Tag Archives: rain

dirt biking the Sacred Valley

We dirt biked the Sacred Valley last week. When we set out from Cusco the day was warm, the sun hot and beating as we slathered sunblock onto shoulders, only a tiny hint of morning chill in the air. We topped the bike up with gas at a tiny petrol pump on one of the old streets, the Peruvian men watching dubiously as we pulled our helmets on. We flung our legs over the Honda and with a quick check back from Oli we were off, winding up and away from the city towards Saksaywaman, me feeling nostalgic at the familiar rumble and vibration beneath the balls of my feet.

Our hips moved in synchronisation as the bike shifted below us on the
rutted tarmac, left and then right as we twisted up and down the winding hills. The Sacred Valley showed herself slowly, shyly, first only a glimpse of mountains between hills, then rounding corners to amazing views of green and orange terraced hillsides.

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We stopped to take a photo at a lookout, not noticing the women with lambs and llamas that paraded that particular roadside stop, who quickly gathered their steeds and wares to come and show us, ‘a photo miss, una foto!’ We tried to explain apologetically exactly why we didn’t want a photo with the lambs, but I couldn´t quite convey the apathy gained through years of feeding five lambs at seven in the morning when I was a teenager. After a few moments of futile broken Spanish we backed away, speeding further down into the valley.

We passed the buses and trucks only on the straights at first, then corners as Oli got a little more Peruvian with his passing. We hit what we thought was about a hundred and ten kilometres an hour – the dirt bike had no speedo – and I outstretched my arms on the straight, both of us whooping in delight at the speed and the view laid out before us, green terraces lapping at rocky mountains laced with snow.

We stopped to see a few ruins, walking around the old stones and walls quietly, touching the rock here and there to try somehow to connect with the ancient people who once walked the same ground. After a few minutes Oli raised an eyebrow, ‘back on the bike?’ One ruin – done. Speed sightseeing. My father would be proud.

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We flew through village after village as the bike whined below us in the warm day. Women were cooking guinea pigs skewered on thin sticks over smoking fires, their tiny meatless bodies splayed out degradingly. A man sat in an unfinished top floor window eating from a bowl, his eyes lifted from the road, distracted from the blaring horns and engine noise below him. Countless women in traditional dress – the cholitas – wearing puffy skirts and undersized bowler hats, their long black plaits trailing down their backs, connected at the end by
a thin piece of black string.

And dogs. Dogs everywhere, of all sizes, barking from rooftops, sleeping in doorways and running in packs, or just standing and staring into space, like they forgot what they were doing. We met an English girl in Cusco who had been attacked by three little dogs, her long slender leg shaking as she extended it to show us three small bites and a broken sandal.

We stopped to buy water from a small adobe village, a woman with a club foot and a sullen child ahead of me in line, arguing about the price with the shopkeeper and tugging at the little boy´s hand.

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As the day rolled by the brilliant blue sky began to be slightly marred by clouds, some white and fluffy, some with an ominous dark streak, gathering together like children for a fight. We rode on, oblivious, shouting to each other about the sights, reminding me forcefully of The Castle. ‘Look at that!’ ‘What?’ ‘Back there!’

At one point a bus stopped suddenly in front of us for a speed bump and we almost hit it, the back wheel of the bike lifting beneath us as the brakes locked and we were engulfed in a cloud of thick black exhaust fumes.

We continued on, following the small red lines of our not-to-scale map, surprised every time we hit a village much earlier than expected, and confused when it took longer to appear around the bend. We were headed to Ollantaytambo, a ruin town from the time of the Incas, full of adobe houses and traditional markets. We were halfway along the road there when the first drops fell.

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We kept going, trying to ignore the rain falling faster, the drops landing on our glasses and blurring the road ahead. Before us the clouds were dark and full, behind us they were light, only a few littered across the blue of the afternoon sky. After a few minutes Oli yelled, ‘do you want to turn back?’ I muffled a yes.

We pulled into a gravel shoulder, shivering as cars and trucks passed us in a huge loud line of noise and fumes. We swooped back after they passed, the gravel crunching beneath the thick treaded tyres.

As soon as we had turned back the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, icy cold raindrops hitting exposed skin and the wind whipping through our windproof jackets, up sleeves and down necks, biting through the denim of my jeans.

