Tag Archive: Inka Kola


Sunday Travel Tales

The continuing saga of Strawberry Jam, Bread Rolls and Pisco Sours

Chapter 11 – The Train

Puno Railway Satation - image: AV

Puno Railway Station – image: AV

The early morning bustle of the market again, provisions for the next stage of our journey. Edgar came and saw us off after our bread rolls and strawberry jam and helped us fend off the Alpaca-wool-jersey-saleswomen, who were becoming very insistent now that we were about to escape their clutches. As we prepared to cross the road to the station, prices began to plummet and as they bottomed out at a realistic “half-price” some of them actually made some sales.

Once on the train we found that our block booking of seats had been divided neatly and conveniently (for them) by several Peruvian families. Which meant that when we tried to claim our rightful places, we less than endeared ourselves to the locals, who of course couldn’t and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Although we won the day, we became the hot gossip item amongst the deposed locals. A situation which took all of ten minutes to defuse when one of the youngsters became an ambassador, simply through childish curiosity. I had a beard, and looked like Father Christmas, this created such an urgent need to know, that he asked me impishly if I was.

My standard reply (developed over many years of the same question) was, “No, I’m just his older brother.” That was it! Within seconds the whole carriage knew that Father Christmas had a brother and he was right here in the train. So, Ho, Ho, Ho, relations became somewhat more amicable, all before we reached Juliaca Station.

A relic at Juliaca Station - image: AV

A relic at Juliaca Station – image: AV

The train stopped at Juliaca, the carriage filled with people selling everything. Tepid fizzy drinks, newspapers, sweets, and pieces of chicken, hunks of roast pork, corn on the cob and even whole plates of food. It was still not even 10 o´clock, but people were prepared to eat lunch.

After about a half hour the rest of the carriage filled and the sellers departed and the train jerked and we were underway once again. We passed an old steam locomotive as we left the station, weeds growing around the wheels testimony to its fall from grace and days of glory past.

The train passed the flat terrain north of Juliaca, small farmlets divided by their stone walls dotted the landscape. We stopped at several small townships, whistled as we past  through their markets. The people seemingly unaware of the danger at their proximity to the tracks as they continued bartering with the train careening past less than a metre’s distance.

Main form of transport, on foot  - image: AV

Main form of transport, on foot – image: AV

The terrain changed, flat lands became hills and hills became mountains and the note of the diesel engine deepened as it became evident that we were climbing rapidly. We made a stop at Santa Rosa, again the train was assailed by sellers. More meals, fried chicken and roast pork, the tepid Inka Kola, that disgusting Peruvian oddity, were sold. The kids looked at the food as it was whisked past on trays, their parents oblivious to their desires. The tourists came to the rescue, we pooled together and bought a dozen plates of assorted chicken and pork and distributed them to the kids. Faces beamed as they accepted the fare, a few murmured thanks, some too embarrassed by their good fortune to speak.

We watched them gorge themselves happily with sticky fingers and smiling faces. Our little ambassador looked up at me, pork grease smeared from ear to ear. “You really are Father Christmas’ brother, aren’t you?” he asked, placing his luck on the benevolence of the Christmas spirit. I assured him I was. Satisfied with the answer he stuffed another bit of crackling in an already half-full mouth crunching it noisily between his teeth.

People selling everything  - image: AV

People selling everything – image: AV

Soon we were on our way once more, and it was evident that we were in the mountains. There was snow covering the peaks, we were approaching the La Raya pass. It was harder to breathe. It required some effort, for we had reached 4,321m a.s.l. and the train stopped. Everybody seemed to get off, so we did too. We were on a siding, apparently waiting for the train from Cusco to pass, which it eventually did a half hour later. There was obviously great rivalry between the two train loads, much shouting and taunting. It seemed as though the locals knew everybody and everybody knew them.

The mountains at La Raya, alt 4,200m asl - image: AV

The mountains at La Raya, alt 4,321m asl – image: AV

The south bound train passed and it seemed to be the signal for us all to board again, so we did and just as we had found our seats again, the trained jerked in its customary fashion and be shunted off the siding back onto the main track, stopped, jerked and changed direction. Once more we were off to Cusco.

Natural hot pools descending from La Raya  - image: AV

Natural hot pools descending from La Raya – image: AV

Going downhill the trip seemed almost jaunty, the train rocked merrily from side to side as though it seemed happy the uphill part was over.

We found some hot pools off to the right, natural springs, there were people over there having a closer look that was denied to us through our apparent urgency.

