Peru

Since I last blogged, we have spent 23 days visiting the wonderful, picturesque country of Peru. Our trip was entitled “Peru Encompassed”, which turned out to be an apt description, as we saw such a wide variety of locations and people and were given the opportunity to have a glimpse of what Peruvian Culture is. We travelled in a group of 8 lovely people from England, America, Germany and Australia, and with a Peruvian guide, Uriel, who all contributed greatly to our brilliant time. They’d make great travel companions on another trip….

We started off flying to Lima and then quickly travelled down the coast spotting Dolphins, sea lions and penguins at the Ballestas Islands, being completely confounded by the Naza lines – which whilst confounding were a bit of a disappointment. We moved on to Arequipa where we went to Colca Canyon. This is one of my highlights. The Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and is absolutely breathtaking. It’s hard to get a decent photo of it that does it justice, but here’s one of mine.

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The canyon is terraced by the Inca and Pre-Inca populations and these are still farmed today by the local communities using basic hand tools and animals to pull ploughs for most of the time. Modern, mechanised machinery is used in only the most accessible terraces. As we looked into the Canyon we were blessed with seeing beautiful condors gliding through the air. Fantastic.

During our stay in Peru, we had two homestays where we stayed with local families. One was near Colca Canyon and the other on a peninsular on Lake Titicaca. Both were quite terrifying, due to our lack of Spanish, but very humbling due to the way that we were welcomed into the families on both occasions. The families involved us in some of their daily tasks, including digging the ground, planting and watering beans and collecting stones for a house being built. We helped prepare vegetables and got dressed up in local costumes.

Our next stop was Lake Titicaca which is huge – bigger that Belgium, and high, 3,812 meters. it is a most beautiful lake and sits of the border of Peru and Bolivia. We visited the Uros Islands, made out of reeds, and met a small community. On the Lake we visited an island called Taquille. We walked up to the top and along the spine to the other side of the Island, seeing the famous knitting men. To be honest they just looked like men knitting!

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Our next stop was Cuzco which we’d been told was lovely and it didn’t disappoint. It’s described as the heart of Peru, and certainly seems to be the tourist capital of Peru. It is filled with Inca remains, and is beautiful. The Inca buildings that remain have withstood earth quakes and conflict, and seem to me to be the original Lego, but built in stone. Cuzco is the launch pad from where we set off with Stephanie from our group to walk the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. This was the main reason that we’d booked the trip so we set off with nerves and excitement in equal measures.

The walk is 45km (28 miles) long and over steep terrain, all at altitude. It was walked over 4 days and 3 nights. On the 3 nights we camped on the trail. During the walk Roger calculated that in addition to the 45 km distance we walked, we went up or down over 4km. During the trail we were with a larger group of 14 from England, Australia and America. Fortunately our week at altitude prior to the walk helped to prepare us and enabled us to cope with the altitude without being ill – although I particularly did need to stop to catch my breath many times! We were supported by two guides, a chef and assistant chef, and 18 porters who carried the bulk of our kit, the tents, stools, food, plates, cooking utensils and all the other stuff. They were brilliant, running up the hills as we struggled to walk up them, but I guess they are used to both the terrain, the altitude and the heat. The trail was fantastic, beautiful and I felt a real sense of achievement when we got to Machu Picchu on the 4th day.

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Having completed our trail and had a good look around Machu Picchu we went into the town and joined up again with our original group, heading back by train and minibus to Cuzco where we had an opportunity to relax and rest before heading off to the Amazon via a short flight to Puerto Maldonado.

The Amazon was unsurprisingly hot and humid, and very basic. We were blessed to see a large number and variety of different animals including four types of monkeys, Macaws, Tarantulas, Owl Butterflies, clear wing butterflies and many more insects an lizards. It was beautiful, but too hot for me really, although I did enjoy seeing the animals. The rooms were very basic and as it was an eco-lodge there was only electricity in the main communal dining hall. All other light was by head torch or candle light. We were visited in the night by pesky mice (or more likely an Amazonian equivalent) which ate through a nice bag I’d bought, but aside from that we were unscathed.

