About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

22 December 2007


Due to my early start to the day (I arrived in Pisco around 5am), I had finished with the Nazca lines and was in Nazca the town by 1pm. My bus is scheduled for 9pm, and thus have a massive 8 hours to kill, in a small town, which features a number of bus companies, a number of tour companies and not much else.

In the Inca times this was a major trading town, where the Incas traded their wool (from the highlands) for the cotton (from the lowlands). The trading centre remains as an open ruin inviting anyone to wander through. It is an impressive site, and I wonder how it really looked 400 years ago.

The Inca's built other things around here: most notably a canal system to supply water to a desert town, which is still in use (and according to my guide book, more important than ever). However, my guidebook's directions to the canal system was sketchy, and I did not find it. With the heat, and general tiredness, I decided to just chill on the main square for the rest of the afternoon ... I am after all on holiday :p

Nazca Lines

The Nazca lines are huge, and best seen from a flyover. However, I am already running a bit over budget and spending 50 USD for a stomach turning spin was just not my cup of tea today. That said, I think I would love to return and do it properly.

There is a lot of speculation with regards to who made the lines, why they made the lines and when they made the lines. Regardless of which theory you believe, they remain a majestic sight. There is a lookout tower built on the side of the Pan-Pacific highway (running through Chile and Peru) and you can have a look at least 4 major lines from the tower with no difficulty. And the tower costs only 1 Sole (about 33 US cent), so a much better bargain! Sadly, the really famous figure: the hummingbird is one of the more remote figures, and the ones that can be clearly seen are: Flower, Hands, Tree and Lizard together with one of the massive line complexes (that look like runways).

Traveling on public transport is quite difficult as you have to wait for the next bus to come through, and I had the luck of waiting about 50 minutes. While the wonders of who, why and when are perfectly legitimate - I have a different question: how did the lines survive. From the vantage point I found two small dust storms, and I am sure, this area gets a lot more stronger storms. How can the lines remain so visible after all this time?


I was surprised that Ica did not suffer as much damage as Pisco, given their relatively close distance. The town centre, as most other Peruvian towns, is dominated by colonial architecture. The town itself is over run with auto-rickshaws, which seem to be more popular than the 4 wheeled taxis. I did walk around a bit, but in the end, there is not really much to see in the town itself. There are well known Peruvian wineries dotted around Ica, and as it is also the start of the desert, there are some magnificent dunes visible on the route down to Ica (and further south). With my main aim of securing a bus to Cusco from Nazca complete, I decided to head on to see the Nazca lines.


A few months ago, Peru had a massive earthquake, centred around Pisco. The aftermath of the earthquake are still visible: most of the town features broken buildings and reconstruction seems to be the major focus. I did not spend much time here, wanted a bus to Nazca, for which I was told I have to go to the town of Ica, about an hour and half away by bus. So off I went.

Out of Huancavelica

If it was not for the journey, the destination would not be worth the bother. It is a small town, of no special interest. In fact, I spent a matter of 2 or 3 hours in the town, most of it around the bus station!

Getting to Huancavelica was relatively easy. Getting out however proved to be a major challenge. In particular, I wanted to travel to the town of Ayuchocho - a mountain town about 400 Km away. However, I could not find any busses that go there, and was told that the roads were too bad at this time of the year (it is the rainy season in the Andes) and no direct routes exist. Instead I was adviced to go to another town from where I could catch a connecting bus. While the direct bus would have been a matter of 8 hours at most, the new route would be at least 16 hours of traveling ... if I got a bus. While I did buy a ticket with that intention, I changed my mind and decided to just carry on with the bus to the coastal town of Pisco and change my route of travel instead.

I am sure my route would have been similar, and I would really love to do this route during the day. A few weeks ago, BBC's Top Gear presented a segment on the "Greatest Driving Road" in the world. If they were to consider unpaved roads, the road down along the mountain after Huancavelica to Pisco should win it comfortable.

