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Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Sunday, September 5, 2010


How to describe the lessons, the experiences, the raw humanity that seeps and spills on every corner...no such thing as just living, it is all about surviving.
2 months of walking, eyes ripped open, looking to see...loving the ugly and the beauty, the tangible, audible, sensory assaulting LIFE that is here.
The overwhelming colour and noise, the vibrancy and life, homeless eating at my ankles, festering and pitiful, empty, soulless eyes, parading with trumpets, tradition, cymbals...clashing and banging.
Never have I seen such poverty, suffering...base humanity.  What does it take sit at the feet of pedestrians, shunned and spurned, offering a shoe polish? For a young teenager to board a bus of tourists and sing off pitch desperate to earn 1 boliviano (20 cents), amidst the groans, smothered laughs and blocked ears? A 5 year old racing to beat the light changes at intersections, wielding a filthy mop to wash windows of cars that rev and beep...threating to run him down...tiny, barely out of nappies.
Part of me is hardened to it all, its impossible to give something to everyone, yet at the same time, how can I escape the niggling, gut wrenching grief that tugs at the very sight of these broken, soulless children?
God is here? Where? In the eyes of those who are compassionate, round every corner, fighting through the smoke of witches offerings, kneeling at our feet with the beggars...its hard to keep faith in the eyes of such appalling despair.
My love affair with Bolivia is not derived solely from the romantic setting, the jaw dropping scenery...but in the mad chaos that is human existence here...no sterility, chaos, smells that render me heaving and watery eyed, sights that tear and rip at my conscience, the need and pain that permeates most...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Shell Shocked in Bolivia - The Death Road


One must ask themselves, when, with fingers cramped shut over brakes, and eyes on stalks with fear  'why am I doing this? And why did I PAY to do this?'

The Death Road, a precarious dirt road more famed for the lives its claimed than for its magnificent setting and stunning scenery high in the mountains of Bolivia is a 64 km downhill track clinging precariously to the cliff side, descending a cool 3500 mtrs through the clouds into a stunning valley of lush forest and rivers.  .

When faced with the real possibility of death the brain goes into total overdrive, concentration overrides all other senses and adrenalin takes over. 
Having not ridden a bike in at least 13 years, I was nervous (to say the least), and having donned helmet, knee and elbow pads and goggles, I tottered slowly round the car park getting the hang of balancing, braking and changing gears.

The first stretch is a smooth down hill tar sealed road, exhilerating and a nice easy way to get to grips with handling a bike again, neverthless it is a steep downhill with some hair pin corners that threatened to claim the knees of most of us!
Upon reaching the second part, most of us had overcome our nerves and were feeling somewhat smugly confident...a feeling that was quickly overcome by fear and utter dread as we set off on the second part of the ride...the famous Death Road itself...the gravel, slippery, narrow, hairpin hell of a road.

For three hours we skated and skidded and slipped our way down the gravel road, hands and fingers numb from clasping the brakes, and necks and shoulders rigid with concentration, however, nothing compares to the rush you feel as you navigate the road, all the while watching the jaw dropping mountainous scenery go by.
From numbing cold at the top to a tropical forest at the bottom, the Death Road is perhaps the most spectacular road I have ever seen...and an experience that is quite possibly the most mentally challenging, fear overcoming and physically exhausting I have ever done!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shell Shocked in Bolivia #1


Once again, all I knew, all I thought I knew, my perceptions of what should be, and the reality of what is have been shattered...San Pedro prison...has left me utterly shell shocked, numbed and stunned.
Having read 'Marching Powder' 11 years ago, I was intrigued to see the life and institution that is San Pedro prison, curious from a sociological perspective, my internal lay psychologist itchy to get a grasp on what defies all that I know about the judicial and penal systems.  Nothing could have prepared me for it...
A mini city, 7 separate communities overseen by a community president (elected by the inmates once a year), complete with 500 children, families and businesses (to use the term loosely) all operating inside the prison walls, no government assistance, insulated from the outside world, yet curiously operating as a world in itself...murderers living next door to petty criminals, the only segragation being who has money.

A thriving real estate industry reliant on prisoners moving up and into newer nicer cells, restaurants and shops...defying what I thought a prison 'should' be...yet the dark, sinister danger lurks in the corridors, the reason for gates being locked at 10 pm, prisoner justice the only operation to continue weeding out the 'dangerous' from the non.
Children amidst it all, playing, innocent...unaware, and protected, yet heart breakingly influencable, potentially the next generation of inmates.  Sitting in the prison plaza watching them play, drinking a coke and enjoying the sun whilst chatting to our guide, I forgot where I was...was this really a prison? Were these people truly capable of murder, abuse, armed robbery?

