Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

Peru 2


 On our arrival in Cuzco we went out for something to eat and just a quick drink. That was at eleven something. We got to our hotel at dawn, in the interim we had made new friends and I had bumped into Ross an Australian I had met previously in Mendoza and who had been a big part of the reason I did not get in until six on my last night there, as mentioned at the top of this newsletter. It was good to see him again as he is an amusing guy and it is scary to know that he is a second officer for Quantus. Nice bloke but does not inspire confidence in the abilities of the flight crew of Australia’s national carrier.

The next few nights continued in a similar vain to our first, although some were earlier. On the Saturday night we went to a bar where some of our newfound friends were performing with their group. The group was very good and Ernesto (our friend) apart from being a charming person proved he was an excellent percussionist. The bit that was not so charming was when the dance competition part started, first the girls gyrating in the way that Latin women can. Then some guys and finally I was summoned by the group and from thereon the entire assembled crowd to participate in the competition. I really had very little choice in the matter, thanks to Ernesto and a potentially riotous crowd. The first guys were both Peruvian and therefore I had the odds stacked against me from the off, not yet having received the Latin blood transfusion I would no doubt need for the required rhythm. When it came to my turn though I decided to play to the crowd and particularly the front row of women. I swivelled my hips (probably) and shook my arse in a manner that I thought that they would either appreciate for its sexual or perhaps comedic content. Whilst doing this I went as close to the ground as I could. It seemed to work as there was certainly a clamour of applause during my performance. That thankfully over I later found that I had won the competition, an honorary title. Still, not bad for a Londoner performing away against the home team. I was pleased and several of my friends claimed to be impressed, although they were unspecific about what in my repertoire they had found impressive.

Cuzco is an attractive city with many churches, attractive plazas, interesting museums and an engaging architecture with colonial buildings built on top of Inca walls. The interlocking bricks of the Incan style are at times great to look at, as well as being very sturdy. During the days Micha and I explored the city. On the Sunday after we arrived we went with some of our local friends on a little tour to the market at Pisac and thence on to Urubamba for lunch, before returning. That evening we didn’t have a late night as we had to be up bloody early the following day to go to Macchu Picchu.

When we arrived in Cuzco we had tried to get on the four day trek known as the Inca Trail that takes one to the Inca city of Macchu Picchu. However the Peruvian government has just recently done what it has been threatening for years, namely reduce the number of permits to the trail. That meant that the trail was booked up for weeks I advance and there was little we could do about it. As a result, Micha and I decided to do the two day version which took us to the city of Macchu Picchu and not past the other sites on the trail. This involved getting a train to the village of Macchu Picchu, formerly and generally known as Aguas Calientes. Once there we were not met as expected from the train but made our way to the hostel the tour company owned and found out that we had not been expected. Nonetheless, everything was put in order and after dropping some of our stuff in our room we got some lunch, had an argument over the bill and then the two of us decided to head up to the site itself.

Macchu Picchu was apparently never finished as the Spaniards arrived in 1534 and the Incas decided to remove all evidence of the trails to the holy city so that it would not be ransacked. As a result the place was forgotten for a period of nearly four hundred years until Hiram Bingham an archaeologist from Yale university found it and brought it back to the world’s attention. It is not as many think an ancient city, it is old though. However in comparison to the Pyramids, Acropolis or Westminster Abbey, it is just an infant. Actually the “Queen’s Head” pub down the road from my parents house is older having been built in 1508 and no doubt receiving steady patronage since that time. This is not meant to detract from what is an impressive site, but merely to put it in context. This city was built as a holy site, with three prominent peaks viewable from the centre.

When approaching the city it looked impressive and we immediately took the walk to the sun gate, actually the end of the Inca trail. From there the views were more impressive still. When we got back to the site we mostly stayed around the perimeter viewing it from different angles and by the late afternoon it was mostly empty of tourists so we had it for ourselves. Then we actually went through the complex itself some more. The site is very interesting and its setting in the mountains makes it quite dramatic.

The following morning we went on a guided tour of the site from sunrise onwards and got to see and understand more about the place. Then we climbed Huayna Picchu, a precipitous rock several hundred metres above the site with some ruins on top and views of the entire complex. From there one can see that it vaguely resembles a condor in flight. After that we went down again and back to Aguas Calientes and the train back to Cuzco.