We passed people watching their cattle plough the fields, huge wooden yokes astride their thick necks, the type usually reserved for museums and historical fairs.

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The bike rose easily up and out of the valley, turning back on itself as we twisted up the switchbacks, so that one moment we were facing the storm, the blue black of the sky threatening ahead, then the next moment we were racing towards the blue, a circle of the storm only visible in our rear view mirrors. The clouds behind were so dark and black that it became hard to tell which was mountain and which was storm.

The rain was moving towards us then, we could see twists of it high up in the sky, smudged like dirty fingerprints of grey against the white overcast sky. Then it was sweeping across the plains, great sheets of water falling in blurred lines. We were freezing.

The urgency picked up and suddenly we were racing to beat the weather,
running from the darkening sky and the snow clouds that were circling the jagged peaks of the mountains. We rose above a blue lake and I yelled ´photo Oli, photo!´ ´No time!’ was all I got back. And he was right, there wasn´t time.

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Ahead the skies were blue, patchy with white, innocent clouds, so we raced to Cusco, the land changing as we sped past. I marvelled at the crazy contrast of the dry red earth and the ominous, almost purple sky behind it, the men still working the fields, either oblivious or uncaring about the imminent deluge. I tucked my head behind Oli’s back, watching the road.

I couldn´t take a photo, so let me paint you a picture, a snapshot pulled from a single moment of my vision. The road snatching past us below, smeared into lines of different coloured stone and tarmac. The blue denim of my jeans, stretched tight across my thigh, blue and white lines of fabric. The centre line rushing past like yellow bullets, hair flipping in the breeze. The black of my jacket buffeting in the wind, though in a photo this would be snapped into place, perhaps frozen with the wrist pulled into a sharp triangle of movement. It was strangely beautiful.

By the time the outskirts of Cusco appeared we were shivering, our asses numb from the bike, unused to such a long ride. We navigated through the busy streets, honking and pushing in like locals, the iron grey sky chilly above us.

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We drank hot chocolate and shared a brownie in the Choco Museo, feeling the sweet dark cocoa heating us up from the bones out, uncurling fingers and relaxing shoulders with every mouthful, smiling and dry as we listened to the rain begin outside.

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rain spattered windows

The car stopped with a soft lurch, leaving a residual shuddering that was like an almost imperceptible vibration through my body, a memory of the last constant hour of movement. The drops pattered on the thin roof and I looked sideways, down the rain slashed streets. Street lights gleamed on the wet windows, smeared into messy crosses of phosphorous flare. The red traffic light shone thickly in the empty night, a silent sentinel of an abandoned, forgotten bridge, shining loudly into the wet black dark.

I waited. There was no one else for miles.

some summer photos

I haven’t written in a while. Too busy with summer, with new work. It makes me guilty when I think about it, when anyone mentions it. Oli says it with a quiet yearning that causes my eyes to flicker to the black mesh of the laptop case, tucked and forgotten underneath the wooden bowl full of keys.

And that guilt keeps me from writing. It makes me scared, afraid to open it up and clatter loudly on the black keys, as though stage fright dogs me even in quiet reflection. I think that nothing will just fly out from fingertips ready to be put on show. And because I think that, nothing does.

I wrote half a book in November. The problem is I have no more words. I have no more twists, and whether that stems from the lack of beaches and language barriers or from the lack of decent previous twists, I don’t know. I read more than I write now. Beautiful books, full of haunting personification and blissful description. But what good is inspiration if you don’t put it to use?

When I write I am in flow. Even now, while my writing is so inane and predictably daily my mind is away, thinking above, skipping a line below, all the while knitting and weaving the words together. Sometimes I don’t pause in my typing for what feels like hours.          Then the pause happens, and I almost lose it, like a receipt snatched away by the wind, grabbed at by a desperate outstretched hand.

