About This Blog

Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Sunday, 31 July 2011

July 31st: Tangier

On July 31st 1977 I was in Tangier.  I was on my way back to Europe after a disappointing summer in Morocco. I hoped that Tangier would make a fitting farewell.

I arrived on the day bus from Casablanca just after sundown.  After a long search I found a friendly pension where the senora directed me to the nearby hamam for a strange bath in green steamy rooms.  I made a tour of the Medina and sat in a cafe with my notebook trying to raise my consciousness.
The medina on the hill here is pretty nice, better than I thought and distinctly nicer than the waterfront.  It's got a character quite different from other Moroccan towns I've been in, more open and lively, looking towards Europe, distinctly cosmopolitan.  Hustlers have laid off me for the most part.  I'm in one of several cafes around a little square, colour TV behind with French-dubbed American trash, a little general shop opposite reminding me of those you used to see in British minor high streets, it's selling drinks and biscuits, also shampoo, shoes, a couple of djellabahs and all sorts - a general store.
I tried to find some optimism again the next day with little success.  I was in a town on the fringes of Europe in the height of the tourist season, so I felt I got what I deserved.  I knew Tangier as a home of the beats and I imagined the author of the Naked Lunch there, as I sat among what I observed as "the flotsam and jetsam of the world, as old men in dirty overcoats and slobbery beards paced the streets mingling with the pretty tourists and innocent  backpackers."

The following day I made my exit.  I spent all morning hassling at the docks trying to get on a ferry to Spain.  I failed to get on one boat and stayed with about ten fresh-faced young backpackers around the kiosk as that ferry left.  We waited standing by the ticket desk and the man behind did nothing except tell us to wait just that little bit longer; suddenly there was some invisible sign and pandemonium all around, masses of Moroccans were at the desk and money and tickets were flying in all directions, until it all subsided and the same bunch of us were left standing where we had beenwhen the first boat left.  Finally the ticket-seller made me change more money into dirhams for some mysterious surcharge, and I made my way up the gangway, the last passenger to get on.  They were still loading cars on as delay followed delay and I summed up a few feelings in my notebook:
I'm with the European kids sitting around an empty pool but no one seems to have good vibes from their Moroccan experience; only the Moroccans happy, excited to get away from their stewpot.  Kids roughing it, too little sleep, far too many hassles and another summer's Eurailpass is completed.  One thin blond girl is the only European smiling, she's surrounded by Moroccan hustler types, one with guitar, one with fuzzy hair and yellow shades and they're having a ball.  But the rest of us sit around wondering if the boat will ever leave.
"Let It Come Down" is Paul Bowles' novel about Tangier, set safely back in the colonial days of the International Zone.  Even then he wrote:  "One rumour he could not have circulating was that he had become a guide; in Tangier there was nothing lower."

Tangier Medina, 2003:  Picture by Chris Yunker, CC

Friday, 29 July 2011

July 29th: Bus to Lima

On July 29th 1976 I was on a bus from Cuzco to Lima. 

The journey began in the morning pretty much on time.  Before long we had crossed the first pass away from Veronica and went down a valley with great views of Salcantay.  There was an early lunch near Limatambo and we passed by the ruins of the sun temple, terraces and other structures.  Then we were into the huge Apurimac canyon where the water flowed deep between the steep walls descending from the mountains.  Climbing up beyond Carahuasi, we reached a high point where you could see the whole white range of the cordillera.  We went down a great series of serpentines to Abancay, which was nearly deserted being greatly involved in a football match with Cuzco at the time, and we stopped for a snack.  On we went into the valley, rising slowly as it got dark.  We reached a fair-sized town about 9.30, too late for much good in the two restaurants there, but there was something.  Some Indians came on with trumpets and a drum, later another two who had a mayoral staff; they were ridiculed by the white Peruvian passengers but they remained stoical, as they have done for centuries.  Next to me was a woman with a 9 month old son going to Puquio.  There were a number of gringos, a French couple who were spending a month in Peru on $200, a climber from New Zealand, a grey-haired American four years on the road, an Englishman who been working in Antarctica, and an American who was working in mining near Nazca.  There were also two city mestizos with a child, who were macho, unpleasant and unfriendly.

Vicunas in Pampa Galera, 2005, Picture by Abel Pardo Lopez, CC
Sleep was not very easy as it got very cold in the night and the road was bumpy.  We spent a long time  in the dark crossing an area they called the Pampa, flat and high, a stone desert.  We arrived in Puquio about 5.30, a reasonable looking town.  Then it was up into the hills above looking down on the fertile valley, giving us beautiful views.   We kept climbing until we reached Pampa Galera with its vicuna reservation, thousands to be seen, across dry undulating country, windswept, and the little bushes reminded me of Patagonia.  We reached the end of the hills, as it got dryer, and then a long descent took us to Nazca, reaching real desert and greenery around the river.  There were boulders and ruins and a mine.  We stopped for lunch in Nazca about 11.30 - there had been no stop for breakfast.  It was warm and semi-tropical with desert scenery to Ica where we stopped again and I bought some dates.  On we drove up the coast, pretty fast now, towns and desert and hills, cotton galore , bananas and oranges, maize.  There was a guano factory when we hit the sea.  We reached Lima soon after 8pm, more or less thirty-six hours on the bus.  I found a bed at the Pension Union and met a friend.  We went out for a walk in the warm air along Pierola and past the Parque Universitario.  We had a chicken supper  and were back at the hotel soon before the midnight curfew.