The next couple of days we mostly rested and were to do a tour of the Sacred Valley, however it was cancelled due to a strike, so we had to take it easy for more time. On Saturday Micha left, but not before our Cuzqueño friends threw him a surprise party and Ernesto made sure that he danced his fair share in front of an entirely unthankful crowd. There was also a dance involved whereby he chased a girl around with a candle trying to set fire to a piece of paper pinned to her skirt, then having roles reversed with the girl then in pursuit. Fun was had by all concerned and he managed to get himself up in time for his flight to Lima and thence onwards to Holland taking various bits home for me too.

That is where I will leave the news for now. The rest of my exploits will hopefully be contained in one final newsletter.


I'll take up the story where I left off, in Peru. Micha went home to Holland and I stayed in Cuzco a while longer. That afternoon though my local friend and I went to a village called Ollantaytambo, nearly three hours from Cuzco, for the night. When we got there, we found to our mutual surprise that it was party time there, celebrating their image of Jesus or something. This meant that there were costumed people dancing in the streets and general festivities. Some of the dances were quite sober, others weren't. One group in masks and colourful costumes danced about a bit and then started whipping each other with lengths of rope, sometimes catching each other around the ankle and making the other participant fall over, I think this was the intention although I have no idea of any symbolism involved. It could have just been some kind of public sadomasochism, difficult to tell. Another group, who were good fun, were dressed in what is most easily (although not necessarily most accurately) described as cowboy outfits, with masks on, with big noses and warts etc. and dancing with their beer bottles, representing drunkards. Again I have no idea what relevance this had to the religious happenings, but who cares, it was all good fun. There was also a bonfire and fireworks, the problem being the music, dancing and revelry continued loudly through the night, easily audible from our hotel room and making sleep difficult at times.

Also in Ollantaytambo are some impressive Incan ruins with some nice block work and terraces. From the top one gets a nice view of the valley and village from above.

In Cuzco I spent time getting to know more of the city and also took a tour to some of the nearby archaeological sites, as well as some in the city itself. We started at Qoricancha a former Incan religious complex, largely destroyed ad remodelled to make a church and monastery, much of the impressive brickwork is still visible and the mix of the Incan and Catholic is a little odd. Then we went to the Cathedral, an impressively large building filled with golden and silver altars, paintings and some excellent carvings. One of the paintings is of the last supper, with an Andean twist. The meal consisted of cuy (roasted guinea pig) and the wine is replaced by Chicha (a sometimes alcoholic drink made from maize). We continued with our (not very good and at times amusingly bad) guide to Sacsayhuaman, which overlooks the city and was a religious complex with some stone blocks weighing one hundred and twenty tonnes. It was however largely destroyed by the Spaniards who thought it was fortress. It is also the site where the people celebrate Inti Raymi, which is to mark the winter solstice (southern hemisphere so June 21st). This brings up to two hundred thousand people to the place each year. The following sites: Q'enqo, Pucapucara and Tambomachay are all smaller religious sites, mostly just temples.

I decided that I wanted to do a trek to the site of Choquekirao, contemporary of the much more famous Macchu Picchu. The site is actually larger than that of Macchu Picchu and also more inaccessible. On the first day I met my guide; Renato, my cook; Flavio and mule Rosa and horse, who's name we did not know so became known as Otro = Other. We then took a three hour taxi ride to San Pedro de Cachora, the start of the trek. We had breakfast and then set off for a couple of hours easy walking with some nice views of the mountains. Rosa was already displaying her mean streak, constantly trying to turn round or find her own route. Then we stopped for lunch, a three course affair prepared by Flavio. I then decided to set off on my own for the next bit which was all down hill for about three hours, hard on the joints, until I reached the small farm and campsite of Chaqisma. There we camped and I had a three course dinner. I slept moderately well, considering the incline and uneven ground beneath me, it wasn't bad.

The following day we woke at a bit after five and had a three course breakfast (I certainly wasn’t wanting for food) and set off downhill to the Apurimac River, which we crossed using the nice bridge and then the hard bit started. Uphill for the next seven lateral kilometres and vertically thirteen hundred metres. That is more than twice the height of the CN tower, the worlds tallest free-standing structure. Got to the top understandably a bit tired and sweaty and had a break and lunch before going to the site itself an hour or so walk away, where Renato guided me around and the site which was interesting and informative. Also he was refreshingly pragmatic in his explanations of structures and features, stating popular opinions before giving his own interpretation which was usually less glamorous but more realistic. By the time we left the site it was dark with a full moon and we walked back to the campsite using sticks and our senses to guide us. I had a torch but preferred not to use it. Had a nice dinner and slept comparatively well.

