Peru Travel Guide: Cusco

•April 29, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Peru Travel Guide: Cusco.


Rude Bella Pierre salesman

•December 4, 2009 • 2 Comments

So there I was, barrelling through the V&A Waterfront shopping mall, arms weighed down by carrier bags containing the most unglamorous of purchases – household cleaning products. I had been battling insomnia for a few nights in a row, wasn’t wearing any make-up, was running late … too much to do, too little time to do it in, and too little money to go around.

Suffice to say, I was in my own little bubble, dealing with life’s issues as I made my way to my car.

Suddenly, some fellow steps in front of me. Young, good looking, charming, very engaging. ‘I can get rid of those wrinkles for you,’ he says. This is not usually how I like to be ripped from my thoughts. I half stop, look quizzically at him … ‘Sorry, what?’

‘All those wrinkles around your eyes. I can take them away,’ he says.

‘Now HOW is that supposed to make me FEEL BETTER?’ I almost shout at him. Actually, maybe I did shout. ‘Some guy stopping me in the middle of the shopping centre, in front of everyone, telling me about my wrinkles?’

I mean, good grief! I am a woman of a certain age. Of course I have wrinkles around my eyes. I also laugh and smile a lot. I’ve had crinkles around my eyes since I was a kid. Okay, so on that day they were more worry lines than laughter lines … but was I interfering with him?

The fellow, along with being fairly good looking and charming, is also incredibly thick-skinned. He pokes his fingers at my face. ‘All these lines,’ he says again, leading unwilling, very resistant me to his kiosk.

‘I’m not buying anything,’ I say firmly.

‘No, no, I am not selling anything,’ he says in his attractive Israeli accent.

‘I’ve seen your product. I’ve bought before, and I know you want to sell me something. I’m not buying.’

‘No, I not sell,’ he insists.

My arms are lengthening with each minute I’m standing there, the plastic handles are cutting into my fingers. I need to go. I have to fetch a child from school, finish some work …

The man is undeterred. He will have his way. He starts slopping lotion on my face. My hands are holding the bags, I can’t push him away. Then he takes me by the arm and leads me to a chair, makes me sit, even while still holding onto the heavy bags. He starts putting more lotion around my one eye.

‘What is this?’ I want to know. But he babbles on about my lines, my wrinkles, my sagging face that needs to be lifted. Now, look, I know there are women who go on television programmes and take this kind of criticism in full international view. But I never signed up for that. I was just trying to make my way home. Sort out my finances. Clean that kitchen. Fetch my child from school.

And, no, I am not enjoying being told about how deep the lines around my eyes are!

More lotion is slapped on.  ‘But I am not buying,’ I keep saying. ‘I am sure your product is wonderful. I have bought something here before. But I am not buying today.’

Mr Rhino Hide pushes on. Fetches a mirror. Shows me the miraculous difference between the skin around the one eye and the skin around the other eye. My wrinkles around the left eye are shorter. They have been eradicated – permanently. The Dead Sea product has not only cured the ones that were there, but is also preventing the future ones from scarring my face. And this stuff can lift my face! Drag it up from where it hangs from my cheekbones.

‘Yes, very nice,’ I say. ‘But I am not buying it.’

He puts the two products in front of me. One thousand rand each. He is confused, aghast even, that I am not pulling notes from my pockets and immediately buying these two products. Two thousand rand (that’s about $266) without even thinking. No!

‘Why not?’ he demands. ‘Look. Everyone is buying.’

But, magpie that I am, I am intrigued by some small plastic pots containing wonderfully colourful powders. Mineral eye shadows, they are. ‘How much are they?’ I ask. He won’t tell me. First he must paint my hand, demonstrate the versatility of these magical eye colours.

They’re pretty.

‘Don’t wipe it off,’ I ask. ‘I want to show my daughter. She’ll like this.

He grabs my hand and wipes the colours off.

‘No, you don’t show her,’ he says. ‘You buy for her now. Choose the colours.’

