Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lines From Above

The Nasca Indians must have been really great artists.

So great that their artwork of heavenly proportions must be seen from heaven itself to be truly appreciated.

A standard 30-minute tour from the sky, if booked in advance, costs upwards of US$65. The more popular (and reliable) airlines like Aerocondor and Nasca Airlines tend to cost more. Having booked and completed an earlier tour of the Nasca Lines, our friend Ching informed that it was possible to bargain directly with the airlines at the airport for last-minute spaces on scheduled flights on the very morning that we wanted to fly. Useful reviews on Tripadvisor.com confirmed that last-minute spaces could go for as low as US$50, with some airlines even agreeing to pay the 20 soles airport tax. Plus, practically everybody gets to fly - it just depends on how much you end up paying, and how long you need to wait at the airport for that coveted spare seat.

Given the chance to save at least US$30 total on our flights plus the fact that it was not the peak tourist season in Peru, we decided to hold out for last-minute seats on the day itself.

Upon arriving at our hostel, Walkon Inn (haha, very witty), the night before, the hostel owner offered to book seats with Aeroparacas for US$50 per person, including the return transfers to the airport. Plus, the airline would inform him exactly what time we could leave for the airport, which would save us the inconvenience of rising early and waiting our day out at the airport for the next available flight. Hey, it sounded good to us. So we booked it! Yippeeee!

Unfortunately, Aeroparacas wasn't exactly a role model for good time management. They shepherded us into their stuffy office and sat us down before a DVD on the Nasca Lines, which promised to be interesting, but somehow managed to transform an intriguing subject into a lecture as dry as the desert itself. Before the video even ended, more than half the group was slumped in their seats, lost in their impromptu mid-morning naps.

Finally, at noon, 5 of us were shuttled to and squeezed into the tiniest airplane that I've ever seen. With our seatbelts fastened, headsets on and no safety briefing whatsoever (seriously, the plane flies so low over the desert that if anything were to happen, one can only pray. Hard.), we were off!

And where's the remote control for flying this toy plane?

All set to shoot a good video. We have yet to bring ourselves (and our stomachs) to view the footage.

Backseat pilot. Seriously, what busybodies some people/dolls can be!

We were all given a small card showing the flight route over the Nasca Lines. Within our first few airborne minutes, I quickly learned to memorise the sequence of drawings that lay ahead, as my stomach did backflips each time I glanced at the card for reference.

No in-flight magazines for this turbulent ride

Even before we reached the first drawing on the planned route, the bare beauty of the Nasca desert had us training our eyes on the captivating monochrome patterns that lay below us.

Tiny (yeah, right!) mountain ranges

God's doodling. He likes drawing squigglies!

The Nasca Lines were first discovered from a commercial airplane flight in 1927. Till this day, there have been numerous theories proposed on how and why these sprawling figures were created. Some say that they were all part of a calender devised by the ancient Indians, which helped them tell the day and time according to the stars. Some say that the ancient people had flying machines similar to hot air balloons, which they could ride in to appreciate their giant artworks from above. Others claim the presence of extraterrestrial life on earth - in other words, aliens! *cue twilight zone music*

With the discovery of strikingly similar (albeit on a much smaller scale) figures found on archaeological treasures in the same area, one thing is for certain - the Nasca Indians, creators of the painted earthenware, were the ones who produced the magnificent drawings in the desert. They chose living things as their subjects. In particular, those that were gifted with natural abilities that the Nascas admired. For example, the agility and intelligence of the monkey; the strength and power of the fearsome killer whale; the hummingbird's super-human speed; the stealth of the condor; the life-giving quality of trees.

Just don't ask me where the astronaut comes in.

The ballena or whale, aptly positioned by the (dry) river

The astronauta! See, I wasn't kidding about the astronaut. Who is depicted with his hand raised - as a greeting to... aliens?

The mono or monkey

The perro or dog

A fairly huge arana or spider (Some may be interested to know that Spiderman in Spanish is "el hombre de arana"!)

