Nova Scotia Artist, Joy Laking, posts ramblings while she's travelling and painting in South America.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

February 24, 2012

Jim and I have spent the last three days in the mountain city of Huarez Peru. It´s in a high valley (3000m) between the Cordillera Negro and the much higher Cordillera Blanco (over 6000m). The buildings in this area are relatively new since an earth quake in 1970 leveled much of the area and killed 70,000 people.

One of the first things that we noticed is that the ladies hats here have a much much higher crown than we have seen elsewhere. The top is dented like a fedora. On one side of the crown is a large semi circular design made of folded fabric. Sometimes the design is the same colour as the hat and sometimes it is dramatically different. The basic hat is not wool but rather a finely woven cotton or linen. Just at the crown flairs out to a wide upturned brim, there is a one and a half inch fabric band. The ladies all have two usually scruffy braids in their hair and the rest of their costume is similiar to many of the indigenious costumes of South America; multi-coloured blouse, a very very full solid coloured skirt edged in decorations, a bib apron and then a commercial peruvian blanket over the shoulders. This blanket is a baby carrier when needed, a hay or stick carrier or it will even hold a bomba or bricks. In Huarez, multi-coloured leggings are worn under the skirt. The leggings end in baggy flesh coloured stockings and loafers or sneakers. Men wear ordinary work clothes and the kids wear colourful North American clothing.

(An aside
The costumes in Saragura Ecuador (which Jim and visited last week and which is now my new favourite South American village) were very appealing. Men, women and kids all wore traditional clothing. Both men and women had one long thick beautiful braid (probably freshly done everyday). Also everyone was so glad to see us since Saragura is off the tourist trail. The men wore bermuda length black trousers and a woven dark red and black poncho or a black shawl and a black fedora. The women wore a narrow, slightly pleated black skirt, a detailed white blouse tooped with a 6 inch wide beaded necklace. They wore a black poncho over one shoulder. The poncho was fastened with a large silver pin and they also wore large sliver earrings. A small brimmed round black felt hat completed their outfit.)

Right now we are on an eight hour bus headed to Lima. It appears that this entire mountain is sand, To the left the mountain rises almost vertically to the sky. Some areas are strung with what I would call ¨snow¨fencing, obviously to slow down drifting sand. To the right, the sand falls away, hundreds of feet vertically to the pale Pacific. How a narrow paved road could be engineered to stay on this sand base is a miracle to both Jim and me.

Tomorrow morning we will be at the airport at 4:30 am to catch a plane to La Paz. The next phase of our trip will be preparing for our trip into Aucapata, buying enough food for ourselves and are supplies for three weeks of classes with over 100 kids. I´m not at all worried about the isolated envciroment. It´s my communication skills that are a worry as my Spanish is even worse that I thought it was!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

February 22, 2012

Just a few notes to tell you about yesterday's challenges. I am not living up to Alegria or Joy; my pollyanna self that finds the joy in everything. Perhaps this is because of my troubling asthma but perhaps you will understand when I tell you just what the day was like.

It started early. We hadn't had a real meal the day before having been on buses for twelve hours travelling to the mountain town of Huarez, Peru. This explains why I was hungry. Jim and I walked several blocks into the centre of town. At the first restaurant, after receiving a menu, we sat for another twenty minutes before getting up and leaving. At the second restaurant, for Jim, I pointed to the continenal breakfast that was listed on a sign and then I pointed to the regional breakfast that was listed underneath it for me. After a half hour, a plate of trout and frenchfries arrived. Since this didn't look like a bun, I assumed it was my breakfast. A minute or so later another breakfast arrived. This one had two brown lumps and some potatoes. I flipped over one of the lumps and there were the little teeth, little eyes and four little little feet of the guineau pig. Certainly took my appetite away.

Jim thought we should try to arrange for our flight from Lima into La Paz and we found the local agent. After sitting with her for an hour, she told us to come back in at 12:30. We went out on the street to round up the cash only to discover that it was War Tuesday in Huarez. Apparently this is not nearly so bad now since several years ago the police outlawed the throwing of used engine oil. I still found it awful. The streets were clogged with gangs of young people armed with water buckets. Explosions kept going off. Most of the shops were closed and most people not enjoying the battles could stay home but we had to get money from bank machines and return to the travel agent. Then the airline was on lunch break and we had to return to the travel agent a third time at 3:30. Eventually the police shut down the war, we got our plane tickets and had supper. Then we stopped at an internet cafe so that I could update this blog. Suddenly I was violently ill, probably from the delicious supper.