I spent an easy few days in Lima, visiting places I'd remembered from my visit the previous December, such as the Restaurant Cordano which had a lovely twenties style, with swing doors, banquettes, and white-haired waiters in black suits and bow ties who served good old fashioned food.

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Thursday, 28 July 2011

July 28th: Loutro in Southern Crete

On July 28th 1978 I was in Loutro on the southern coast of Crete.  I was spending a couple of weeks walking and hitching in western Crete before heading for Asia.

I was up well before dawn to cross the little bridge away from Agia Roumeli and start the coastal path to the east.  The best part was the first, in the dawn light along the water's edge to the Byzantine church of Agios Pavlos which stands isolated by the coast.  Thereafter I no longer had the trail to myself but had to share it with three German students; I didn't walk with them, but I was always aware of their presence.  After Agios Pavlos there was a beautiful stretch through pines as the sun came up.  Then it was more open and more barren with the path climbing higher away from the shore, and more than once I lost my way.  The day became quickly hot and sunny and there was very little wildlife to be seen.  As well as the Germans there was activity in the water.  There were fishermen in a little caique off the coast, attempting to fish using dynamite, so there was a little explosion from time which ruined the silence but added to the atmosphere.  Eventually I came to the first Loutro castle, only three or so kilometres before Loutro itself and I had thought I had not reached halfway.  There was a perfect beach for swimming, ideal as midday approached.  In Loutro I took a quick look around and found a place to hang my hammock.

Loutro was a small harbour off the roads completely, but serviced by boat or trail.  It had been a  bigger and more important town in the past, with remains from many periods, Ancient Greek, Roman, Venetian, Turkish.  It sits opposite Tobruk in Libya and had trade links there.  That year there was a small colony of Europeans camping out in the ruins and swimming off the rocks near the stony beach.    A few were hippies but most were the usual run of young summer foreign visitors.  There was very little new building among the houses in the village, a couple of cafes, a couple of restaurants and one or two places renting rooms.  In future years Loutro would clean up its act and ban camping. 

Cafe by the Dock:  My picture taken in 1983
Next day in the evening I sat outside the cafe by the dock which was run by an old couple and only had two tables.  The day had been relentlessly hot and seemed timeless as I had not seen a watch.  I saw an older man with grey moustache, net hairpiece, green serge trousers and leggings, heavy boots with two leather straps and black over-shirt.  He was leading a donkey with supplies in woven bags, plastic bags and feta tins to carry them off into the mountains.  The people of the village sat around to talk.  The Sofia, the passenger launch to the town of Chora Sfakia further to the east, was tied up at the dock.  A larger boat was anchored much further out and little boats had gone out to collect supplies or sell fish maybe, some boats had even come from along the coast.

Old Agia Roumeli:  My picture taken in 1983
Some days before, I had taken a series of little lifts getting from Chania up to Omalo, through pretty, sleepy mountain villages and slept the night on the terrace of the hotel with the moon rising about midnight.  The walk down the Samaria Gorge was by contrast disappointing, feeling like a charity walk, it being Sunday and hundreds of Greek and foreign excursionists filling the staircase and narrow defiles.  Agia Roumeli at the sea was often derided as a place to stay but I enjoyed it after the last boat had left.  I slept on the sand and ate and socialised in a friendly taverna.  I walked up to the castle in a cooler evening air and got a different perspective  on the place, seeing the old, dying traditional village on one side and the new village by the sea, built at first to accommodate families moved from the village in the gorge and then developed, only slightly, for tourism; the concrete Rent Rooms blocks were certainly unappealing.  Another day I got up early to walk back up the gorge to the old, cleared Samaria village; I looked for a side trail and when far enough up it for silence and solitude, I sat under the trees and wrote in my notebook:
Now sitting in what seems like one of the wildest places I've ever been, narrow steep rocky gorge, a little way up, full of little trees of different sorts, sounds of cicadas and water coming through the trees.  I've walked up through prickly abandoned terraces thick with herbs, through blackberries and overhangs, past deserted houses and a church.  I'm day-dreaming of wild places I've been, when suddenly a kri-kri, lovely, vicuna brown, white below, long straight horns, stops by water where I can see it as I write. 

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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

July 27th: Sivota on Lefkas in Greece

On July 27th 1972 I was in Sivota on the Greek island of Lefkas.