We also saw swampy areas, where the water literally trickled off the mountain sides, forming little rivulets, these became little streams, then bigger and bigger until we were travelling alongside a substantial river. This river was the Vilcanota. The Vilcanota flowed past Pisac, near Cusco, and became the Urubamba that flowed through the Sacred Valley of the Inca and onward past Machu Picchu until it became the Ucayli and flowed past Pilcopata and Manu Nature Reserve, then northward past Pullcapa and Iquitos until it became the Amazon and flowed all the way across Brazil to Belém on the Atlantic coast..

These little trickles, that we had witnessed coming down the mountain sides, would one day become the mightiest of the world’s rivers.

The scenery changed, forested areas, many of the imported eucalyptus trees which abounded throughout the Altiplano crowded the railway, framing small farms and villages and stood lone sentinels on hill sides. Still the river kept us company, sometimes on the right and then on the left as we zig-zagged across echoing rail bridges the singing iron tracks reverberating beneath us. Still we wove our way through small towns, a sign that we were nearing civilisation and we started the descent into Cusco. The city was lit brightly, houses sparkled on the hill sides in the dark, for it was now night as we chugged into the station, and our journey was over.

"Will Father Christmas forget me this year?" - image: AV

“Will Father Christmas forget me this year?” – image: AV

As we pulled our baggage from the overhead racks and pulled bags that had been squashed from under seats, we said our farewells to our small companions. We had fed them, played cards with them, laughed with them and sang with them, and now our small ambassador was in tears. “Would Father Christmas forget him this year?” No, he wouldn’t I assured him, he wouldn’t. It was an emotional moment, enough to bring tears to an overweight fool. I don’t think I have ever been hugged so hard in my life. I set him on his feet so he could join his mother, he took her hand and looked back giving me the loveliest little wave goodbye.

We were met at the station by a van and taken to our hotel. It was 9 o´clock a night and after a tiring 12-hour journey, all we wanted was bed.

 

NB: Sorry, some pics B&W couldn’t find the original colour ones.

Sunday Travel Tales

Chapter 9 – Sillustani & Puno

 

The flight from Arequipa was short and we were soon landing in Juliaca. Leaving the airport was uncomplicated. We were met at the arrivals gate by a representative of the receiving travel agency, welcomed to Juliaca, and  soon on the main road towards Puno.

 

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Looking down on some of the older tombs – image: AV

The driver explained that he would first take me to Sillustani where I would meet the rest of my group for the trip to famous Lake Titicaca. Sillustani is one of the most famous sites of the Inca, it is a peninsula where the Inca buried their important, probably royal, dead.

 

As we neared the place, I could see the massive tombs rising from the ground. As we got nearer, the immensity of the stone crypts became apparent. Great markers of peoples past. We arrived at the site at the same a time as a small bus, these were to be my companions for the next stage of the trip. It was here I met Edgar, a slight man with an affable manner. He spoke quietly and gave us the history of the site before we started our climb up to the “chullpas” as they were called. Here at the top we found two distinctive types, one shorter and more primitive from a period earlier than the giants that could be seen from a way off. The actual burial place was small compared with the giant edifices, a small cavity facing the rising sun where the deceased was placed in a feotal position. The Inca believed you came into this world in a feotal position, so you should leave it. The rest of the monument was solid, simply a marker of the person’s passing.

 

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The large “Largata” tomb – image: AV

We were herded like sheep to one of the “chullpas”, here it was explained that some years earlier lightning had struck, and demolished half of the structure. We could see here, the construction. This was known as the “Largata” because of the lizard symbol on the side. No one knows why, or who was buried here, only those who passed, and they’re not telling. Photos were taken and we were lead to other aspects of the ceremonial site, temple of the sun and the smaller ring of stones, temple of the moon. Then even more primitive “chullpas”, white, an even earlier epoch of the Inca. Three ages of the empire were represented here, an indication of the importance these once great people placed on the area.

 

An interesting facet was pointed out, some of the stones involved were enormous. How did the Inca, who had no knowledge of the wheel, managed to transport, carve and manipulate the massive rocks into position? A question that until today remains unanswered.

 

After wandering the site and taking many photos, it was time to go. We retraced our steps back to the small bus. My van had gone, but I was relieved to see they had the goodness to put my baggage on the bus. Yes, on the bus, for it was roped, I observed thankfully, securely on top.

 

We didn’t immediately board the bus, but surrounded by the local kids selling everything from hats to Inka Kola and souvenirs we went to a small restaurant come museum. Here we drank coca tea, and wandered among the informal exhibits scattered about on trestle tables. Morbidly grinning skulls, bones, rocks that had obviously become and been tools in a past age, pottery and remnants of ancient fabrics that had withstood the test of time.