Our guide and bodyguards are three hardened criminals yet all that I had anticipated, all I had thought I would feel in the presence of these people was missing...I am still struggling to reconcile it all. It was like visiting a favela, yet safer given our companions...however, the demonic, evil element was palbable and the terror set in when we were shown into the kitchen.  The kitchen, a dark room locked and padlocked behind a huge wrought iron gate, is the residence of the rapists.  Men too dangerous to have in the rest of the prison, who literally sleep next to the ovens on the concrete floor, never allowed out...yet we were allowed in.  Despite our protection and the company of my male friends, I have never felt so vulnerable, so utterly aware of the evil intentions inhabiting these ghost like empty men.

My heart is full of sadness for the children, yet the experience left me initially feeling pity toward those inside...compassion...because unlike visiting men locked in cells, obvious signs of a life misspent, this felt like visiting a slum, families trapped with nothing, the raw fight for survival...
Yet compassion and pity is wasted is it not? These are people who chose their paths, who are incarcerated (despite the community like setting) to protect the community from them...people, who through making their own rules are now in a 'society' whereby they are in charge of all the rules. 
Initially I thought that this type of prison establishment was a positive, rehabilitative way of treating criminals, yet today, seeing their freedom, the way in which they are literally outside of 'societal laws' and free to ajudicate as they see fit...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

At the feet of the Inkas

I climbed the ladder of the Gods
Steps climbing toward heaven
Treading the path of the creators
Souls in stars overhead

I knelt on the footstool of their legend
I breathed in their greatness
And basked in the sun 
Eclipsed by such majesty as none can describe

I sat in the seat of my soul
In serenity and solitude
All encompassing wonderment
And the spirits splendidly marched by
Eternity will never erase
Such ethereal legacy and imprint
That which remains will forever overawe
Overwhelm and overshadow that of today

Monday, June 28, 2010

The changing of a life...

My life.
In a breathtaking few moments I felt what can only be described as the epitome of personal achievement and fulfillment in my life thus far.
Cusco...another breathtakingly beautiful city set high in the mountains, ozzing mystique and promise of Incan magic, and true to this promise, it delivers.
After 4 months travelling, Cusco was the culmination of years of dreaming and planning and, still, has me rendered speechless and overcome with emotion remembering the past few days.
How to describe the sensation of heaven reaching elation, humbling speechless amazement and accomplishment...it is nigh on impossible...
Snatched sleep and a 3 am wake up was the prelude to the greatest day of my life.
Clambering the hundreds of Incan steps, breathing in the crisp morning air shrouded in black with barely a twinkle of a star I was excited to the point of silence...the anticipation of reaching my ultimate goal just an hour away was numbing and had me silently contemplative and seething with excitement.
Coursing with sweat and shaking with exhaustion we reached the Machu Picchu gates at 5 am with dawn on our heels and her silvery glow illuminating the mountains...a soaring silouhetted backdrop.
Having been stamped for entry to Wayna Picchu we raced through the gates to Machu Picchu...and into the greatest day of my life.
As the ruins came into view, like running full course into a wall, I was halted mid tracks, the most intense surge of emotion I have experienced...and still now, words fail me.
To be in the midst of such beauty, the spiritual energy and history tangible...awestruck and humbled, uplifted and excited to the point of total joy...tears, no words...
In the two days since, I have been contemplative, in the aftermath of such an experience comes introspection...how to go home to normalcy, the fear of regressing and stagnatin, the bird once discovering flight having wings lopped and being returned to its cage, versus the excitment of life ahead having experienced something so amazing and the new realisation of self and passion and ambition to achieve more...
Travel can yield one of two responses:  the first being nothing but a picture postcard glimpse of surroundings, the second being the inate changing of perspective, the immeasurable transformation of soul and the reassessment of life value and goals.  For me, the second is true, I have been shaken to the bone, rocked to the core and flipped 180...from utter homesickness to a sense of total liberation, from nothingness existence to a fuelled sense of purpose and value...perhaps with personal achievement comes revelation, perhaps for the first time I truly did dive head first into the deep end to emerge a champion swimmer...all I know is that there is something reverberating so deep, a passion and excitement so consuming that I am itching to keep exploring and learning...for fear, that perhaps, after all this, like silver to tarnish, this will fade to memory.