Paul's a ragged hippie backpacker, from that place in Oz where you go if there's a wedding or a barmitzvah (aka "Melbourne"), and who (like myself) is doing the South America thing solo. I first met Paul while hiking in the Colca Canyon, in southern Peru, about 2 months ago. Today, I bumped into him again, while snowboarding up at Cerro Catedral. Funny guy, and always up for a beer or two.
Yesterday morning, my friend Patrick left Baños for the town of Tena, which is about 5 hours east. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I walked into a bar in Baños this evening, to find him sitting down and waving at me! "Patrick?" I said, puzzled. "What the hell are you doing here? I thought you went to Tena!" Well, he said that he came back: they're only offering easy rafting trips in Tena (due to the weather, same as here in Baños), and the road from Tena to Quito is currently flooded — meaning that there was nowhere else for him to come, except back here to Baños. Anyway, I think that when I saw him, I looked like I'd just seen a ghost. Big shock!
Since I got back to Lima yesterday, I've been on a ridiculously hectic roller-coaster ride of bumping into old friends from previous stops on my trip. In particular, it seems that right now, it's Cusco in Lima. Everyone's just hanging around the big city this weekend — and because the gringo haunt of Miraflores is only so big, everyone's bumping into everyone. It really is a very, very small world, when you're a backpacker in South America.
Maria (known as "Meli") is a lady who lived in Sydney for quite a number of years, and who worked (as a nurse) taking care of my mother's partner's father a few years back. She's now returned to her home of Arica, Chile, where she's living with a crazy Pommy ex-pat called Phillip, and his family, and where she's retired. Today, I dragged Chris along for a Sunday lunch with these people, and we had a great day of eating, chatting, and hanging out.
After our visit to the Inca ruins of Moray this morning, we of the Hampy crew continued on this afternoon, and walked the short distance from Moray to the Salinas (ancient salt mines) near Urubamba and the Valle Sagrado ("Sacred Valley"). I already visited the Salinas about a month ago (with Jesus); but it was definitely worth visiting them a second time. With over 4,500 man-made salt pools on the side of the mountain, it's both an ingenious and a breathtaking site to behold.
I first met Chris over two months ago, during my blissful week of sea and sun in Tulum, Mexico. Since then, we've travelled different paths, but we've kept in touch, and we've kept track of each other's whereabouts every now and then. Chris, 35-year-old backpacker-slash-British-web-developer and cheerful chap, has now made it here to Cusco; and tonight we had a reunion and caught up on old times.
Buenas noticias (lit: "good news"), people: as of lunchtime today, Mario's back! Él Papá returned home at about 2:30pm this afternoon, in time for the all-important middle-of-the-day meal. He's still going to need at least another week of serious R&R at home; but he's looking happy and healthy, just like his old self. We welcomed him home with flowers, kisses, hugs, and plenty of good food (a welcome change from those hospital meals). He should be back at work within a week or so.
It's great to catch up with people after not having seen them for a whole day. To see how they've aged, what they've done with their lives, how many children they've had, etc. :P Tonight, the Salkantay hike's Team Feliz (and some of Team Wilson) met up at the Mama Africa disco club here in Cusco, for something different. A bit of a change. Drinking!
Of all the faces from back home, Mitchell's was about the last I expected to see. I've known Mitchell for literally my entire life: he was born one day before me, in the hospital bed next to mine. And tonight, 21 years later, I bumped into him in the bar at Loki, here in Cusco. Actually, it was he that recognised me. Anyway, he's almost at the end of his trip: he's already been here for a while, and he was in Europe and North America for a while too; and soon he's going back home.
Ayacuchamay is a plaza and lookout area, on a hill that overlooks the whole town and the surrounding mountains. This morning, I met up with my mate Abimael, and the two of us — as well as Cath and Gaz — went up to the lookout. From the top of the hilltop tower, you get an excellent view of everything that is Ayacucho. Nice clear day too, so we could see the mountains, as they stretched on to the horizon.