Hence ended another day of travel.

February 18, and 19, 2012

On the 18th, we take a five hour bus ride to Piura, Peru. When we arrive Puira is crawling with taxis, tuk tuks and collectivos. We have to decide whether to find a hostal or whether to push on to hopefully someplace nicer, safer, quieter. We find a bus company with a bus to Chiclaya leaving 7pm which gives us two hours. Dragging my big wheeled pack with my little one on my front, we pick our way across eight lanes of traffice towards shade, beer and food.

At 7, we're back on a bus headed to Chicklaya. We arrive at 10 pm on a Saturday night during Carnival and most hostals are full. We have to go to eight of so before finding one that is clean, very hot, very noisy and for us somewhat expensive. The painting on this hotel room wall is of a large naked lady, colour coordinated to match the curtains.

Yesterday, February 19 was not a bus day! After checking out the local cathedral (standing room only) and having breakfast, we took a taxi to the next town to visit a museum on the Moche culture,Museo Reale Sipon. This is an exceptional world class musem. The building ia a huge red pyramid reflecting the pyramid that the Moche people built for the remains of the Senor of Sipon.

The displays are extensive and extremely well done. All of the achiological dig is documented in photos, panaramas and the actual finds. What struck me as ironic, is that the entire site was to insure everlasting life for the Moche chief complete with wives, extra women, a young boy, soldiers, animals and possession. In many ways, this extreme preparation for everlasting life has achieved just that. Seventeen hundred years after death, we are looking at the remains of these people and admiring all of the golden glory, sophisticated earthen ware and their metal tools. Collars have been reconstructed from the thousands of tiny shell beads. Glorious decorative friezes and wall paintings have been put back together from shards. The sophisticated society of the Moche hierarchy lives on. Whenever I see the fantastic old pots, gold work and wall paintings, I remember the artists who created all of this beauty.

Back in Chiclaya, I notice that one hotel has two huge reproduction King Tuts out front and that the Chiclaya city sign features Greek columns and Greek urns!

February 18, Macara

a border town in Eucador next to Peru

It is noisy, very very noisy.
Trucks and vans with giant loud speakers
Continually blast down the streets;
Men shouting their pitches.
In front of the shops large boom boxes
Blare dance music.
The streets are full of trucks, buses,
Motorcycles, dirt bikes and ATV'S;
All are loaded with entire families.
All are blowing their horns.

It's hot, very very hot.
Empty hammocks are hung above
The steeply steps sidewalks.
Next to the hammocks,
There are cookers and people
serving up cerviche, sopa,
Swatting flies, deepfrying chicken,
Hustling teeshirts or sunglasses.
The children with their dark eyes
And hair, are all beautiful.

Draging my overstuffed wheeled packback,
While Jim lugs his,
It's a choice of dodging traffic
On the cobbled street,
Or humping up the steps on the sidewalk.
We reach Hostel El Conquistador.
The tiny dark room on the forth floor
Seems decadent with it's roaring air conditioning,
a toilet seat, limitless toilet paper,
And a print on the wall.

The art says nothing about
The charism or challenges that are Ecuador.
The image is a very pretty English thatched tutor cottage,
With leafless apple trees laden with blossoms,
A flower garden with a kalidoscope of blooms,
A stone bridge, a decorative water pump and a pond;
Only the swan is missing.

Friday, February 17, 2012

February 17th, 2012

Early morning bus ride from Saraguro to Loja

Within a block of the bus station, we stop so that peddlers can cruise the bus selling chapa de papas, chocolate, ice cream, water and more of the amazing looking buns that are always disappointingly dry and tasteless. Outside the shop that the bus stops beside, hangs a pig and another lays on a table. Both have heads and legs intact. These carcasses illicit my sympathy. After the peddlers depart, the bus careens up and out of Saraguro. Our bodies vibrate to the ever present blast of South American dance music. We sway and rock while the bus races out of town hugging the winding mountain road. Quickly we are in a green mountain paradise. Large clumps of gigantic elephant grass, pines, eucolyptus, palm and banana are interspersed with fields of corn, spinkled on every mountain surface that can sustain them. Since planting and harvesting are all done by hand, only a verical slopè is too steep.

Occationally, we see horses, pigs, goats or sheep. The greens of fields and forests are broken with yellow/red sand slides or outdrops of ragged gray rock. As we reach the peak, we look down on the billowing cloud top. Above the sky is an intense blue.