Sivota in 1972: picture by Pete Brown, in my possession
I was driving the Land-Rover around Greece with Hilkka, looking for nice spots to stay and pass a final month before entering Turkey for the drive east.  At Kalambaka we had picked up a hitchhiker, an Australian dentist called Pete, and he stayed with us a while.  We crossed the Katara Pass to Metsovo and Ioannina, and then we went on to Dodona to visit the ruins of the oracle.  This area was full of a party of French people driving Citroen Traction Avants; there must have been sixty or seventy of them spread out over a wide area.  Finally we hit on Lefkas as an island we could drive on to and ended up at the little village of Sivota where we asked to pitch our tent near the water's edge and were welcomed.  By chance we found there Vasilis, a Greek Australian passing the summer back home while his family tried to find him a wife.  He became our host and we were able to offer transport to him or his family and friends.  I remember taking Vasilis on a tour of villages; the main purpose was to go to Madorochoria so that he could check out, incognito in the Land-Rover, a girl his family was proposing for him.

On this day we took another man from Sivota, Iannis, and his family to visit his mother in Poros, a pure white little town built on a low cliff above the sea some miles to the north.  We were served baklava and ouzo in the house, went to a cafe to buy some ingredients for lunch and then went to the beach for a swim.  Lunch was chicken and chips and salad.  After coffee on the balcony we split up:  Hilkka went with the women on a house to house social call while I took a stroll with Pete over the hill above the town; I remember coming back and standing by the church eating russet pears which were just getting soft.  A perfect day in a town unused to foreigners.

There was a little cafe on the waterfront in Sivota where we took coffee and wine, and a taverna a little way apart which catered to the yachters who liked to hitch up here and were the only form of tourism.  The villagers were genuinely sad I think when we left.  The women came to visit us bearing gifts including  a huge bottle of olive oil for sunbathing.  They also took us to pick a large bag of rigani (wild oregano) which caused the odd moment of consternation at customs checks in the following months.

Sivota in 2007:  Picture by H.P.Burger,  CC

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Monday, 25 July 2011

July 25th: Tijuana

On July 25th 1975 I was in Tijuana in Mexico.  I had just finished the process of hitching from Northern New Hampshire into Mexico.

Parts of this journey:    New Hampshire to Denver.    Denver to Monterey.    Monterey to Tijuana.

From Monterey I got a lift early in the morning to the Big Sur area.  I camped quite near the road in a site which seemed to be for hitchers and cheap travellers; someone was supposed to come and get a fee but they never came, and there was a water-tank with a painted sign which said "Danger: do not drink - this water comes from LA.".  I spent the days on the beach, which was a hike away, or on short trails in the forests.  The evenings I spent talking around fires with the other camper: these included a long haired blonde guy who had been shot at while cycling across Texas with his dog on his way to California, and a strange fellow who talked about his time living on the Manson ranch.  Eventually I got a lift from a couple to Venice Beach, just to the north of Los Angeles and spent a few days with their friends in a little wooden house just behind the beach, a suitably bohemian place for young men who were into booze, Kerouac and Henry Miller.  They showed me the sights, Hollywood Boulevard and so on, and we spent time on the beach.

A few days later I walked up Venice Boulevard and spent a long slow day hitching around Los Angeles, not an easy place for hitch-hikers.  After three short lifts in several hours, I got picked up by a young Canadian doctor working in Irvine.  He took me to his house, wife and baby.  They looked upon Southern California as if it were a fantasy land and they were outsiders.  They saw me as fellow outsider, sympathetic to the cause, not hard.  They fed me well and gave me a tour, to Laguna Beach and other spots; we went to a beach for an open Jacuzzi in the evening to give me the Orange County experience. 

Border near Tijuana:  Picture by Kalavinka,  CC
I had difficulty the next day starting to hitch, these two days the hardest I had.  I only really got started when I risked going up on the freeway.  The second lift took me further, from a gay Chicano and his older (say 25) Mexican boyfriend who kept on going on about his wife and how bisexual he was, and how I might fit into the scene.  They were driving to Tijuana to get an upholstery job on their beat-up Volkswagen.  In Tijuana they wanted to show me the sights, but I wasn't too keen on that, so they took me to the bus-station.  It was four hours until the next bus south, so they drove round the dirt streets a few blocks behind the main drag until they found a hairdressers where they discussed the styles and chatted up the girls and discussed how beautiful they would look.  I left when I had had enough.

It was a good bus, air-conditioned and I had a seat up front.  In the evening we had driven to the top of a huge canyon, all lit up by the moon which was just rising, huge shadows all around;  the moon seemed to be far below where I was looking from.  At midnight we pulled into a big city of wide avenues and low houses, Mexicali, and the temperature was forty-one degrees centigrade according to the signs.  Later in the night there was a long delay for a sort of immigration.  In the morning I woke up in a landscape of bare earth and cactus, mile after mile after mile of it.  Now I knew I was in Mexico.

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Sunday, 24 July 2011

July 24th: Khartoum

On July 24th 1980 I was in Khartoum.  I was waiting to travel south to teach English in a secondary school.