Next morning up early, breakfast and descent to the river and uphill on the other side again. As we were going along I decided that I would prefer to keep on going until later into the evening all the way back to Cachora, making the following day easier. We had a coffee and popcorn stop (I really had no opportunity to starve on this trip) and then I walked on ahead, whilst Renato and Flavio organised the kit and horses again and caught up. I was walking quite briskly and got to a fork in the road, I took the upper fork (when in doubt always go up, if you are wrong you only have to go downhill) night fell and I continued onwards. I thought it odd that the others hadn't yet caught me up as they were quicker walkers than I, but continued on anyway. After a couple of hours I heard whistle calls behind me and responded, although I cannot whistle very loudly, about fifteen minutes later, Renato caught up to me bit anxious. You guessed it, I should have taken the other path and he had been running around in the dark looking for me, worried that he had lost his client. We got into Cachora at past eight o'clock and had dinner chatted away and had a better nights sleep. In the morning we got up and got a taxi to the junction and then a bus from there to Cuzco where I had a much needed shave and shower and caught up with my friends there.

Over the weekend was the Cuzco Festival which meant two nights of concerts from bands and artists from different parts of Latin America. On the Saturday morning I went to the press conference to get my accreditation and then fell asleep listening to the bands wittering on. On the Saturday I was particularly interested in seeing Vicentico who was previously the lead singer in a band called "Los Fabulosos Cadillacs" from Argentina. I really like their music and when he played, it was good, although the crowd was not fantastic. Previously Gondwana a Chilean reggae band had played with as little atmosphere as is found on the moon. Libido a Peruvian rock group was okay and Cafe Tacuba from Mexico were not particularly good at all.

The following night the crowd was much better. It started with Pueblo Andino a local band who play a fusion of traditional Andean music with Rock, they were good fun and really got the crowd going. They were followed by Palito Ortega (otherwise know by me as Papi Tortuga) - He was actually quite good fun although not in the way he intended, we laughed at him quite a lot. He reminded me of an Argentine Cliff Richard with more plastic surgery and less originality. Then Franco de Silva a Venezuelan who was actually very good, good vibe, good crowd pleaser, NSQ & NSC (No se quien y no se cuantos) good for the crowd, not great music though, they relied on trying to be scandalous. Finally was Exporto Brazil - Just a group of five dancers, dancing to Samba music. Not particularly diverting. Anyway that is my brief review. The second night was more fun than the first although the first had bigger international stars.

From Cuzco I went to Arequipa which is an attractive city in the colonial centre as it has been built from Sillar, a white volcanic stone. It gives it quite an original and attractive appearance. The Santa Catalina Convent there is particularly interesting in effect an eccliastic village within walls within the old town. Complete with streets and houses within the complex it is attractive and interesting and was only opened to the public in 1970 after nearly four hundred years of seclusion. The cathedral and several churches and buildings are also very interesting with nice carving also built from the very malleable sillar.

I took a day trip to see the Toro Muerto Petroglyphs just three hours from Arequipa. This is supposed to be the largest field of petroglyphs in the world. Extending over an area of five square kilometres. The majority of the petroglyphs are just simple etchings into the raw sillar rock of a simple form such as llama or snake. Some however were much more complex and better drawn. Apparently in pre-Hispanic times this was a major cross roads of traders between the jungle coast and mountains. This explains the majority of the petroglyphs as being similar to graffiti by people who paused for a while in the area and found an easily engraveable rock.

Also from Arequipa I went for an overnight tour of the Colca Canyon. This is the worlds second deepest canyon. The Cotahuasi canyon just up the road is supposed to be the deepest. On the tour were several good fun people and we had a good laugh despite the guide. Many of the views en route were very nice, however the following morning when we went to the Mirador del Condor the tour justified itself when we saw several Condors circling on the early morning thermals in the canyon. These magnificent birds have a wingspan of more or less three metres and can be seen from great distances. At the mirador the birds were at closest about ten or twenty metres away, although when we stopped at a viewpoint up the road one flew overhead about two or three metres straight over my head, that was impressive.

