Thursday, January 24, 2008

shane alan tondelstrand

13.12.1972 - 11.01.2008

The brightest light in my world has been extinguished.
I will miss you.

*I will not be blogging for a while, but I will return.
Please check in occasionally to see.

Friday, January 11, 2008

amazing coincidence #4

Saturday 23rd October 2004

Palmyra is a dot in the Syrian desert.

A dot with a lot of history.

Formerly known as Tadmor, with a history dating back more than 2,000 years before even the Romans showed an interest in the region, Palmyra was also allied closely to the Decapolis which was predominantly located in the Jordan region.

ruins of palmyra

ibn ma'an castle palmyra syria

bev, ben, terry and steve

ben and bev from the castle

I arrived at this dot during Ramadan, and pretty much had the place to myself.
(Well I did have Ben, Bev and Steve who I'd picked up en-route for company)

After checking into hotel ‘The New Afqa’ (I didn’t ask what happened to the old one) and being satisfied that the water in the bathroom was hot enough to make tea with, I left my backpack and ventured out into the main street for lunch.

There was a choice of two restaurants in town so I selected the one that showed some semblance of sentient life within.

The owner, a slightly sweaty and overweight Arab who was nevertheless charming and effusive, bustled about my pavement table sweeping off the sand and laying out the menu and cutlery, all the while smiling and ever so slightly bowing. I figured trade was a little slow.

After giving my order, the owner deposited 3 large volumes on my table for me to browse whilst waiting for my lunch. They were visitors’ books.

Normally I don’t bother with these as they are usually full of either ingratiatingly fatuous comments about how ‘utterly gorgeous’ and ‘simply superb’ the food/waiter/restaurant/salmonella was - or contain obscene genitally inspired sketches.

But out of boredom I picked up one and fanned its pages in my face to give me at least some respite from the hot dry wind that was blowing.

Suddenly my eyes fell on an entry.

It was made by a friend of mine from The University of NSW back in Sydney (I was there in the early stages of my PhD) who had visited Palmyra the December before. I had no idea she had even been in the Middle East or Syria, let alone Palmyra.

Aussies - you can’t get away from them.

visitor's book

terry in palmyran restaurant

Thursday, January 3, 2008

of llamas and lost luggage

29th September - 2nd October 1998

If there is one thing I have learned from travel it is a sense of perspective.

This is especially important when things go wrong.

They can. And they do.

So when you find out that the restaurant has run out of rice for the meal you wanted (granted it WAS a Chinese restaurant, which is like a pub with no beer - Shigatse, Tibet 2002) or your plane has been delayed/cancelled/damaged (see just about every long trip I’ve taken) all one has to do is recall that 10 year old boy selling breadsticks during the day to help support his family when he should have been at school (Konye, Turkey 1990) or that land mine victim who was missing both arms and a leg (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 1993) and your problems seem paltry if not completely insignificant.

And so I arrived in Lima for a trek to Machu Picchu.

My luggage didn’t.

It had obviously decided it wanted its own holiday and had taken itself off to Baggage Bermuda or wherever missing backpacks go.

When I questioned the airport staff in Lima about it, they looked at me as if I was trying to explain Einstein’s Third Law of Thermodynamics. (Which states that the entropy of a pure perfect crystal is 0 at 0 K: 'delta' S(0K) = 0. But you knew that.)

Getting them to understand how awkward it was going to be having to trek to Machu Picchu with no luggage and just one T-shirt and the undies I was standing in was as good as trying to explain Belgium to a cactus.

So I left them my address in Cusco, hoped they would find my bag - connect the two, and forward it to me within the next 2 days, as by then I would be on the Inca Trail.

I should mention that by this stage I had been suffering with a very bad head cold for a week, and my flight from Sydney via Los Angeles was interrupted by Hurricane Helene which necessitated a layover in LA.

Standing in line for my connection to Cusco, a small town high up in the Andes Mountains, I found myself chatting to a young English couple on a 3 month South America jaunt.

Inexplicably (and somewhat inappropriately) I started telling them about a film I had just seen on video back in Sydney called “Alive” about a Peruvian football team that crashes in the Andes and the survivors end up eating the dead to stay alive. The film is based on real events.

Where we were standing waiting for our plane was alongside large glass windows and doors right beside the runway. So we were able to watch as our plane landed and slowly rolled right up alongside us. We were close enough to see in its windows.

A small dark man rolled the staircase out to the (rather small) plane and the front cabin door swung open.

And we watched as a Peruvian football team disembarked.

The flight was short and uneventful. Except it felt like I was in a 1960’s Peter Stuyvesant Travelogue.

The woman sitting beside me, obviously Peruvian, was silent and well dressed. When our meal came (on what looked suspiciously like a bakelite tray) she modestly tucked in and eventually finished everything in front of her.

She then proceeded, much to my astonishment, to wipe every bowl, plate, cup, utensil and the tray itself with her serviette, and one by one place them into her handbag.

So now there I was in Cusco, (altitude:3,310 M or 10,859.6 FT) one day short because of the hurricane, with no luggage and with only the clothes I was wearing. My planned high-altitude acclimatisation was cut from 3 days to 2 and my head cold was as bad as ever.

Still, I was ecstatic about actually being there in Peru. I had two days to try and replace everything I was missing.

Apart from trekking clothes and a sleeping bag (as well as the backpack) there were a myriad of minor things I had gone to great lengths to pack to make the trip more comfortable.

