Category Archives: South America

Jump Around

At the end of our South American travels I posted a set of “Flashjumps”.

Recapping briefly, a very good friend suggested doing them around the world after seeing one on Facebook celebrating the end of work for a while.

The idea seemed like a good one, and it has continued across Asia.  So here are some of our favourites.

Pointless but fun.

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Day 163 – Can’t speak French

One of the aspects of travelling that I particularly enjoy is language. I’ve always been fascinated with foreign accents and words ever since I entered the “French Verse Speaking competition” at school aged 13 & realised what a real French accent should sound like-not mine I hasten to add!

Our trip has definitely been a tale of two halves with three months of almost total Latin American Spanish followed by 9 languages in the last three months.  It has been a fascinating linguistic journey and whilst my Quecha or Bahasa Malay are not yet fluent…ahem…spending some time understanding the origins and nuances of each language has been a thoroughly rewarding experience.

For those of you still reading, I thought you might be interested in some of my observations…

Latin-American Spanish is the clearest in Peru and Bolivia; these are both great places to visit if you want to brush up or begin your Spanish adventures. Argentina and Chile use a sizeable number of colloquialisms in comparison to Castillian Spanish, they also speak pretty quickly which can make understanding both difficult and amusing in equal measure!

Taxi drivers are a wonderful source of new vocabulary and political background to a country. One of my favourite conversations was with an Argentian driver in Buenos Aires understanding his views on the Falkland Islands.

It’s an obvious one but worth repeating – people the world over appreciate you trying. In some countries and with some French and Spanish speaking friends I’ve been able to have an actual conversation, in many it’s been the basics, in all cases people have opened up & smiled a little more when I’ve tried to speak the local language.

My favourite example of this from the trip was actually all Rew’s idea, he set me the change of learning Quecha to distract me from the challenges of the Inca Trail! If you’ve not come across it, and I hadn’t previously, Quecha is the language of the Inca. It’s spoken across the high Andean regions including Bolivia, Peru and Argentina. It’s the first language of many people in all of these countries and importantly the first language of our team of 19 Inca Trail porters. Our patient trail guides taught me the basics phonetically as we walked along. If they knew a trickier section of path was approaching I’d suddenly find myself being tested on ‘numbers 5-10’ or ‘how do you say “I’m fine thank you”‘ & pretty quickly the precipitous drop was almost forgotten! Learning some basic Quecha was one of the most challenging things that I’ve done on the trip but it paid off as the porters flew past us carrying their huge packs and we could shout “see you later” to them in their native tongue- much to their surprise and delight. By the final night our whole group was picking up Quecha which culminated in a Spanish-Quecha-English warm down & stretching session complete with five of our porters!

The most useful phrases I’ve learnt have been almost exactly the same in every country we’ve visited. These are…

  • Thank you
  • Hello, how are you
  • I’m sorry
  • I don’t understand
  • Please
  • # 1-10
  • Can I take a/ your photo
  • Let’s go
  • Delicious!

These have got me out of almost every situation I’ve found myself in!

It’s never too late to learn a new language. I mean that both figuratively and literally e.g cabin crew are a great way to learn the new language en route to a destination! By the time I landed in Kuala Lumpur from Sydney I could count to 1000 and explain that I can’t speak Malaysian! All thanks to Malaysian Airlines amazing crew and a one hour lesson in the galley whilst most of the plane were sensibly asleep!

One of my final linguistic challenges has been Mandarin. A good friend of mine, who’s also bilingual English-Spanish, embarked on learning Mandarin some years ago. I was always hugely impressed by this feat and made some basic attempts to grasp the language on our three week trip in China. All I can tell you is Diana, I’m impressed! Not only does Mandarian use symbols rather than the characters that we’re used to in the UK, but it has an entirely different tonal structure. In short that means that the same word, said with one of four different tones, means four entirely different things…you want to get that tone right!  My mandarin stretches to about 15 symbols (including the numbers 1-10!) but spotting them on signs suddenly made the whole mass of language seem less scary.

I enjoyed an hour or so of learning the basics of calligraphy whilst in Yangshuo. Chinese characters are all made from a combination of 8 brush strokes. Just writing the number one – a straight horizontal line- is complicated though with 4 separate movements to make the stroke! Mandarian was simplified in the 1950’s under the leadership of Mao in order to enable and encourage more Chinese people to be able to read and write. This ‘simplified Chinese’ is what you see throughout China today. Key changes including altering the direction that words were written; moving from vertical to horizontal and across the page, moving from right to left to left to right! In Hong Kong they continue to use Traditional Chinese and so a visit there will show you pre-Mao Mandarian.

Still with me?  I guess the summary is that for me there’s been a whole other adventure as part of this trip on top of seeing the countries we’ve visited. Connecting with people in their own language, no matter how basic, has been scary and exhilarating but ultimately rewarding. I’m pretty sure being able to say “hello” in Lao or Cambodian will have limited use once we’re back in the UK, but I know for certain it’s made my travelling experience so much richer.

(Words by Niki)

Flash….a-ha

One of the first blog posts was me doing a “Flash Jump” after finishing work.