At the next valley, we start our winding desent. Midway to the river, we pass a cluster of adobe houses. A few are stuccoed and painted pink and blue or coral and cream. The roofs are weathered brown tiles. Often ferns and grass have made a toehold in the tiles. Sometimes a bower of blossoms add a splash of colour to the roofs. In the gardens, people are hoeing, milking cows, debarking logs. One woman, with two large flat market baskets and a baby on her back, flags down our bus and climbs on board.

As we reach the valley bottom, the foliage is more jungle like. Hybiscus and Fuscia are growing wild. A beautiful green vine with small orange blossoms is draped over rock and bushes. Some of the trees are laden with large yellow blooms. As soon as the bus crosses the bridge over the shallow brown river, we start another winding assent. Back and forth we traverse the mountain to gradually make the climb. We can look back way down the valley to see the ribbon of road twisting and turning off into the distance. Looking up at the undulating mountain ridge, there are a patchwork of fields right to the top. Where there are fences, the posts, supporting the barbed wire are rough twisted tree branches. In some places the posts have taken root and are covered in leaves. At one isolated homestead, chickens scuttle about and a woman washes clothes in a bucket and then puts them on the fence to dry. Foot paths with steps dug into the soil and sometimes handrails in the most dangerous areas link the homesteads to their fields or distant neighbours.

The bus alternates between grunting up the grade and then suddenly flying along the more level sections. We pass numerous sparkling white water falls that plunge down the mountain into the rivers.

Occationally, we see the giant cactus that has the enormous tree sized flower stocks. Suddenly I gasp at the sight of an enormous smooth green tree trunk that narrows as it rises and is topped with an explosion of leaves. What ever this tree is called, it is spectacular. Condors soar overhead. The beauty leaves me breathless.

As the bus enters the outshirts of Loja, we see our first billboard. I am personally ashamed that it reads McCains.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February 16, 2012

We are now in a remote mountain village called Saragura in Ecuador. It´s great. Probably my favourite village in South America to date. Unfortunately I am very sick with a chest cold ( yes I did start the antibiotics) so this means I can´t walk very far uphill and everything is uphill and I have to have alot of naps. Despite that and despite that the food is awful, (Haven´t yet found anything that we like eating. There is nothing resembling a menu or any familiar food except frenchfries and eggs and there absolutely no English), this is an amazing place. The people here were moved from Lake Titicaca hundreds of years ago by the Inkans and somehow they maintained their culture. The men wear short black trousers, a red and black poncho or a solid black poncho and a smallish black wool hat and usually they wear rubber boots. They also have one long black braid. The women wear tiny black bowler hats or large flat white felt hats with black designs painted under the brims. (again they have one beautiful single braid of black hair). They also have lots of beading and beautiful colourful blouses and silver shawl pins fastening the black wrap that goes over one shoulder. They wear big silver earrings and long pleated black skirts. The children are all gorgeous and usually wear North American clothing and brightly coloured touques. I did draw some of the kids yesterday and gave them the drawings. Of course that was a hit.

There are lovely woven wool blankets and woven linen or cotton tablecloths for sale but we just can´t buy anything and have to lug it along. My pack is already bursting with my coat and fleese. Because there are very few tourists (we´ve only met one other; an american lady who is here looking at orchids that resemble mushrooms or mushrooms that resemble orchids), all of the locals are happy to see us and they talk away in fast spanish. Jim and I just smile.

The village of Sunagura (land of corn) is high in the Andes and is situated in a green valley surrounded by very very steep hills. The houses within the village are mostly stucco, and in the surrounding countryside, they are stick and mud wattle with tile roofs, mostly with unfinished second floors. We did take a taxi to the next village this morning and then we walked back to Saragura. It was the most interesting walk on a sort of mud trail past houses with little gardens filled with flowers and corn and mellons. Only my constant stopping and coughing and huffing and puffing and the prerequisite daily rain balanced off an amazing experience.

For those of you who have been trying to also read Jim´s version of things, I just now realized that the link on my website doesn´t work. You can go to Jim´s blog

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

February 10, 2012 The Galapogos

The Galapogos: ¨One¨

With my yellow fins,
Pink face mask and
Dark blue bathing suit,
I slip off the Zodiac
Into the tourquoise Pacific.
Immediately I join
The underwater party.
Sealions look me right in the eye,
Then roll and cavort beside me.
They glide upside down,
Diving and cartwheeling.
Clouds of fish are
At my fingertips.
Gray fish with sunshine yellow
Fins and tails
Do a swimby.
Black fish with a glowing magenta edging
and yellow stipes,
Blue fish with orange fins,
A large almost phlorescent
pink fish,
Every combination of shape and colour.
This rocky lava ledge,
Beside Fioreana Island,
Provides a Galapogos Paradise.

