Galápagos adventure (Part 1)

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Touchdown in Lima

To reach the Galápagos Islands from Sydney, one must fly to Santiago, through Lima to Quito. Faced with a six hour stop-over in Lima, I decided to add a brief stay in the city instead.

Santiago to Lima is a four hour flight, but is like stepping back through decades.
Santiago, despite or because of Pinochet, is now a thriving economy; Lima is a developing country whose population has exploded without jobs or infrastructure to support the inflow of people from the hills. The trip from the airport was slow, with street vendors walking between the lanes of traffic selling water, soft drinks and ice cream. Buildings are shabby, bags of garbage clutter the streets, yet signs welcoming Papa Francisco are everywhere- looking fresh and new although he has already been and gone.

There is a constant tooting of horns, which seem to mean anything from “I’m coming through” to “don’t even think about stepping off the pavement” and “I can see you and I know you have right of way, but I was here first.” Or maybe it’s just “I have a working horn in my car.”

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Not the only car in this condition.

I was staying in Miraflores on the coast, which people had told me was a good choice. Despite the plethora of surf schools, the surf looked choppy and uninviting, the beach grey and pebbly. And sea mist hung over everything, as it does all summer.

But this cleared in the afternoon and it was hot when I visited visit the pre-Incan ruins of Huaca Pucllana , then walked among the Saturday afternoon strollers. In the park, a crowd and music revealed a group of seniors dancingin an amphitheatre – not very energetically – but with great enjoyment.

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I left downtown Lima for today, starting with the Museo Larco. This amazing private institution was founded in the 1920s by an enthusiast who bought up collections of pre-Columbian art to protect them, and went on to research the many civilizations that existed in Peru before the Incas. The exhibits were well- curated, with explanations in six languages, showing everything from ancient ritual vessels, to delicate fabrics and elaborate gold armour. The post colonial era was not overlooked with some interesting religious art – with an indigenous twist.

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Museo Larco funeral rites.

The museum is also famous for its gardens – bougainvillea and geraniums in a riot of colour, cacti – even a few eucalypts. There is an elegant restaurant/ cafe, as well as a separate gallery of ritualistic erotic art.

I decided caffeine was more important than the latter. And not wanting to miss Lima central, I only saw a few reproductions in the gift shop.

My taxi driver was waiting as arranged, and he took me to Central Lima, dropping me off outside the Cathedral, and pointed me to the tourist office. Sadly his directions (or my understanding of his limited English) were wrong, and I did my usual wandering around in circles, trying to make sense of of street names and relate them to my map. I came to the magnificent Santo Domingo church, but decide to bypass the catacombs. Heading back to the main square, I found the tourist office, and received advice on far too many museums to fit In in one afternoon.
My primary goal was to visit the sanctuary of Santa Rosa, Lima’s patron saint, for my neighbour who shares her name. The church promotes Rosa in many ways from its dark pink walls, to the roses In the gardens. There is a museum telling her story, with a delightful priest outside. I read what I could – most was in in Spanish – and took photos of the various statutes of Santa Rosa.

I bought a small picture of Santa Rosa from the priest – and showing my protestant ignorance, didn’t know why he asked for it back. Of course, he needed to bless it. “mi no Catholic”, I offered in explanation in goodness knows what muddled language.

 

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Top deck sun protection

Back in the heart of Lima with its colourful Colonial architecture, wooden balconies and crowds of people. There were banners for Chinese New Year, an alley full of stuffed toys for Valentines day, apparently guarded by a soldier with a gun, and police lounging everywhere. Strolling balloon sellers, invisible under their helium filled load. And round very corner, or down a passageway were shops selling colourful Peruvian fabrics, hats, and stuffed lamas of all sizes.

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Valentine’s Day must be approaching.

Don’t walk faster than the natives is advice I have been given for hot climates. But when many of the natives seem to have some physical impairment, or are aimlessly strolling to fill in a Sunday afternoon, this advice is best ignored.