A week before, I had lugged my massive amount of luggage to Denmark Hill Station in South London and from there to Victoria and on to Heathrow.  The check-in was a little piece of Africa.  You went past all the normal check-ins which had booths and orderly queues.  Sudan Airways, yes Sir, keep on through that door.  In an area cordoned off, there was chaos.  A large man in a robes stood in the middle with a sheaf of tickets in one hand and printed list in the other, while the customers milled around like a rugby scrum to see if he had their names.  There weren't any tickets for the teachers and it seemed the flight was overbooked.  Some returning teachers were even on standby, but Kevin from the Sudanese Cultural Centre turned up and everything fell into place. 

I had applied to be a teacher with the Sudanese Government and had been interviewed at the beginning of June.  I heard that I was going at the beginning of July and went for a couple of days training at Farnham Castle.  The training was divided between firstly tips on how to live in Sudan and how to stay healthy, and secondly some ideas on teaching from ELT experts.  There were some teachers from the previous year there to assist, but nothing was really relevant for Southern Sudan.  I got a letter a few days later with some leaving dates and luckily decided to take the earliest flight.

Khartoum:  My picture
By this stage in Khartoum, I had successfully negotiated to get to the South and knew that I would be going to Rumbek.  The main hassle now was to get the financial side sorted out.  This day I tried to take a  more positive stance against the bureaucracy.  At 8.30 we Southerners assembled at the Unity Bank, which operated in South Sudan, for a morning of opening bank accounts and dealing with ECR1s (the forms needed to convert Sudanese money into foreign currency).   I got more involved in these petty negotiations than I often did, maybe because I had the determination of innocence.  However something was achieved between the Ministry and the Unity Bank and the Bank of Sudan, and I think my presence was felt.  I felt positive about things.  I had virtually everything in place to be able to leave for the South.  Some teachers going to places close to Khartoum had actually left.  I had been given some spending money and I could see an ending to this period of waiting. 

They had put us up centrally in the El Sharque Hotel, The Shark, which was basically a cheap hotel: we shared rooms with running water and there were fans and a sort of rudimentary air-conditioning.  There were also massive cockroaches and the simple rooms were crowded with all our baggage for a year in Africa.  I had moved quickly to one of the rooms at the back which opened on to a courtyard and were quite quiet.

Omdurman:  My picture
Khartoum was hot, over 40° C each day, and dusty and occasionally humid.  It was Ramadan which made it harder to get food in the middle of the day; it also meant that smaller restaurants only opened briefly, or intermittently or not at all in the evening.  So the days tended to pass as follows:  mornings fighting the bureaucracy, lunchtime back at the hotel with fruit for lunch and then siesta during the hottest part of the day; in the evenings I often had a meal in one of the big hotels as I was trying to keep my weight up, sensing that I might have leaner times in the future; then it would be socialising, in the AthenĂ©e, an open air juice bar and cafe in a central square or drinking beer of one sort or another in one of the hotels.  There were occasional outings to Omdurman and I discovered Tuti Island in the middle of the Blue Nile which gave a feeling that you were actually in the country.  Occasionally it was pleasant to sit on the steps by the Blue Nile in the evening air and enjoy the spectacle of the huge flocks of queleas roosting near the Presidential Palace.  Basically there was nothing to do.  The nights were hot and sweaty and sleep was always difficult.

I made a point of getting to know my fellow teachers, who were a very mixed bunch.  Few of them had travelled much, one had never been out of Yorkshire, but people had very mixed reasons for being there.  I enjoyed hearing their stories and I tried to help and encourage some of the less experienced ones.  One unlucky young woman got polio very quickly and had to be shipped home in an iron lung.  Others got sick but nothing so serious.  One of my cohort lost all his money and belongings on the first day.  Some of the teachers already knew Africa, some had little idea what they were letting themselves in for.  I never understood the recruitment process, but I was glad to be there, with the prospect of living for the best part of a year in Southern Sudan.

There is a photo of the El Sharque, taken the year before I think, here.

Khartoum:  My picture

Sunday, 17 July 2011

July 17th: Monterey in California

On July17th 1975 I was in Monterey in California.  I was in the process of hitching from Northern New Hampshire into Mexico.

Parts of this journey:    New Hampshire to Denver.    Denver to Monterey.       Monterey to Tijuana.

It took me only 3 or 4 days to cover the 2000 miles to Denver, but three or four weeks for the 2000 miles to the Mexican border, as I took a more rural route and stopped as I went along.

