Category Archives: Travel Stories

I’m back. Plus one.

Two years have passed since my last post. It was April 2013 when I last posted. Summer was ending then and Mel and I were on the brink of our Peru trip. Now, as then, winter is already here and we just returned from another trip, this time a bit closer than Peru, to New Zealand. Only this time we had a third party travelling with us, our 10 month old daughter Aislinn.

So you see, a lot has taken place in 2 years! And now, as I write about it, I’m beginning to find similarities between both trips. Back in 2013 Mel fell ill the night before we started an epic road trip from Lima to Cusco with my father behind the wheel. Poor Mel had to endure 2 weeks of pain and missed out on a couple of things. This time around, Aislinn, on the eve of her first international journey, caught a cold. It did have us wishing we had picked a somewhat more tropical destination rather than New Zealand’s North Island. Oh well, could have been worse. We could have picked the South Island.

The trip started in rather amusing form. What now seems like a bad omen, then was just an anecdote. If we weren’t so stubborn we would’ve turn around and headed back home. It happens that while at the airport the counter lady, while checking our passports, commented upon seeing mine “do you have a visa to visit NZ” to which I replied I don’t need one as I am an Australian Resident. She wanted to make sure so she went and checked with her superior. And she came back. And she went over again. Signs of worry were showing on Mel’s face. Some time back we had already had to cancel a trip to NZ (coincidentally to the South Island) due to me not obtaining the visa on time and the ghost of that was looming again. The counter lady finally confirmed what I had originally explained like she had made an important discovery while shaking the printout with my Australian residency on her hand.

All along Aislinn observed patiently from her comfy place on her mother’s chest carrier. I had never realised how many babies fly these days. That’s probably a lie because I often used to complain about a crying baby in the vicinity of my seat not letting me sleep. Now I have been upgraded to seating right next to one who is my baby! But Aislinn was great on her first flight. The plane took off and she barely noticed. She was awarded prize as best baby on board. The reason was likely that she was too tired, sick and stuffed to cry about anything.

The real non sleeping holiday hadn’t started yet. Once in Auckland we stayed over at a friends place and that’s where the combination of the flu, the cold weather, the new and different room and the jetlag caught up big time on my little girl. The following days were a combination of something out of a Chevy Chase National Lampoon’s comedy film and a Woody Allen drama. Lack of sleep makes people irritable, forgetful and at times high. It can send you either way and you’ll be surprised to find out how far you can operate on little sleep.

We loved all of it, the crystal waters of Coromandel Peninsula, the Hobbit holes in Matamata, the thermal sights in Rotorua,  Lake Taupo’s landscapes and falls, Hamilton’s gardens and Auckland’s nearby islands and beaches and it all seemed like a dream. I do remember NZ being very beautiful, yet I’m sure the strong narcotic of sleeplessness added to New Zealand’s undeniable beauty.

At the same time, we were more than ready to come back home and are enjoying our place so much. Luckily Aislinn has resettled into her routine quickly and is now flu free. Our next holiday will probably be to a beach and not a long distance. Then again, we live in Australia, everything is far away! I’m thinking of that imminent Peru flight some 16 hours away with the little one. I will be praying she doesn’t catch a cold before that one.

This wasn’t a holiday in the sense that I was used to before. I don’t think holidays will ever be the same again to be honest. That was expected, but now the measure is real, the idea is tangible. And that’s quite fine. It’s a whole new  “country” what I will be exploring from now on. Extranjia is now officially reborn as I travel the unknown places and destinations of parenthood.

More posts to come soon.

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Immersion, Living Abroad, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Summer ´13

Where did time go? Last time I posted something was January. What an irresponsible blogger I am! But the sweet warm air of summer was here and I couldn´t stop. Now the chill that announces winter starts to blow, the sun sets at 530pm and we already forwarded our clocks. It is time to go back inside the house and write about summer.

Melbourne is like Lima when it comes to the seasons. They are 2 different cities during winter and its opposite, summer. During the latter, people are happier, colourful, active, barely wear clothes and the city offers a variety of activities to keep its inhabitants entertained. This time, with a bit more street knowledge than last year (when I was feeling rather like a clueless tourist holding my hand NOT to bring a map out of my pocket), and a bit more money too, I tried and enjoy myself this summer around. Of course if you ask Mel, she will probably say I did that a bit too much…

Every band comes to visit Melbourne when it´s hot. It´s also when the festivals take place. This year I did not go to any festivals but rather to gigs from bands I had wanted to see for a good while. Like that I saw Manu Chao, a legend in Latin America, on his first ever gig in Melbourne. It was a fantastic 2+ hours of jumping in the middle of the moshpit right in front of the stage, listening to a guy I had missed by a matter of days or weeks in places like Barcelona, LA, Lima and Mexico City. The Palace Theatre proved to be a great venue for it and I will for sure go back there again.

Manu Chao @ The Palace

Manu Chao @ The Palace

From Manu Chao's FB page

From Manu Chao’s FB page

Chan Marshall aka Cat Power offered a great show at The Forum and made me forget for a bit that there was another show that same night that I would have also wanted to be at: The Stone Roses reunion tour. But Chan is a great singer and musician and I loved her show.  Her band is amazing and they were put to the test when she dissappeared from stage for about 10 minutes. No Cat Power concert goes on without a dose of spontaneity.

Cat Power @ The Forum

Goran Bregovic took 30 minutes to finally get the poshy HamerHall in the Arts Centre to get up and dance. From that point on and for the next 2 hours they would not stop dancing, laughing and clapping at the rhythm of his Weddings and Funerals Orchestra. Awesome showman and main ambassador of the Gipsies of the world.

