A very changeable July

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13, 2017 by David Palmer

While Jamie was enjoying the sun and heat of Tenerife with his friend Bill, back in the UK we were being treated to a typical British summer. A few promising days somehow got mixed into a miserable cavalcade of showers, cool temperatures and wind. At least the garden and allotments enjoyed the regular dousing and responded with rapidly maturing vegetables and fruit well before their usual time. Sue took charge of picking the raspberries, goose berries and currants and then had to move on to bottling beetroot in readiness for the winter. The greenhouse kicked into overdrive and the tomatoes and cucumbers joined the throng. It is lucky that Charlotte and Ellis love cucumber and devour them like bags of sweets!

On the 18th Sue took a day off from picking and bottling to attend Lucas’s and Ellis’s sports day. It was a rare hot and sunny day, just right for children to run around and have fun. I find the non-competitive sports days favoured by Rothwell school as rather pointless and quite annoying, so did not attend.

The following day, Pip (Sue’s sister) arrived by train from Buckfastleigh in Devon. Unfortunately, she brought the rain with her! First, Sue took her to visit Sarah, Mia and Lee and they managed a delightful excursion to Bradgate Park where they managed a tour of the ruins of Lady Jane Grey’s house.

On the 20th July they caught the bus into Leicester and visited the Richard 3rd exhibition, the Cathedral and the Guildhall. They followed this up with a visit to Charlotte’s on the 21st.

Pip returned home on the 22nd. Jamie arrived back with a heavy sun tan and a spare tyre from his ‘All Inclusive’ jaunt.

It was our wedding anniversary on the 24th and we celebrated it with Lucas and Ellis with a lunch of fish and chips in Stamford. We did a trial run to Normanton Church on Rutland water to check out times and parking in readiness for Sarah’s wedding. Next, we visited the reception venue before checking out the hotel in Stamford where we will be staying after the celebrations. On the way back to Harborough we detoured to the marina and found the yacht that Sarah and Lee have recently bought. The boys loved climbing all over it and can’t wait for their first sail on her.

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The next day Sue took the boys on an organised coach trip to Knebworth. Again, the weather smiled on them and they had lovely day, visiting the house, dinosaur trail, maze and sculpture trail. It was a very full day and they were all exhausted when they returned. They all slept well that night!

After lunch the following day, Sue and I drove to North Wales and checked into the Bryn Howel Hotel near Llangollen. It is the place where we first met each other in 1972 and I guess it was quite appropriate that we stayed there near to the date of our wedding anniversary. It was a sunny but windy day and late in the afternoon we stretched our legs on a walk to the ruined castle above the town. We ate that night in the hotel.

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After a late breakfast we drove to the Crematorium just outside Wrexham. We attended the funeral of my cousin, Jeff Vaughan. We are the same age and often when the Palmers visited our Welsh relatives he was the one I used to play with as a little boy. He owned his own building company and for many years lived in Spain. I last saw him when he attended my mother’s funeral. He lost his battle with brain tumours.

After the funeral and tea we returned to Harborough. It was nice to see my Welsh relatives once again, but I guess it is the only on sad occasions such as this that they now gather together, and that in itself is also regrettable.

On a lighter note, the following Saturday Lee and Sarah came with Mia. It is their custom to visit the fireworks competition held at nearby Stanford Hall. Sue and I looked after Mia while they watched the displays in atrocious conditions. The rain hammered it down all night, I am surprised they managed to see anything at all! In the past they have camped overnight, but wisely this time they came back around midnight and took a disappointed Mia home.

The start of August was no different to July. Optimistically I bought an awning for the back patio (well, it is summer!), I mounted it on the wall above the dining room window and extends  by way of a winder. Jim came to give me a hand to mount it on its brackets as it is far too heavy for one person. Annoyingly it was far to windy to open it and give it a test. That had to wait for another four days!

On the 5th Jim and I attended the Foxton Cider and Sausage Festival. Though we were planning to cycle there, Sue had to take drive us in a thunderstorm.  The event obviously didn’t do as well as it would have done if the weather had been better, but everything has a silver lining. We got chatting to the guitarist/singer who had been booked to entertain the throng, but had to make do with us two and a few others. It turned out that he had once played with Deep Purple, though he we couldn’t cajole him into playing ‘Smoke on the Water’! We later got chatting to an Aussie, who turned out to be a professional house sitter. He and his wife travel the world. He is presently in nearby Welford. So far this year he has been to France Belgium, Greece and Italy. Now there is a thought.