 

The bus at Sillustani - image: AV

The bus at Sillustani – image: AV

Coca tea finished, we faced the throng of kids again, some of us bargained for the offered goods and after winning small concessions from the expert negotiators we boarded the bus and were soon bouncing along the dirt track back to the potholed tar-seal. Eventually we came to the main road and turned right to Puno.

 

Our first sight of Puno was reaching the top of a hill and the road veered to the right and began its descent giving us a panoramic view of Puno, the bay, and the fabled Lake Titicaca as a backdrop. It was quite spectacular and several of took advantage when the van driver stopped. We piled out and took some photos.

 

Puno is an unremarkable city, plain, nothing to consume the interest of the visitor. Its popularity lay directly with it being the gateway to the famous lake. In fact Puno is a major hub for tourism in Peru; whether you came from Bolivia travelling to Cusco, you passed through Puno, or, if you came from Arequipa by plane, bus, or train, you passed through Puno, or, if you were doing the reverse, you passed through Puno. And, of course, while you were in Puno, there was the famous Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and it’s equally famous islands, the Uros floating islands and Taquile. Taquile is not the only attraction, fast gaining popularity is another of the Titicaca communities, the island of Amantani. Also, surrounding Puno, there were things to see and do like Sillustani, where we had just come from, and Chucuito, which was on our itinerary.

 

The railway station in front of our hotel - image: AV

The railway station in front of our hotel – image: AV

We arrived at an unremarkable hotel, totally non-descript, called the Railway Hotel, and as one would have guessed, it was in front of the railway station, which was slightly more picturesque.

 

Collectively we looked warily at our lodgings, and once we were settled in our quarters, decided that the hotel restaurant didn’t endear us to the festive mood that was around, for we had arrived during carnival. In the failing light we wandered as a troop to the tourist street. Jirón Lima had been turned into a pedestrian-only street and was home to the many travel agencies, banks and restaurants that catered to the needs and tours of the visitors. We found Edgar’s agency and were directed to a suitable restaurant, A London Pub, right here in Peru.

 

The Lake Pub, Puno - image: AV

The Lake Pub, Puno – image: AV

Once inside “The Lakeside Pub,” we were welcomed with, yes, if you guessed a complementary Pisco Sour? You’d be right. We drank them and ordered beers, not British, but certainly acceptable and well chilled. Even though the air outside was already chilling. Puno is 3,800m a.s.l. so at night, with no intense sunlight, the air chilled considerably. We were surprised we could get fish ‘n’ chips and enormous American style open hamburgers, even cottage pie was on the menu. Some of us opted for recognisable dishes, others experimented with lake trout and more ceviche.

 

Dancing in the streets - image: AV

Dancing in the streets – image: AV

After our meal, we discovered that the festive climate was heating up outside, so we went to explore. The streets, including Jirón Lima were crowded, gaily costumed dancers wriggled their bottoms in a quaint Peruvian fashion and we stopped to watch them. I don’t know the name of the dance, nor did I recognise it, although there were overtones of the “twist” from the early Beatles years, although there was more swivel than the “twist.”

 

We wended our way amongst the revellers and found our way back through the market to the austerity of our hotel. We were pretty shagged, but we did stop in the hotel restaurant for a whisky nightcap and an early bed.

 

The market near our hotel - image: AV

The market near our hotel – image: AV

In the morning we were awakened by our wake up calls. We had been given a list of things that we would need for our trip to the islands. So it was off to the market to search for such things as torches and batteries, because Taquile Island had no power; sunscreen was a must as well to combat the intense sunlight to which we would be exposed during our five hour boat ride on Lake Titcaca; and also some basic necessities such as the humble toilet roll, which wasn’t supplied in our next accommodations. Despite the early hour, the market was alive with throngs of people already going about their daily business. We joined the throngs and searched for our treasures. We found stall selling hot sweet fruit juice mixed with porridge, but not like the porridge that we know. Apple and porridge, heavily tinged with cinnamon in the crisp morning air, made a change from bread rolls and strawberry jam.

 

Back to the hotel, packed our bags for the trip. We were leaving most of our baggage at the hotel, only taking the travelling necessities for two nights and assembled in the “lobby” which was actually the wide corridor between reception and the restaurant, to await our transport.

Sunday Travel Tales

Yes, I know it’s Monday. I had a bad connection weekend and it dampened my enthusiasm somewhat. But here I am…

I had a break in December, but back with Travel Tales with renewed vigour.

Peru again, this time another extract from my grammar book. We are taking the bus from Lima to Pisco, doesn’t sound very exciting, but read on.

Chapter 2 – The Bus

The bus was due to leave at 10:30am, in ten minutes, which, in due course, left me wondering why I was still waiting an hour later. I had discovered another aspect of Peruvian life, that phenomenon known simply as “hora del Peru,” that element of flexibility that goes someway into explaining the Peruvians inability to even remotely adhere to traditional time scales.