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From the Amazon we had a flight to Lima via Cuzco and then the goodbyes started. El – Groupo, such a fantastic group to share such a magnificent holiday with and I do hope that we can combine our diaries and holiday wishes in another trip together.

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Belfast and the Tower

Our trip to Belfast has been in the calendar since we went to Cardiff last September for the National Police Memorial service, and this year didn’t disappoint. We flew into Belfast on Saturday and had a rush around to book into the hotel and get back to the Grand Opera House to see Blood Brothers which was fantastic and very moving. What a good start to our stay.
Our Sunday started with a trip to the RUC George Cross memorial garden. What a brilliant place. It told the story of the RUC from their formation in 1922 right up until they became the PSNI in 2001. During that time they suffered troubles unlike those faced by the rest of the police in the UK. I hadn’t realised that Ireland didn’t split into the North and South until 1921.

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A brief amusement for me was a 1960’s advert for women offices describing “the section offers an interesting, active and healthy occupation to the vigorous girl who wishes to do a worthwhile job in varying and challenging circumstances. Promotion prospects are good; she must, however, relinquish her service on marriage.” I wonder how many females would consider themselves ‘vigorous’ or whether it’s used in any job adverts nowadays! How things have changed.

The gardens were beautifully kept with statutes including the George Cross statue that celebrated the Queen awarding the George Cross to the RUC as a tribute to the acts of gallantry and sacrifice made by officers and their families. There is an area of reflection that has the names inscribed of all officers lost whilst serving over the history of the RUC, including over 300 that died due to acts of terrorism. It is shocking to see the vast number of names that were killed in these circumstances in the 70’s and 80’s. I spoke to the volunteer guide who was a retired RUC officer. She explained how officers didn’t even tell their children what they did for a living as it was too dangerous, and their distinctive green shirts were never hung on the line, but always dried inside due to the risk of exposure. It’s a sharp contrast to how we operate in the rest of the UK where for the most part we are not at risk of personal attack because we’re police officers.

Sunday afternoon saw us gather at the Waterfront Hall for the National Police Memorial Service. This is attended by serving and retired officers, together with friends and relatives of those that had passed. During the service four candles are lit in memory of officers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Relatives of deceased officers light the candles to represent the four nations. 2014 marks 30 years since WPC Yvonne Fletcher was murdered at the Libyan embassy and her sister was there to light the English candle. For me the highlight of the service is when the last post is played alongside the hymn Abide with me as rose petals drift down from the ceiling and we remember all those that have fallen. Such a poignant moment as we remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice for their communities and their colleagues. It makes me very thankful to have not only survived my service but to have loved almost every moment of it.

PoppyAfter a circuitous route home, via Durham and Sheffield to see our young ones we got home on Tuesday afternoon, ready for  our trip to London on Wednesday. We headed to the Tower of London to plant poppies as part of the commemorative installation called ‘Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red.’ It will comprise of over 800,000 ceramic poppies, each one beautifully handmade which will turn the moat entirely red. This is to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War. It was absolutely stunning to see the impact of the poppies that had already been planted, and apparently they have planted about half of them so far. It is stunning to think that each individual poppy represents an individual British military fatality during the war. We were a large group of volunteers who constructed and planted until all our allotted poppies had been planted. We are very proud to have had the opportunity to be part of this project and to have seen first hand from the moat the installation.

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Our day in London was completed by a visit to the Theatre to see Miss Saigon which is this year celebrating its 25th anniversary. This was a stunning performance and one that we didn’t know the story before we went. It was absolutely brilliant and so well performed. A fine finish to a fantastic week.

Our next adventure commences tomorrow with a trip away to Peru. We’ll have no IT with us during this trip, so hopefully a full update will happen on our return.

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