And so the photos, photos of a busy summer and smiling sisters, heavy skies streaked with gold. I hope you all enjoy them.

another excerpt

It is truly dark outside now, and the trees behind the window are swaying violently. It has not started to rain yet, but it will very soon. Alice watches the streetlight, waiting for the drops that will fall past it, whisked sideways by the rain. She loves the rain. Rain means comfort, and anonymity. Nobody looks in the rain. People only run, heads down and hands fending, to their next destination. Nobody stares, nobody watches. She knows because she has seen it, many times. Things get forgotten in bad weather. She remembers a time when Miss Edwards, her English teacher had forgotten a test that the entire class had been studying for. She had blamed it on the rain, that the information had gotten lost somewhere between running between the house and the car, the bakery and the staffroom, in the wet locks of hair that just one outstretched hand could not keep dry. Alice learnt how others were affected by it, how the rain could change the landscape of an otherwise normal day.

Around her the house creaked, and the shadows grew darker as the thick clouds blotted out the night sky. As the red digits of her alarm clock flicked to 10.33pm, the first drops began to fall. They began with a light patter on the black street outside, and then moved closer to the house, the drops thwacking onto the large leaves of the walnut tree. It changed in tempo, the soft taps becoming a thrumming beat, the sound of the wind swishing the drops against the window pane.

Alice closed her eyes, smiling. As she exhaled her body was flooded with relief, and she began to relax, into the soft crisp sheet of the bed. It had been too long since the rain.

Out in the kitchen Annette was putting the cake into the oven. It was a dark sticky mess, the brown mixture was lapping at the sides of the tin, just as the cookbook said it should. She frowned as she turned the dial to 180, rechecking the recipe as she did so. It was strange, how much work it was. She had been told that motherhood would come, that the instinct would take over, as soon as you have that baby in your hands. She had been told that the overwhelming love you feel obliterates everything else, that you care for nothing in the world the way you care for this baby in your arms.

And it was true, to a limit. Annette had cared. She had loved Alice intensely, so deeply that it felt almost painful. She remembered the yellow of that room, exuding calm and sure motherhood, as she watched Alice sleep in her crib. For hours she would sit there, a book lying untouched in her lap, just to validate her being there. But she would only watch. Alice’s tiny fingers lay curled against the smooth blanket, her shock of dark hair flat along her tiny head.

But Alice grew older, she stopped being a baby. She learned to think for herself, to draw, to use the bathroom by herself and to lace her shoes. And Annette found that there was nothing in her instinct arsenal that showed her how to get grass stains out of a uniform. She didn’t discover a sudden ability to bake perfect birthday cakes, like all of the other warm, laughing mothers in the P.T.A. could. She didn’t know the fastest routes to the school during peak hour, or the exact dates that the term began each year.

So she learnt. She bought cookbooks, aprons, baking dishes and crock pots. She bought each new object that a recipe required her to have, paring knifes, lemon squeezers, egg slicers. She bought laundry detergent, and Wondersoap. She listened zealously when the other mothers spoke about their problems, tips and advice, conversations that in a previous life might have sent her to sleep. All so that one day, she might be right. She might fit properly into this cookie cutter slot that she had been given.

Annette sat on the couch and listened to the rain as she waited for the cake. There was a bake sale tomorrow, she had read it on the school newsletter, so even though Alice had not told her, she would be prepared. The house was warm around her, the exposed wooden beams comfortable, not forcedly rustic. Simon was upstairs, she thought, although she couldn’t be sure. They rarely spoke anymore, only about Alice. But he was busy with work and she was busy with her things, so it didn’t worry her.

But right now it does. She feels a sudden anxiety, a dread at having to sleep beside him, in the same bed as this man who she does not speak to. He is so different, but yet just the same, and she cannot figure out which quality annoys her more. The things that she used to love about him she hates. His cautious worry, his glasses, his aloof distance. She tries to remember falling in love, but she can’t. Not with him. She remembers her love with Gary, a fifteen year old passionate affair, full of the back seats of cars and running in the grassy fields outside their town, shouting excitedly at each other, only to fall, intoxicated with this giddy infatuation, to the ground.

But she doesn’t remember Simon. She knows that he was there, knows it was him. But she doesn’t feel it. Just a tall character, a faceless, handsome stranger on the outskirts of the group, never involved, just there. She was intrigued by his solidity, his mystery, but never infatuated. There grew from that a solid, dependable love, which she had always been told was better, more long lasting, truer. But she wasn’t sure. If there were no memories of a windswept obsession, what could she dwell on in the evenings? Solid dependable love was perhaps the makings of great companionship, but not of great romance.