My mouth drops open. He can’t be serious. He pulls a stack of colours from a jar. I must buy this for her.

‘How much?’

‘R1 000.’

‘No, I am not spending R1 000 on eye shadows, thank you. And I am not buying anything today. But how much do they cost individually?’

For some reason he just won’t tell me. Keeps pushing me to choose some colours. But I don’t want to choose colours while I need to be somewhere else, and have shopping bags dragging at my arms. I simply want to know the price, and if the price is right, and when I have time, I will come back and select a colour or two … in my own time. It’s my money, my time, and I’ll decide when to spend it.

He starts becoming more aggressive. I am not selecting a colour, and this is infuriating him. He pulls four pots randomly from the shelf and smacks them down on the counter in front of me.

‘Here. Take these for your daughter,’ he says. ‘R800.’

‘No thank you. I’m not buying today. But if you give me your business card, I will come back and choose some colours when I have more time, and I will ask for you.’

‘R700!’ he says.

‘Really, no. Just give me your card. I don’t want to buy right now.’

‘R400 for all four!’


His voice becomes louder and his arms start to wave about. ‘R200!’

Now, there is nothing wrong with the price – certainly not at this stage; he is practically giving it to me. But why am I standing in an up-market shopping centre and being forced to buy a product that I don’t want, necessarily, by some guy who thinks he is standing in some open market where one barters for goods? Is he going to pull chickens from behind the counter next and try to swap them for some pumpkins?

‘Please just give me your card, and I will come back when I have more time,’ I try again.

Suddenly his whole demeanour changes. His face is expressionless. He turns away from me and walks into the kiosk. I stand there, having put my bags down, waiting for him to come back with his card. He starts to clean the counter. I think he’s just doing a quick clean-up, he’ll be with me in a moment. I smile. I wait.

Then it becomes clear that he has cut me off. He is completely ignoring me. The man is treating me like a stray dog! I am speaking to him, asking him if I must wait, he is half a metre away from me, and he makes as if I am not there at all!

I stand a few moments longer. This is not possible. The man is in sales. He has invaded my space, ignored my resistance, put lotions and colours on me, buffed my nails. He has bullied me and insulted me. And I have stayed friendly and polite.  I have said that I liked his product, I have asked for his card, I have said that I will choose something when I have time, knowing full well that the fabulous offer of four items at R200 all together will have been missed. And he is treating me like a dog!

I pick up my bags, look at him again. No. He has definitely cut me off! I turn and walk away. The man is a rude pig!

Bella Pierre at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa … you will not see a penny from me. Not ever!

I tried to phone the owner of Bella Pierre, but reached his voicemail. I left a message saying that I had just had the rudest encounter with a member of his staff and would be happy to speak with him if he were interested. I never heard from him. Clearly he endorses this kind of behaviour. Clearly he is unaware of the fact that there are many, many, many beauty products on the shelves, many equally as good as his product, some even better, and that you simply cannot treat people this way –  even if you’re not trying to sell them something.

Easigiving – Charity Champion Page

•September 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

To make a donation to The Reach for a Dream Foundation, please visit my fundraising page at BackABuddy
Easigiving – Charity Champion Page

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Heading towards the Japanese Alps

•June 1, 2008 • 2 Comments

I’m sitting on a train, my head leaning back against the headrest, my body being rocked gently from side to side as the glisteningly clean train slices its way through the Japanese countryside. The bright sun is streaming in through the large window to my left. We’re reaching the end of the day, and heading south from Nagoya into rural Japan, into the Japanese Alps. I have finally managed to create some distance between myself and the group and am feeling quite alone. They’re bonding; enthusiastically sharing tidbits about themselves. I needed some quiet time. Andy has handed out clear plastic containers of food, which I have piled up on the fold-down food tray in front of me.