On the 10th I was picked up at 6am and travelled with Sean, David Tomlinson and Rick to Snowdon. Rick had flown over from Texas (where he lives) to attend the funeral of his father. He was staying with Sean and they had decided to climb Snowdon and invited myself and Dave to accompany them. We had just had two days of rain, but the 10th was a gorgeously warm day.

We stopped in Llangollen for breakfast before driving to Pen-y-pass. As expected the parking at the start of our walking route was full and we had to drive on to a carpark in the village which was 3 miles away. There we caught a bus back. Under clear blue skies we set off along the Pyg Track, joining the human conveyor belt winding its way upwards.  We chatted to fellow walkers that we passed, cracking jokes and generally larking about until the steepness and rugged terrain silenced our antics. With many stops along this most difficult of routes up the mountain, we eventually reached the top of the zig-zags to find ourselves in cloud. Carrying on to the summit station and Trig point we took photos before visiting the centre for much-needed water and toilets.

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The return journey was by way of the Miners Track. A longer but much easier route than our way up to the summit. We descended again in sunshine. Rather strangely, on our descent we passed 100’s (yes, 100’s) of Muslims. The men dressed in sensible shorts and T-shirts, but the women in full Burkas, with their eyes peeping out of slits. Weird.

Then, even more stranger we started coming across 100’s (yes, 100’s) of Jews. The men and boys sporting skull caps and ringlets, dressed in black coats, white shirts, black trousers and shiny shoes. The women were dressed in frocks with purple turban like hats. Weird. Both sects seemed to be having fun on their steep hike, but I do wonder if this was planned? Neither group seem to react/respond to the other and suppose that was a good thing? Many of those that we passed on their way up were never going to make it to the summit as their dress was inappropriate for the final stages. We came across large numbers of them sitting in their ethnic groups half way up alongside the path near the lakes. I guess these were the sensible ones.

It took us 6 hours to reach the summit and return.  We stopped for a very pleasant meal at a pub around an hour into our journey, before eventually reaching Harborough at 11.30pm.

A batch of home-brew beer that I had started 3 weeks ago was ready on the following day. It tasted quite pleasant, but nothing exceptional.

On Saturday I painted the balcony decking with some exorbitantly expensive paint before walking with Jim and his dogs to the pub in Harrington to recover.

On Sunday, Sue drove over Tenbury Wells to pick-up Sheila. She is staying with us for a few days and is also attending Sarah’s wedding on Wednesday.  I carried on painting the balcony.

The next blog will be all about Sarah and Lee’s wedding.

 

A Busy June

Posted in Uncategorized on July 15, 2017 by David Palmer

We have had a very dry June. I can only remember the one day when we had some really worthwhile rain to give the garden and allotments a necessary dousing. Rain water always seems to bring a growth spurt to the vegetables. There has been a few very hot days and on those occasions Charlotte brought the boys over (after school) to take advantage of the pool and of course I have used the excuse of hoovering out the debris that inevitably makes its way in under the cover, to cool down after a hard day at the allotments. Both the vegetable and fruit seem to be about a month ahead of normal. The broad beans have been picked and replaced by kale and shallots, cucumbers are in abundance in the greenhouse and we have been picking and eating the raspberries, gooseberries and currants for a month!

A couple of days after returning from Peru, Sue and I travelled up to Braunstone to meet with the in-laws. Sarah and Lee had organised a BBQ to ‘break the ice’ and it proved very successful. I found Diane and Ian quite amiable, both Ian and I share a love of all sports and he was quite knowledgeable on rugby too, so the topic for discussion and finding common ground wasn’t difficult. Sue and I made a couple of new friends.

On the 16th Charlotte came over early and with Sue we drove over to Caergwrle after first picking up Sarah (she had a poorly car) on the way. It was Nan’s birthday and it has become tradition that we have a picnic in the castle grounds and check on her memorial seat. As usual it was a splendid day, sun shine and warmth. We checked on the honeysuckle that was planted when we scattered Nan’s ashes (still surviving), and dug in  a few Lily of the Valley (Nan’s favourite spring plant) around the ruin to bloom next year. Afterwards we visited Aunty Doreen and the Aunty Josie. (her sisters). We stayed at the Wynnstay Arms Hotel in Wrexham for a couple of nights. We had a two lovely meals while we were there, Chinese and Indian (quintessentially English!).