The Andean hot favourite - the condor

My favourite - the colibri or hummingbird

It's a tad hard to make out, but that's a faint drawing of an alcatraz (no, not the island prison) or heron

This is a loro. Seriously, I don't know what in the world it's meant to be.

The final two - an arbol (tree) and a pair of manos (hands)

The flight, although highly interesting, is no scenic flight. In fact, it is quite a nasty ride. In order to allow passengers seated on both sides of the plane equal opportunities to view each drawing, the plane alternates between banking left and right, at a full 90 degree angle each time. I tried to focus on the horizon and go with the flow, but after about 15 minutes worth of rabid swaying motions, I was fervently wishing for the plane to go faster and complete the flight pronto, even before the scheduled 30 minutes was up.

Thankfully, no one on our flight succumbed to regurgitating their breakfast into the plastic bags provided in the seat pockets. Our pilot was happy as a lark when he landed the plane back at the airport - no pukey aromas lingering in his plane! Ching, on the other hand, had a fellow passenger throw up - outside of the bag. Their pilot was understandably very disturbed.

Still, I emerged from the plane a whiter shade of pale and staggered over to join the row of green-faced tourists cowering in the shade from the burning desert sun.

Los Lineas de Nasca - an unforgettable experience. In more ways than one.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wipe Out In The Oasis

Sand buggy rides and sandboarding in the desert are the things to do while in Huacachina. US$15 (or less, if you sign up with a streetside tout instead of a hotel) gets you a 2-hour ride into the sunset and a good roll in the sand (unless you actually manage to stay on your boogie board.)

Our first sand buggy experience was in Dubai with friends Junwei and Su May. There, you get to ride in an air-conditioned, covered jeep instead of the open-topped go-karts offered in Peru. You also get served ice-cold Coke while cavorting in Middle Eastern sands. You also pay U.A.E prices - almost ten times more than what we paid in Peru. But to be fair, Dubai goes all out to hosts its guests and the price includes a dinner party under the desert skies, complete with kebabs, hookahs and belly dancing.

A cold Coke in the desert is blissssss (Dan with short hair! Taken before, as my friend Tracy says, his hair became "a celebrity in itself" on this trip)

Our hosts in Dubai - Junwei & Su May. And yes, he is pushing his friend off the dune...

We also took up snowboarding lessons in Dubai. Yups... snowboarding in the desert! At the Ski Dubai, the amazing indoor ski slope housed within the gigantic Mall of the Emirates. Stingy-poker us decided to invest in proper lessons, after we learnt the hard (and painful) way in Korea that reading ski tips for free on the Internet does not qualify as effective online learning.

Check out his expression! Dan hurtling down the slopes in Ski Dubai at 80km/h. Okay, kidding - it was only 3km/h.

We hoped that what we could recall of snowboarding (knees bent, weight on heels, relaxed hips and the falling leaf) would come in useful on the Peruvian dunes in Huacachina.

The oasis and tiny town of Huacachina - that's all there is to it!

This is where the locals hangout. In the shade of the palm trees and on the dunes (refer to those tiny specks in the sand in the photo.) You can rent boards for cheap instead of taking a dune buggy tour. But that means having to climb up the dune yourself.

Local boys afraid to get their shorts wet and hiking them up as far as they can go!

So off we went on a dune buggy tour!

Too clean to be allowed to set foot on the sand. Can only pose with the sand dune.

Kicking sand in the desert does not qualify as stupid behaviour - unless it's kicked into the wind and upwards over one's own head *blush*

Behaving properly now

Sandy star jump!

Showing off. Cos he knows I can't jump far or high. Barely scrapped a pass for my Standing Broad Jump tests and totally failed school tryouts for high jump and long jump. But I can hurdle!

Beautiful sand ripples leading to a sea of endless crescent dunes

It was strange how Dan and I were the only ones actually soaking in the awesome views and enjoying being present in the desert. The other tourists preferred to mill around and gab about their travel experiences in Thailand and other countries. Focus, people, focus!