Goran Bregovic @ The Hamerhall

Peruvian band Novalima had cancelled their September 2012 show but paid the debt and put to dance The Fabulous Spiegeltent with the Afro-Peruvian electronic grooves and showed Melbourne how to have a good time Peruvian style. They came to Melbourne to tour their 4th album Karimba.

Novalima @ The Famous Spiegeltent

The XX was on the antipodes of any of these previous gigs, and with a packed Festival Hall, they mellowed the air with their voices and lyrics. The beats were good, but not enough to raise a foot off the ground. Next time I will get seats to enjoy them properly.

The Comedy Festival was on too and we saw Danny Bhoy do what I have dreamed about several times: write letters to the big companies of the world that, with their faulty services mess up our lives in ways that can make a whole auditorium burst into laughter. Guess I need to make my anger more creative.

Another festival that loves summer is Tropfest, where short films are shown on a big screen while thousands picnic at Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Short films, I found, are a great way to get to discover a country and its people. And they should be more popular. I think it was in Mexico where short films were made mandatory to be shown at theatres before a long film as a means to make them popular. Australia has a very healthy short film scene from what I appreciated, but doing what they did in Mexico would be a good idea for Australia too.

Here is a link to my favourite short from that night.

Speaking of films, another place to watch them in style is the Botanic Gardens during a session of Moonlight Cinema. Imagine watching a film on a proper massive screen laying in your sleeping bag on the grass while sipping wine and watching real bats fly by. Last year we saw Hugo under a full moon and the fireworks of Moomba festival sparkling over the city skyline. It was so good they should have made an ad from it that night. This year we saw The Hobbit. For the second time. Turns out I got Mel tickets for it as a Christmas present to watch it and she did the same, but for a 3D screening. Good thing we are fans and both liked the film.

Another event that took place in Melbourne for the first time this year was White Night. The city building and public areas were artistically altered in the form of installations, laser shows, or used for tours of spots usually shut to public, concerts, movies. The city was flooded by some 200, 000 people rediscovering the beauty of the CBD and having fun. It was pretty cool in fact. Check out some photos.

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White Night Melbourne 2013

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Finally, this summer was also the time to prepare our trip to Peru, for which we leave in 2 weeks, running from the cold to catch some Equatorial sun rays. And preparing for it has involved not just designing the itinerary, getting gear and making reservations, but also getting fit for it as we will be doing Inca Trail with both our parents (Mel’s mom and my dad). I have taken running as my new favourite thing (after Football of course, also known to other people  who-have-sports-that-claim-that-name-though-they-use-other-parts-of-the-body-and an-ovoid, as Soccer). So far I have been running up to 12 Km and have reached my personal record of 9.4Km in 44 minutes. I always loved running since I was younger. I used to run at school on the “olympics” we had there and usually ended in to the Top 5 with the older boys. 

But there has been some bush walking and hiking too in the National Parks around Melbourne. Nothing like the feeling of a forest, the quietness, the birds, a kangaroo or two, and the freedom of being in the wild.

Toolangi Forest

Toolangi Forest

Toolangi Forest

Toolangi Forest

Brisbane Ranges NP

Brisbane Ranges NP

So there, in a nutshell, that was summer. Next time you hear from me I will be in South America, or happily back from it. Having seen my family for the first time in year and a half, having traveled to my beloved Amazon rainforest and showed Mel the start of the Amazon River, having hiked Inca Trail one more time (this one with my dad for the first time since my first Inca Trail ever, when I was 8 and he was the tour guide); having witnessed the beauty of Machu Picchu; having eaten ceviche and lomo saltado and drank Cusqueña like a glutton; having showed to Mel´s mom why I am so proud of where I come from.

So stick around, it could be fun.

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Filed under Australia, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Indie Music, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: a visa letdown, a sacred leave and a trip back home.

I didn’t get the visa. Not the Australian residence visa but the one to visit New Zealand.  We had plans to visit Mel’s friends in Auckland and also do the Milford Track in the South Island, a sort of Kiwi Inca Trail without the archaeological bits but so beautiful it actually is nicked the ‘finest walk in the world’. Had flights and accommodation booked, buses as well, etc. But the one thing we weren’t counting on was the visitor visa for me. Turns out the Kiwis are pretty thorough on their visa procedures and they do not joke around with the subject, no matter who you are. Recently they denied a Visitor Visa to Mike Tyson. Though his refusal was on very different grounds, and by that I mean worse than mine. My refusal was due to an event that took place 11 years ago: I was deported from the Netherlands.

No Milford Track this year. Maybe next time!

No Milford Track this year. Maybe next time!

It sounds bigger than what it actually was. When I say I was ‘deported’ I have the feeling it makes me sound like I am a criminal. And when you put it next to the fact that I am Peruvian, even worse. I’m pretty sure the drug smuggling association springs to the mind of common people when I say it. Now imagine what it sounds like in the mind of a visa officer in an embassy. When you consider that the event took place in The Netherlands (where some drugs are legal), well, I just deserve an Oscar for staging quite a dramatic anecdote don’t I?

I was simply a tourist with an expired visa. And I happened to be travelling on a train between The Hague and Brussels that was searched by police looking for illegal immigrants. All this in the context of massive deportations taking place in Spain (where I was living) and an ultra right-wing government in Brussels (obviously doing the same). The policemen who detained me decided that since I was coming from The Netherlands it was the Dutch business to deal with me, so I was sent back, hand-cuffed, escorted by 3 or 4 policemen and handed over; they placed me in a detainment centre for illegal immigrants.  They interviewed me, I spoke to my Consulate and was advised that nothing could be done for me. So I was deported at 21 back to Peru after 3 days detained.