And as that love slipped away more and more, Annette wondered how she could grab it back, if she could not remember it. His constant worry irritates her immensely. Always Alice. Always where is she, who is she with, does she have enough clothes.

The wind howls and the wet trees are slapped against the window, startling Annette from her thoughts. The recipe book lies open on the floured countertop. It states that the cake must be baked at 180 Celsius for fifty minutes. Annette glances at the metal clock that hangs above the door. It is only eleven. She sighs and pulls a blanket over herself, gazing out of the window.

spanish sun special

After a week of ‘Spanish Sun Special’ up the eastern coast of Spain, we are almost ready to sleep in a bed again. We have been travelling from Malaga to Barcelona in a Wicked van, and have seemed to time it spectacularly badly. The Mediterranean was whipped into a frenzy this week. The usually placid, lapping waves roared, crashing onto the calm sand of the shores as though hungry for it. We drove for days with the rain, watching blue Autovía signs shimmer through the wet windscreen, the rain flecking incessantly at the dirty glass while we tried to navigate, frantically avoiding the toll roads. We fell asleep listening to the soft patter of the first drops onto the thin metal roof, feeling vulnerable and exposed underneath that tiny sheet of aluminium, under the vast expanse of thunderous sky.

We stopped in widely different places. The second night was a shaded corner at the back of a gas station, where we started in our sleep and I woke up each time a shadow fell across the curtain, certain that someone was trying to peer inside at our sleeping bodies. Another was in a glade of trees beside a beautiful river, moving lazily along, steadily towing gallons of water, fish and insects with it under that still slow surface.

I wrote in some beautiful places. On Saturday I sat on an abandoned balcony looking out at an empty beach shore, the entire stretch closed for the winter now that the sun and the tourists have gone. We washed our dishes at another beach on Friday, using sand to scrub the oil off the frying pans, and leaping like kittens each time the white water lapped too close. The palm trees were sideways and our feet were freezing as we ran back to the tiny shelter of the van, shivering and laughing at it all.

The first day we parked beside a city beach, beside a small roundabout and some stone steps down to the sand. It rained all night, the noise punctuating through to my dreams. When we woke it was still raining, and we opened the curtains to the day, the light an overcast sepia, water streaming down the windows.

It was a minute before we realized that the roundabout was full of water, and that the torrent was inching up the tyres of the car across from us. We started the van and drove, suddenly urgent in our delayed realization. The roads up to the Autovía were like rivers, white rapids bubbling and tripping over themselves as the water rushed down to the sea. We sent up wide arch’s of water with our tyres, hoping that we would make it to the top. We did, and some twenty minutes later we heard the sirens go off, slow and rising, signaling that there was a flood. We checked the map quickly and drove, without looking back.

These last few days we have begun to head inland, away from the coast with its commercial beaches and huge apartment blocks. The mountains are approaching, and with the travelling curiousity that mountains always seem to inspire in us, we have decided to make a slight detour to Andorra, before heading back through the orange groves to Barcelona. The rain has stopped now, I think we might have finally outrun it. The sun is back too, but watery, reminding us that winter is coming. I am still inspired and smiling, the changing landscapes constantly sparking new ideas.

All in all it was a good first week of NaNoWriMo.

adventures in Granada

We were laden with backpacks and hungry one afternoon, and the rain was beginning to fall. We were heading for Los Diamantes, apparently a famed locals dive, with exceptional fried fish tapas. The street was hard to find in the Moorish labyrinth of Granada, but we found it just as the rain came sheeting down.

Inside the light was greasy, and Spanish drinkers stood back to back at shiny tabletops, a toothpick with some variety of fried food stabbed onto the end of it in a wildly gesturing hand, a wet beer glass in the other. They were all smiling, enthusiastic, drinking and eating and laughing, and I wanted to be one of them. The smell was amazing, like Friday night at a local fish and chip shop, but with beer and wine and peeling lettering on the windows. Okay, perhaps the peeling lettering wasn’t so unfamiliar.

We ordered, trying our best to speak in unaccented Spanish, so that the entire bar didn’t turn around to stare at us, before kicking us our of their secret. It worked, and two beers were slapped on the counter, the foam frothing over the sides as they sloshed towards us. A plate of paella followed within seconds, and we stabbed at it with our bent forks, giggling at each other, unable to believe our luck at acquiring free food. It was delicious.