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On the second day we visited Llangollen. On the way we stopped off at the hotel that Sue and I first met at a college ball in the seventies to show the girls. We then drove on up to World’s End, to one of my favourite places of all, the girls were suitably impressed, but we had to forego the walk I had planned as the day turned out to be the hottest so far of the year. We spent the rest of the day in the town, paddling in the river, exploring the train station, eating ice-creams and sitting in the beer garden alongside the river  enjoying refreshments. A lovely day.

On the 22nd I gathered along with a few friends to perform table duties a Ladies Charity lunch at Marston Trussell Hall. It had been excruciatingly hot the previous day and I had not been looking forward to wearing my DJ, but luckily the day turned out to be pleasantly warm with an irregular refreshing breeze to keep the workers cool. A good time was had by all and as usual the food was first class, which we benefitted from after our duties had been completed.

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The following Saturday, Suraj, Jamie and I drive over to a go-carting track near Nottingham to meet up with Lee and three of his friends. It had been arranged as part of his Stag Night which was to continue later on that night in Birmingham. An endurance race had been booked, which entailed 10 minutes practise then a 50 minutes race. Afterwards I could see why it was so named, very draining on the senses and body and disappointingly I only came third, Jamie was first with Suraj second. There is always next time!

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On the 26th I travelled to Somersby to meet up with John. I had plotted what turned out to be a very scenic walk around the Leicestershire countryside before having a splendid lunch at the Stilton Cheese Inn. After a great deal of consideration, we managed to turn around the 1st Test loss by the Lions but it still remains to be seen whether we have found the solution to the present world terrorism.

Sue and I have managed to see quite a few excellent films at the Odeon Silver screen, often calling in to see Roger in Braybrook on the way home. On one occasion we  attended a Wednesday evening Comedy Club in Harborough. It had been arranged to give some comedians a chance to practise their routine before next months Edinburgh Fringe, but if what we saw was a gauge of the quality of humour, I don’t think I will travelling north any time soon. Earlier that day Sue had met Sarah near Syston for a fitting for her wedding dress. It is getting close now!

On the 7th July Mia came to stay. She was dropped off by Sarah and picked up be Lee three days later. They were having a few days at a Spa Hotel in Sheffield to celebrate Ian and Diane’s wedding anniversary, it also coincided with Diane’s birthday. I treated Mia to a very long and hot walk to the Langton beer festival along with Jim Hankers and his two collies. But before that I had enjoyed a thoroughly tense and dramatic draw between the Lions and All Blacks in the 3rd Test while enjoying breakfast at the Angel Hotel.

I went for another walk on the 11th with John, this time to Langham, with the aim of having one of the Wheatsheaf’s famous and substantial burgers. It was a good walk, but annoyingly the pub wasn’t opening at lunchtimes anymore and when we walked across the road to the Noel Arms we were greeted by a notice pinned to the door stating ‘Due to technical difficulties we will be closed to day’. Resorting to plan ‘C’ we drove to Whissendine, we had passed by the pub here a couple of hours previous and knew it was open. However, on arrival it had a notice pinned to the door, ‘Due to kitchen refurbishment there is no food today, open this evening’. B******s! I drove home to a tin of soup.

Yesterday (14th),  as well as the Rothwells we had Sarah and Lee over for a family BBQ. Later on in the evening Lucas and Ellis tried on their page-boy outfits, they looked proper little gentlemen and seemed very proud to be wearing their wedding gear.

Brief News:

Sarah and Lee have bought a second home. They have splashed out and bought themselves a yacht. At present it is moored on Rutland Water and goes by the name of Annie. It sleeps two and probably four at a pinch, so is ideal for the weekends and learning to sail. ‘Dad’ has been volunteered to teach them to be mariners and is looking forward to the adventure.

Jamie has started his own Limited Company. His Binary Destroyer business has been doing very well and he has decided to make everything official. He is now a Director. Tomorrow he is off to Tenerife for a week with one of his mates.

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Sue and I have booked our flights to see Phil and Joan in Italy. We are going in September after Sarah and Lee return from the their honeymoon to the Far East and we return Mia to them.

Lee and Sarah recently camped over at the Melton Mowbray Sausage and Cider Festival, the weather was good as was the company, food and refreshments.

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Charlotte’s gardening business is doing well and she is very busy, with an ongoing problem of trying to fit her clients in. Sue often steps in to look after the boys while she tries to catch up from rainy days.