At the time I thought that that was that and end of the story. Oh, how wrong I was. A deportation follows you for a long time. Sometimes I feel like I actually committed a crime.  If you are wondering why am I rambling bitterly about that episode, it’s because that is the reason why I didn’t go to NZ. I declared it and they asked for documents from the Netherlands which were impossible to get in time for our attempted travel dates, and so the whole trip fell through.

The next best thing was to go to Cairns, where we had been recently and loved it. So we changed our plans and carried on with our holiday. This time we had heaps of more time than the last time we were in Cairns (which, now that I think about it, was also a visa related trip following the pressure that involved submitting the Partner Visa application). We decided that the approach to employ our time should be more balanced with one day of doing nothing (proper relaxing according to Mel) and one day of exploring the area (proper travelling according to Pepe). The question on whether to watch the birds or not was put aside since Mel got herself a pair of binoculars (and good ones, I am a bit jealous in fact!).

We knew the rains were about to start but were not worried since checking on the weather report every day prior to the trip the results were always above 30C. We were also aware that it was low season so we didn’t expect much of a crowd there. In this last regard we were a little wrong as something unexpected was going to take place in Cairns that we hadn’t heard about: a solar eclipse. The first in ten or so years in Australia and the only total eclipse for the next years that I will be around to see one in Oz.

Solar Eclipse November 2012

Solar Eclipse November 2012

As soon as we arrived in Palm Cove we noticed businesses selling ‘eclipse postcards’, ‘eclipse t-shirts’ and ‘eclipse glasses’ plus other paraphernalia  Asking around we learnt 3 things: that Palm Cove was the best spot to watch it, that we were gonna miss it, and that anyway everything was fully booked to its top capacity. Oh well, too bad. I also learnt that the whole Cairns area would be flooded with around 50 thousand enthusiasts. A niche of tourism I hadn’t heard of, ‘eclipse-watchers’!

We focused our explorations more on the Atherton Tablelands this time as we missed that area on our short first visit and had heard wonderful things about it. We visited Davies Creek National Park and that was a great surprise. Such a beautiful walk and almost no one to spoil it! We visited Mount Lewis too looking for birds and found heaps of Birds of Paradise (Victoria Riflebird), as well as Tooth-billed Bowerbirds and Golden Bowerbirds displaying.

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

 

We visited Mosman Gorge and its beautiful walk around the forest. It was interesting to witness that the indigenous village just before the gorge entry looks just like a village could look in the Peruvian rainforest. In general, the indigenous presence in the Cairns area is more abundant than in Melbourne, where is passes pretty much unnoticed. I am very interested in the aborigines and so seeing their villages, culture and life in a non- tourist fashion is quite enlightening. Sadly I have come to learn about their problems with alcohol abuse and how their bodies are not able to cope with it as they do not have the enzyme that processes alcohol, leading to a strong addiction to it and a quick decay of their bodies. Similar thing happens with other drugs. I have been able to witness this on homeless people hallucinating on the public transport and men drinking their fill on their own at lunchtime in pubs while playing the slots. And while of course that is not the whole of the population, it is a percentage that worries non-aboriginalAustralians too. This situation has often times reminded me of how is it in Peru, where alcohol is much-abused in indigenous communities yet this doesn’t seem to be a significant issue for the government or the rest of the population. And this leads me to think how in the History of conquests, alcohol has played a role in helping to submit the local natives to the new rulers. I guess it plays the same role today with the youth that abuses it, turning them to obedient goats. I think the one thing I would change about my youth would be precisely that, to not abuse alcohol and know that that wouldn’t make me uncool but quite the opposite.

Mosman Gorge Aboriginal Community

Mosman Gorge Aboriginal Community

Mosman Gorge

Mosman Gorge

Mosman Gorge

Mosman Gorge

 

Peru was present in the trip to Cairns in a strange fashion. We met a German…should I call him  hippie to illustrate to you; a nice fella. Anyway, he was selling coconuts on his wheel barrel in Palm Cove. He looked completely out of place there, yet that may be the reason why he was so appealing to me. He told me straight away, without me asking, ‘I have a Peruvian poncho with bright colours to attract the customers’ as he chewed something. I asked ‘is that coca leaves you are chewing?’. The man nodded. I bought a coconut from him and he chipped some coca leaves in for a bargain price. Mel had never had a coconut the way I have only had them, so we sat by the ocean, and in an typical Indiana Jones moment, I opened the coconut with my Swiss army knife after sucking all the juice out of it and ate the white sweet meat.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Coca leaves, here is a little bit of the speech I used to tell my travellers when I was a Tour Leader: Coca leaves are not to be confused with Cacao beans. Both sound similar when pronounced in Spanish. The latter are used to produce chocolate and cocoa. The first is (tragically) infamous for being used to produce cocaine. Yet what is unknown of this leaf, native of Peru and Bolivia, is that in natural shape, chewed or ground or in tea, is quite healthy and in fact a super-food as some call it. Some of its many properties are to be a great energy booster, to take away appetite (this is particular useful when you leave in the mountains and have to work far from home in the field), to help adapt to high-altitude conditions, helps protect teeth and gives you all your daily requirements of Vitamins A, B, B12, C, E, Minerals (Zinc, Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium)  and others  in just 2 grounded teaspoons or the equivalent of chewed leaves. In Peru and Bolivia it is considered sacred by the indigenous people and in fact it is a huge part of their culture. Why then, you may wonder, it is forbidden? Well, you may ask that to the geniuses who insist in waging their ‘war on drugs’ and spend billions of dollars on it, when the true fact is that that huge effort is just a scratch on the arm of the drug industry that uses Coca leaves that they buy from poor farmers to produce cocaine. Had all those millions be spent on improving the conditions in which those farmers live and you would have no one to supply the drug-dealers with their prime matter. Or you would have it easier to locate who is supplying it. Makes sense?