We watched hawk-eyed as people were given their second and third drinks, to see which plate would follow. We tried to intercept the yells back to the kitchen, but they were too quick and sibilant for us to decipher. So we just drank. We ate quickly, and then sipped our beers happily, impatient to order the next. It was like a game. After a few plates we realized that we were laughing a little too often, leaning a bit further over the bar counter that we leant on.

It is just us, or does everybody stand like that at a bar? Next time you’re at a bar, try it for me. As soon as you put your elbow down on the counter, like an instant reflex your leg suddenly bends, your hip juts out, and you are perched, dapper and casual, putting out the vibe at the bar. I swear it happens every time.

We stayed long enough to try the fried prawns, and then, suddenly, like a surprise, realized that we were both full and sufficiently tipsy. Happily we paid, gleefully accepting our change like schoolchildren, so happy with our deal. The barman watched us amusedly, one eyebrow raised as he wiped down the bar, and we skipped outside.

The rain was still falling, and it was a second or two before we realized and took cover, squawking with hilarity at this foreign water falling from the skies. A street hawker ran over to us through the rain, a black umbrella already stretched open, ready for us to buy. He wanted six euro, we gave him three and he waved us on our way. The umbrella was too small for the two of us, and it was a while before I noticed that the entire right arm of Oli’s shirt was soaked, which I found to be the cause of much more hilarity. I resolved to buy one for myself when we saw the next street hawker.

The rainwater flowed in rivers below us, and we lurched contently around street corners, getting lost and twirling our new purchase. I found another hawker standing beside a tall iron gate, and offered him the last of our change, about €2.50 for another black umbrella. He was insulted, turning away from my outstretched hand, but as another woman approached him he snatched it from me, pushing the umbrella at me before turning and offering the woman a much more stylish plaid number. I twirled my umbrella smugly, asking Oli how much his had been, inviting him to admire the lovely wooden handle. It broke before we reached the next road. This was, quite clearly, the source of much more hilarity.

I trudged along with my broken umbrella, which looked somehow like a big black crow perched atop of my head, all sharp angles and spiky lines, flapping in the wind. As we crossed the wet cobbles I listened to Oli’s advice on how I should go for quality next time, that you get what you pay for, and would I like to share his one?

We walked past a little teashop, hiding quietly on the main corner just before the steps. The windows were fogged, and we could make out people sitting around low tables, holding glasses of hot liquid to their mouths. We were immediately drawn, and pushed open the thin glass door with a tinkle, shaking off the drops in a confusion of umbrellas and beanies as we entered.

We ordered mint tea, and sat giggling in the corner, staring out at the people rushing around. The décor inside was Moroccan casual, curved arches, painted glasses and Arabian teapots, like the lamp from Aladdin. I loved it immediately, and envisioned buying a set and serving Moroccan tea for my friends back home, arranged on cushions around the coffee table, while New Zealand rain lashes at the windows. I had to check myself, remind myself to live in the now, appreciate the moment as it is happening, Eat, Pray, Love style.

The tea arrived and it was hot and sweet, and grew stronger with each glass, the longer it brewed in all those mint leaves and herbs. We tried a Moroccan pastry each, a delicious, nutty, biscuity thing, and sipped slowly at our tea, smiling at each other. It was all in all, a perfect afternoon, combining tapas and tea, rain and shopping. My new broken umbrella is now tucked safely in the side pocket of my backpack, ready for it’s next adventure.

sweet release

The wet slap slap of the rain, as swollen drops from the rooftops thwack onto the river of the road below. It reminds me of Thailand, this muggy heat – oppressive tension, followed by the cascading relief each day, always the same in the monsoon.

My ears ache for that sound, the high sshhhh as the wheels carve their tracks through the flood, white jets of water spraying behind them. The gentle patter when it starts, building and building until the loud thundering, drumming cacophony, each drop its own furious hammer against the world below.

Suddenly, there is a cool breeze, the air disturbed by all this movement. It surprises me. My skin forgets, my body forgets. Over this long summer we have all forgotten the way it feels. The cooler months are coming. This thought awakens me, and I pull a thin blanket across over my shoulders, shivering with soft anticipation.