I don’t really feel like eating. There’s so much of it and even though I hadn’t eaten since the dry, disappointing breakfast at the hotel, the sheer volume of food makes me feel full and nauseous. I also feel too awkward to eat this unfamiliar food in public. I just know I’m going to dribble and spill and the polite Japanese people are going to have to pretend to not have seen, not to notice the greasy smear on the polished floor. I also have a can of disgusting tasting sake, which has a plastic lid, so that I can seal it between careful sips.

A youngish Japanese man sits next to me, staring out the window and neatly eating what looks like the Japanese version of Pringles crisps from a small can. He turns to look at me and sees the sun shining in my eyes. He gestures towards the curtain, indicating that he can close them if the sun is bothering me. I shake my head and smile, quite urgently – I don’t want to miss out on a thing. It will soon be dark and then I won’t be able to see the countryside anyway. He turns back towards the window and we continue to sit in silence. He has finished his can of crisps and is sitting very quietly, just staring out the window, deep in thought. I still have the containers of food quivering in front of me, glaring at me.

I don’t know what comes over me, but suddenly I tap him on the arm. He spins his head towards me, lifting off his seat in shock, his eyes wide, mouth open. I hold the open container towards him and offer him some of my food. He nods vigorously, smiles and takes a piece of whatever it is. Thank goodness! I would have wanted to fling myself from the moving train in embarassment had he refused!

And so, as it grows dark outside, we start talking. Him with minimal English, me with no Japanese. We gesticulate, we enunciate carefully, slowly, clearly, and we finish the one container of food. I ask Nina for her Japanese-English dictionary, and we continue to talk, drawing pictures on a sheet of paper and pointing to words in the dictionary. I learn that friendship, companionship and conversation are not dependent on a large vocabulary.

He points to the can of sake and says ‘You like Japanese sake?’. ‘Yes!’ I say. Well, I wasn’t going to tell this nice man that the contents of this can was ‘Ee-eugh!’ and that the warm sake I had had in Nagoya had left me cold, now was I? He proceeds to tell me that they make sake in the area where he lives. ‘Good sake?’ I ask. ‘Yes, yes, good sake.’

‘Better than this?’ I ask, pointing at the can.

‘Oh …’ he laughs, shakes his head. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Bottles or cans?’ I ask.

‘Bottles,’ he says.

‘Then it must be better,’ I decide.

Suddenly he looks at his watch, jumps up, and rushes from the compartment. Geez. What have I said? I figure he must be close to his stop, or something, and then notice that he had left his wallet lying on the windowsill. I quickly grab it and hurry after him, only to find him talking quite urgently on his cellphone, leaning against the wall at the door. I give him his wallet, wave goodbye and head back to my seat, a bit sorry that he was leaving.

And then he’s back. Smiling, talking, as if the whole incident hadn’t happened at all. We settle down and resume our conversation. He tells me about a castle in the area, draws a picture, tells me he is married, has a small child, loves soccer. I ask if he will have more children. ‘That is up to god,’ he tells me, pointing upwards. I give him my details and tell him he must come to Cape Town for the 2010 World Cup.

Suddenly, he jumps up again. ‘One moment,’ he says, putting his hands up, pushing both palms towards me, showing that I must wait. ‘One moment!’ Out he rushes again. My word, the fellow must be in trouble at home, or something, I think. The train comes to a halt, and I see him get off and talk to an elderly couple on the platform. They both look at me and smile. Well, they kind of stare at me actually, looking quite curious, but they’re friendly, keep smiling, looking at me. ‘Oooh’ I think. ‘I hope they don’t think he’s up to no good with this westerner with the crazy red and black hair!’ They exchange parcels, and he gets back onto the train.

Down the aisle he comes, beaming, carrying a paper bag with string handles in front of him. He sits down again, puts the carrier on the floor, peers inside, looks sideways at me, then picks it up again, and presents me with it. ‘For you,’ he says, his smile luminous. I’m taken aback, don’t know how to react. I want to cry. I look inside the bag … it is a gift pack of six glass bottles of different kinds of sake. ‘From here,’ he says, pointing out the window, indicating that it was sake from the region.