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I would love to see Lima on a working day instead of a weekend, to see how different the city is. But my current impression of crazy traffic, poverty, churches, colonial architecture and parks, and friendly people immensely proud of their city will have to suffice.

Spirituality in Santiago

A city as dry and smoggy as Santiago needs its parks. Yesterday’s visit to Santa Lucia Hill was an unexpected delight; today’s outing, although planned, was also surprising. The Parque Metropolitano has been described as “the lungs of Santiago”, its bare hills having been planted with trees and gardens over the past hundred years or so. There are even a few eucalypts.

You can drive through the park – or walk or cycle to the 300 m to the top of the hill, but it it is easy to catch the funicular. The park itself is celebrating its centenary, but the funicular was built in 1925. I had expected a seat, but it was standing only – justlike today’s Metro. The old photos show that riding the funicular in the 1920s was a pursuit for men only.

One of the highlights of the park is the 14 m high statue of the Virgin, which can be seen from many parts of the city. I had read about the statue and the nearby painted crosses, but the experience still exceeded my expectations. San Cristobal Hill is the second highest point in Santiago, the city sprawls beneath it in every direction. The Virgin and nearby chapel offer not only a relief from the heat, but a spiritual respite for those seeking peace and quiet from the city’s bustle. The hill was known as Tupahue, meaning place of God, by the indigenous peoples of Santiago.

At the foot of the terraces leading to the statue is a lifesize wooden nativity scene. The Pope has visited recently, and as I have seen no mention of it in the tourist guides, I suspect this may be a recent addition. Along with the shepherds and the Magi is a woman with a fat duck, and, necessito in Santiago, a dog.

Santiago is a city of murals, so it is appropriate that the crosses outside, representing the seven last words of Jesus, are painted mural style; some traditional, some more modern, some subtle, some emphasising outpouring of blood, but all depicting an aspect of Jesus’ death and relationship to humanity.

There was piped music – not overly religious, maybe modern hymns – reminiscent of the singing nun of my youth – and the signs requesting silencio were respected. Many Chileans take holidays in February, and Brazilians from Rio escape Mardi Gras, so tourists seemed to be outnumbered by locals. Families with children, young lovers, older people and friends, all coming for a day out or a spiritual experience. There was plenty of space to sit and reflect, or just rest in the shade.

There is a small chapel within the pedestal in which the statue rests, and a larger one a short distance away. The walls of the latter, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, are decorated with monochrome murals. It seems to celebrate the women of the Nativity story, with Mary and Elizabeth given precedence over St Peter and John the Baptist. Inside one can “light” an electric candle, but outside there is a framework for real candles and other offerings.

At 12 o’clock, the music stopped, bells rang, and a prayer to Santa Maria was recited. I don’t know enough Spanish, or Catholic prayers, to identify it, but I wonder if this is the same as radio 2SM would broadcast at midday many decades ago.

There are beautiful gardens around the statue and church. With a climate similar to Sydney, most of the flowers were familiar. But further on towards the next hill, the gardens were less tended, and some of the structures had seen better days. After a short exploration, leading nowhere, I decided to return to the city. But not by funicular. The other means of descent is the cable car, which covers much of the breadth of the park, with a stop midway near the zoo, swimming pool and restaurant. As promised, the views from the cable car were spectacular, and apart from a lurch at the beginning and end, the ride was remarkably smooth.

For those who tire of seeing ABC ( another bloody church) while travelling, San Cristobal hill offers another type of sacred site, and a mountaintop experience.

 

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Visiting the baby Jesus
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Statue of the Virgin – and communication tower.

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Leaving on a jet plane

 

In the mid-70s, I left Australia with a group of other middle class professionals, heading for London via Kathmandu – the infamous hippy trail. I was shy and sheltered, a bookworm, still struggling to find who I was.

We travelled through amazing countries, many now accessible only to the brave, after decades of war and inhospitable regimes. There was no internet, no mobile phones. Letters home were written on fine blue aerogrames, mail was collected at “Post restante”. The only other contact was the occasional reverse charge phone call home on birthdays.