How do they make the drug then? By isolating the cocaine (an alkaloid from coca just like caffeine is an alkaloid from coffee) when mixing the leaves with kerosene, and later solidifying that mix with Clorhidric Acid, Sulphuric Acid, Benzine and at least 10 other super toxic chemicals. That’s what makes it harmful and addictive, not the pure natural cocaine. No one has died of overdose from chewing coca leaves (not that you wanna try chewing them to death to prove me wrong, that would miss the point).

Another famous product made from Coca leaves, perhaps more even so than cocaine, is Coca-Cola. COCA-Cola, uses the leaves in its recipe in a synthetic formula that eliminates the cocaine alkaloid from it, hence they do not get in trouble. Because what is forbidden in fact is the cocaine alkaloid, not the leaves themselves. And according to American law, you can’t sell a product named after an ingredient that does not have that ingredient. So Coca-Cola uses coca leaves and they get them from Peru.

Coca K'intu, the sacred shape in which the leaves are 'offered' to the apus or mountain gods.

Coca K’intu, the sacred shape in which the leaves are ‘offered’ to the apus or mountain gods.

So why can’t the rest of the world use such a nutritious and healthy natural product? Once again, logic fails to help. Luckily, you can find so-called hippies like that German mate who, in true coca fashion, just handed me a bunch of coca leaves as native Peruvians do when they greet each other (they exchange coca leaves instead of shaking hands). Those leaves were most helpful when we woke up early to go watch birds. I chewed them, Mel instead loves the tea.

That lucky encounter awoke a thirst for the sacred Incan leaf that lead me to find that our favourite breakfast spot, Vivo (Spanish for ‘alive’), had Pisco liquor and, more importantly, Peruvian Pisco, as well as Coca Leaf liquor. So Vivo became our favourite dinner place too!

The trip was great and we really made the best of our stay. We returned to Melbourne fresh, rested and tanned- that’s important, especially for a gringo like me who looks pale as a radish in Peru. Here I actually am a brown-skinned in comparison.

Once back we started planning our next big adventure: the return to my home country! We plan to visit Peru in 2013 and bring my mother in law to travel with us and meet my family. Hopefully that trip won’t bring any complications. You would think ‘but you are going back to your OWN country, you couldn’t have ANY complications’. I in fact need a visa to leave and return to Australia until I get my residence assessed.

Or maybe by 2013 the world will have already started changing in a way I dream of, and people won’t need visas anymore. Maybe Australia would be the first country to welcome such measures. After all, isn’t Australia a country that has moved ahead after being founded by convicts? If, speaking metaphorically, our past is not to be forgotten, let it at least be forgiven so that we can all move on.

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

A Peruvian in Australia: One Year Abroad.

On September 22nd it was a year since that eventful arrival of mine to the land of sun and kangaroos. One year! I could hardly believe the time had gone so fast! Yet again, when I looked back and I saw all that I have accomplished it would actually seem longer than a year. That, by the way, makes me happy. To know that my time here has so far been put to good use.

So, how can I start explaining how I feel after a year in Oz? Mel was asking me the other day what were the things I like about Melbourne. I normally tell the things I don´t like. I’m a bit critical like that. It’s a sign of my personality. I don’t do it to be mean. I fear if I’m not I’d become used to things and take them for granted. I’m more worried about not criticising enough than about being critical.

Which brings me to my subject: things I like and things I don’t like about living in Melbourne.  So, let´s get on with the bad news first. Have I complained enough about the public transport system?  I don´t think I could possibly have. But yeah, it is publicly known that Melbourne has unreliable public transport. The trams and buses work alright as far as I have seen. The trains is what sort of bothered me at first. I have to say, they seem to have improved in the last couple of months (or I have gotten more used to it).

You see, in Peru the problem for me was that public transport was ‘too reliable’, meaning there was an extra offer of buses and taxis, producing chaos and speeding. But when one is in a hurry no one complains. Here, things are much more civilised. And sometimes TOO civilised. At first that transition wasn’t easy. But patience is a muscle and mine has grown and extended.

Wanna drive in Lima? Go for it…

I do love that in Melbourne people are good drivers and respect the other drivers and the rules. People are polite and patient generally speaking. Of course, taxi drivers are and will be taxi drivers anywhere in the world. If you have been to Peru you will understand what I am talking about. Driving is insane there! Always defensively, noisy, and unsafe. I am driving a little every week around my suburb now that I have a License and I feel really safe.

One thing I miss from Peru is the human contact, the Latin spark. A few days ago an older fella was making conversation with me on the train. He first tried the guy next to him but the young fella didn’t even bother answering. With the woman across seating in front he didn’t even try. I chatted with him for a couple minutes before he left. He quickly commented that ‘nobody ever talks on the trains these days’ and I couldn’t help but agree. I look at the trains and all I see is people looking at their phones, plugged in earphones of different calibers, newspaper, book, waving their eyes aimlessly trying to avoid contact with another pair of eyes. All of which is fine, I do it myself. But I do get the feeling people on the train (particularly on the train) are extremely against the idea of simply talking to a stranger. I get that this is a sign of ‘everyone minds its own bussiness’ but it seems to me that it breaks a little with the whole idea of community. But I understand that there’s just too many of us like to say ‘good morning’ when you walk aboard the traincar.