I worked out only much later that he must have gone to phone his parents when he dashed off the first time. Called to tell them that he had met a tourist on the train, someone who likes sake. And so they had taken the trouble to come out in the cold and dark to deliver a gift of sake to the next stop.

He had given me such a large gift already: our conversation, the time we had shared, this small pocket of real Japan that I had experienced. I was overwhelmed. And I had nothing to give him in return.

My movements wherever I travelled through Japan for the next two weeks would be heralded by the chink-clink-chink of little glass bottles dancing against each other. I couldn’t bring myself to break open the pack and put the bottles individually in my suitcase, which would have made more sense than dragging my red suitcase behind me with the one hand, carrying my heavy black camera bag over my shoulder and schlepping the white carrier bag of sake in other hand. But schlepp it I would, all the way back to Cape Town.

Once home, the sake did, eventually, get drunk. The little bottles were recycled. But the memory still makes me smile. And it reminds me that simple random niceness, for the sake of niceness, does exist, and that little gestures can alter someone, possibly forever.

Bulleting through Peru

•May 30, 2008 • Leave a Comment

We’ve been herded back to the car, bundled into the back with our bags.

Speeding. Speeding. Running with the clock. Time is money and time ticks on.

Lunch … quickly. Back in the car. Speeding towards the town of Ica. Quick drive-through. Browns and reds blur with faces as we pass. Awesome light. Indescribable. My hands itch as they wrap around my camera. I want to get out of the car. I need to. I want to walk, soak up the light, the place, the people, the colours, the smells. But on we speed. Earthquake damage everywhere. Total devastation. How does one begin to pick up the pieces? Start over? How do you go to sleep at night, wake up in the morning, tend to children, carry on with the business of being? Weary, blankfaced people selling food from makeshift stalls, perched amidst the rubble. Their homes have caved in and they’re living in tents, but the everydayness of life wears on. People with spades shovelling bricks and dust from road. No rush. Just keep moving. There’s so much to do, it will take forever with just a spade anyway. Just keep moving. It’s better than just sitting.

Taxis, cars, scooters, all criss-crossing one another, hooting incessantly, the evening light glinting off them. Brightly coloured three-wheeled scooter taxis charging everywhere, blurs of red, yellow, green.

The sun is setting over the desert. Big deep red-orange-amber sky with palm trees silhouetted against it. Photo opportunities whizzing by as we overtake two trucks at the same time. Bulleting ahead on the Trans American Highway.

You have to paddle them both

•May 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

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You have to paddle them both, originally uploaded by deirdre16.

Reed boat and rowing boat moored at a floating reed island on Lake Titikaka, Peru.

Cusco Revelry

•May 26, 2008 • 1 Comment

It’s been a long, long day on a coach, traveling from Cusco to Puno, Lake Titikaka. Ranj was horribly hungover from last night’s revelry. He’s really quite pleasant when he’s hung over, I think.


It all spun out of control in a heartbeat last night. Not something I could see coming when trying to get out of going to the dreadfully dull folkdance display earlier in the evening. Ranj had got a bit miffy when I said that I thought it was a silly idea to sit through one of those touristy things when there was a city to explore. So I went. And continued to think that it was a silly idea. Then, foolishly, I said that I wanted to have some more of that very nice wine that I had had at Tupanachis Restaurant the night before. I felt I deserved a treat after sitting through folkdance after folkdance. So, off we went and ordered half a bottle to share. Not very clever. Because we ordered another half a bottle after that one.


Sitting deep in the low black couches at the back of the trendy restaurant, the lovely red liquid was truth serum for my good friend Ranjit, who decided that this cozy spot of bon homie was a good time to tell me that I had been a tad irritating at times. Not that he could remember exactly what it was that I had done, or when I had done it, or where, but he distinctly recalls flags going up. Par for the course, I suppose. We’d been together, non-stop, for eight days now and barely knew each other before we left OR Tambo airport. And I had thought of him in somewhat unflattering terms a few times too, but couldn’t for the life of me remember when or why. ‘What is it about wine and about travelling together that amplifies the slightest flaw?’ I ponder as I watch him swig back the wine at increasing speed.