Balancing the buggy on the crest of one of the highest and steepest slopes I've ever set foot on, the driver stalled the engine and proceeded to hand out sandboards to everyone. We obediently received our boards, walked over to peer over the edge and everyone in our group took turns to pepper the desert air with their favourite expletive - "oh sh*t!", "oh f**k!", "holy crap!"

All except our hippie Irish neighbour who promptly strapped his feet into the bindings and zoomed straight down the dune in a mad cloud of sand, ignoring the frantic shouts of
"No no no no no!! Di-ah-gohn-al!!! Solo di-ah-gohn-al!!! Oi, amigo!! Ahhh, loco, loco, loco (crazy)!!!"

Sandboarding is ridiculously challenging. The soft slippery sand offers little stability, sliding out from under you at the slightest touch. I tried pulling out all our snowboarding tricks but to little avail:

Tip 1: Weight on heels, dig heels in - my heels shifted forward in the soft sand and down I went on my butt!

Tip 2: Keep knees bent -
the board slipped backwards and down I went on my face!

Tip 3:
Move gently down the slope in the pattern of a falling leaf - well, my leaf could only fall in 1 direction. Does that count?

We didn't take many photos but Dan's video says it all - each person's attempt at sandboarding provided belly-aching entertainment for the others. Dan had one good run that elicited claps and "wows" from the others. But as luck would have it - no one had a camera on them for that particular run! But check out another trick of his in the video below - tumbling head over heels, popping back on his feet and continuing down the rest of the slop - all in one smooth action!

(We take you on a pretty long drive in the desert, but stay tuned for the second half of the video where the real sandboarding action begins.)

Posing like pros with our Peruvian-coloured sandboards

Driving into the desert sunset, with sand in our shoes, clothes, hair, ears and mouths.

The sun sets over the shadowy dunes, mixing with the desert mist, and signifying the end of the tour

So, the conclusion is - sandboarding is nothing like snowboarding. Nor is it anything like wakeboarding. I guess which sport you choose to pursue depends largely on what you prefer to ingest in the process: sand, snow or sea water!

Monday, September 28, 2009

El Huacachinero

What is so amazing about Peru is that it hosts a variety of different environments just within hours of each other.

Just as the oppressive omnipresent fog was beginning to get to us after spending 1 week in Lima, we boarded a Cial bus which plucked us out from behind the cold grey curtain and whisked us to the sunny dunes of Huacachina in less than 6 hours. Our days were gloriously sunshine-y. Our skins warmed at the touch of golden rays. The cloudless skies were a brilliant blue. The air - cool and fresh (no smog!) Towering sand dunes rose for miles above and seemed to wrap us in their soft, protective blanket.

In short, from a raving modern metropolis, we found ourselves in the Peruvian desert!
A drastic wardrobe change was in need!

Off came the sweaters... and out came the swimwear!

Off came the sneakers and socks... and on with the slippers! (Our toes wriggled around happily)
And where in the world did we stash the sunblock?

We checked ourselves in at El Huacachinero. While it's not the cheapest at US$10 per person for a dorm bed (as a gauge, US$20 is the average price for a private room with ensuite bathroom and breakfast in Peru), it was certainly value-for-money because we got the enjoy the rest of the spiffy hotel facilities at the lowest possible price.
Not that there are many facilities to speak of, actually. El Huacachinero is deemed a 2-star budget hotel in most travel guides.

Which is a total understatement - c
heck out the desert resort we were at!

The nicest budget hotel I've ever stayed in

El Huacachinero is beautifully furnished throughout. Local handicrafts hang from its cool stone walls. Potted plants and comfy armchairs line the corridors. The pool is clean and inviting. Best of all, this budget hotel has an entire sand dune as it's backyard! In the evening, the whole place is bathed in a soft, warm glow.

