Monthly Archives: March 2012

A Peruvian in Australia: Getting Around (Part 2)

The Grampians

The Grampians must be one of the classic family holiday spots for Victorians. It definitely seemed very popular when we went camping there in November last year. We chose a campground at the heart of the Grampians: Hall’s Gap, a little village with a few restaurants, bungalow facilities, a nice museum of aboriginal history, an information centre, petrol station, etc. From here most hikes or roads leave from into the Grampians National Park. Mel was a bit curious and concerned about the accessibility, as in early 2011 this area had suffered from floods and mudslides and fires. We realised that one of the main roads was still under repair and to get to one of the main spots we would need to make a huge loop by car on what otherwise would be a 5km drive from Hall’s Gap.

The Grampians and Hall’s Gap down in the valley

But the weather was lovely, the people were happy and as soon as we set up our camp we were out looking for hikes. First we walked to a lookout point up on a mountain from where we could see massive flocks of Cockatoos flying across the valley, filling it with their loud calls that reminds me of those from macaws. The kangaroos were there too, in large groups, not shy at all, grazing next to the paths where people walked.

A Mob Of Kangaroos

But the highlight was definitely the circuit we did on day 2, when we walked for most of the day, to The Pinnacle, a lookout point at aprox.1200meters , and a circuit of beautiful avenues carved in ancient rocks where once water must have flown. I don’t want to seem rude but it is funny how when aussies refer to the Grampians they refer to them as ‘high’ mountains. You need to have in mind that the highest point in this big island is Mt. Kosciuszko at 2228 meters. So for me, having grown up in Cusco at 3400masl, surrounded by ranges well above 5 or 6 thousand, that was a bit…well, no disrespect at all, it’s just a simple way of saying how context is such a big thing in our lives.

The Pinnacle

We were able to witness the damage made by last years natural disasters when we walked by forest that had been burned. It’s very clear how the fires are such a big part of nature’s cycles here. The winds are strong and the heat is too, the land is flat and when all of these factors conspire, fires are the result.

Ballarat

Ballarat is one of Australia’s 20 largest cities and it only has 90 thousand people. It’s only an hour and a half drive from Melbourne, a reason why many of its inhabitants move to the bigger city looking for better opportunities. But there was a time when Ballarat possessed the bigger opportunities and attracted people from all over the world because of the gold that was found there. Nowadays the most popular attraction in Ballarat is Sovereign Hill, where a gold processing facility has been kept and well maintained. Visitors get to be dressed in the old fashion, just like we do in Peru with the visitors to Lake Titicaca. If you are thinking that it sounds like an amusement park where you get to see how the miners lived, you are right. If you think it’s boring, you’re wrong. Every detail is been taken care of and walking into Sovereign Hill seems like a passage back in time, to the 1830’s, when immigrants from all over the world were coming to this new continent in search of wealth and fortune. If it wasn’t for all the visitors…we did go on what probably is the busiest day in the year, but still managed to enjoy it!

Old shop in Sovereign Hill

Demonstrations on how lollies were made the old fashioned way (with the old-fashioned machinery and tools and all!) were so inspiring – we still have lollies from that visit a few months on! Another show on how a gold bar is melted and poured was particularly beautiful and entertaining. They had a whole foundry still working and it’s so impressive to see that machinery not only working but to imagine all the effort it actually took to make it and all the thought put into it. That’s one thing I love about old machines, they actually look clever. Modern stuff just looks pretty and disposable, utterly incapable of being appreciated for its charm. Just mass production.

And as you walk by you discover the whole village: the bar, the bakery, the mechanic that repaired the trolleys, the bowling saloon, the school, the Chinese neighbourhood (someday a whole district), the gold-wash area. We actually walked down into a mine. I couldn’t but sigh at the light years between this, still a working small mine, and the mines that I saw in Potosí, Bolivia, where the health and safety conditions are non-existent and when you sign the waiver it says clearly that there’s a chance you will die buried in the tunnel!

Chinese shop

So far I think Ballarat has given me that sharpest impression of what Australia used to be when it was founded. It reminds me what a young nation this one is and how fast it has gotten to where it is now.