Thus bonded and assured of everlasting friendship, we head back out into the cold, back to Los Portales for sleep and another early rise. But just before the hotel, a dodgy dark doorway winked its temptation at us. We peered up at the shabby steps leading upwards and darkwards. Time to explore …


The dodgy doorway delivered on its promise. At the top of the staircase was a small, crowded pub. About the size of a small garage, the walls painted red, the bar counter, chairs and tables black, with low red lighting, dense with smoke, and packed, wall to wall with young, dark-skinned, dark-haired, rough looking Peruvians, it throbbed with a life unlike any we had seen on the streets so far. The locals seemed rather unenthusiastic about our uninvited entrance. In fact, they looked quite ready to ask us to leave.


Diesel, paint stripper and brake fluid must have been what they were serving.


And right there and then, Ranj lost the plot. Tequila! A quart of beer! The good humour he had found inside the Chilean wine was coming out to play – big! The barman took one look at these stupid gringos and smacked the shot glasses on the bar counter. Did I say shot glasses? Make that vases. Shot glasses big enough to hold about five shots of gut stripping, brain imploding firewater.  There was no way I was taking that down. Ranj, full of crazy energy, schlucked his down and reached for the oversized no-name brand bottle of beer.


I put my vase of liquid hangover down on the bar counter, behind the back of my new best friend, Miguel – Miguel, a not-very-attractive Peruvian who kissed me on the cheek and spoke a steady stream of unintelligible Spanish straight from his heart into my ear for the entire time that we were there, pressed together in the dank darkness of a tiny pub in the highest city in Peru.


Ranj was delirious, manic, couldn’t keep still, bobbing and weaving like a welterweight boxer. Bumping into an aggressive, moody looking, low-browed fellow at the edge of the bar, he ordered more beer, leaned his back into the grumpy chap, and swigged back with gusto, eyes glinting and grinning like the devil himself. Where is he putting all?


In an act of political diplomacy I sidled up to Agro Gloom to make friends. ‘What are you drinking?’ I asked, jutting my chin at the glass jug filled with liquid tar in front of him. Rum and coke. So I had some. And swilled the beer down. What else is a girl to do? I’m in Cusco, Peru, high on altitude, cocoa leaf tea and photo opportunities. A bit of tar and coke on top of all of that is hardly going to make a difference.


And suddenly Ranj and I were amigos. He had moved from polite avoidance to arm-draping in a gulp of cheap beer. Then my eyes locked on something I simply had to have. My life would not be complete without it … No, not Ranj! A steel sculpture, hulking in an alcove behind the bar. It looked like something from Lord of the Rings. It was powerful, beautiful, an unbelievable creation. It had to go home with me. Ranj, my mate, my pal, my oldest friend and saviour would get it for me. A quick negotiation with the barman and the deal is clinched: it could be mine for one hundred American dollars.


Ah. But I had not a single note left. Not even a fifty. It would have to stay in Peru, in its dark, red crypt, until I visit Cusco again one day. Later I would realise that the Inca gods were taking care of me, though, as there would be no way that I would have been able to travel with it on two buses and three aeroplanes all the way back to Cape Town.


Agro Gloom was moving closer, becoming uncomfortably fond, while Miguel kept up his stream of soft, earnest Spanish, his lips against my ear. I was being sandwiched between two intense men half my height and twice my girth. It was time to retreat. Without a word, we finished our drinks at the same time, put our glasses down, and headed back to Los Portales, Ranj with his arm over my shoulder, happy amigos just for the moment, and me without the incredible steel sculpture. 


And then my lugubrious young friend was back. Ranj would skulk inside his dark glasses and iPod, leaning his throbbing head against the window and grunting not a word, for the duration of the bus ride to Puno …


Ah. But it was a pretty fun night!