Mosquito Pass:  Picture by Nick Taylor,  CC
After crossing from New Hampshire, I met up with my sister in Denver and spent a couple of days with her and her friends in their cabin near Bailey, to the south-west of the city, at about 9000 feet in the Rockies.  I remember good walks through purple-tinged slopes and I learned to throw horseshoes.  Eventually they dropped me off on a main road in the mountains and a hiker took me on further.  Then a young couple in a 4WD took me to Leadville, which involved driving across the Mosquito Pass (13188 feet I noted), one of the highest passes in the States.  A school teacher took me on to Poncha Springs where I ate in a truck stop.  An Indian guy with a white girl took me up a bit of Poncha Pass but they weren't going far so I decided to stop and camp in the woods.  Unfortunately it rained most of the night and I emerged damp in the morning as men passed by going fishing.  My first lift that day was from a camper going over the top of the pass, and then two young women on their way to Arizona took me over Wolf Creek Pass all the way to Durango.  Tired and still wet, I needed a couple of days of peace without talking to people, so I checked into the Central Hotel, which was cheap enough.  It seemed just like an old fashioned cheap hotel in Greece and sure enough the owner or manageress was from Kalamata in Greece.

Mesa Verde:  Picture by Crazy Monk,  CC
Rested, I found a couple of lifts west before Lenny and Judy picked me up in their VW camper and I stayed with them for two days.  They took me into the Mesa Verde National Park, for a drive around the canyon, and we stopped to see the Pueblo Cliff Palace and some other ruins.  We drove on to Cortez for shopping and then into Utah to camp in the Manti-La Sal Forest.  I slept in the van, while they used their tent in the thundery, rainy weather.  The next day we continued north-west through the canyon lands and deserts of Utah, beautiful wild country and I drove most of the way, enjoying my fortune at being able to drive in this craggy, eroded world.  We camped again when the country got more forested in Uinta National Forest and they dropped me off by the freeway in Salt Lake City.

A couple of lifts took me to the Tooele turning near the Great Salt Lake, and then a guy took me in his sports car at a steady 100 mph all the way over the salt flats to the Nevada border and Wendover where he was going to try his luck at the casino.  I had a hamburger there and then a lift to Reno from a well-digger who had just driven to somewhere on the east coast and had to come straight back to the west because his mother was seriously ill.  He asked me if I could drive before he asked me where I was headed.  He was pretty far gone and had a bottle on the front seat to keep him awake, he said, and I tried to drive as much as I could.  I went through hills and scrub on a wide winding road, while storms kept passing, until the darkness fell and eventually we came to Reno.  He drove me down the strip where the lights seemed bizarre after coming in from the desert past midnight.  He let me off at the first turning out of town. 

I took some rest in the warm Nevada air but it got colder around 4, so I started hitching again.  I got a lift about 6 in a pickup to Vellejo, through lovely country in the Sierra, the Truckee River and a descent past lakes and forest and across the plain by Sacramento.  A final lift took me to Golden Gate Park.  I had a contact in San Francisco who let me stay, but left me to my own devices largely.  I wandered the streets and Telegraph Hill, ate in Chinatown, bought a book in City Lights, but it was a fairly solitary experience, unusual for this trip in America.  In the end I left in the afternoon and hitched in four lifts to Greyhound Rock, near Santa Cruz.  My final lift pointed out a good place to camp beneath a Monterey Pine on the beach, where I could watch the pelicans.  The next day was very slow around Monterey Bay, with a series of short lifts through Castroville, the "artichoke capital of the world."  At Monterey there was a long wait and I began to walk down the road as the fog came in.  I pushed a car to a gas station and the driver took me 15 miles on.  I walked down to the beach but found the only cave occupied; I shared a bottle of vodka with the occupants and walked back to the road and sheltered under a tree.

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Thursday, 14 July 2011

July 14th: Ollantaytambo

On July 14th 1976 I was in Ollantaytambo in the Urubamba Valley in Peru.  I had visited a few days before and had returned with my luggage to spend a little longer in this little town.

This day I walked up the Patacancha valley to the pre-Inca site of Pumamarka, a set of buildings which sit in a commanding position above the point where the valley first opens out a little.  It was a perfect spot to sit and watch and listen, and I could return by a different route along the edge of the ridge.  I wrote this in my notebook:
Pumamarka:  My picture taken in 1986
I'm sitting between the two little outposts which stand on the precipice looking down over the little valley, whose waters I can clearly hear.  A peak opposite, trees on this valley slope to a good height, a few changing into rich yellow now.  A few isolated farms, I can hear a cock from one, maybe an axe or stone-work from another and smoke from a third point where the valley gets narrower.  Ploughed fields and scrub below, some yellowish bushes, cattle and horses.  On this side the hill is barer, little green bushes, occasional cactus, dandelion-like bulbs growing without leaves.  At the head of the little valley I can see the snow-covered slopes of Veronica, clouds above.