From this photo, you wouldn't believe that we are on a super low-budget backpacking trip

I didn't take a photo of it, but our dorm was one of the biggest and cleanest we have had in South America (until an Irish hippie emptied an entire sand dune from his sneakers onto the floor...) The water was piping hot (too hot!) and the bathroom, huge.

En route from the bus terminal in Ica to Huacachina, we shared a taxi with an Irish backpacker. He hadn't decided where to stay in Huacachina yet and I helpfully informed him that dorm beds at El H
uacachinero were going at US$10 a pop. When we arrived at El Huacachinero, he couldn't believe from the posh exterior that this place would have dorms and wandered off to check out the party hostel next door.

Upon checking in, I discovered that Dan and I had the entire dorm (9 beds!) to ourselves and immediately wanted to kick myself for opening my big mouth an
d telling Mr Ireland about El Huacachinero. As luck would have it, in less than 10 minutes, we had gained ourselves a new Irish neighbour. Sigh. I tried to convince myself that good deeds beget good karma and that I would eventually be rewarded for my too-willing-to-help booboo.

Good karma, unfortunately, did not think to look for me in the depths of the deser
t. The next night, 2 more half-naked guys checked into our room, which invited a testy comment from Dan that they shouldn't strut around in their skintight underwear before his wife's chaste and innocent eyes. One of the guys retorted that his undies were similar to swim shorts, so what was the big deal? Plus, he couldn't sleep properly because Dan snored throughout the night. Gee, I don't see how that inane remark justifies his state of undress, really.

And you would think that travel makes people more aware and sensitive of other cultures. Like how it is damn rude and insensitive to put up a cringeworthy parade dressed only in your tighty-whities (loose boxer shorts are okay) in front of Asian women... or
any woman to be exact. To do so is to assume that:

(1) She is so un-ladylike as to
want to look at your half-naked body (I could only roll and avert my eyes politely); or

(2) She is invisible or just an unimportant fly on the wall (I paid for a bed, dammit, not a spot on the wall)

Maybe I'm makin
g a sand dune out of a sandcastle but that is not how my guy friends (and my husband) behave in the presence of the fairer sex on overseas trips.

Anyway... *deep breath*... let's revert t
o those sunshine-y thoughts, shall we?

Like these cute green parrots. We thought we were imagining little voices in our heads saying "hola! hola!" as we walked around the pool area. Well yeah, Polly wanted a cracker alright!

So I picked up a discarded cracker from the ground and handed it to one of the parrots...

All I did was to give it an old cracker...

And the next thing I knew, it had adopted me! It crept up from behind, slinked under our deckchairs, scaled the side table, hopped onto my chair, walked up my arm and sat comfy on my shoulder. Like it was the world's best perch.

I am not your owner! You are not my pet! Comprendes?!

I picked it up and placed it back on it's original perch - an empty chair near the restaurant. 2 minutes later, it sneaked right back onto my lap, uninvited. So I decided to teach it to read...

Polly reading The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan (whom I'm not related to, by the way)

The DanYilin dolls Dannie Action Figure and Yi Lin Doll also seemed to have a blast at El Huacachinero! Check out these pictures of them enjoying themselves in the sun.

The Yi Lin doll seems to have gotten a tad too fair from spending long sunless hours in the backpack. Time to get a tan!

She joins me in trying to tan that stupid camisole-shaped tanline (from doing rooftop laundry in Huaraz) away

Joining the other guests in lounging around and snapping pictures by the pool

I can float on my back! (Dan can't! *snigger* Really, he can't.)

True to his cheeky nature, Darnie (geddit, geddit? Socks...darn....Dannie) the Action Figure got bored after awhile and went around terrorising the helpless hotel guests.

Let's play Kick The Lady!

The house parrots were not to be bullied though. They stared terror in it's face and put up a fierce fight! After which they reverted to their charming selves and went around greeting everyone with a friendly "hola, hola!" all round.

Come any nearer and I'll kungfu-kick you! Hiiiiiyah!!