The Rothwells have new lodgers. Charlotte and the boys have hatched a clutch of eggs to add to their already ravenous flock.

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Ashton moved in with Jamie at the end of June. She has a long drive to work and is looking for something much nearer to Harborough.

We have new fencing. My next door neighbour complained that the fence between us was rotten and wobbly (we get on well). I had to point out that the fence in question, was in fact theirs, oops! They arranged to replace it with 6ft panels which was done pronto by some builders. To foster a good relationship I also changed the 5ft fencing that was mine and borders their garden to 6ft panels. To save money I did it myself and it took exactly a week (among doing other things). I now have 6X5ft perfectly good fence panels that I have no use for. But, I still have a  good relationship with my neighbours, though I no longer can see them.

My cousin Jeff Vaughan passed away this week. He has been very ill with cancer for the last few years and things recently turned for the worse. I shall be going to the funeral.

Ellis lost his first tooth this week. A significant milestone!

BREAKING NEWS

Sarah is on her Hen Night tonight! Yeeeeeee Ha!

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On the Way Home?

Posted in Uncategorized on June 9, 2017 by David Palmer

After stocking up with a full breakfast we finishing packing our bags and then decided to have a wander outside the hotel before check-out at 10am. It was probably a mistake as Cusco is full of markets selling all kinds of goods, principally to the tourists. All very bright and appealing to those who have local currency in pocket and little time left to make use of it. So it was without intention that further items were bought, and on return to the hotel, suitcases had to be opened and repacked!

At 10am exactly we checked out of our room and left our suitcases in the lobby under the watchful eyes of the porters. We headed off to spend the next couple of hours in the Plaza of the night before. On the way we passed the Avianca Cusco office, so we popped in and got them to check us onto our flight, chose our seats and printed out our boarding cards for all three flights. It took less than 10 minutes and would save us a few minutes at  the airport.

Carrying on towards the Plaza we stopped and photographed a worker’s demonstration with patriotic flags waving, flanked on both sides by heavily armed police in riot gear. The Peruvians love a good demonstration and they can occasionally get out of hand. Apparently it is a national pastime.

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Moving on we reached our destination to the sound of drums and loudspeakers, but to our surprise it was a completely different affair. The whole square was full of military, fully armed and in best uniform. Whole sections of the military were represented, including the various forces of the police. All lined up and listening to speeches from the main rostrum situated in front of the Cathedral. We took our time doing a complete circle of  the square (thus proving you can circle a square!) photographing the goings on without understanding anything of what we were looking at. It could have been a special day, a regular thing or just a show of strength, we had no idea. However, by the time we had got to the centre of the proceedings, which was where all the speeches were coming from and the dignitaries were sat under a small canopy, Sue and I worked our way to just a couple of metres behind the obviously most important person of today’s affair. Recognising the start of the Catholic Mass (the sins of doing supply in a Catholic school) as then, I now switched off and my mind began to wander. Where was the security? True, there was plenty of bodies carrying guns of all shapes and sizes but no one challenged or searched us as we entered the Plaza AND we were both carrying very full rucksacks. Perhaps, the terrorists have changed the way we now think? How tragic and sad.

It was as we left the proceedings down a side street, we learned that the person we had got so close to, was the president of Peru himself.

We returned to the hotel and had a cup of coca tea each. Some advice for anybody wishing to visit Peru; if offered the tea or the dry leaves to chew, do so. Altitude is not to be ignored, everything becomes difficult for us softies from sea-level, coca goes some way to alleviating its effect.

Our transfer to the airport arrived half an hour early (as has every transfer on this tour), luckily we were all ready and prepared to leave.

Our flight to Lima, left half an hour late as the aircraft had to change a tyre, with the knock-on effect that our connection time to Bogata had been reduced to just an hour. Not a problem, we caught our flight and it left on time. The same was true for our connection to Heathrow, though we had 2 hours 50 minutes to wait before we flew.

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Avianca feed you quite regularly on their flights, and by now we were getting quite stuffed and were only participating in this routine gorging session to pass the time.

In the light of recent events, security at Heathrow had increased significantly, armed police were there in numbers checking passports as we left the aircraft. Unusually for Heathrow, our suitcases beat us to the baggage reclaim belt so it wasn’t long before we were stood at the bus stop to find we had just missed one and had 40 minutes to wait for the next. It was an omen of things to come!