From Arequipa I went to Huaraz also in the mountains, this time in the Cordillera Blanca. From the town of Huaraz itself there are imposing views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks. On my first evening there (after a day of chilling out) I was walking down the road with a couple of girls when one of them was pick-pocketed by some bloke in a leather jacket. She saw who it was, so I chased after him and nabbed him and took him to her, she confirmed this was him, so I then pulled him along to a casino where the guards helped me by calling the Police who arrived a short while later. When we got to the Police station we were sat at separate tables in the same office to give reports. The fool of a thief decided to antagonise the Police, who apparently knew him and as a result he was regularly smacked round the head, kicked, choked or had a truncheon in the ribs. He seemed to cal down for a while but then would go for it again, merely making his situation worse. Then at one point he leaped up grabbed a chair and tried to smack me round the head with it (presumably holding me responsible a I had nabbed him), I stopped him easily and then the Police beat several kinds of excrement from him until he passed out on the floor with blood coming from his mouth. When he got up and tried to give them some cheek they just knocked him to the concrete floor where his head broke his fall, knocking him out for a few minutes more, then dragged him to the cells, communal dark, dank and windowless, with - and this is my favourite bit - a sign over the door that says "Meditation Room" (obviously in Spanish). We then heard him throwing up and had more reports to do. The Captain running the station was very friendly and we ended up chatting for some time about a number of subjects (mostly football and the environment) whilst the thief was coughing blood over the other members of his cell and the girls gave their account. Very friendly bloke, I don't think these Police are particularly tolerant of people trying to give them trouble though. When I made a joke that it was just their gang against the thieves gang, one of the officers pointed out that there were only six of them in their gang which was not enough, hence they had to deal harshly with those who came in. Not necessarily the most educated opinion but understandable given the general lack of education on both sides of the equation. It made for an interesting experience and made me quite sure I do not want to have a run in with the local constabulary and particularly do not want to be locked up in a Peruvian jail. My tip to anyone who does have a problem though, if something goes wrong is be polite and talk football. Resistance is futile, they have a violent tendency they don't mind exercising from time to time.

From Huaraz I visited some nearby spots, including Llanganuco, from where one gets fantastic views of the snow-capped mountains that form part of the Cordillera Blanca, as well as a pair of picturesque lakes next to each other in the valley. The day I went the weather was so clear there was literally not a cloud in the sky. I also visited the archaeological sites of Willcahuain which has some old buildings that are not fantastically enthralling but are interesting. Just a few hours from Huaraz is the ancient site of Chavin de Huantar, dating from between 3,200 and 2,200 years old. The scenery on the way to the site is quite lovely. The site itself is not a massive complex but it is still impressive. There are some great carvings on steles and also in the blocks that form the structures themselves. The courtyard is impressive for its geometric accuracy and the setting is picturesque. Whilst there, a group of people dressed only in white turned up, I asked one of the Peruvians guiding them what the story was and he said they were a meditation group. I asked him if it was some kind of Shaman thing and he said no it was just some kind of thing. Then it turned out that he was supposedly the head spiritualist, I am quite sure scamming this group from Florida. I could not find he or his Peruvian accomplices at fault, they were simply providing a service that these people had booked and paid for in their package tour with a difference. It did get very amusing though when a couple of the better looking (although fishermen throw back more attractive specimens) were on the receiving end of some spiritual assistance. This involved having Inca Kola sprayed on them and spat in their faces before the physical assistance began. It would be difficult to describe it as anything but groping under the pretence of spiritualism. The woman's breasts being grabbed and played with before hands disappeared inside trousers, both back and front and seemed to go into crevices. The whole thing was very amusing to see and at times it was absolutely hilarious. I am quite sure that at the end of the day the guides gather around and discuss how they manage to get away with so much with these gullible fools.

My last bus trip was from Huaraz through at times spectacular vistas back to Lima. Lima, the capital of Peru has a number of worthwhile sites to visit. Those I saw included the impressively ornate Palacio del Congresso with some interesting stained glass windows and fancy decor. I also visited the National museum which has a wide range of artefacts (mainly pottery) from many of the pre-Hispanic cultures, although as I had visited almost all the actual places where the artefacts are from I had seen exhibits relating to the majority of the cultures previously. This made it more like a revision of what I had seen, so perhaps less dramatic, although some of the stuff (particularly the Nazca pottery) is impressive however much one sees it.

Around the centre of Lima are some attractive colonial buildings such as the Cathedral, Archbishops Palace, Government Palace and numerous churches. I also visited the Inquisition museum which had displays explaining the course of the Spanish Inquisition when it was in Peru. The last thing I went to see before I went to the airport was the San Francisco church, convent and catacombs. It is an impressive old church with some great carvings, paintings, poor tile work and the catacombs have the remains of over twenty-five thousand people in, mostly buried in mass graves as were typical of the times. The archaeologists have now laid the bones out in pretty patterns to make it more attractive to the tourists. Very considerate of them.

Anyway that is it from me for the while. Tonight I get on a plane that takes me via Atlanta, Georgia (not one of the most exciting destinations), for nine hours to London, where I should hopefully arrive on Wednesday morning. Apparently Delta who I am flying with are far from the finest airline so I expect to be hungry and exhauster by the time I arrive.



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