Simply put, it is the most terrifying road I have ever been on ... and I loved every moment of it (of which I was awake ... I was asleep for large parts of the journey). Basically it was an unpaved road (a smooth dirt road if that makes sense) cut against the mountain. There were very few road signs, and no guard rails. On one side: the mountain. The other side: a drop into the valley. This off course meant that passing vehicles was an adventure in itself ... luckily only happened twice. There were two other hazards, both of which required all the passengers to get out: a rockfall and a narrow bridge. I must say: the driver was amazing and drove with great skill - although he was hardly hurtling the bus down the hill.

For the moments I was awake, it was an amazing journey: moonlit, clear skies lighting up basically a black valley of tree tops. The trip must be amazing during the day! Huancavelica is not worth much as a town - but the journey to and from the town is worth a day's travel.

21 December 2007


Thursday evening was my first venture outside Lima, with an overnight bus trip to Huancayo, a town high up (over 3000m) in the Andes. I had only one motivation to come to here: it is the stating point of the Huancayo-Huanvelica train trip, which was cited as one of the most scenic train rides in the world in both my guide book (Rough Guides to Peru) and Lonely Planet. After those recommendations, I just could not resist.

The town itself is largely unremarkable - some interesting old colonial buildings (two churches and the town centre for example), and there is a thriving craft market. But beyond that, there is no real reason to make a prolonged stop in Huancayo. Although, the air is very fresh and crisp - so I suppose that is a reason to stay ....

Huancayo to Huancavelica

Even though the train trip is cited often, it does not seem to be very popular with tourists. The start of the journey is hardly auspicious: there are no paved roads leading to the station, and while there are trains: they are not necessarily regular. I was lucky to catch the "faster train" which raises the interesting question on how slow the slow train is ...

More than scenery, the railroad (and the road between the town) is a major feat of engineering. The Incas were well known for their engineering prowess, and it is good to know that the Peruvians haven't lost it.

The route travels along a river gorge with the tracks literally carved into the sides of the mountain. The mountain route is breath taking, and so are the various villages dotted around the tracks. In particular, the hill side farming terraces are particularly impressive: a wonder that farmers actually farm here on the slopes.

20 December 2007

Lima Reflections

I have been in Lima for about 2 and a half days, and will be leaving later tonight, in a somewhat long and protracted journey through some towns of the beaten track towards Cusco, the second biggest city in Peru. I have been staying at the Backpackers Family House in the Miraflores suburb of Lima.

The Hostel

I have been seriously impressed with the hostel, which is run by two guys: Pedro and Christian. They have been really cool hosts, and took us (as the residents) out on the town last night and cooked a traditional Peruvian dish on Monday night. The hostel is more like a temporary digs than a hostel - it is a largish house with about 6 rooms which can take a various numbers of people. The other residents have so far been two Dutch guys, a Canadian guy, John, (who I might meet up later in Cusco), an American carpenter (who was almost like a permanent resident, but left to go back), a Canadian girl who just arrived, two Brazilians and a Columbian. John and I spent quite some time exploring Lima as we arrived on the same day, but we have made various groups to explore various areas of Lima. That is one of the really cool things I like about backpacking.

I am coming back to Lima over New Year's Day, and staying here again ... definitely the best hostel I have stayed in.


Lima is a massive city - both in its population (apparently around 7 million) and area. It is a big metropolitan area, and it reminds me a lot about South Africa (taxis) and India (bad driving, smog). It is also a very fast paced city - people are always on the move, and life seems to be fast. It is not really a beautiful city; and a friend of John apparently described it as a "big ugly city that you just have to go through". It does however have its charms.


Miraflores is a suburb of Lima, and is actually quite far from original city centre. It is quite an affluent area, and is full of fancy shops. Built on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, it is also sometimes quite spectacular. And nothing is more spectacular than Larco Mar, a new shopping centre built on the cliffs, offering spectacular views. But knowing Peru's reputation of earthquakes, the rationality of this building must be raised.