Now I am about to embark on solo travel again. Older, wiser, more confident. But still a bookworm, still happy with my own company. Back then I was a square peg in round hole; to a certain extent I still a. Life in a round hole isn’t appealing.

Forty years ago, I had no plans other than g thing to London. I worked and travelled, soaking up museums and concerts. I stayed for eighteen months, deciding one Northern hemisphere winter was enough.

This time, I have three weeks, part organised tour, part solo exploration. The focus of the trip is a ten day tour of the Galápagos Islands. Time in Santiago, Lima and Quito is a bonus.

Unlike the seventies, I can remain connected with iPhone, and iPad, global roaming, whatsap, Skype and FaceTime. The time, effort and expense in sorting all this has not been inconsiderable. Packing clothes was easy. Sorting out passwords for communication and working out the electrical plugs and adaptor needed for three different countries were not.

I am cuaght between the world of technology and the world of paper. I have hard copies of  my travel documents, backed up electronically on my devices and at home. I have downloaded google maps and photocopied pages from travel guides. I have a book to r ad nad others on the IPad. I am writing a blog and taking a travel diary.

I look forward to seeing the amazing wildlife of the Galápagos, to experiencing a tiny amount of South American culture, to seeing the Andes, the Equator and the other side of the Pacific Ocean. I hope to blog every few days. So join me as I leave on a jet plane for three weeks of #newexperience. 

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Inspired by Alice

I first read Alice Steinbach’s Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman, nearly twenty years ago, when I turned 50. Was it a gift, or did I buy it for myself? I no longer remember. Back then, my children were teenagers, and the prospect of a year’s travels without them or my husband was an impossible dream.

In the intervening years, I have had short trips without my family (always in an organised group), and longer trips with my husband. But now I am planning three weeks’ travel in South America, partly solo, so I decided it was a good time to revisit Alice’s travels.

When she wrote, there was no internet, no blogs and no Google maps. Alice sent postcards to her home to remind herself of what she saw, who she met and what she learned along the way. She also spent a lot of time getting lost with paper maps.

Each chapter begins with a postcard summing up what she learned from the experiences described later. A journalist by profession, she had an eye for detail, a vivid imagination and an enviable ability to strike up conversations and friendships with people she met along the way. A colleague described her as “a curious extrovert”. I may be curious, but extrovert and observer of fine detail, I am not. I have much to learn from Alice, and hope that when I travel I can manage at least a degree of the easy companionships she formed so effortlessly.

It wasn’t the first time I have re-read Alice, and my book bears markings where I agree with her sentiments or, more often, seek to follow them. After accompanying her to Paris, London, Oxford and Italy, I feel I know her. I share her love for coffee, but not for cats, and my style is far more casual than her go anywhere outfit of “pale gray (sic) suit, pearls and a soft, pleated-leather Fendi handbag”, which she bought at a Paris thrift shop.

Among the people she met were Hal, a retired professor of mathematics, whose aunt had told him it was your time not your money you should spend wisely, Carolyn, a young woman to whom she became “Mom” for a few days in Milan, after a stranger mistook them for mother and daughter, and Victoria, Angela and Sarah, London residents she met by chance who nursed her through a short illness, bringing flowers, chicken soup and what she appreciated most – their stories. But the standout relationship was Naohiro, the elegant Japanese man with whom she had an affair in Paris, and who travelled to meet her several times during the year.

Of the many ideas she shared, one of my favourites is the formula she learned from Albert, a Sri Lankan student she met while doing a course on “The English village and cottage life” (surely only the extremely curious would enrol).

M=EA: Mishap=Exciting Adventure.

I think this excellent advice for all travellers, for without mishaps, travel is either dull or micromanaged.

Others include “Freedom has its dangers as well as its joys”, “The sooner we learn to get up after a fall the better off we’ll be” and “Life [is] not a test and no one [is] grading me. Except my own superego, of course.”