Terraces at Pumamarka:  My picture taken in 1986
Wider fields nearer the village below, one house with yellow corn in the yard, sheep and goats in one place, they're bringing in the wheat, you can see where it's been recently cut, and in one field they were flinging it high with pitchforks; later they use horses, maybe four, to winnow it.  The village itself is sleepy now, a couple of white-washed houses, one house seems bigger, a second story and a tiled roof.  Eucalyptus trees for shelter and some largish light green trees.  Golden corn again.  I saw a girl tending the sheep and goats, an old woman coming for water to the river with one bowl clay, one plastic.  Another girl with a short red skirt.  The shrine under a rock at the opening, a scarecrow or idol with a basin cut open for a body and a pot for head and shoulders.
After writing I climbed a little above where the vegetation almost smells tropical and I could see the whole site.  I got more interested in the ruins, the wooden lintels and niches and so on.  Walking back on the higher trail I enjoyed the terraces as much as I had enjoyed everything else.  I noticed how they built them in contours, with means of going up and down, using the water, building houses among them, especially at the point where the path descended to the valley. 

Another day I walked further up the valley beyond Pumamarka.  I passed several pack animal groups taking goods into Ollanta to sell, mostly donkeys and horses, and mostly Indians but there was one group of alpacas and llamas; the Indians driving them stopped for me to admire them, but I spooked a large brown alpaca and had to move on.  I climbed a bit after the village below Pumamarka, passing a ruin on a hill just above a hamlet, then there was a pleasant climb past a brook up a hill where the river came down in falls.  At the top there was a village, with a little tower looking like a church, and ruins on the hillside opposite.   Another hamlet was built on an open hill with stone enclosures and paths running between them.  Further up, I reached a larger village which was arranged on open land either side of the river.  I talked with people sorting maize husks and they told me the place was called Huilloc.  I walked on, on the other side of the river through a narrowing canyon and found a hilltop for my sardine lunch, among stone works that might have been pre-Inca.  There was a little unused aqueduct above Huilloc and I talked to some schoolchildren there, an all Indian village. At this height there was much more bird and animal life, lizards and mice especially I noted.  Finally I reached a spot where I talked to some Indians with llamas who told me they were from "Pachacarta".  I turned back tired but happy with my exploring, and was lucky to see a torrent duck with a black and white head and a red bill, playing in some rapids quite near the final valley.

Before I left I went with a friend to see the quarry which I now know is called Cachicata.  From here they had brought the fine pink granite used for the most significant stones in the main sanctuary at Ollanta.  We took the trail which went along the river through pretty country, and were shown a trail through a primitive Christian graveyard and along a ridge, until we reached disused terraces and a grave built on a rock.  We went up to see a building we called the fortress and a line of graves along a wall; we could see over the valley to Mount Veronica and the valley where the road goes from Chilca to Quillabamba.  We climbed up through cactus and then into the white scree, maybe two thirds of the way up, which was enough.  The descent through the scree was dangerous, and then we came down through broken, possibly unfinished terraces, past one lot of collected rock cubes.  This was one of the few signs of deliberate quarrying work I saw in the area; there also were some large blocks which might have been worked and a channel for water, and an Inca trail which might have been used to bring the stone down.  We came down the hill in evening light, along a huge terrace, under one ruin, past adobe ruins and an Inca reservoir.

If I wasn't going on a longer outing I tried to walk into the Urubamba valley every day.  I would wander along the banks or the railway line, looking at the farm life and the fields surrounded by yellow broom, the wild flowers and humming-birds, and above the snow peaks, especially Veronica with its fine, shapely summit.   One day I watched two men and a packhorse descending from what looked like out of nowhere.  Some people, I understood, lived up near the snowline, cultivating particular sorts of potatoes for trade.

Ronald Wright describes a visit to the quarry in the early eighties in his book Cut Stones and Crossroads.
Nowadays there are plenty of hiking tours up and down the valley.  There is a picture of Huilloc here.  

The Plaza:  My picture taken in 1986

Street in Ollanta:  My picture taken in 1986
In Ollanta:  My picture taken in 1986