Right in the middle of Miraflores, is Huach Pucllana - a pre-Inca ruin, that is being slowly restored. It is quite fascinating to see restoration in progress especially considering there are apartments overlooking the ruins.

Lima Centro

The old town, built mostly by the Spanish and thus has a lot of old European architecture.

Playing Frogger

Traffic and driving in Lima is a nightmare. Drivers it seem, only respect three parts of the traffic law: one way signs, traffic police and red lights. No other traffic signs are respected - and cars just go. Pedestrians have to play frogger to cross the road as do cars!

Taxis (the South African kind) are called Collectivos and are quite weird, and everywhere. And most passenger cars are taxi cabs (NY style) and everyone seems to use them: they are pretty cheap (no fixed rates - you have to negotiate) and thus very convenient.

Like in SA, the roads are full of street hawkers selling at road crossings and the variety is a lot more than in SA. There are also guys doing all sorts of things to earn money: doing acrobatic tricks during rush hour for example (while the lane is stopped)! No wonder that most cars have dents in them!

The ANC Leadership ...

This post is really a comment to Sara's excellent blog post and an extension of my earlier comment to Marco's post.

Firstly, Zuma's election as the leader of the ANC is not a surprise. But, I don't think it is a surprise because it is Zuma that won the position, but because, Mbeki was doomed to fail in his bid for re-election. The fact of the matter is, Mbeki, as much as I like the man, is not a great leader. In fact, as my high school English teacher often commented, Shakespeare has a lot of modern day applicability; and here - this is the classic case of Brutus vs Anthony.

On one corner, we have Mbeki - the intellectual, a man of effectively royalty (Govan Mbeki was after all a defendant at the Rivonia trial) and a man of strong beliefs; i.e. Brutus. While he is well respected for his intellectual prowess, he is not really understood by the common man - and he is in fact very much removed from the concerns of the common man. Mbeki (and for that matter Brutus) may have concerns for the common man, but they are so out of touch with the common man, that they cannot really communicate their plans effectively.

On the other corner, we have Zuma - a man of the people, a man who led the wars from the front line, a man who is not dumb by any means - but certainly not an intellectual i.e. Anthony. He understands the common man on the street - he identifies with them, can speak to them and can listen to them. And because he speaks the same language as the common man, he is more popular with the common man.

And it is no surprise Zuma won - Mbeki might have the respect of the common man, but Zuma has the love of teh common man, and often the rational decision is ruled over by the heart.

But to be honest, I don't think neither Zuma nor Mbeki are good leaders. The fact is, the leadership race was not dictated by policies or visions - but personalities. Mbeki did not seem to give any vision of what it would mean to have him for another 3 years. The fact is, neither did Zuma. What does it mean now that Zuma has won? Will he move towards more social spending? Will he make ARV drugs freely available everywhere? Will he push for a stronger or weaker Rand? Will he pursue peace in other African countries?

The problem with modern democracies is that, more often than not, it is being decided by personalities and not really policies. The fact is, true political parties with really divergent policies are becoming rare.

And more worrying in my opinion ... we no longer know what a government's mandate is. COSATU wants the government to make more jobs. The homeless want free housing. Sportsmen want financial support. In my opinion, the purpose of what a government is there to do has become blurred and almost non existent. And it requires leadership to fix this ... and I don't think Zuma is the man to do the job. But neither is Mbeki.

19 December 2007

Sao Paulo Stopover

After the Bolivian visa fiasco, I had no choice but to stay overnight in Sao Paulo before flying to Lima. And due to a morning flight, overnight either meant a hotel near the airport (no backpacker places nearby) or at the airport itself. The hotel room worked out despite the relatively high cost due to the good night's sleep after being awake for close to 24 hours and a hot shower in the morning. The cost was further increased due to the necessity of taking a taxi to the hotel after the non appearance of the scheduled hotel bus (and I waited close to an hour ... sleep called in the end).

