You get all sorts of people on the buses, up here in Ecuador (as in Peru and Bolivia). They'll jump on, they'll do anything for a buck, and then they'll jump off a few minutes' ride down the highway. They'll sing in Quechua (please, could you not!). They'll sell you paperback books. They'll hawk the herbal remedy solution that could revitalise your sex life, boost your confidence, and increase your lifespan by 15 years. Usually, they're loud and painful, and you pay them just to shut up and to move on to terrorising the next bus. But today, on the bus back from Otavalo to Quito, the busker on the bus was quite professional. He had a guitar.
César doesn't say much when he's up on the mountain — he's too busy stopping you from falling off the edge — but when he's back in civilisation, he's a real friendly guy. Like all climbing guides, he's incredibly fit, and ready for pretty much any emergency: as guides go, he's up there in the elite. César took Tony and myself up Cotopaxi this week, and we all agree that weather permitting, he would have gotten us to the top as well.
Last night was fairly quiet at the Cloud Forest Hostel. Only about 6 of us for dinner (including Patrick and myself), and not much else to speak of. But tonight, we had a massive crowd (most of which was YABFTG — yet another big French tour group), and an impressive traditional dance show, from a group of local little village girls. I guess that even here in Chugchilán, Friday night's a big one.
Patrick and I arrived in the teeny (yet bizarrely touristy) village of Chugchilán this afternoon, after having been to see Laguna Quilotoa. We found the lovely Cloud Forest Hostel, which we checked into straightaway. I also joined in a game of volleyball, which was being played in the village's central square — by a mixture of local boys, and fellow gringo backpackers (mainly Dutch and French people). Had great fun, although all us tourists were no match for the locals (lucky that both teams had a nice even mix).
Marcelo is the friendly owner of Jack Rock Café, one of the great places to enjoy the nightlife in "bar street" of Baños. Considering that his bar is home to pumping music and wild dancing, he's a very quiet and dignified man. He also loves chess: Patrick gave him a few games last night; and tonight, I decided to challenge the old fella as well. With a few hints from Patrick (who's better than me), I managed to score a victory. If you're up for a game yourself, just head into the bar mid-week, and ask for Marcelo.
While I was waiting to catch a combi back from the ruins of Sipán this evening, I had a nice long chat with one of the locals, who comes there each day to sell his artesanias (lit: "handicrafts", i.e. souvenir shmontses). My friend explained to me how Sipán is a very remote and impoverished area, and how the discovery of the gold-filled Moche tomb in 1987 did little to change this in the long-term. He described how impossible it is for the locals around here to travel, or to have any real hope of getting out and doing something different with their lives, due to their very modest finances. And he also said something that really made me stop and think: "you tourists that come here are our biggest opportunity, and our only hope".
I love croissants. I really do. I believe that they're god's gift to the world of pastry — via the French. And they're not so easy to find, either, down here in Peru. That's why when I saw a pasteleria here in Huaraz a few days ago, that was selling croissants, I eagerly bought some. And they were delicious. Yesterday, I returned to this treasure-trove supplier of wheat-filled goodness, only to discover that they were out of croissants. But I must be more memorable than I realise (what with my hairy beard and all, these days): because all that I did was walk past the croissant shop this evening, and the girls working inside called out: "¡Amigo — hoy dia, tenemos croissantes!" (lit: "Hey mate — today we have croissants!").
Angel (pronounced in the Spanish way: "an-khel") is a cute, 10-year-old boy that I met this afternoon, on day 3 of the Santa Cruz-Llanganuco hike. He was sitting all by himself on the side of the track, minding a small herd of donkeys and horses, while his father went off to catch trout in the river nearby. I chatted with Angel for a little while (he spoke good Spanish — not just Quechua!), and I gave him a pen, which all the kids around here ask you for (they need them for school). Happy little chappy: who knows, he could be a tourguide one day.
In preparation for the all-important 28 de Julio (Peru's Independence Day — commemorating their sovereignty from the Spanish in 1821), Peru is starting to celebrate! This afternoon, all the streets were closed off in Miraflores (the part of Lima that I'm staying in), where they held a parade of titanic proportions. About four solid hours of parading ensued, from the military, the local schools, various government and charity agencies, various industrial and agricultural unions, and even from several Miss Perus. The sidewalks were absolutely sardine-packed with spectators: there must have been at least ½ a million people, come to watch the festivities. They put on a really good show, and they certainly made it clear that they are a people with tremendous national pride.
Roy was our guide on our three-day hike in the Cañon del Colca, and he's one of the funniest and craziest guides I've had so far on my trip. Every time we asked him how much hiking we have left for the day, he'd say something like: "nueve horas mas" ("nine hours more"). Sometimes it was hard to tell whether he was joking, or being serious. But we all loved his humour, and he did a great job of leading us through the canyon, and of then helping us get safely back into Arequipa at the end of the trip.