You probably won’t meet the love of your life on a train, but a little chat to a stranger doesn’t hurt.

People are busy in modern life. And modern city life is even busier. A little bit of sympathy from a stranger couldn’t hurt though. But the way things are these days, if I went around just making conversation I have the feeling I would be tagged as a weirdo or an offender of some sort.

In this respect I have usually found myself closer to the people of country-side Victoria than to the people of the city. The man from the train was from the country. People in the city can be ‘too cool’ and sometimes they seem really snobby. Even the homeless people are a bit snobby sometimes. The other day one of them wouldn’t receive food saying ‘not another muffin, thanx!’ A Peruvian homeless person would love to have such luck. Still I wouldn’t dare to generalise people in this city. I guess those are some of the symptoms of a country doing well economically. But there are doubts and fears rising as to for how much longer the economy will keep up the good mood. Will people still be indifferent when hard times come?

I’m not saying in Peru everyone talks to everyone. There are people glued to their smart-phones and earphones just as well. That’s global stuff. But it seems somewhat more ‘friendly’. I wonder if I am being biased and I am romancing my country in my memories. I know that happens when one leaves home. Maybe I need to go back and see it again with my new ‘foreign’ eyes. I do have plans to go back in 2013. Then I will be able to tell for sure.

All of this doesn’t mean that Aussies aren’t friendly. They are and very. They also respect very much other people’s business. That’s part of the Melbourne spirit, they are proud of being relaxed. For a city I guess they are, though other Australians claim their parts of the country are more chilled, like Perth or Brisbane.

Wangetti Beach, near Cairns. That’s my kind of weather. Photo: Andrew Watson.

Nevertheless, I can see myself living here for some time. Both Mel and I want more country-side and warmer weather though. A little more on the jungle like side of things: exuberant vegetation, lots of Vitamin D and tropical fruits. We really liked Cairns and Brisbane. The weather is one of Melbourne’s infamous features. If it was just a bit more predictable and less all seasons in one day.

The food is been a great experience in Melbourne. From our first date at Maha to our last outing at Chin Chin. From fancy places that cook fusion food to popular spots that prepare traditional Asian cuisine.  I’ve found Peruvian dishes at Nobu and tasted Thai food for the first time here. Greek is also popular and Mel loves it. Public BBQ’s are everywhere and during summer it’s common to walk around the parks and smell a grill cooking. While here I’ve re-valued sushi and got to like it after thinking that all there was to it was raw fish. Pizza is good because of the number of Italians that have settled in Melbourne. We often get it from Fabio’s. And when I miss Peruvian food too much, there are the things that my mum sends on the post to make my day. So really, I can’t complain in that department.

Melbourne’s alleys and cool cafes and restaurants are abundant.

I also like the people are big sports fans here. So much so that it can be annoying. I don’t think I can get used to the office people running around Melbourne’s CBD during lunchtime. One of these days I’m gonna trip into one of them casually. On the other hand, it’s nice that the city has so many bike paths, running lanes, exercise grounds on parks, public pools, etc. Personally I’ve started doing a lot more sports than I used to. Not just chin-ups and biking here and there but going out for a run once or twice a week makes me feel quite healthy.

Sports Precinct: Rod Laver Arena, AAMI Park and the Yarra River on the side.

All in all Melbourne is a cool city. The availability of culture, the fashion (though I’m tired of seeing every possible combination of Ugg boots (furry boots) with tight pants on the streets. THAT IS WRONG!), the bar scene, the music shows. There’s a little bit of everything and a little for everyone. People from all over the world in an ordered place. Sometimes too expensive but a nice place indeed. I can see why they named it the Most Liveable City in The World for 2 years in a row. Melbourne is beautiful and I still have much to discover. Plans for the future are go and see a game of the Australian Open of tennis, go to the MCG (the largest stadium in Australia) to watch the cricket, go to the horse races during Melbourne Cup…

Now summer is coming and cool things like cinema in the open park, or the night markets will take place. People say this will be a hot summer because winter was ‘pretty cold’. They expect days of above 40C. Last time that happened, the Melbourne wheel of fortune, a local shot at the London Eye, melted. You read right, the huge iron structure melted. So now it sits there, being slowly rebuilt, watching Melbourne watching it. That’s one attraction I’m not riding on.

Melbourne Wheel

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

A Peruvian in Australia: Concert For The Kimberley

Last Friday I had the chance to go and attend a free concert at Flinders Square, the public heart and the Melbourne-equivalent to a Latin American ‘Plaza de Armas’ (Main Square). The concert was organised by The Wilderness Society and had the goal of attracting attention and support to the cause of opposing the construction of a gas plant in the Kimberley.

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The Kimberley region is usually described as one of the last wild places on Earth. Certainly it is one of the last in Australia. It might seem hard to believe that such a huge island-continent lacks wild places of any kind. But the truth is that though there is still plenty of bush and desert, the forests of Australia are truly endangered. And forests are the hot spots of biodiversity.

Certainly Australia has a low population compared to landmass, and most of the people are concentrated on the East coast, in cities such as Sydney (5 million), Melbourne (4 million) and Brisbane (2 million). And while it is true that the white people have only been here for slightly over 200 years, during that time the Australian landscape has changed significantly. Several species have been introduced and become pests (rabbits, cane toads, foxes) and many other native species have disappeared  including 23 species of birds and 27 of mammals. The Kimberley region though, has never had an species gone.