We had parked at the EasyHotel twenty minutes from the airport and unlike other car parks, on leaving your car, you take your keys with you. The last time I saw my car keys was at Cusco airport and they were in a zipped side pocket of my rucksack. Now to my horror, the zip was open and the keys gone. The rucksack had been placed in the overhead locker of each aircraft we had flown on and I guess as it was pushed in or taken out or moved continuously by other passengers accessing their bags inflight, the zip had been dragged open and the keys fallen out. What to do?

First I rang my car rescue service, they were extremely sorry but they couldn’t help as the car was not broken or the keys weren’t inside the vehicle. Next I rang Jamie to see if he could get the spare key from home and bring it, and like the treasure he is, that is what happened. However, due to an accident on the M1 (typical!!!) this took quite a long time . Enough time for Sue and I to have a meal at a local pub before Jamie swept into the car park with a smile on his face and my spare key. So, instead of arriving home at an expected time of 8pm, we eventually got home after 11pm and therefore too late to vote in the General Election.

Not a satisfying way to finish a wonderful holiday, but looking on the bright side, the cost of replacement keys is covered up to 1000 pounds on my card protection policy. On the dark side, we now have a hung Parliament which will no doubt inflict quite a few years of intensive politicking as self-interest and senseless point scoring will dominate our news and lives. I feel quite a few foreign excursions coming on to escape.

A Day in Cusco

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7, 2017 by David Palmer

Our hotel is situated on the Avenido El Sol, which is a long wide busy road crammed with local and touristy shops all the way to the centre of the city, finishing at the historic Plaza de Armas. We had no plans for today so after breakfast we perused the city map and chose to visit yet another Inca site to the north. The Satnav on my phone plotted the route and indicated around 40 minutes walking time. It didn’t show the elevation along our route, the decrease in oxygen levels and the number of steps we were going to climb!

Yes, my mobile guided us accurately through the narrow winding streets and insanely vertical steps to our destination. We took many rests to pant and suck in vital life-sustaining oxygen. I can understand how John Peel had a heart attack here and died!!! The elevation is 3800m.

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It was 140 sols for the both of us to enter the site and after paying the fee at the entrance gate, very disappointingly we discovered that the ruins were still higher! Again, after many breathless rests we came across the first of the ancient structures. We are experts now, and can tell the importance and purpose of an Inca building by its construction and this one was built for a king.

First we took the opportunity to take photos from a view-point of the city. We sat and panted for quite a while, admiring the sprawling city below. We watched several aircraft land and take-off from the airport we would be taking advantage of tomorrow and used the binoculars to observe dancers in the Plaza De Armas way below. Moving on we meandered around the fairly well-preserved archaeological remains, the Spanish had sacked the site and used much of the stone work for their own building in the city. What remains were those stones too big to move.

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At the highest point we came across a couple from our tour party and dallied awhile chatting about the tour. We met them again at another point in the site where there was a poor copy of ‘Christ the Redeemer’. Afterwards we walked with them to the Plaza before going our separate ways.

What a lovely place this central Plaza is. As expected, thronged with tourists but also many parties of children practising their dances for a winter solstice celebration (21st June) to be held at the site we had just visited. I hoped they know that there isn’t much oxygen up there. We were hungry, so after finding a tiny restaurant just off the square we ordered food and drinks and checked out the internet while we waited.

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Fully satiated we visited the Inca Museum. Deceptively big, we wandered its many rooms looking at the wonderful artifacts on display. The Incas were and still are a clever race, ingenious and artistic. It is shame that the Spanish discovered them.

From the museum we sat awhile and watched the dancers practising their moves to the beat of a drum or the sound of a flute. Absolutely charming to witness. Next visit was to the Cathedral (Templo De La Compania De Jesus) constructed in 1571 and occupying one side of the Plaza. As expected, dripping with gold and famous for having the largest altar in Peru (21m x 12m). Exhausted, after climbing many steps we took photos from an upstairs window of the plaza below, before descending into the bowels of the building where we visited the crypt. The building contains one of the most important Peruvian paintings which depicts the marriage of Sir Martin of Loyola and the last Incan Princess, Lady Beatriz Nusta. A bit of early Spanish propaganda , if you ask me!

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Following a rather circuitous route we returned to the hotel for coffee and a much needed rest.

