewish Australian kid by having a huge Indian meal. Christmas day my stomach was not agreeing with the Indian. To cure this I downed a litre of mango juice, which found me behind any clump of dirt in the barren desert I could find as I shat liquid green. That was the only Christmas present I received that year.
The last three years have been in Latin America, countries where Christmas is celebrated but with less commercialization, more focus on religion and a lot of focus on fiestas. Fireworks are set off throughout the month of December. Christmas lights and point zetas take over the central squares, carnivals and Christmas fairs line the streets. Families come together to rejoice and let loose in festive flair.
In most of the world Christmas is celebrated on Dec 24th, this Christmas Eve in Cusco, Peru, I noticed from my balcony that there was a huge line of Indian women and children starting from my hotel and curving down the street. I was touched to find out the hotel was giving free bread and hot chocolate to the poor. As well the Plaza del Armas was turned into a huge Christmas and artesian market.
That evening I decided to treat myself to a bottle of wine which led to another during dinner with a Peruvian friend. I was in such good festive spirits that I felt the need to spread the Christmas cheer to everyone on the street, telling them Feliz noche Buena and Feliz navidad. I even bought a street kid some chocolate and picked up another and swung him around. Alright so at this point Christmas cheer was also drunken cheer. I was delighted to find Santa Claus in Peru, with his red Santa hat, white beard, jiggly belly and Hawaiian shirt. From the rich to the poor Christmas was about having a good time. People did this by setting off fire crackers and fireworks all night. Cusco is in a valley surrounded by mountains with neighbourhoods crawling up the hills, on Christmas Eve at midnight from a neighbourhood high up above the city, there was an unreal sight. It looked like a scene from the war but instead of bombs fireworks were set off from all corners of the city
I don’t know what it is about Christmas in another country; perhaps the new and unknown bring back the excitement and magic of Christmas to me. Maybe one day when I am older I will be dreaming of a white Christmas again. Until then, foreign lands, sunny beaches and fiestas are where I will be. Feliz Navidad.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Travelling Alone

In the recent years I have always travelled alone, which shocks some. The thing about being a traveller though is you are never alone. There is a whole community of people out there backpacking and travelling the world whither it is an around the world gap year, rail trip across Europe or six months in South America. The thing about these people is they want to see everything and meet everyone. It’s not strange to sit beside someone on a bus, and then a few hours later you are off together exploring another city sharing a beer on the street. You never know what will happen after sharing a taxi with another traveller.
Travellers are more open, they want to meet you, and there are no barriers, no social incorrectness. Friends are made in a taxi, on a bench, in a hostel dorm room, in an instant. I miss this world when I am not in it. It was what was missing when I was in Canada. People would find it strange if you just walked up to them and started a conversation out of nowhere. Do I know you? They would think. Eating alone in a restaurant or going to a bar alone is looked down upon. Doesn’t this person have any friends? For travellers this is never a question. The simple ice breaker of where are you from will then start a conversation and perhaps many rounds of beers.
I have found some of my closet friends and deepest relationships while traveling. I have shared experiences with these people that have made us close in a short period of time. These friends share my interests and way of thinking. I have picked them rather than formed a relationship through an environment such as work or school. I am still in touch with some of them, some I have seen again, others I have lost touch with completely but they are still very important to me.
We travellers have a bond, a common interest; we are the children of the world. We refuse to grow up. Everything amazes us, curiosity, the thirst for knowledge and exploration is endless.
Yes I travel alone but I am never alone or lonely.

The loss of my Mojo in La Paz

I was convinced a witch lady in La Paz took my mojo from me. I had bought a little jar from the witches market. It had in it a couple that symbolized love, a plane for travels, a key for happiness and another symbol for a safe home. All the little charms were housed in water with little bits of bright paper. I tried to talk the price down but the lady was adamant because it was multi functional, fair enough. Good luck and happiness were going to come my way. It seemed though since I bought it the opposite had happened. I had lost my mojo; I wasn’t feeling like myself and had a cloud of bad luck following me through this exasperating city. For example I broke a vase in a lavanderia then had the lady chase me down to pay a ridiculous price for it. The weather wasn’t on my side either; it had made a turn for the worst raining and cold. It was hard enough to breathe as it was. To add to it all, just to kick me when I was down, in a bar I was giving my best bedroom eyes to the one good looking guy there, when he came over and asked my friend to dance with him. My eyes had never failed me!!
I was ready to chuck my little jar of good fortune at the “witch” I bought it from when a light went off in my head during a conversation with some Aussie guys (friends of the English girls). The witch didn’t take my mojo; it had nothing to do with the little jar. I had left it in Peru! I was a legend in Peru. I fell in love with the country and radiated there. There was just something about it. So it was decided, I was returning to Peru the next morning, on a bus bound for Cusco. I was going to Machu Picchu finally and getting my mojo back.