The landscape has seen its forests greatly reduced and though the national park system is good and there are many protected areas (16% of native forests or 23 million hectares are protected), many others have lost connectivity. For species that’s like having a large river of urban/agricultural areas around and not being able to ‘swim’ across, so they are locked in until they are not able to reproduce with any other than their own relatives and from that point on it’s all downhill for that population.

Most importantly, Australia’s main source of income as a nation is mining. And mining is particularly popular in those little populated places that Australia is so famous for. One of those places is the Kimberley.

Woodside Co. wants to build an immense gas platform (it would be the world’s 2nd largest gas hub) in the ocean, in an area that is known to be a very important migratory route for whales. Not only that, the ocean in front of the Kimberley seems to be the largest Humpback Whale nursery on Earth. There are also coral reefs, 5 species of turtles, endangered Dugongs (Australian Manatees) and pristine forests. The land of the Kimberley keeps the largest dinosaur footprint in the world and other dino prints. More importantly, this land is home to aboriginal people who consider it sacred. These people, nor the people of Broome, have been asked if they agree to the construction of such platform.

At the concert, we were able to see and hear them via videocall. They invited people to come over and see for themselves what beauty is to be at risk. For the past 2 years these people have been involved in protesting, blocking roads and organising ways to show their disapproval. More than 70% of Broome´s population opposes the gas plant.

Albert Wiggan, a local from Broome who came to sing and speak.

And what´s more unreasonable is, why build it there in the ocean when today there are cleaner ways of doing so, without causing the disruption and damage a platform would? It was made clear that this protest was not against progress but searched to find the cleanest, more ecologically sound way to extract the gas. And that´s what´s being fought.

Personally, I find it funny that more developed countries like Australia have the exact same problems as Peru does. I wouldn´t have thought so. This means it is not a problem of developed or undeveloped countries. It’s not a mentality or a president’s issue. This is a transnational issue.

Logo for the concert and campaign

This scenario (transnational wanting to build multi-million project on a fragile ecosystem that also holds cultural value for people) is been heard of so many times. So my question is, if I am able to predict these issues, why can’t the multi-million companies with their experts and resources? Are they too archaic and conservative to understand that ecological policies and care is needed urgently and they, with their power and lobbies, are subject to it too? Are they too distracted from the real world because of their money and lifestyle? Is it pure stubbornness?

I´d like to think the best of them but they make it really hard for themselves. It is time that these people start acting with the responsibility it is expected from them. The good news is that people have power to stop these huge projects. That is probably the main thing that I take from this. The world has become more compassionate and aware. To deny or ignore it is plain stubborn and useless. The likely outcome of the gas project in the Kimberley is that it won´t happen. Surely they will keep trying but people will keep fighting. Why? Because it makes more sense to protest than to stare.

The Kimberley must remain untouched. For the sake of ALL of its inhabitants. You can watch live clips of the concert and listen to the speeches here:

http://www.concertforthekimberley.com.au

As for the concert itself, it was great! I discovered John Butler Trio, whom so many have reccomended me to hear. A very powerful message and a gifted musician who has fun with his band while playing. Claire Bowditch was there too and her melodic tunes were a pleasant surprise. They were joined by an estimated 10 thousand of us, many young people (it was a free concert after all). But the message was given, the connection was made. I got me a shirt so that the message keeps spreading. I hope the outcome favors the Kimberley.

For more information read:

www.wilderness.org.au/campaigns/kimberley/the-kimberley-worth-fighting-for

Happy crowd

John Butler

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A Peruvian In Australia: Far North Queensland

July saw us submit the visa application and a well-deserved break was needed. Besides winter had been a long few months and the Vitamin D reserves were running out. The body needed some sunshine. Specially my dear Mel who thinks anything below 25C is ‘cold’.

Cairns was the natural number one candidate spot. Not only was the weather we were looking for in full bloom there but we had the luck that my father-in-law has a place to stay. So we found a good flight offer, booked accomodation, rented a car, I designed an itinerary and we started counting the days…

One day, as I was showing the itinerary to Mel, she stopped me and said ‘You do realise it’s a holiday and not a birdwatching trip Pepe!’. I want to believe we stroke a balance between the two. Though lately Mel has been saying that she needs to get a pair of binoculars.

Day one saw us arrive at the airport with very little sleep due to the excitement of our trip. And we are not the lovely people we look like when we hadn’t slept enough. Tempers were short, luck was bad. Jetstar charged us for the baggage because a ‘newie’  clerk behind the counter didn’t know better than our bussiness class rights. That sat it off. And with the time we wasted trying to not pay the 60 dollars for 5 kilos of ‘excess’ there was no time for morning coffee at the lounge. To make things worse, during flight I realised that I had forgotten my camera at home! I had bought an extra card and battery for it. Oh dear, to think that once, in a not-too-distant-past, I was an efficient tour leader who could get up with 3 hours of sleep and a hangover with no problems the next day!

We arrived in paradise and the warmth and humidity were a soft caress on our faces. My pores immediately started choking in the sweet water of the air. We picked our white Hyundai from the airport and off we were to Palm Cove! Ah, the beauty of beach resorts! Everyone seems so chilled. But not us. Our room wasn’t ready until midday so we changed into lighter clothes and went for a recognition walk of Palm Cove.