A “Flash jump” was something I had recently seen in a film called Ted starring Mark Walberg and a stuffed talking teddy bear, and done in homage to Flash Gordon as an act of celebration.

One of my friends saw it and suggested that I should do more “Flash jumps” around the world.  So I did.

Here is the S. American flash jump collection (inspired by Mark Walberg and Phil Franks; artistic direction by Niki Roach):

Day 78 – Half a world away

Our time in South America has come to an end.  What felt like forever at the start of the trip has passed by creating a lifetime of memories across 6 amazing countries.

A continent of outstanding scenery and natural beauty.  Filled with historic cultures and empires, and a complex mixture of traditional and increasingly modern ways of life.  The people have been almost without exception friendly, funny and helpful (no doubt helped by Niki’s  ability to converse with them).

We will miss your crazy car alarms that sound a bit like the plastic thing I had attached to my Raleigh Striker bicycle when I was 8; we will miss you scant regard for transport timetables; we will miss your obsession with cheese and ham; we will miss the almost total lack of regard to health and safety; we will miss your street dogs; we will miss the new friendships that you have presented; and we will miss discovering a new part of you everyday when we wake up.

But it’s time to move on and today we have a crappy day.  We knew this would be the case before it even started as our plans involved 4 countries, three flights totaling nearly 19 hours of flight time,  2 layovers of 8 hours, and enough timezones to ensure total body clock confusion.

However it gets a worse when we spend nearly 2 hours at Lima airport check-in desk yet still only manage to check in to our first flight due to an issue with Niki’s visa (her and Australia have a history of problems on this score).

To add to the hassles I then lose our document wallet somewhere in the airport (thankfully NOT with out passports in it), meaning a few frantic phone calls and emails needing to be sent to cancel some credit/debit cards, driving licenses etc. during the first layover in Chile.

We sort it all out and there is nothing lost that is anything other than mildly irritating, and we head of over the Pacific to new continents full of new experiences

Day 77 – Park Life

A visit to the post office to send our parcel home sees a remarkable number of forms to be filled in and bizarrely Niki has to put a finger print on each of them!

We re-visit Miraflores in a failed attempt to book some exit row seats for the long flight to Sydney and wander round in the sun looking round the shops before eventually ending up at the sea front.

Here we find you can hire bicycles – and having not ridden since Mendoza we hire a couple of single speeds and head off down the sea front like a pair of hipsters.

Up until this point, I’d thought Miraflores was OK, but nothing out of the ordinary. The cycle path along the front however takes you through what is a wonderful long thin park that stretches for at least 4km and I can see why it is a popular area to live.

Within the parks are all sorts of paths, benches and flower beds that you would normally expect, but on top of this is a great collection of outdoor sports areas.

There are tennis courts, a skate park (complete with a “swimming pool”), a BMX track, 5-a-side pitches, basketball courts and a number of outdoor gym equipment areas.  It’s clearly where the locals head to when the sun is out, and with the city reportedly only receiving 20mm of rain per year, that is plenty of time.

And if you ever get bored of the parks and shops, you just head down to the beach.

Day 76 – Pyramid song

Camping trips always generate a good deal of washing, so our morning is spent doing some chores (including organising a parcel of stuff to ship home before we head off to Asia).

A walk in to lovely Baranca to grab a cold chai latte (?!? Better than it sounds) for refreshment whilst we upload a few blog entries over WiFi is a pleasant end to the morning.

Our Inca Trail family is quickly scattering around the continent and the wider world, but Todd (our Canadian friend) is also in Lima for his last day before heading home to we arrange to meet up for lunch and do a bit of sight-seeing.

David had told us that there were a number of pre-Inca civilisations in Peru during one of his explanations on the trek, and one such place is located in the middle of Lima.

The place is called Huaca Pucllana and is an extraordinary structure that was discovered in 1881 and is thought to date back to around 400AD, an entire millennium before the Inca Empire started to throw it’s weight around S.America.

It is basically a pyramid, standing around 25m tall (though archeologists think it might have been as high as 30m) made entirely out of small mud bricks.  Somewhere between 6 and 8 million of them! The local people paid tax in the form of time spent making them by hand.

The structure is solid and built with the bricks on their end with small gaps between, because amazingly they knew that this helped provide tolerance to the frequent seismic activity in the area.

Unlike the Inca, this culture did not worship the sun, but instead the ocean and the moon that controls it. The ceramics that have been found all have symbols of fish (their major food source) on them.

In a typically South American way, due to “economic reasons” the site is now cut in half to allow a road to pass through, but the main site continues to be fully unearthed and subject to some of the same Machu Picchu style renovations.

They hope to have the project finished by 2028 as there appears to be at least 50% more of the pyramid still buried under a hill – it will make some sight when it is complete.

A failed attempt to see the Lima version of The Bellagio musical fountains recommended by friends follows as we find it is closed on Mondays so instead we head to Miraflores for a few drinks and some food before saying goodbye to Todd as he heads home to temperatures of -20! Brrrr!