Saturday, 9 July 2011

July 9th: Metsovo in Northern Greece

On July 9th 1978 I was in Metsovo in northern Greece.  I'd been in Metsovo before and liked the town.  It was renowned as a centre of Vlach culture, the Vlachs being the semi-nomadic Romanian speaking shepherds of northern Greece and elsewhere in the Balkans.  A little of the culture was still evident during this visit, especially on the evening of this day, a Sunday.  I wrote in my notebook:
Metsovo:  My picture taken in 1984
Sunday night kurso in full swing, it must be about 10.30 and my usual cafe is full as I try to get service. Earlier I had to hide in my room from the hordes of tourists thronging the central square, but now it's no longer full of tourists, just a few visitors like me.  I had a good meal at the Athinae, soup, keftedes and beans and the strange-tasting local purple wine.  Heard a couple of elderly Belgian teachers discussing in Italian with some locals the differences between Italian and Vlach, demonstrating that the words are remembered even if the use of the language is dying.  Certainly on Sunday the clothes survive as the ladies put on their best, even some of the forty or so year olds, maybe younger ones as well.  Big wool skirt in a sort of tartan plaid, heavy embroidered blouse and velvety very short jacket and a kerchief on their hair, sometimes a brocaded velvet kerchief, but the wife of the guy who runs the most sympathetic tourist shop has a bright green silky sort of long jacket - very smart I expect.  The old men wear their black, but they're not in evidence tonight.  But it's an active night for the locals, Sunday.  Some women wear "gold" coins in their kerchiefs, all wear an apron, some well-woven, their hair in braids.  One wears a very fine brocaded dress, but it seems like fancy dress.  How like normal Balkan costume is all this?
Although there was a lot of building going on, there were still a lot of old houses, particularly higher up and there were still well-tended gardens with onions and courgettes and beans and fireflies flicking among them in the evening.  Metsovo was also a great base for walking in the hills.  Twice I wrote in my notebook:
View over Metsovo:  My picture taken in 1984
Have climbed a little mountain opposite Metsovo, down to the river and up to a village where I had a coffee, and on up the tracks, passing an old man with wood who was cheerful and a costumed family higher up where it's forested, and on up the mountain to the pass ridge and up to the highest local peak.  Beautiful views all round.  To the south a scarcely touched valley with fields and some logging with snowy peaks to the right and the highway on the ridge opposite.  To the east is a long ridge which is rocky with a ski-hut and to the right a long grassy slope higher than this one with a beacon which would be nice to climb.  Walking through the trees was beautiful, spruces, pines, beeches, birches, juniper, coal tits and crested tits.  On the top is a grassy circle above the trees covered with flowers and insects.  It's all beautiful, not exactly quiet because of the road building and wood working, but beautiful.
Again I have come up into the mountains, this time to the northern side and again it's very good though I had my doubts at first, as the ridge I had picked led to the top of the ski lift and beyond it was the road to Katara.   It got much better as I came over the top of the escarpment above the Ioannina road through a really dense meadow with a stream running through it and a fountain where I changed water, and then up to an old track which had been built as a road, but not for cars, winding around a couple of densely wooded little valleys, till I reached a ridge where I had lunch overlooking the main valley among pine smells and goat bells jangling in the distance.  Then I climbed the higher more northerly end of the ridge, and can see a ridge continuing for miles and miles, going towards the high snowy peaks which I can see now, one of which might be Smolikas.  A goatherd was on the top when I came, tending an injured sheep; now he's moving the flock, calling "capra, capra."
I had left London on June 29th, taking the night ferry to Ostend.  From there I hitched through Belgium and Germany and over the Swiss border near Basle.  A truck-driver who gave me a lift pointed out a sawmill before Luzern that had a shelter outside and I curled up there in my sleeping-bag with the rain pelting down and traffic roaring past.  The next day I hitched on into Italy over the St Gotthardt and past Lake Lugano.  My final lift took me right to Milano Centrale, where I got the overnight train to Brindisi.  I had to pass the day there before putting up my hammock on the night ferry to Igoumenitsa, still a little dock with a scruffy township around it in those days.  After four nights without a bed I slept long and hard in Ioannina, an old favourite of mine from the sixties.  I visited the island, watched the shadow puppet show by the lakeside and noted that the little kestrels still nested in the city walls.  I was relieved to find that some things in Greece were still the same, at least on the surface.   I planned a few weeks in Greece before heading to Turkey and then to Afghanistan and India.

Metsovo:  My picture taken in 1984

Monday, 4 July 2011

July 4th: Ollantaytambo

On July 4th 1976 I was in Ollantaytambo in the Urubamba Valley in Peru.

I had arrived the day before on the early train from Machu Picchu.  I walked along the straight road through the bushy shade trees from the station up into the little town.  The air was clear and the sun gave some warmth.  In the town I immediately came across the Restaurant Imasumac, which was a good place to find.  The Swedish woman and two Spanish men who ran the restaurant gave me good coffee and instant friendship.  They told me where I could find a bed for the night and I had a look round the town and was impressed.   Returning to the Imasumac for lunch as requested, I discovered there were several people I knew staying in town.  In the afternoon we all went down to a house beside the railway station which they were turning into what they called an "albergue", an inn.  The main movers were away but under the directions of another man we all used brute force and physics to move a huge well-stone out of the way so that building could continue.

The next day I visited the ruins but found myself more interested in using the position as a vantage point over the wide fields beside the Urubamba, the town and the little rural collection of houses beneath.  I wrote in my notebook:
View from the Ruins:  My picture taken in 1986
It's US Bicentennial Day, but that must be a long way away.  I'm looking down on the Urubamba valley, the grey town with one or two redder roofs and the white wall of the restaurant away to the left over the stonework; in front of me I have the chance to see the agricultural activity.  A group of buildings with an animal yard to one side and a grass yard which doubles as football pitch behind, they're working on wheat and maize now, five men picking up the corn rubbish to carry it somewhere, others working the wheat (or barley)with pitchforks.  A couple of donkeys were in just now to be loaded with some corn.  Around the yard are ancient walls.  Stretching up to the right are fields in yellow and green, some growing, some empty, some cut and waiting for collection.  Right in front of me, the fields are parcelled small, tracks leading between and a few thatched shacks in front of a group of eucalypts.  A group of cows is tended by a girl among the bushes.  Plastic flags fly in a couple of small cornfields.  Other cows are grazing in other fields further away.  To the left a modern farm complex, some places use machinery here.  The cemetery is nearer the town.  One truck went down the valley road, a few men walking down one of three roads which lead to the Urubamba and the railway, some kids on the tracks.  A sparrow-hawk flying over, very peaceful.