As she met and observed her fellow travellers, she divided them into funseekers, who are spontaneous and flexible, and complainers will only do something if it is exactly to their liking. Despite my innate caution, I know whose company I prefer.

Along the way, especially in times of anxiety, she turned to The Journey’s Echo, a selection of travel writings by Dame Freya Stark, “an extraordinary woman who travelled alone, when women simply didn’t do such things…exploring Arabia and the Middle East.” Freya had died in Asolo, Italy, aged 100, seven months before Alice arrived there. It was one of the last places Alice visited before she returned to life as a journalist in Baltimore, enjoying its “quiet pastoral setting”. The book finishes with Alice taking a last look at Venice, relishing her memories, before hurrying to catch her plane home.

We don’t know the outcome of Alice’s many new friendships – including that with her beloved Naohiro. Did they keep in touch? Did they meet again? Or were the relationships like most travellers’ – briefly intense then consigned to memory.

With the luxury of the internet, it is easy to look for answers. After closing the book, I Googled Alice wondering what she had done since the book’s publication in 2000.

I was taken aback to learn that she had died in 2012. Her obituary in the Baltimore Sun revealed more about her, confirming some characteristics I had inferred from her writing, and informing me of others that only an outsider’s eye can see.

Of course, doing the maths, it was not surprising that she was no longer alive; she had graduated from high school the year I was born. But I was shocked nonetheless, feeling the loss of a friend and role model, just as she had gained comfort and inspiration from Freya Stark. Unlike the characters of fiction who, like Peter Pan, never grow up, those we meet in autobiographies and memoirs are as susceptible to the passing of time as we are.

I am certain that when Alice was ill, she would have continued to show interest in the lives of not only the nurses who cared for her, but the hospital cleaners and porters too.

And when I set off on my short travels as an independent woman, even though it is no longer a rarity, I will carry my memories of Alice Steinbach as an inspiration and comfort.

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Caring for Jamie

33 years ago this week, I gave birth to our second child, a girl we named Helen Elizabeth. She was tiny, hated sleep, and always wanted to do what her elder brother did. She had two paces – run or carry me. When she didn’t get her way, she threw spectacular temper tantrums. She was the quirky kid who loved to wear odd socks (one bright pink, the other bright yellow). She organised the neighbourhood kids to wear black to attend the funeral of a pet mouse. She stood in front of the Lane Cove Community Orchestra as volunteer “conductor”. She sang, she danced, she played. She dreamed of going to NIDA.

But in her teens, things began to unravel. Following her brother to a selective high school, she excelled in the subjects she loved, but didn’t try in the ones that she found difficult. A for Art, D for Maths.

We tried a different school. She had days of exhaustion, headaches and “gluggy” throats. She sat down on the hockey field because she couldn’t stand any longer. Her beloved grandmother, my mother, died. She was robbed when attending the cinema in the city. We began the merry-go round of doctors. They recommended various medications and supplements – even a new pillow – but nothing changed.

 

Friends and colleagues had been suggesting she might have “Chronic Fatigue”.  But I was a health professional; no daughter of mine would get such a way-out disease.

It was the early days of the Internet and I attended a course to learn how to use it. As  an exercise, I searched for Chronic Fatigue. To my amazement, there were diagnostic criteria. And Helen had most of them.

After a few more doctors, we knew what we were dealing with (but were no wiser about how to deal with it). She wasn’t a malingerer; she wasn’t lazy. She wasn’t “just” depressed or anxious. She had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, now usually referred to as ME/CFS – the ME standing for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

The diagnosis gave a sense of relief, but it didn’t end the merry-go round. In early 2001, CFS was still referred to as the yuppy flu. People had a rough idea what it was, but not many people knew anyone who had it. But everyone had a recommendation: acupuncture, naturopathy, various dietary manipulations, psychiatry, Buddhism, massage  – the ideas were endless. When other parents complained that their kids were staying out late, we just wished our daughter was able to go out anywhere except medical appointments.  