I'll bite your head off! Eat your beanie! Peck out your ey.... hang on, where are your eyes?

Stomping around on the sand dunes with his big feet

That's all those cheeky dolls managed to get up to during our short stay in Huacachina though. We couldn't bring them out onto the sand dunes and get them all mucky. (As an example, Dannie rolled down the dunes in Dubai and still had sand pouring out from his ears a week later - I'm sure Action Figure Darnie would have leapt at a chance to do the same.)

Stay tuned for our next post to see how much sand we consumed from the Peruvian desert! (You might wanna guess ALOT, cos Dan just emptied a second helping of sand from his shoes last night, in Cusco, at an altitude of 3,395m.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Granny Smith Bandit v. The Chochos and anor. [2009] DYB

9 to 13 September 2009


Travel - Adventure - Friends - Comrarderie - Fun - Awesomeness!


I trekked the Amazon, salsa-ed at 3,399 meters above sea level in Cusco, completed the Lares Trek, hiked up Machu Picchu and Waynapicchu, dived (in my underwear!) into Lake Titicaca, cycled down the world's most dangerous road (to 'fess - halfway only la) in the Bolivian Andes, gone through a hell of a bumpy ride, complete with dust mite bites, across the salt plains and desert at Salar de Uyuni (exposed a boob or two along the way!), stole a woollen blanket from the Salt Hotel, froze my feet off in a supposedly heated bus on my way to La Paz, tumbled down Colca Canyon and huffed and puffed my way back up, whizzed across the Nazca Lines, risked marine bird droppings at the Islas Ballestas, ate a worm alive, chewed on cuy (guinea pig) and drank a couple of Pisco Sours and Colca Sours before I found my way to Huaraz to meet the Chos.

See what I would do to meet my favourite Singaporeans in South America!

Case Summary:

M and I crashed at the hostel after an 8-hour bus ride running through the night from Lima. We were woken up by familiar sounds of "Hola!" and "Wake up!" and greeted by D's camera on video mode. I certainly didn't look appropriate (and definitely not M ha-ha (see video below)) for the camera, but what the heck! I was finally meeting D & Y in South America! I had no idea how much I missed the sight and sounds of Singaporeans until I met D & Y. I love Singapore! I love Singaporeans more! I love my buddies, D & Y even more! Ah-bu-den! Weeks of interacting only with Ang Mohs, Guai Los and Lao Wais restricted me to

(1) speaking only well-articulated English;
(2) polite conversation about whether a certain game is known as football or soccer; and
(3) boring soliloquy (not mine) about "me, myself and I".

Oh, how I missed rattling on and on in Singlish and having people responding with the same.

Bless M for choosing to watch the EPL game that afternoon on his own so that I could catch up with D & Y. It was surreal that the 3 of us could be seated together in a little creperie in Huaraz chatting about our travels in South America. I have D & Y to thank for travelling South America: Back on 20 July, my boss kindly granted my birthday wish for a long break from work for my big 3-0 (yes, I was getting all philosophical about the meaning of life as my expiry date drew near). I had spent recent years of my life being busy from one deal to another, and it was pretty scary stuff having so much free time at hand. Thank heavens the stars must have aligned when D extended an invite for me to join them on their trip of a lifetime while I ponder about my existence.

The rest is history.

Fine! I will watch the game on my own! *manly pout*

Santa Cruz Trek 0.5
As planned, we started on the Santa Cruz Trek the next day. We equipped ourselves with walking sticks, thermals, lots of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, chocolate and most importantly, stupendous socks! One would have thought we were more than adequately prepared to complete the trek.

Unfortunately, Y suffered from altitude sickness on Day 1 of the the trek. Poor D had to carry all of Y's stuff all the way to the campsite even though he was suffering from altitude migraine as well. I offered the help of M, my personal "alpaca" but D bravely trudged on. (Two years of NS creates Singapore heroes like D!) So Day 1 was certainly no winter wonderland. It also didn't help that one of the trekkers with us most annoying - whenever Y or I spoke to the guide, she would repeat in her words what we said to the guide. It then occurred to us that she was trying to translate our English into her English.