We ventured out again at around 7pm to visit the Plaza once again. Even more groups were practising their dances at regular spaces all the way around the square. We sat and watched for ages, fascinated by their movements. Each group was obviously telling a story with their dancing and some of the choreography was better in some than others. We guessed there would be a competition to decide who was the best on the day, so focussed were the individual dancers, intent on getting it right. Groups of teenagers practising their dance moves in public view and obviously enjoying every second, we couldn’t see this happening in the UK. Such a shame.

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As the night wore on it got decidedly chilly, so we returned to the hotel, stopping to chat and have drinks with a few of our party before retiring to bed.

Sacred Valley

Posted in Uncategorized on June 6, 2017 by David Palmer

The Incas haven’t disappeared, they are still living as in Peru’s Sacred Valley, principally in the town of Ollantaytambo and that was to be the focus of today’s tour.

After breakfast our party gathered together in the foyer and left for the start of today’s adventure at 8.00am.

First port of call was difficult one. Chinchero is a small picturesque village containing significant Inca ruins dating from the 15th century as well as an unchanged Catholic church. The problem was that it was at an elevation of 3800m and the lack of oxygen again kicked in making moving around the village a rather breathless affair for all but the locals. However, it was worth it. Great views of the snow topped Andes as a back drop to some superbly preserved Inca terracing. The church was interesting, specifically as it was in the same condition as first built, all the tapestries, paintings and icons were untouched originals. There aren’t any photos as it was not allowed. It was a very dark church, which has contributed to its preservation, but it does have to my mind, a very dark past. It was built on the site of an Inca religious temple, all being destroyed except one small section of wall which can be seen in a side chapel.

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After running the gauntlet of eager local retailers through the village, we returned fatigued to the coach. Sue and I sampled along with some others of our party, a very tasty village cheese with sauce on a maize leaf, for the paltry sum of 1 sol.

Next stop was still at height to the tiny village of Urpi. Here we watched some traditional Andean spinning and weaving techniques. Of course we were given the opportunity to purchase some of the wares.

Carrying on, we stopped briefly at Racchi Point on the mountain pass above the Sacred Valley to take photos and admire the views, before descending into the valley down a twisting road passing numerous shelters and buildings clinging to the mountainside. One could imagine that  one good storm, or even a minor shake would send these pathetically constructed little hovels sliding down to the valley floor.

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We arrived at Ollantaytambo via a short detour due to a local ceremony taking place. The site is one of the most representative building complexes of the Inca Empire. It is where the Spanish Conquistadors suffered one of their rare defeats.  It is noted for its terraced fields, unfinished religious buildings and as an effective fortress. It is a marvelous place, not as large as Machu Picchu but none the less spectacular. Superb examples of the Inca ingenuity in building can be clearly seen in the unfinished temple complex.  Many of the stones had been quarried on a mountain across the valley. You could see from the complex itself, the route the stones had taken down the mountain, where they had crossed the river, the road constructed across the valley and the ramp up to the complex. Amazing.

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We wandered around the site, before dropping down into the ‘only living Inca town’; it is the best surviving example of Inca urban planning.  We were fortunate that the local celebration entered the square as we were there. Very colourful, masked dancers cavorted among us. They were all men or male children. We saw the women, also dressed in ceremonial dress, at another location as we drove out of the town. We would have loved to stay awhile and watch, but the timetable ruled.

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Driving through the valley we stopped at a restaurant for an excellent Peruvian buffet meal. Afterwards, I found two tethered llama and fed them what seemed a meadow full of grass. Llamas do have a huge appetite for the stuff. One of them had large bulging eyes similar to that of Arsenal’s  Mesut Ozil, I couldn’t help but think it may have been him on holiday. Soccer players are known for their love of grass.

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We  returned to Cusco just before the sun dipped below the surrounding mountains. It was a very tiring day.

Machu Picchu

Posted in Uncategorized on June 5, 2017 by David Palmer

Today we had yet another early start, but we knew this was going to be well worth it. One of the new seven wonders of the world was going to be visited.

We were in breakfast before 5am and our coach to the train station left on time at 5.40am. However, a couple of miles into our journey we discovered that the youngest member of our party had left her passport in her case which had been placed in storage at the hotel. The passport was needed for the train and Machu Picchu. Much to her embarrassment we retraced our route, collected the rogue document and again set off to the station, with fingers crossed.