Large chunky yellow starfish,
Slender white starfish,
Green and red undulating sea plants,
Pale pink coral flowers,
And hundred of green and brown
Sea urchins hug the reef.

In the murky depth,
Next to the reef,
Several white-tipped sharks rest.
For the moment,
I am not of interest.

Suddenly the presense
Of a giant sea turtle
Catches my eye.
Slowly, majestically,
The turtle swims to the surface
For a breath and then
Drives away from me.
I swim from turtle to turtle
Admiring their patterned backs,
Their size and grace.
I am euphoric
to be a part of this underwater world.

The Galapogos: Two¨

Sea lions bark and moan,
On a ribbon of white sand;
An edging between the cerelean Pacific
And the green lava island.
The air is already hot.
Billowing clouds along the horizon
Are starting their daily build up.
The rest of the sky is clear.
Over head, the morning moon
Is a pale white disc.

The Galapogos. ¨Three¨

Her rounded brown body,
With long blowing blond hair,
Is made ¨decent¨ by
Tiny triangles of tiger.
She flaunts and flirts,
Next to young men
Wearing sunglasses and
Wrapped in towels.
Only her eyes and mouth
Betray her age.
Her ¨new´ young girl friend,
Also a blond,
Doesn´t exude her fermones.
Her young face and perfect body
Are not a welcome invitation,
But a more reserved challenge.

Monday, February 6, 2012

February 6th, 2012 South America

( this morning, from the historic centre)

Crumbling plaster, yellows, greens, blues and pinks.
The old colonial houses, two story and three story,
All attached together, they rise steeply from the stone side walk
Steeply up the hill.
On street level, the metal doors are rolled down,
Hiding shoe shops, bakeries, corner stores,
Markets and door handle shops.
All windows are barred.
Above, the balconies in white plaster or black iron,
Support ivies, roses, cactus and pots of dead stems.
A rooster crows.
It is early morning, now no-one lives upstairs,
The narrow street is filled with cars and people
Iron doors are rolled up.
People start unloading potatoes, mellons,
Carrying bombas in cloth slings,
Or cooking fish in the market.
Later, when the sun fades,
There are lights and lives behind the upstairs curtains.
On roofs and balconies, pigeons sit like gargoils.
El paros roam and bark and scrounge.
The streets are dark and quiet.

Jim and I are off to the Galapagos tomorrow! You may not hear from us until we return on February 13th!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

February 5, 2012 South America

Jim and I arrived safely in Quito, Equador on February 2nd. Immediately I remembered why I LOVE South America; the people, the smells, the Euopean buildings with balconies and flowers and crumbling details. The first morning, we found the local market, and I had corn tortillas which here are fat pancakes topped with eggs and served with sweet coffee for 75 cents. I immediately started taking photos of rows of colourful sausages and the ever present dead chickens. Later in the day we had a two hour spanish class with Jackelina and she¨s another delightful teacher like our Nuri from home. Unfortunately although I know a few words and phrases such as ¿Puedo tomarle una foto por favor?, I am still a Spanish dud. I do love to try Equadorian foods though. Yesterday I had a delicious sweet green drink made with naranjillas and a potatoe and avacador soup and today I tried a cuppa of guanabano (a huge green fruit that is green on the outside and white and sweet on the inside) as well as a psecado (fish) with yuca. I also tried Jim´s drink called maltes; a malt beer with raw eggs, sugar and milk, sounds awful tasted great. We did a day trip yesterday to Otavalo, a famous market town. Unfortunately the market was mediocre, a tourist market, not the real thing (no dead chickens), and the day was a tour and we had to stop and see the lama on a rope and stop and see the caged condor and eagles and owls. Two highlights from the day, I did buy a guaba which looked like a giant 2 to 3 foot long pea pod. It is either brown or green. The seller snapped it over her knee for me. Inside was a row of 1 inch black seeds covered in a stringy, slimy, sweet mass. Jim and I each ate this slime from around one seed and then you should have seen the eyes on the small boy when I gave him and armful of guaba! Just as it got dark we stopped in a park with a large area filled with huge clay hummingbirds, each one decorated by a different artist. I didn´t like the painted lobsters that Halifax had a few years ago, but the shape of these hummingbirds was pleasing and there was a power in the shear numbers of them and in the painting on them.