Such as decanting 2 weeks supply of sun lotion, mozzie repellent and liquid soap into small portable containers. (Yes, if you must know, I AM anally retentive. I prefer however, to call it being very well prepared.)

Fortunately I found shops where I was able to hire a pack and sleeping bag, and for clothes I made do with some cheap tourist T-shirts, and alpaca everything else.

Except Reg Grundies.. Couldn’t find any to fit. Peruvian men are rather diminutive and consequently all the locally made men’s underwear would have suited a 12 year old boy back home.

I developed a headache on arrival, which I put down to the high altitude, as well as a certain amount of anxiety.

High altitude is funny in that it makes you terribly conscious of your own breathing. You have (at least initially until you become familiar with the feeling) the constant sense of a slight struggle for breath.

Nothing suffocating or panic inducing, just the need to inhale each breath with a little more effort than usual. This can heighten anxiety as I found out. Normally having to race around and replace all of my bits and pieces would not have caused me any worry, but the altitude made me a lot more anxious about it.

I was fortunate to meet, right at the start of the trek, some great people - most notably Pierre from the UK and Helga and James (of the Amazing Coincidence #2 tale) from Holland.

Pierre and a young Danish lad he had befriended called Michael and I were generally out the front on the hike. Helga and James were in a different hiking group but were on the same itinerary so I was able to catch up with them each day at the campsite.

inca trail campsite

The first days walk was exciting and visually stunning with sweeping panoramas, terraced hills, ancient ruined towns and bracing weather. Walking was relatively comfortable and I arrived at the first campsite relaxed and happy. (Except for the fact that I discovered that the battery in my sister’s video camera I had borrowed was dead. So I had to carry its corpse with me for the next 4 days.)

Day two was another story. On this day we had to climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass (which should have offered at least a little insight into the impending effort) which took us from 2,800M to 4,200M.

All of it uphill. No flat bits and certainly no down bits.

To make things worse, about a hundred metres from the pass, you really start to be affected by the altitude as well as the accumulated tiredness of having already been walking uphill for 4 hours.

Suddenly each footstep becomes a leaden plod, each breath is harder to draw, and your backpack begins to feel like some ancient mythic burden (Sisyphus springs to mind.)

On this final stretch of the day I had caught up with James. He was on his own as Helga had gone bounding over the summit like a startled gazelle. We, on the other hand, were lamely inventing reasons why this should be so.

“Oestrogen I expect” I offered. “Gives them superhuman powers - that’s why they can have a baby and do the ironing at the same time”

“She a Stewie” replied James “She lives most of her life at high-altitude”.

“Hmmm…I expect that’s it.” we both muttered.

So the two of us, each leaning (metaphorically AND physically) on each other for support, wearily trudged up the mountain, whilst lava boulders fell all around us, the slippery ashen slope impeding our progress. “The ring I gasped, it must go into the Cracks of Doom…”

Sorry, went off track there for a moment.

The final 50 metres were really some kind of punishment. We found we could manage about 15 steps and then we had to sit and rest. Right near the summit we found ourselves in cloud so the air turned cold and clammy.

The apex entailed a climb through a natural stone tunnel and then suddenly it was downhill.

dead woman's pass

Then the strap on my backpack snapped.

And James fell and twisted his ankle.

I hastily made some repairs to the strap to make it useable again, and then offered to help James down the other side.

“No, you go on, save yourself, it’s too late for me. I’ve had a good life. Can’t complain. Just give this photo to Helga and tell her to remember Aberystwyth” he said wistfully in a fashion I thought a little dramatic.

So I headed down to the campsite which was about an hour away. James eventually hobbled down about 30 minutes later.

the pass past/passed

The third day was easy by comparison - a little up and down and a lot of across. A large part of that day seemed to be heading across some vast plateau where were literally in the clouds for much of the time.

twiggy bridge

That evenings camp was alongside a permanent shelter which also offered us the luxury of a hot shower, hot chocolate and hot sex. (Well…no not really I made that last one up. But the hot chocolate was as good as…)

The final morning turned out to be brilliantly clear. We were up before sunrise and I made sure I walked ahead of the group for the 90 minutes to the Sun Gate as I really felt like peace and quiet.

first view of machu picchu

I arrived at the Sun Gate to find Helga and James already there. This is where you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu and it is a stunner. Breathtaking and worth every ounce of effort to get there.

terry and pierre at the sun gate

We soaked up the view for a good hour before setting off down to the ruins along a kilometre or two track.

terry and dolly llama

macho terry and machu picchu

We were at the ruins around 7 in the morning which meant we had it to ourselves (ie the hikers) for about 3 hours before the first trainloads arrived from Cusco.

In hindsight - I think this is really one of those “the journey is more important than the destination” trips. Don’t get me wrong, the ruins are impressive, but they don’t have some of the Ooh-Ahh” factor of say, Angkor Wat.

Their beauty is in their isolation and their mountaintop setting. Arriving by train and catching a bus up the mountain to the entrance, I dunno, seems to lack a certain something.

incas carved stones to imitate mountain views

Once the hoards began to arrive we (James, Helga, Pierre, Michael and I) head down to the town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machu Picchu to celebrate my birthday (that day) with lunch.

Much to my delight the café we sit in quite by chance plays a tape of Nina Simone (my favourite singer) and the day is made truly perfect.

group birthday photo

* my luggage finally turned up 2 months later in Sydney 3 days after I arrived home. It looked fit and tanned and had evidently enjoyed itself.