The flight from Johannesburg was not bad, even though it was 10 hours long, during the day (so not much sleep) and no seat back entertainment units. For the first time, in a long while, I sat next to someone interesting on the plane - a pretty Brazilian lady of South African decent (father was South African who went on holiday to Brazil and sort of never returned ....). She was visiting her far flung relatives in South Africa and Mozambique and was returning home.

Can't really say too much about Sao Paulo itself other than it is massive. Whether it is from my hotel room, or from the air, it just seems to be full of people. It is one of the largest metropolitan regions in the world, and the scale is truly impressive, even though I have been to other massive metropoles: Kolkata (previously Calcutta), Mumbai (previously Bombay), New York, London and Cairo. The area around the airport seems to be quite well developed with good roads etc. although seeing cyclists on the highway to the airport this morning was quite eye catching ... especially when the were crossing the highway.

Oh, and there are loads of beautiful Brazilian women around ...

17 December 2007

And so it begins ...

I am currently posting this from the OR Tambo International Airport, previously known as Johannesburg International Airport (and previous to that, known as Jan Smuts International Airport). In about an hour, I will board my plane for Sao Paulo, and start my South American adventure.

Lee had convinced me to try traveling through Bolivia, and I changed my plans accordingly. Unfortunately, the Bolivian embassy could not process my visa even though the consul gave me her assurances that she had the time to do so. So, I have reverted my plans back to the original one, which has its good and bad .... good that I may have the chance to do the Inca trail (if there are free spots), and cover more of Peru. Bad in that the flight between Sao Paulo and Lima is quite expensive, so has dented my budget a bit.

Keep an eye on the blog for updates ... and don't expect too many email replies!

16 December 2007

Offline Blogging Tools (for the Mac)

I have been testing out Qumana, a offline blogging tool that works on Mac OS X (Leopard). Basically, I was looking for a tool that I can use to create posts offline and then upload when I have net connectivity, in particular for my South America trip. This is the only tool that seemed to work when I looked at this issue in Germany, but it has its share of problems: three major ones from my point of view.

Firstly, the title does not seem to be posted. I have tried numerous times and every time, the title is lost.

Secondly, there is no support for Blogger's labeling system. It does have tagging support - but I specifically want to use Blogger's labeling system for consistency.

Lastly, the save posts function sometimes does not work - and no error message is given. And this is the most annoying part of it all - after all, adding labels and titles are a few clicks, rewriting a post can take minutes if not hours.

The spell checker also does not seem to work ...

So all in all, I am looking for other options ... any recommendations?

Al Jazeera (English)

Al Jazeera, is most famous for the Al Qaeda tapes from Osama bin Laden. Originally, it was broadcast only in Arabic, but more recently (I think for the past 2 or 3 years) there has been an English 24 hour news channel also. I have been watching the English broadcast on DSTV for a few hours, and I must say I have been really impressed.

Firstly, being based in Qatar, it is no wonder that there does seem to be an emphasis on news from the Arabic peninsula. That said, the Arabian peninsula is one of the news hotspots of the world, so it is not such a bad thing. In fact, what is really impressive about Al Jazeera is its balance in reporting. For almost every major controversial topic, there are reports that examine the contrasting views. A report on Gaza features a report from Israel and a report from Gaza. A report on the climate change conference in Bali features reports from the developing country representatives, the US representatives, the pro-lobby groups and even environmentalists who think the Bali process is pointless.

Sometimes, I think that they seem to be trying too hard to be balanced! But their approach is refreshing, and I particularly liked some of their special segments, featuring topics that seem to be almost completely against the Arabian prejudicial views: shows focusing on women's movement, the high price of oil, human rights and Islamic extremism. The English channel is full of veterans from CNN and BBC, and it almost seems that they have a lot more freedom in their craft.