Boarding the train went without a hitch and we all found our seats and settled down for the three and a half hour journey. Drinks and snacks were served at intervals throughout. For the first half hour, little could be seen of the surrounding countryside due to thick mist, but eventually the sun burned through and revealed that we were following the course of a river through towering canyons and steep-sided valleys. We were cheating by taking the most comfortable method of following the Inca Trail, which I believe takes around four days to complete. We occasionally saw hardy trekkers plodding on narrow tracks, often at a giddy height way above our snaking train. It was another lovely day and the temperature was rising into the 30’s. I did not envy them their task today.

We were making our way to Aguas Calientas, the location for the final jump to Machu Picchu by bus. Our little train was full to bursting, all agog at the sights passing our windows. We stopped briefly to observe and take photos of one of the more stranger sights you could possibly hope to see. A settlement, seemingly strapped to the side of a vertical mountain, with the only method of reaching them I guess is by rope?

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For the last two hours of our expedition we somehow, found our way through gap after gap between monstrous, towering lumps of rock often fringed with little more than grass clinging on with strong roots, no chance of trees getting a foothold here. Confusing side valleys and canyons sprang randomly along our route and these we could see also divided into what must be the largest maze on Earth. How did the Incas find their way, let alone the Spanish and later the American explorer who discovered this iconic site?  Amazing!!!!

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We pulled into our destination, a bustling little town of around 5000 local inhabitants. There is no road into this place, just the train line and everything has to come along it, including the tourist buses that we were later to take us up to the archaeological site. We were met by our guide at the exit of the station and he led us to our hotel El Mapi. We were not here to check in, just to drop off our overnight bags (if we wished too). We then followed crocodile fashion through the maze of narrow streets thronged with other eager Inca fans to our waiting bus just off the tiny central square.

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The bus takes around 30 minutes to wind its precarious way up through thick rainforest track to Machu Picchu. Upon disembarking we had a necessary loo stop. The heat was fearsome, so I took the opportunity to change into shorts and T-shirt.

Following our guide we entered the complex. Words for once will not suffice, you have to experience Machu Picchu, I shall leave my description to the photographs that will appear in the blog when I return home. We were privileged to have wandered the same paths and buildings that the ancient Incas with their marvellous ingenuity and skills created.

Returning to Aguas Calientes we had a buffet lunch before checking into the hotel. The heat of the day had got to Sue, so I left her sleeping in our room while I explored part of this small town. I returned in time for our evening meal. Joining the rest of our party in the restaurant we had a fine meal before returning to the room and discovering the atrocity that our radical Muslim friends were creating in London. Small minds, small people, no loss to the world. Their legacy won’t last the 500 years, filling the future inhabitants of the planet with awe as do the Inca.

The following morning we breakfasted at 8.00am (we were spoiled!). The day was ours, or at least until 3.20pm when we had to catch the train back to Cusco. We spent the morning visiting a museum of photos, cleverly paired photos of Machu Picchui had been paced around the walls, one photo taken in 1912 (when first discovered) next to one taken in 2014. Fascinating, we studied and discussed each and everyone, lost in fresh memories of the place.

Next, we scoured the various markets and shops for presents, often coming across other members of our party doing likewise and stopping to chat and idle away a few moments in the sun in this glorious place.

Shopping completed we returned to the hotel and checked out before spending some time in the bar for thirst quenching refreshments. We went shopping again, not for items to take home, but to hunt down guinea pig. Locating our prey we sat down ready to do battle in a nearby restaurant. Sue opted for a rear guard action and settled for corn soup, I was left alone to tackle this Peruvian delicacy. Its appearance on the plate is not for the faint hearted, the upturned snout and protruding teeth are a big indication that it was not enjoying the encounter. However, spread-eagled on my plate with two large balls of saffron potato and a mixture of onion and peppers as backup, it did exude a certain amount of Inca authenticity and I was up for that.

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It tastes like chicken, though to eat it, a knife and fork are useless, you have to pull it apart and that was no mean task. These Peruvian guinea pigs are built to last. Thankfully the mocking head had been sliced off, and I placed this strategically at the far end of my plate facing Sue while I dismembered and savoured my lunch. I enjoyed it, but it is going to be a once only. We kept some of the body parts and placed them in a plastic bag to feed some lucky dog later in the day.

After scurrying to the station we did indeed catch our train that afternoon. The return journey was much the same as before but it ended in darkness at 7.05pm. The coach was waiting and transported us back to the Jose Antonio hotel in Cusco. After check-in and unpacking (we are here for a few days and can afford the luxury of putting clothes in drawers) I took a short walk and a lucky golden Labrador received the remains of my lunch. I wonder if he knew what he was eating?