Palm Cove Beach

It was nothing like I had imagined, and that’s a good thing. Palm Cove deserves a medal for being such a clean, cute little place. Maybe more oriented towards the ‘retired’ part of the population, but still a lovely spot. Our first 2 days were dedicated to that healthy and so often forgotten activity: being lazy.

Sunrise in Palm Cove

Sunbaking by the shore or by the pool, walking the beach, having a beer at the bar, getting some groceries for our appartment. The second morning I went for an early walk to check the birds in the nearby mangroves around Argentea Park. Turned out to be a very productive morning, with my first Rainbow Bee-eater and Metallic Starlings, as well as Orange-footed Scrubfowl (everywhere!), Pied Imperial-Pigeon and Double-Eyed Fig-Parrot.

I convinced Mel to drive to Cairns Botanic Gardens that afternoon and visit a bit of Cairns. The gardens are a lovely spot to have a stroll. In fact I started realising then that they really like their boardwalds in Queensland. They are everywhere and it’s a great way to see the forest without “walking off the path”. I like this “little things”. So far I can say that Australia had a very effective design and protection of the natural areas. In the gardens I caught sight of new birds like Australian Brush-Turkey  (very abundant), Magpie Goose and Radjah Shelduck.

One of the swampy lakes at Cairns Botanical Gardens

We walked the Cairns Esplanade towards the Lagoon. There was a circus show in the gardens there. Everyone seemed so relaxed and hippie. I guess that’s the outsiders view of a place, the grass is always greener on the other side isn’t it? Didn’t take long for me to imagine myself living in Cairns, of course me being a tourism industry born and bread. Mel did not dislike the idea mainly because it’s a warm place.

The Lagoon at Cairns Esplanade

On day 3 we drove to Port Douglas to catch a boat that would take us to see the coral reef. I had no idea what I was in for. I couldn’t help to compare it to Lake Titicaca (obviously in a much faster, nicer boat). The coral reef must be the number one attraction for foreign young tourists in Australia. I’m not forgetting Ulluru, but this one is much closer to main cities like Sydney or Brisbane and cheaper too. At the port I saw several boats leaving packed and the best thing is that the coral reef is so vast that there is no need that all boats go to the same place, so it doesn’t feel crowded, which would be the ultimate ruin for this sight, a common conplain at Lake Titicaca.

Port Douglas

We did it in a boat named Calypso (like Cousteau’s!) and it was great value for money. We paid AUD200 each and it was an all day tour including guides, snorkel gear, liquids (except alcoholic or sodas) and food. The boat was incredible, with several toilets (even showers), and several sundecks. The weather was beautiful. I had never snorkeled before. OK, maybe once, but choking in the pool is not exactly snorkeling. Yet, with reason, I was concerned. I didn’t want to drown or destroy the slow-growing coral with my split-splat.

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.

Turned out to be easier than I thought and sooner than later I was an underwater ballerina admiring the beauty and colous of what is, deservedly, one of the wonders of the natural world. Fish of all colours and voltages, sizes and shapes swimming just at hand-reach. Schools of huge parrot-fish would pass next to us regarding like they had never seeing a human before. And the complex neon-like forest that is the coral reef is just a mind blowing event for me! I don’t care we didn’t see a Humpback Whale (we did see a dolphin though). I’m lucky I saw the Great Barrier Reef.

Coral Reef

Day 4 was MY day, birdwatching time. Time to see in depth the other reason why this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Tropical Rainforest. We drove very early in the morning to Daintree Village to reach a small birdwatching tour on the Daintree River. Caught sunrise as Mel drove what must be a record time and embarked on a beautiful and quiet two and a half hour tour spotting birds by the river. Caught many waterdragons, a record 6 according to Murray Hunt, owner and guide of Daintree Boatman Nature Tours.

The Daintree River

Great-billed Heron, one of the most sough-after local specialities opened the morning. A pair of Papuan Frogmouth perfectly camouflaged with branches, were asleep a couple of meters from us and the boat. Azure Kingfisher, Olive-backed Sunbird and Shining Flycatcher gave more colour to the green forest. The Saltwater Crocodile and the Amethystine Python eluded us. But the trip was worth it.

Can you see the Papuan Frogmouth?

We continued our drive after some breakfast at Daintree Village. Took the ferry across the river and stopped and every possible boardwalk and vista. We tried Jindalba Walk to see the Southern Cassowary but didn’t find it except in roadsigns and sculptures. The landscape made for all the wildlife we missed though. Jungle next to the ocean, a turquoise-blue ocean. That’s paradise to me.

A Cassowary sign

Cape Tribulation certainly looked like it. Open beach, no people and extreme beauty. No camping is allowed here because crocs have been know to assault on campers before. Every paradise has its guardians I guess.We drove back to Palm Cove so exhausted that we were asleep by 9pm.

Cape Tribulation Beach

The next day was a relaxing day. It was Mel’s birthday and we visited Kuranda, a small village near Cairns. Located between 2 protected areas, and among hills, Kuranda offers walks, markets, museums, a train ride and a telepheric ride over the forest. We enjoyed ourselves visiting the buttefly house, eating ice cream, walking around the market and the forest. At night we had dinner at NuNu, a fusion restaurant in Palm Cove. The food was delicious and based highly on fish.

Boardwalk to Barron Falls near Karunda

On our way to the airport I convinced Mel to do one last walk! She did not agree but knew that if we didn’t do it it would be painful. On the swamp next to the airport there is another boardwalk. I would have loved a croc to show up on one of these but it didn’t give. But I was satisfied as I spotted more than 30 new birds or lifers for me.