In the morning of Day 2 of the trek, D & Y decided to turn back and return to Huaraz. They said it was not worth suffering any further to make it to the pass. I knew it was more like D didn't want to see Y fall more ill, and Y didn't want to see D prolong his pain as he would have to carry all of their stuff, his and hers, up the pass. (Awwww!)

When D & Y excused themselves from the breakfast table to pack, the thought of spending my last few precious days in South America with the snotty racist and her friends was cringe-worthy enough to send me running to my tent to split our stuff between M and me. And so I decided to follow my countrymen back to Huaraz. Although I felt a little terrible for ditching M, I took comfort in the fact that my friends could do with some Ching-action on the potentially boring trek home. I was a little disappointed that I had to give up the trek halfway, because I am usually too proud to give up on anything I embark on. But I am glad I chose to turn round with D & Y as the way back turned out to be quite a little adventure!


The way home

Follow me! Ching leads the way (up the wrong mountain though)

Are we there yet....

.... nooo

It was rainy, gloomy and very cold, the trail was full of mud and poop (animal only I hope), and Y was definitely still struggling with her altitude sickness. With a little team work - I paced the group, D carried Y's stuff and helped her along, and Y doing her best to keep going, we managed to find our way back to our first stop at Vaqueria in 4 hours. To put things in perspective, we took more than 4 hours on the same trail the day before. Us 3 little Singaporeans certainly knew our way around the mountains of Cordillera Blanca!

At Vacqueria, we joined a Dutch couple and their trekking guides who had been waiting for 3 hours, to catch a taxi to our second stop at Yungay. It continued to rain heavily, we were cold and exhausted from the earlier trek, and there was no taxi in sight.

I was wondering if we could actually make it back to Huaraz before nightfall, when lo and behold, a chicken truck pulled up in front of us! The truck was already ferrying a local family and their farm produce. After some negotiation, the driver agreed to take all of us back to Yungay for a small fee. I probably wouldn't have taken a ride in a truck like this in Singapore, but hey, we were in South America and couldn't wait to get to a hot shower and warm bed! Ailing Y took the only front passenger seat, and the rest of us hopped on the back of the truck to join the locals.

The truck's lack of suspension made it a helluva roller coaster ride down the mountains! There were no proper seats at the back of the truck, so I moved from one sack of farm produce to another each time I fell off a sack. First I sat on the melons, then the corn bags, before the local ladies kindly invited me to cosy up with them under a huge woolen blanket. Poor D had to contend with the chicken coops, consequence of which made for another good story. Meanwhile, I chatted animatedly with the local ladies, even though I didn't understand a single word they spoke. Best conversation ever! Lots of laughter and charades :)

The girls then fell in love with my gold coloured casio watch thinking it was made of real gold; they each asked me for the time every 5 to 10 minutes just so that they could take a peek. It was really heartwarming that they were so generous about sharing their blanket, time, space and culture (one of the old ladies gave me some basic geography lessons in Spanish - she pointed out to a lagoon and coo-ed "la-goo-naa!").

Outside, the drizzle turned into a heavy downpour which then became snow. We were a scene right out of Travel & Living.


I am thankful to have spent such an amazing time with D & Y. It was very heartening to witness husband and wife care for and support each other the way D & Y did. They made me realize what a life partnership is about - D leads and decides when Y is ill, and Y cares for D's well-being when he does the heavy-lifting, they take turns with daily tasks and absolutely enjoy each other's company. Each is incomplete without the other. I recall telling M that D & Y are not typical Singaporeans, they do stuff, they create a life and they are wonderful people to be around. I have utmost admiration for them in making this trip happen and am inspired to do something this big for myself too. I wish them only the best for the rest of the journey!

Love, Ching XXX

Never shalt they be apart

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