Christmas Markets

Last year Hans-Peter was rather despondent around Christmas, and remarked that Christmas was just not the same in South Africa. I did not really understand, until I went to the famous Nuremberg and Munich Christmas markets. Christmas, in fact seems to be in a completely different spirit than that of South Africa, and it is not a matter of rampant consumerism either.

Firstly, in many parts of Europe, Christmas gifts are actually not exchanged during Christmas but during St Nicholas day around 5/6 December. Yes, Santa has his own day!

But the main difference in my opinion is really the actual decorations and spirit. It is not just a matter of Gluhwein and snow - Christmas decorations in Germany did not feature fake trees and an assortment of fake presents and lights. Instead, most decorations almost tended to tell a story of sorts, and decorations went beyond just lights and tinsel. There is even a town in Germany (Rothenburg ob der Tauber) dedicated to the production of Christmas decorations, and the craftsmanship in some of the decorations (such as nutcrackers) is particularly impressive.

Interestingly, Christmas markets can only operate from a certain date, and it seems that tradition has somewhat controlled rampant consumerism. In a way, I think I finally get what the fuss is all about ...


Munich is well known as a city of the rich, and numerous art galleries, the BMW factory and a relatively higher priced goods definitely enforces this view. Off course Munich is best known for Oktoberfest, and I never managed to make it to Munich during Oktoberfest.

The main highlights of Munich are centred around the old town centre, a short walk from the main train centre. While the area is interesting, especially the churches, it just did not have the same character as some of the other old towns in Germany. I am not sure why.

The BMW headquarters are one of the highlights for any car fan. Located next to the Olympic Park, you end up with two tourist highlights in one! The BMW museum chronicles the history of BMW, including its history as an aeroplane engine manufacturer, to the post war era where it was reduced to producing consumer goods and bicycles to the gloom of BMW where it was almost sold off to Daimler Benz to off course its current glory years where it is one of the foremost car manufacturers in the world. The BMW World complex is a showroom like no other ... a massive complex of restaurants and cafes together with showrooms to order your cars as well technology show cases for various cars and bikes, including the Hydrogen car project.

I have been told that Munich is best visited in the summer or during Oktoberfest. While the museums are definitely worth visiting, the city a a whole is probably only worth visiting at those times?


First impressions: Barcelona was a concrete jungle. Apart from the odd children's playgrounds, it was just concrete everywhere. Even the trees that lined up next to some of the trees were basically planted in holes on the concrete pavements. That said, Barcelona has some really amazing architecture, and is a very vibrant city, full of life.

My time in Barcelona was pretty short ... a matter of fly in, attend conference, fly out. So after my paper presentation, I decided to skip the last session of the day and try to see a bit of Barcelona.

Apart from the Bodies exhibition, I did not enter any of the major sights ... but Barcelona is an amazing city, and even if it is a concrete jungle, it is a beautiful city with a blend of Gothic, renaissance and modern architecture. And there is greenery ... just not in the main part of the city :p I would definitely like to come back to Barcelona!

Oh, the northern part of Barcelona (near the Royal Palace and the venue of my conference) was actually very green ...

The Bodies Exhibition

I just missed the exhibition in Washington DC, and when I saw that it had just opened in Barcelona, I decided not to miss the opportunity. If you haven't heard, Bodies is a fairly controversial exhibition where a human body parts are plasticised and put on display. So instead of just seeing the human body from the view of the skeleton and or outside, the complex muscles and organs that really make us up can be put on display.

It is a fascinating exhibition - not only because it so clearly demonstrates the complex machine that is us, but also what disease means for the body. For example, what does a cancerous lung look like as opposed to a healthy lung?

The stated goal of the exhibition is to teach us about our own bodies ... I enjoyed biology in school, and to an extent, I think exhibitions like Bodies can help teach and educate people far more effectively than textbooks or even videos and 3D computer models - it just is not as realistic and in your face. Sadly, the exhibition is pretty exclusive ... entrance was about 15 Euros, and is only available in certain cities. Ultimately, the process must be adopted by museums to truly give a wider access to the public