Over the next two days I explored around the town and the side valley of the Patacancha.  I clambered up hillsides with hardly any trails, getting the cactus caught in my legs, looking at the wild flowers and the giant humming-birds.  I walked to the pre-Inca site of Pumamarka and looked at the little farms and hamlets there.  I loved the peace and the clear, high air which was warm enough here to be pleasant.  I discovered Ollanta was a perfect place to stay; although there were only a few rooms at the railway station and the simple lodging where I stayed, there was good food and good companionship.  People who stayed were interested in finding out more.  We had no guide-books or maps of the area and so depended on word of mouth and rumour.  One of my friends was an anthropologist working with a large co-operative outside town and she gave us insight into social developments.  I would walk out in the day, more often than not on my own, and come back to the restaurant in the evening to discuss the day's happenings over fresh fish and Beethoven.

House in Ollanta:  My picture taken in 1986
Above all the town was special in itself.   To one side there was the archaeological site on the edge of the side valley.  In front was a square with the church.  Across the river was the restaurant and a plaza surrounded with mainly adobe buildings and another simple Peruvian restaurant.  The rest of the town was basically an Inca town with some post-Inca finishing to the walls and roofs; the street-plan and the walls and house entrances were original; water flowed through stone channels in the streets covered with little flat stone bridges; the latrine in my hotel was outside in the garden and had two water courses channelled in, one clean the other dirty.  The hills around were covered in Inca terraces, most of them in use; some hills had little adobe structures on them which turned out to be Inca store-houses.  Although the farms around the river were part of the modern world, up the valley and on the hills were people living who didn't speak Spanish and who didn't use money, who dressed and lived in very traditional ways.

The "albergue" has changed over the years but remains the best-known of Ollanta's lodging-places.  The Imasumac did not last long; I believe the building is still in use as an inn.  When I stayed in Ollanta in 1986 I found that new building was changing the feel of the town and it was losing its clear and simple lines.  The town has a tourism website.

Ollanta towards the Ruins:  My picture taken in 1986

Ollanta from the Ruins:  My picture taken in 1986

View ollanta in a larger map

Saturday, 2 July 2011

July 2nd: Machu Picchu

On July 2nd 1976 I was at Machu Picchu.  I was making a second visit, having been there at the beginning of the year.

The trip started out in much the same way: the train to Aguas Calientes, the hotel by the railway track, only this time it was the dry season and the river, although still spectacular, was much lower and well behaved.  However conversation in the hotel was about politics, not the easy talk of fiesta-time Cuzco: it seemed that the right-wing was active nationally.

In the morning I walked along the railway track, through the tunnels, and up the steep direct path.  I realised I could carry my shoulder bag from my forehead using the strap as a tumpline in the local fashion, which made climbing easier.  I started to look around the ruins while it was early, the houses and arches and brickwork, the way some things were built into the rocks, the temple with three windows, the sundial and execution block.  The atmosphere changed abruptly when a red helicopter approached and came to land on the grassy area in the middle of the site, quite close to where I was.  I retreated far enough to be out of the way.  A military man, air force I think, got out and went to meet another man in full uniform who came from the hotel.  After the talk the helicopter flew away again.  There weren't many present on the site, as it was before the arrival of the tourist train, but it certainly set a mood.  Whispers were going around and people said there'd been a coup.  A workman came up to talk to me in Spanish and told me how happy he was, the revolution had gone wrong (he meant Velasco's revolution of 1968), and now the peasants were doing all the suffering.
Terraces at Machu Picchu:  My picture, taken in 1986

When the tourists started to arrive soon after, I took myself away, not up Huayna Picchu this time, but over to the terraces on the far side away from the road and the railway station.  I walked along the trail towards the Inca Bridge where a log could be taken off a gap in the Inca Road to deny access.  I wanted to be away from the tourists and their chatter and cameras, I wanted to be away from red helicopters and ugly roads serpentining up the hill.  Over by the terraces and the bridge I could see why the place worked and I knew this was where I wanted to be at the moment. 

There were plenty of rumours of a coup over the next few weeks while I was in Peru, talk of shootings in Lima and so on, but I did not discover anything much for another two months until I was on a cross-channel ferry from Ostend to Dover.  I met an Australian who said he had a friend who had been a journalist in Peru at the time; it had been a coup, he said, but a palace coup: the president Morales Bermudez, who had taken over from Velasco because of Velasco's ill health a year previously, had not been overthrown, he had just changed his direction from left-wing to right-wing.