 

ormeñoartvusFinally, ushered through the door (I had deposited my bags earlier) I was confronted by a behemoth whose mid-section resembled a piano accordian. This monster swallowed us all and backed away from the terminal. Underway at last. Out on to the busy Lima street and, to my surprise, immediately turned back into the next gateway darkening any hope of an imminent departure.

 

Expertly the beast wove its way through the nether regions of the bus depot, various makes and models of bus at diverse stages of being disembowelled or reassamebled, either way, it was hard to tell the difference.

 

Then, miraculously, we were back on the street, but stationary. The nose of the bus protruding over the footpath and a couple of non-descript characters descended and began yelling, “Chincha, Pisco!” repeatedly. Locals appeared from nowhere and clambered aboard. Some even appeared to be just strolling along the street, and, succumbing to the frantic urgings of the yellers, climbed aboard on a mere whim to either Chicha or Pisco. Strange…

 

The driver climbed aboard, and once in his rightful place our flexible chariot jolted forward unsteadily to negotiate the Lima traffic until we were safely on the Panamerica Sur.

 

Once on this multi-lane highway and free of the city congestion we settled down to what appeared to be a comfortable speed. A glance over the driver’s shoulder revealed the speedo needle flickering precariously between 120 and 130kms/hour.

 

4261-21861I glanced at both sides of the highway taking in the view as we careened sweetly along. “Pueblos Jovenes,” the young towns, a euphemism for the slums that were perched and scattered on the high sand dunes on the left. On the right, the same sight with less sand dunes. Poverty made its sad impact as I wondered how people forced to live in such squallid conditions coped. Trying hard to equate my comfortable first world upbringing with the tortuous daily struggle faced by these artless squatters with none of the familar amenities.

 

Now that I was at ease with our driver’s ability to control our speeding behemoth, especially after the tactics he used to dodge, swerve and keep us safely from harm as a truckload of foam mattresses exploded all over the higway as a restraining rope gave way.

 

The scenery changed, the backdrop still essentially the same dull sky and never-ending dunes, we passed frequent beach resorts and the occasional abandoned agricultural project, desserted chicken farms, fields of drying or dying vegetaion, neglected for a myriad of reasons.

 

Horrible grey sand dunes slipped past under the still horrible grey shroud, all permanetly depressing.

 

cottonflowersFinally, relief, vegetation, sun. Paddocks of green, fields of cotton punctuated with yellow blooms, acres of asparagus fern, corn fields, casava crops and citrus groves were among the many identifiable crops. The muddy irrigation ditches outlining and dividing the parched soils.

 

Great canals lined the road, naked children leapt from the banks with delight into the dirty cool waters, their gleeful screams lost as we hurtled past. Mothers labouriously washed clothes in the same water and piled them high, the nearby bushes bloomed with the strange fruit of sun-drying clothes. Daughters dandled nappied babies on their laps on the grass beside their toiling mums. These scenes continued as we sped on toward Pisco.

 

Soon we were rewarded by our arrival at the mysterious Chincha. A largish town, roads choked with traffic mainly in the form of motor-rickshaw type taxis, that buzzed everywhere like bees. Circling the square with its stalls selling the local produce, wines, spirits and port, and of course that famous local product; Pisco.

 

inka kolaStationary in front of the depot, the doors opened and the bus was flooded with boys and girls, men and women. Everybody was selling something. Newspapers, chocolate and tepid fizzy drinks, including that diabolical Peruvian invention “Inka Kola,” a bright yellow concoction that looked like horse pee and tasted like bottled bubblegum, even now I shudder at the thought.

 

With a change of passengers, the chaotic exit of the sellers, the bus was ready to go only being prevented from moving by a relic of the US auto-industry’s heyday. A battered, almost beyond recognition, early ‘60’s Dodge (definitely well past its validity date) was parked driverless in the middle of the road while its driver was away on some unguessed business. A couple of locals recognising our plight, reached in relaesed the handbrake and pushed it out of the way.

 

A lurch and we turned tightly out of the square. The driver had to be commended for his ability to manouever this outsized piano accordian in seemingly impossible situations. Weaving through the chaos back to the safety of the highway, even though it had for some time been reduced to a single lane.

 

After a journey of four hours it was with some relief that we turned off the main road toward the coast and the final few kilometres to Pisco. Negotiating the narrow streets the driver again displayed his skills with horn blaring to hurry along the slow buzzing motor-taxis, we arrived. Safely inside the bus depot, gate closed, a final lurch and were at a standstill. Once off the bus we were able to claim our baggage.

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