The Road to Cusco

Posted in Uncategorized on June 3, 2017 by David Palmer

The alarm was set for 4.45am, but like the rest of our party we were awake for 3am. Sleeping at altitude is not easy, breathing is laboured and the air is so much drier that you are in need of regular drinks. We have partially acclimatised, the headaches and the random nauseous feelings have gone, but sleep remains a problem.WP_20170601_16_29_31_Pro

We were second into breakfast at 5.05am and were soon joined by others from our party. Returning to our room we finished getting ready, took the suitcases down to reception and waited with the others for our transport to arrive. At 5.30am precisely we boarded our coach and headed for the bus station in Puno where we were to catch another bus that would take us to Cusco. It was a modern coach with toilets, WiFi, and a hot drinks facility, necessary as we were not due to reach our destination until 5.30pm that afternoon.

We said goodbye to Puno and Titicaca from the road high above the town along with a few other tourists that had joined this daily bus to Cusco. We were going to break our journey five times to visit a variety of locations, one being a restaurant for lunch.

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The scenery that passed by was straight out of a David Attenborough natural history programme. How the Peruvians manage to survive and prosper in such a difficult environment is beyond me. Whether they notice the beauty and grandeur of their country as they go about their mainly agricultural tasks is open to debate by we none Spanish-speaking foreigners. I would love to ask them the question. Our journey seemed to run through the full gamut of mountainous terrain under blue skies and warm sunshine. At the very height of our route along the Cuscos South Valley our guide informed us that only 10 years ago at this time of year it would have been impassable due to snow. The snow was now limited to the very tops of the mountains on either side. Global warming was the wistful reason given. Ironically, it was today that Donald Trump pulled America away from such initiatives to curb its effect on the planet. Well done Donald, like your Disney namesake you really are quackers!

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Despite this being winter, Peruvian families could be seen working together in the fields, gathering in the corn, tending to their flocks of sheep or Alpacas. They do work hard. If a bit of land is flat, it doesn’t matter how precarious its location is, they will put it into production of some sort. Just reaching some of their fields at this altitude is truly mind-boggling. I can see why they are not a tall race, a low centre of gravity is certainly going to be an advantage on the thin near vertical ribbons of tracks they use.

Our first stop was at an archeological site to see an Inca step pyramid. We spent around 40 minutes there being given an explanation of the Inca civilisation before climbing to the top of a tall building to photograph the site from a distance. Not very satisfactory, I  found the goings on in the village more interesting. They were having a festival and it entailed all the children (boys and girls) having their hair done by an army of hairdressers all in a line at the same time. Very novel.

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We stopped at the highest point at La Raya for just 8 minutes to take photos. At 4500m, the air is so thin that within minutes of stopping headaches and nausea kicked in, hence such a brief visit. We managed photos and some even bought items made from Alpaca from the stalls positioned there for such a purpose.

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An acceptable buffet lunch was taken at a roadside restaurant next to a picturesque waterfall. The guide predicted we would sleep the next hour or so before we visited the next location, but he was wrong, the scenery was far too interesting for sleep. But then he was a Peruvian, and I guess they don’t appreciate where they live after all.

Racchi archeological site was fascinating. It is known as the ‘Temple of God Wiracocha’ (you hear a lot about him) and was where the Inca royalty lived. It was destroyed by the Spanish but what remains is very impressive, particularly when we learn that it was covered in gold. Well worth a visit, Sue and I could easily have spent a day there.

Our last stop was in a small town called Andahuaylillas. Yes, it is a mouthful! We visited the Catholic church there. It is magnificent, dripping with gold artifacts and icons. The artwork and murals are superb. The Spanish around 1500 when the church was built used it as a vehicle to convert the locals. The story it tells is that if you become a Catholic you go to Heaven and if you remain an Aztec you go to hell. We think it is probably the most elaborate and outrageously decadent church we have ever seen. Glad we visited, but hate the message behind it.

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We did indeed arrive in Cusco at 5.30pm. We changed buses again, this time to take us to our hotel, the Jose Antonio. Hard to forget now.

After checking in Sue and I had coffee in the room and then packed in readiness for yet another early start. Tomorrow we go to Machu Picchu and get up at 4.30am.