Guess next time we will go even further North, to the tip of Cape York. That would be quite an adventure. Mel did it when she was a kid with her family. We are thinking on doing it again sometime in a not too distant future.

Cairns Birdwing Butterfly

 

 

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A Peruvian in Australia: visas, holidays and life happening.

The last  two months have been pretty full-on. No wonder my last 2 post have been about music gigs. I have had little time to get my head around anything. If anything, all I wanted was to get my head out of anything. Floating, relaxed where it can forget itself for a minute or two. Maybe I should have come to write the blog when I was looking for such moments.

July saw Mel and I finalising all the gathering of documents for our Partner Visa. After all the certifying, the photocopying, the sending, signing, waiting, we managed a bulk the size of a folder filled with about 3 kilos of documents that basically demonstrate (we can only hope) that we have a genuine relationship, that we love each other and that we REALLY want to be together.

I have to say, after having it ready and looking at it, wondering if it actually is a good effort, you realise that it has been a huge effort. All the afternoons after work filling forms, all the money spent in sending letters, all the effort chasing and bothering friends and family explaining to them that you need a statement that says that they believe your relationship is true…

And it is all worth it. The sense of accomplishement is great. Though we have not achieved anything in the legal sense really. Now we need to wait for the Department Of Immigration to contact us and let us know the outcome. But personally I feel as if we just took a huge step in our relationship.  It´s like we just told the whole world “Hey! we are serious about this, make no mistake”. And that is empowering as a couple I guess.

July saw us going to the Peruvian National Day festivity, which is celebrated on the 28th. The party took place at the Public Centre of Tullamarine and was organised by one of the Peruvian Clubs of Melbourne. I learnt there that there are 3 in total and they all organised festivities but this was the one I heard of. We got there early (or everyone else got there on Peruvian time, however you want to look at it) and the day was getting rainy, so few outdoor activies could be enjoyed. That was OK with me. I was there for the food and eat I did! Ceviche, Lomo Saltado, Causa Rellena, Tamalitos, Flan, Alfajores, Cusqueña beer and Inka Cola were all tried and approved.

Ceviche, Cusquena, Inka Cola…

But the food was just the beginning of the celebration as then came typical dances performed. Music bands would play too but we had to leave soon after the dances. We were very happy to have attended. We made a couple of new friends in Cristian and his wife. Now I go on Tuesdays to play football with him and others. It was refreshing to see other Peruvians, know a little of their stories, see them (also) with their local partners, with their Aussie-Peruvian kids playing around. Mel said she had never seen such pretty kids altogether.

The “marinera” dance.

Andean dance

August has been pretty chilled. we are still doing paperwork as the visa is a constant thing. The pace is less hectic though. We decided it was time for a little bit of sunshine and we started planning a holiday to Cairns. It will be my first Australian holiday proper, as my trips before have been pretty quick and Mel was working during them. This one will be exclusively for leisure.

I can’t wait to check out the birds in that area. They are very different from those in Victoria as Cairns is located on the Eastern base of the Cape York peninsula, and holds a more humid, sunny weather with Tropical  Forests known as the Temperate Rainforest. This means a high concentration of wildlife, with over 400 bird species in the area, among them the Cassowaries (an Ostrich-like Australian relative), kangaroos, and the saltwater crocodiles that Steve Irwin made famous.

It is the only spot in Australia to see Birds of Paradise, there are 4 here with 46 in neighboring Papua-New Guinea (PNG). Doing some research on the subject I came on several videos of David Attenborough, including one where he states that birding in the Daintree River area (where we are going) can be even better than in the Amazon. So expectations are high and you can expect to read more about that on my next post.

Speaking of Sir David Attenborough, Mel got us tickets to go and see him a couple of weeks ago when he came to Melbourne for a series of interviews with audience. The first nice thing about it, besides the obvious excitement of going to see one of the heroes of my childhood, was the Regent Theatre. New to me, the Regent is located in the heart of Melbourne city and dates back from 1929, having survided many inclemencies and a few attempts to bring it down.

The Regent´s foyer

But the Regent is just a building. Attenborough, at 86, and actually older than the theater. And should not be surprising that he is still going. After Australia he was going to Mozambique to do research presumably. The man speaks as if he had not been asked that same question before, responding with that beautiful calm with which old people speak their wisdom. And we would be fools if we weren’t listening.

The clarity wich which he remember events that took place 65 years ago, when he went to PNG looking for Birds of Paradise for the first time to shoot the first ever show on those and other strange looking creatures. You must realise that this man has seen  TV program-making change from black and white 35mm to colour HD and 3D and whatnot! He even admits that shooting such shows on B/W back then was a bit silly. But that is actually how one of the biggest icons (perhaps the biggest) of nature documenting started. And who knows how long Sir David will be around us. As long as he is still doing his passion work, I’m sure he will be with us for a good while.

Attenborough being interviewed

Personally, I felt so moved to listen to him that all I wanted to do when I left the theater was grab the first plane to the nearest jungle and hug a tree. A little more realistically though, I renewed my ties with my passion for nature and made me realise that with work, trust, luck and smart moves one will get where one wants.

Speaking of getting there, after the visa submission life has become much more interesting and pleasant. As if I had now ‘permission’ to be. Might just be the pressure release that was on my relationship and myself since I got to Australia. Mel and I were reminiscing recently and realised how quickly we’ve changed, grown, and how crazy we were to do some of the things we did!

The result is that I am enjoying myself more, and I go by more relaxed in general. Soon I will have been a year in Australia! I dunno what will I continue writing about then!

Se acabo la fiesta!

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