Thursday, 25 February 2010


Seattle is spectacular in the sunshine, and for 3 of the 4 days I was here it was glorious. Mount Rainier was always a little hazy, but the Olympic mountains were stunning. It was sunny and warm and didn't feel like February at all. Even the cherry trees were confused and began to bloom. The last day it started raining, in case I had forgotten.

  • Pike Place Market (thanks to Erin and Meaghan)
  • Washington State Ferries (thanks to Betsy)
  • Seattle Art Museum, including a lightning tour of some of Betsy's section and a taste of what's to come in Australia
  • REI - couldn't miss it
  • touring the scenes from my past (thanks to Pete), including Virginia Mason Hospital, which doesn't have a maternity ward any more, and
  • several great meals with family. I managed to see almost everyone who still lives in the Seattle area (sorry I missed you, John), and even a few who don't.

Not bad for 4 days. Thanks, Pete and Betsy, for organizing everything, and everyone else for coming!

Picture: outside Pike Place Market - look, blue sky!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Here I am, for the first time ever. This is also the first country so far on this trip that I had never been to before. And the first country in South America (sort of) that I've been to besides Peru. Feels like an achievement.

It's Carnaval, which I didn't expect at all. Apparently almost 1/3 of the workers who came for the canal were from Barbados, and they certainly seem to have left their mark. Jungla Hostel, where I'm staying (Luna's Castle was fully booked and recommended here - thanks, Bronagh!) is just down the road from the main carnaval strip. The parades are not much by New Orleans standards, but the atmosphere is really good. Kids (and a fair number of grownups) have water guns, spray snow, and bags of confetti with which they soak/squirt/sprinkle everyone, which is a lot more fun than it sounds. Ran out of batteries for my camera, though, so no good pictures.

Yesterday I went to the Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side of the canal. It was really something. The locks are fenced off, but there's a visitors' center nearby with a museum and viewing points on the 1st and 4th floors, each with a good view. It's kind of hypnotic, watching the boats go through. I really liked the little museum, too, that describes the history of the construction with models of the machines they used, the ecology of the watershed, and their plans for the expansion.

Friday, 12 February 2010


I took an overnight bus to Cajamarca in the Andes. They are getting ready for Carnaval, so there's a lot of music and activity. Here the food of choice seems to be cheese - there are cheese and dairy product stores everywhere. Lots of handicrafts, too.
The Inca Atahualpa was captured, held and eventually (after paying the ransom) executed by the conquistadors here. I guess he really didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition. I visited the building/room where he was kept, which was kind of depressing. Also took a little bus out to bathe at the thermal springs where he was camped with his army when he heard the Spaniards were here. On the way a lady got on with 2 live turkeys in the cloth on her back. I was pretty impressed! The turkeys didn't seem that fazed.

Picture: a couple of campesinos watching the parade

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Since it was the first place in Peru to declare independence from colonial Spain, Trujillo is now the capital of the province of La Libertad (Freedom). Scattered around town you see buildings with names like High Court of Freedom or Central Bank of Freedom. They have a revolutionary vibe that appeals to me.
Trujillanos also seem to have quite a sweet tooth. Every third shop is a "dulceria" selling cream cakes, flans, meringues and cookies, each more impressive than the next. A lot of them come in bite-sized versions too, so you can try as many as you want. I like it here.
There's culture, too. I went to see Chan Chan and la huaca de la luna, two pre-Inca archaeological sites nearby. Both of them are pretty amazing. I don't think anything I designed will last that long. Perhaps I should be glad.

(Picture: inside Casa de Urquiaga, a colonial mansion that now also serves as a bank)

Monday, 8 February 2010


Chimbote is a fishing port about 6 hours north of Lima by bus. I would never have heard of it, my parish priest in Levens-hulme spent 20 years in Peru, and a large part of that in Chimbote. I thought it would be a bit different from the posh parts of Peru I used to know.
I stayed with Los Amigos, in the parish buildings. I was only there 3 days, not really enough to work on any projects, but they still welcomed me. I got to accompany the social workers, Uri and Ana, and long term volunteers as they did their rounds, and helped translate for some of the visitors. It was really nice to be able to contribute something. They work in 13 barrios around La Victoria, the barrio of the parish, with all kinds of people. They are all very poor, many with only dirt floors and woven reed walls and roofs. Some of them have AIDS, cancer, or physical or mental disabilities. And many of them have beautiful gardens with avocado and banana trees - no small feat in the middle of the desert!
It rained all night Friday and all day on Saturday, something unheard of around here. Maybe it was El NiƱo, or maybe it was me, bringing British weather. The roads - mostly unpaved - turned to mud, and I imagine a lot of the houses did too. On Saturday morning at the parish a young lady in a wheelchair was laughing because her shoes were soaked - she had left them outside the night before.
On Saturday I had lunch with two of the long-term volunteers, Katina and Luke, and their host family. Juana and Hernan, the parents, started out with a place like the mud floor ones we visited, and built their house themselves bit by bit as they got money. Now they have a beautiful two story place, and a lot of sympathy for everyone who doesn't. Juana made ceviche and papas a la huancaina. Delicioso!
Everyone there really impressed me, the staff, volunteers and community. I was really sad to go, and am still not entirely sure I made the right decision. But I'm sticking with the plan, and I have to say Trujillo is really charming. More on that later.

Pictures: 1) In the courtyard of Hernan (2nd from left), Juana (next to him) and their son, daughter, daughter-in-law, and their two newest gringos, 2) the market goes ahead on Saturday, in spite of the rain, and 3) the roof area of the parish buildings (there's a handrailing, though not where I'd have put it) showing woven reeds like many people have for roof/walls, rebar sticking up should they decide to add a floor, and a beautiful bougainvillea.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Got to Lima on Friday. It's hot and sunny, with a nice cool breeze coming from the ocean. The parks and beaches are full of families, cyclists, skateboarders, the water is full of surfers. It's clean, with lots of green space and cycle paths. There is a lot of traffic, honking all the time, and it's very dusty and very dry, but overall I really like it. I knew coming back would be interesting, but I didn't expect it to be so pleasant.
My old school is closed for the summer and my house, though still there, looked pretty empty. I had lunch at my favorite restaurant, the Costa Verde, right on the beach. It has changed, but the white sky and grey, thrashing water were the same as I remember.
Yesterday I took a trip down the coast to Pachacamac, a 1500 year old Inca and pre-Inca archaeological site. It's in the desert and the sky was overcast, and it is close to one of the poorer parts of Lima. Overall it was much more like the Peru I remember. I think I'll see more of that as I head north up the coast today.
Pictures: Central Lima (in the sunshine!). With cows.