Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Super Mercado

Ten clicks, and the chore is done. A lunchbreak minute, and a website whisks one down the electronic isles; to pick out fruits perfected by science, meats scrubbed clean of their origin, and exotic imports to impress the office.

Some hours earlier, as dawn breaks, shoes shuffle down the streets of Otavalo, with animals under arms, squirming in sacks, and dragged along by leads. Moving between the crates of chickens, someone picks up a reluctant piece of poultry, stretches out pitiful wings and wraps firm hands around dinner. Seeing such distraction, a feathered friend makes a desperate attempt at escape; past the cardboard boxes of chirping chicks and guinea pigs squeeking for victory. Yet within seconds, the hopeful one is swinging by the feet across town, where a small boy chops scrawny legs into an unwhite bucket.

There can be no cellophane wrapping here, no new moulds to disguise pigs trotters, piled high under the bodies they once met. Nor will the cluster of prawns lie on fresh ice, nor the scales of fish be softly decorated by slices of lemon. Underneath the already dead, a clutter of crabs continue a futile battle, pincers snapping at the rope which ties their tastless fate.

Across the way, colourful accompanyments vie for attention, with sackfuls of spices waiting impatiently amongst the grain. And with no silver trolley or teenage bagpacker in sight, shoppers load sacks onto backs, dancing over bunches of bananas which spill out across the street. They move towards steaming pots and sweet rewards, for a morning which cannot be packaged.

Friday, 24 July 2009

The Fickle Frauster

A tired black suit steps onto the sidewalk under a moody sky. Thousands of miles south, a woman wakes to sunlight streaming through bamboo walls. He sighs, shuffles to the corner and slips a shiny new card into the ATM. She smiles, heads to the balcony to watch the early morning waves. Pocketing his prize, he heads two blocks east, through a tall glass door, and joins the queue for caffine. Picking up a battered beach bag, she heads ten metres to settle in the sand.

With cardboard cup in hand, he rushes through the bustling streets of New York. With hands turning pages, she rushes through a distant continent. Battling through the crowds, a shoulder is clipped too close and coffee streaks down the black suit. Lost in a far away land, she fails to notice the newcomers who settle beside her, nor the sand which coats suncreamed skin.

With scalded flesh, the black suit finds another ATM, and cups crisp notes in his palm. Brushing sand from soft skin, the woman tests the water with her toes. Two doors down, his eyes widen at ice-white electronics, and a greedy grin picks a new toy. Two steps in, and she dives into warm waters, eyes stinging under the playful waves.

Feverently flicking through an abundance of instructions, he becomes baffled. Rolled over by another wave, she retires to her towel. Frustrated now, he tosses the precious paper aside and pockets his piece of silver. Restless, she gets up and builds a castle in the sand. Walking once again, he finds his final slot in the wall, and drains the final dollar from her account. With castle complete, she sits back content, and watches the final rays of sunshine fall below the horizon.

One week later, the balance floats back; dark raindrops fall on the black suit, whilst she settles on a new shore.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Stones on the Roads

The snow-capped peaks of Peru watch over as rocks are rolled into the streets. Huaraz appears under seige, as protesters block the precious paths to the Cordillera Blanca & natures' playground.

With hiking boots and crampons hung up, the happy hikers begin a feverent search for town-bound distractions. But unknown to these restless souls, preparations have already been made for such cloudless rainy days.

Behind unclosed doors, along creeky wooden floorboards or up a rickety staircase, lie the libraries of Huaraz. Nestled between coffee cups and bunkbeds, book exchanges boast a plethora of paperbacks, where one can while away an afternoon wondering who dared publish such tat.

But the libraries, with their wallet-denting lending fees and crisp covers, reveal literary treasures to transport one far beyond the blockades. Shakespeare and Ibsen vie for space against Homer and Johnson, yet all remain overshadowed by García Márquez, who clutters the shelves with his Nobel crown. More modern excellence appears in abundance, with Safran Foer taking travellers across Europe, only to be driven East by Hosseini or swept South by Coetzee.

And so as the roads are swept clean, it is with some regret that the tireless trekkers are brought back from distant lands, left only with the hope that their own tale is about the begin.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Return from Machu Picchu

Worry not who truly unearthed Machu Picchu, but know that capitalism came to the mountain top with Hiram Bingham, guided by a local lad who knew little of where his agile steps would lead.

And nearly a hundred years later, crisp dollars fuel the tourist train, which carries the masses effortlessly to an oasis of souvenir shops and identical eateries. Just a few more precious dollars will keep you and your Canon comfortable all the way to the entrance fee office, and the perfect postcard picture.

Taking the well-oiled conveyor belt to Machu Picchu suits well the two-week holiday maker, but with ones' bank balance swiftly sinking below zero, it was necessary to seek an alternative route back to Cuzco.

Thus we bypassed the bus stop, and followed wooden arrows for an hour down steep steps between the undergrowth, finding ourselves briefly back in Machu Picchu pueblo. We sought slumber in a cheap hotel, where a pile of blankets hoped to compensate for cold showers, and continued our journey in the morning.

Following the familiar train line, we turned our backs on the tourist trail and began. For a couple of hours we danced down the tracks, in fear of a train which never came. Accompanied by the sound of the river, we walked in the shade of banana trees, past people weighed down like mules, and chicks chasing each other through the bushes.

Electricity pylons signalled our arrival at the first destination, and we sat by the side of road comparing mosquito bites. Soon we were joined by the French delegation, and bundled unceremoniously into a taxi for part two. Six people crammed in and waited, until a middle-aged woman clambered into the boot and we were off.

Trundling along dirt tracks, hot dust billowed through the open windows, and lay a rough film over our eyeballs. With engine noises becoming more straigned, a hand reached out of the window to aide the antenna, and fill the valley with music.

Destination number two; a clutter of tin roofs and inquisitive eyes. A brief break for a squat over a filthy hole, and a wash in questionably fresh water. Subsistence was bought for a sol (seventeen bananas, no less), and after more trilingual transport negotiatoions with our European friends, we departed.

Darkness brought with it thick cloud, hiding tight corners and deadly drops. But the still-distant city beemed welcoming lights through the mist, and make it to the valley floor we did. Dropped off on the city outskirts, we slunk back to the centre and dusted ourselves off, just in time to join the masses in a toast to Mr Bingham.