The Coca Leaf Fortune Teller

Coca leaves aren’t actually a drug but have many uses as I started to learn in the Coca museum in La Paz until the urge to poke my eyes out from boredom became too unbearable. What did I do to deserve this place?
I did find out from a couch surfer that there are coca leaf fortune tellers in La Paz. Our hostel was right in the thick of the witches market and to my surprise the fortune teller that he took me to was almost right next door. The place was unmarked and a bit of a hole in the wall just a gated black door. We made a deal for 20 bolivanos each. I was a bit hesitant at first, I mean when someone tells you they know a guy and then he is just next door, it’s a bit odd.
He had a diploma on his wall for naturalistic medicine, a few chairs and a sheet draped across the room. I went first for my reading which was behind the sheet as well as a single bed, a small table and two chairs. Coca leaves were scattered on a cloth on the table. He did seem mystical and authentic. He didn’t have a sign outside his door and wasn’t trying to rip off tourist so all those were good signs. I had my couch surfer translate for me just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
He told me about myself by picking up the leaves dropping them and seeing where on the cloth they landed. He told me about my health, he said I will have a job in what I studied or what I will study. He said I should plan more for the future, make decisions calmly and not be so spontaneous. Huh that doesn’t sound like me at all (I say sarcastically). He said I won’t live in Canada but will live with someone in another country.
Was love and money in the leaves for me? Well he wasn’t too positive when it came to the love aspect. He said my current interest is just for the moment and caught up with an ex. He mentioned someone from my past will come back and want to be with me but another woman is in the way. As for my writing and money he said I will do well but it will be very hard at first and very competitive. Most things seemed to ring true while others were a bit questionable. I have no idea how he can tell all these things from throwing leaves and placing them in different positions on the cloth but coca leaf fortune telling is quite a popular practice. There are many brujos (witches) in Bolivia which are frequented by the local people to help guide them in their lives. You are either born into the profession or receive a calling later on in life. The coca leaf is the key to the brujos for fortune telling, it helps them see the present, they can tell what ailments people have and how their future will be.
The coca leaf has also been important in Bolivia for many other reasons as well. Indians have used coca leaves as an anesthetic, they chew it to ward off hunger and fight altitude sickness. Mal treated miners were given coca leaves so they would work without needing to eat or rest. Then came the process of turning the leaf into Cocaine, some people may tell you the white powder can help you see your future as well….I’m not so sure, maybe that will have to wait until Colombia.

Tiesto Concert in La Paz

My second night in La Paz I went from drinking beer in a Jacuzzi to rushing around the streets of La Paz looking for the stadium which was hosting the Tiesto concert.
I had left Copacabana with one of the English girls leaving the other two, to their homeless travelling Argentinean beach party. I was at my fill of dread locks, the smell of marijuana, macramé jewellery and bongo drums. Our first night in La Paz wasn’t the greatest in a dirty hostel with an 11:00pm curfew, so not expectable. We shelled out some extra bolivianos for huge beds, a private bath, breakfast, internet, happy hour and a Jacuzzi. I was informed by some Aussies that Tiesto was having a concert that night and when the English girls met up with me I downed my beer jumped out of the Jacuzzi and was off on a mission. We needed to find the concert grounds and touts selling tickets on the street as the hostal's suuply had sold out. It turned out to be a mission indeed after we arrived at the wrong stadium and the directions weren’t so clear from randoms on the street. I stopped a sports car blaring music thinking he would have to know where it is. He gave us the name of the place and we were off running again. Holding out the hope we could still get tickets.
The smell of street meat on coal fires and the presence of police told us we were close. Rounding a corner we saw the sign and a massive crowd waiting to get in. Who knew Tiesto had such a following in Bolivia. Each of us split up looking for ticket touts and the best deal. I found a group of young Bolivian guys selling tickets for 150 Bolivianos which was a good deal. We had some concerns about if they were fake but, bought them anyway. Then the sight of the line winding down the street and through a neighbourhood took us back and we were at the end of it. At least we had our tickets and were for sure getting in. We felt better about the legitimacy of the tickets after being in the line with the guys who we bought them from. They were all around 20 years old and students. They charged us a bit more than the asking price but it worked out in the end because they feed us an endless supply of wine in the line and beer inside. It seemed bottles of wine magically came out of the darkness.
Having skipped dinner I had to buy some of the fragrant street meat with potatoes which was put in a bag for me to take away. As we were allowed to enter the grounds and had to walk for ages to get to the actual gate, I had to run to catch up holding my meat in a bag, the Bolivian boys laughed at me as I yelled, “Tengo carne en una bolsa!”
A huge stage was in front of us and the lights of La Paz surrounded us, it was an impressive scene. An Argentinean DJ got the crowd started with some great mixes but they went wild when he mixed Got a Feeling by the Black Eyed Peas. Then after much chanting Tiesto came out with a spectacle of lights and visuals. Girls were up on guy’s shoulders; arms up in the air and bodies didn’t stop moving until he was finished. The time flew by and I didn’t realize it was close to 1:00am when Tiesto mixed his final song. The energy was amazing and I couldn’t stop smiling. It truly was a once in a life time experience.
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