 

Eighteen years on, most people know someone who has had some sort of fatigue illness; some have recovered and others are still disabled after years or decades. The internet means that those who are housebound can still be part of an active community. Back then, doctors didn’t know what to do. To a certain extent, they still don’t. For years she has tried antidepressants, vitamin B12 injections, antibiotics, Chinese remedies, supplements. She still takes some. Are any of them better than snake oil? We will never know.

So in Carers Week 2017, we are still looking after our amazing quirky daughter. She has had periods of reasonable health. Although she didn’t finish school, she did a few subjects at Uni and lived independently for a while. She changed her name. But every recovery was followed by a relapse. Shortly after we downsized into a unit she needed to live with us again. My study became her bedroom. She is the shadow in our retirement.

 

We have pushed her in wheelchairs to galleries, cinemas and museums. She has watched her friends progress in their careers and their lives while she has missed out on parties, theatre, fun and relationships. In the early days we spent long nights fearing she would take her life, as so many with this illness do. As a family, we have moved from anger, through grief, to acceptance. But we have never lost hope.

Last year was better than this one  – she could catch public transport. This year we are driving her again – or she takes a Uber. But she can shower herself and doesn’t need a wheelchair or a walking stick. She celebrated her 33rd birthday with a group of friends, but will pay for it with pain and fatigue for the next few days.

As well as Carers’ Week, this is the week that Jen Brea’s successful documentary Unrest will be shown in Sydney. And after years of despair, there is a feeling of hope in the ME/CFS community.

Although research funding remains miniscule, there is good evidence of altered exercise metabolism, changes to the microbiome, brain imaging and and inflammatory response. In Australia, the NHMRC is setting up an expert advisory committee, including  a representative from the peak consumer body, Emerge. The National Institute of Health in the USA is spending more on research, and the UK PACE trial has been repudiated for its extremely bad science.     

The new research may be too late for Jamie. But we hope she will be able to live independently, and not in poverty, when we are gone. We hope that she will find love. Whatever happens, she is our Wonder Woman.

Emerge.org.au

www.unrest.film/

 

Why I don’t do Anzac Day

Yesterday I was asked whether I observe Anzac Day. I don’t.

I never have.

In my childhood, it was the day when my father came home drunker than usual. In my teens I marched against Vietnam and in my twenties I visited Gallipoli (long before it was upgraded to its current status as a shrine). I was on a bus tour from Kathmandu to London; it was part of the itinerary. It didn’t mean much.

Then, like most of my generation, I just ignored it.

But when Australia became involved in modern wars – Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria – politicians decided that reviving Anzac Day was a great PR opportunity. Suddenly, young boys who’d joined the army for a chance of adventure when jobs were hard to find became self-sacrificing heroes. But the Indigenous men who fought alongside them continued to be overlooked, just as they had been when returned soldiers received land grants and other benefits.

Those who came home with shattered bodies and broken minds were also sidelined, as were the professionals who nursed them. There was scant mention of the wives and children who suffered bullying and domestic violence by men who couldn’t fit in to life after the horror they had seen. Vietnam veterans continued to be ignored and no-one talked about how women who had taken on vital work during the war were sent back to their kitchens.

Anzac Day became a civil religion, with more people attending dawn services and marches. But while we heard more and more about mateship and sacrifice, as a nation we became less compassionate, demonising the victims of today’s wars as they desperately sought safe refuge on our shores. We locked them up in hot, soulless conditions, called them queue-jumpers and let their physical and mental health deteriorate.

When I began thinking about this, I thought it might be time to put my cynicism aside and consider joining the ranks of Anzac observers. These days, Indigenous diggers are acknowledged, PTSD is taken seriously and Vietnam veterans are no longer pilloried.

But the story of Anzac, mateship and sacrifice remains a boys’ only adventure. The sight of politicians grandstanding at dawn services, and further reflection on how we treat today’s victims of war have left me with no choice but to remain a non-observer.

Lest we forget the wounded, the broken, frail and the lonely.