Brisbane

Mel had to work in Sydney and Brisbane and I decided to tag along. I had miles on my account so I traded them to do my first domestic flight in Australia. Besides, Brisbane has a reputation for sunny weather and chilled out people and is close to some of the biggest tourist destinations in the whole country: Gold Coast and Noosa.
I had contacted my friend Renata on e-mail and we were plotting a visit to a nearby beach. She, a marine biologist, and her boyfriend Nick also a biologist and a surf enthusiast, named a few amazing sites nearby that were ideal for camping, hiking, surfing and just relaxing. I was reassured by Renata that sharks don’t eat people and that it is easier to die in a car accident and that’s all it took to sell me.

Mt. Glorious forest

I purchased a train ticket online to go from the Brisbane airport to the city, and in Melbourne I got a bus ticket to the airport. It is quite surprising how the second largest city in Australia (and the current most liveable city in the world) has such a weak and inefficient public transport system. There is no train to the airport. If you don’t have a car you have to go to the city centre and grab a bus from there that costs AUD$17 and takes 45 minutes with some traffic (not talking peak time). In comparison, Brisbane has a train that takes you straight to the city centre in 20min and costs AUD$14.

When I arrived at the airport I hesitated about where to go. The domestic area had only computerised check in and a few attendants. This is funny about Australia, everything is automated: when you go to the supermarket you weigh and pay for your products at automated check out machines. The idea is the same at airports, and since pretty much everyone has a frequent flyer number or a reservation code, there is really no need to hire staff to check people in. But I didn’t know how to use it, and also I was travelling on miles so I thought it better to contact a real person to help me out. I wondered though how these systems would fare in Peru. My first response is that in such a corrupted society as ours they would probably not do well, but then again, why think so bad of my own people?

The weather forecast (yes, I now use the forecast – I have an app on my Iphone that I check every morning) was not kind on Brisbane: showers for most of the weekend. Ironically that would turn out to be the last super hot weekend in Melbourne with temperatures of 38C! With Mel and I both recovering from a flu, the Brisbane weather was no real help to improve. But a new city it was and it needed to be discovered, so rain or shine, out on the streets I went, to the CBD, the Royal Botanic gardens, Southbank, the Gallery of Modern Art. Brisbane seems like a smaller, tropical, more relaxed Melbourne. I liked it lots on first impression. With Renata and Nick we went to The Joint Pub to get a glimpse of the night scene. We also drove to Mt. Glorious for some hiking and birdwatching in the beautiful rainforest. Mel and I visited the West End and dined at a Greek restaurant in a popular part of town. Not soon after we were considering the idea of moving to Brisbane someday to get more sunshine (I know, right!) and outdoors.

City contrasts

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking

A Peruvian in Australia: Friends Found Faraway.

