Saturday, 7 April 2007

Doctor Johnson promised to complete the first English dictionary in three years

... when it had taken forty Frenchmen more than forty years to produce the French equivalent. "Forty times forty is sixteen hundred", Dr Johnson famously said, "And as three is to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman". I mention this because myself and m'colleague Rebecca went whitewater rafting with a group of native English speakers and an Argentinian couple, and it proved quicker to teach the five of us some basic commands in Spanish than it was to teach the Argies four words of English - left, right, backwards and forward. Even in Spanish they were still getting it wrong.

Anyway, we were rafting for three days in all, and it was great. Each day the rapids were faster and higher than the day before, so it just got more and more exciting. On the final day we were in a boat with four Israelis, thoroughly nice chaps all (notwithstanding the comments in my previous mail*), and they were just crazy enough to make the whole thing worthwhile - we were hurling ourselves headlong into the highest waves and the deepest drops, singing. It was Class IV and above (in other words, the good sh*t) and the Israelis acted like it was a personal affront if we missed even a single wave, they were so committed to the experience. Fantastic.

Apparently just above where we did it there is a stretch of river that they used to run which is Class V+, but the police closed it last year because six people died. Pah. That would never happen in Bolivia - what's six more dead gringos to the Bolivian police?

The nearby town we used as our base was called "Cusi Pata", which I'm told translates as "Happy place". It's a small town with no water and no electricity, though they are building a brand new five hundred seater football stadium - no wonder it's a happy place. It's all about priorities, you see.

I went sneppling on the final day, which seems to involve dangling from a hundred metre cliff by a thin rope. I'll upload some photos at some point so you can see what I mean.

* We also met a nice Californian guy, which was a relief to me since I'd met three Californians up till that point, and all of them had been aggressive, obnoxious and up-tight. It felt good to redress the balance.

Before that we spent three days trekking in the Colca Canyon, which is the second deepest canyon in the world (the deepest is right next door but you can't go there) and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon - although as United States travellers like to point out, the walls aren't as steep, so ya boo s*cks to you.

It's good that the walls aren't as steep, though, because in the space of two days we walked down one side and then back up the other. It was more than two kilometres straight up and down, and god knows how much in total because it's an apparently endless series of zigzags and switchbacks, with every corner leading to yet more uphill until you've pretty much lost all interest in having legs at all. Some of the locals do that walk every day. Dragging donkeys, some of them.

Bring on the Inca Trail, that's all I can say.

In between we were in the stadium when the mighty Cienciano (the Red Fury) humbled ten man Boca by three goals to nil. So after their disastrous start to the Copa Libertadores the Cusco side have now qualified for the next stage with a game to spare. Maybe there's hope for England yet.

The Peruvians are a bit lacking in English style football chants, but one they use in the stadium is "si se puede", which I'd heard before from my teacher friends translated as "yes it can be done". I'd been told of a certain notorious film of that title, which apparently involves the use, misuse and even abuse of various members and orifices in order to prove once and for all that yes, it can be done.

So I was quite amused to be chanting "si se puede" for long stretches of the whitewater rafting. Morale building, that's what it was.

As you can tell, it's all go here. We barely have time to eat - though we have encountered more delightful menu translations I'd like to share. I had to try "Celestial bananas" (they were okay) but was happy to pass on "Hamburger of beast" and "Loin I die". However, it was hard to know what to choose when one venue offered us "Crumbled hen", "Crunchy of pig", "Alpaca to the sauce", "Gordon Blue of Chicken", "Brass chicken", "Avocado of the queen" and "Fillet in tree sauce with French frites"

Obviously I didn't want to steal the Queen's avocado, and alpaca to the sauce sounded a little bit gangsta for me, so I settled for the slightly Shakespearean "Pizza as you like it".

To my delight the meal was accompanied by a small group playing traditional Peruvian music. Barely a day goes by here without hearing El Condor Pasa (thank you Paul Simon) but I was surprised that they also included Sound of Silence in their repertoire. However, they capped it all with their Beatles renditions. I mean, you may have heard The Frog Chorus and Ebony and Ivory. You may have heard him give self-serving interviews in which John Lennon's role in the band is reduced to little more than making the tea. You might even be Heather Mills. However, I guarantee that you've never truly wanted to stab Paul McCartney in the face until you've heard the pan pipe version of Hey Jude.

Seen on an Australian backpack - a sew-on patch asking "What would Merv drink?"I assume this is a reference to the famous Australian moustache wearer Merv Hughes (I believe he might have played a little bit of cricket, too, but he's definitely best known for his incredible contribution to facial hair). However, as far as I'm aware he's less famous for drinking than his compatriot David Boon, so maybe someone can enlighten me. What *would* Merv drink?

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