I have friends that I made a long time ago. I even say these days that my best friends are those I haven’t seen in ages. Just the other day I was talking to one of them: Fufo, who lives in Sweden. It was the first time we had talked on Skype. We haven’t seen each other’s faces for, like, 7 years, at least. Now he is married to his long-time girlfriend, Nancy, whom we used to hang out with back in the days of Mexico.
It is hard not to be melancholic when one is away from home. Friends from a distant memory, far from home like me (or at home this time) is all it takes to feel better. They have seen me in other places and situations and know me better than almost anyone in Melbourne. They are friends, new friends, becoming friends, whatever you wanna call them.
I have had the luck to meet with several people I met over in Peru as far back as 2004. This happened with Catherine D, whom I met during my days as a bartender at the Flying Dog Bar in Lima. She showed me a cool pub in Melbourne’s CBD that I would have never discovered on my own, nevermind it being so close to my prior school! And where does one begin to resume 7 years of life and how on Earth one got here? We tried and promised a BBQ soon to meet our significant others.
I’ve also met with a couple of people from my tour leader days. It’s funny to see them in their country, doing what they do and telling them my stories as a tourist here. We have switched roles now and meeting with them actually brings lots of perspective to my life. That’s what happened with Catherine S, with whom I went for a drink and caught up in Fitzroy, one of the liveliest neighbourhoods of Melbourne. We had dinner at a super busy and popular veggie restaurant there and shared a couple of beers. Melbourne is becoming a mecca for small breweries and artisanal, organic beers. I don’t think I’ve been so happy beerwise since my days in Belgium! It was weird at first to meet. We hadn’t seen each other in at least 2 years, when she was in Peru and we walked the Lares trekk together. But it was great to see her and know she is well and nearby, so next time I promised to pay her a visit and go surfing together.
With Shalla I also went to Fitzroy while she was visiting Melbourne, something she luckily does frequently. She is somewhat of a music guru to me and we always talk about music and share new bands. We still have a pending date to go to a gig together. But we did go to a rooftop bar and talked for hours and hours reminiscing of the days when we got stranded in Aguascalientes due to a strike or a mudslide (whichever happens more often in Peru) a couple years ago. How time does fly! She gave me some clues about how to become a radio announcer, one of my long-time procrastinated dream-jobs.
Meeting these friends has brought me perspective. Not only perspective, but help. Zoe, with whom I struck a friendship after chatting at Positive Bar (best pub in Puno, Peru) recently contacted me. She is running a café here in Melbourne, Per Diem Café in Richmond (excellent coffee by the way) and she needed staff. I was in need of a job because the starting months of the year are really slow in the Hospitality bussiness, where I have my other job. She remembered something I didn’t: when we were in Peru I sort of organised a trip for her and her mum, who were traveling independently with little knowledge of the places. I guess I helped them out by just doing what I always do. Now I have a job in a cafe! How’s that for good karma ?
Life takes interesting turns. It’s like 6 degrees of separation all the time with me. And I love it. The idea of people traveling over the world, settling in places or just venturing to exotic places, meeting others, sometimes friends, sometimes lovers and then moving on, yet carrying all that memory. To me that’s the clearest way of expressing what interests me the most in this world: chance, coincidence, the unknown, love, choice.
So now, I’m about to catch a plane to Brisbane for my first aussie domestic adventure. Mel is going there for work and I decided to join her. I have traded my miles flown with LAN and so the trip is free. But there is another reason that I’m exited about going to Brisbane: I’m gonna get to meet with my friend Renata, whom I haven’t seen in what must be around 15 years at least! We were friends back in the days when I was studying secondary school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Then I moved to Mexico City and I lost track of her. It was a few years after, with the marvel of email, chat and later Facebook that I started contacting a lot of friends whom I never got a chance to keep in touch with. Renata was one of them. We have continued our friendship ‘virtually’ all these years. And in a couple days we will meet. How will we recognise each other after all these years?
Well, the good news is that we did recognise each other! She came along with her partner Nick and we headed to a cool pub in Brisbane (The Joint) on one of those fews nights when the gods decided it was time to rain, and rain it did for all of the day and all of the night. Under a ceiling that cared little about doing its job, we begun to catch up and all of a sudden I was telling stories of my time in Europe, of when I left Mexico, of my journey to the jungle of Peru, of how I got to Oz…
She and Nick are both biologists and while she studies the ocean and its inhabitants, he studies birds. Together with Mel we visited Mt. Glorious the next day, and though it was still rainy, the forest was beautiful and with Nick´s help, I had the luck to spot a couple of never before seen birds. At one point, while driving back to Brisbane, I started sharing a story with everyone of how we used to hop in the back of a friend’s truck with buckets filled with cold water. We would drive to a nearby posh club and just splash the hell out of the people queing at the entrance! I had forgotten that Renata was there on that truck! Suddenly, as if a plug was removed, memories started pouring in. It is true what they say about memory: it is a muscle and it does need exercise. But how to remember so many things, so many wonderful things!? And what an amazing thing memory is that it can take you back so long ago!

Mt Glorious eerie forest

I am so happy to see someone that I enjoyed talking to so much when I was younger and how she has grown and how our paths have crossed again. It makes me happy and makes me feel lucky to witness that. Normally people meet again after so long when they are 45 or something like that and cliché says they are usually dissapointed and end up depressed of the meeting. I don’t like judging people but I like seeing the people I care for well and happy. In my case meeting all of these friends is a proof of the magic of travel and life.

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Birdwatching, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Education Abroad, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Work