Thursday, 28 February 2013

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Bridge

tonight, four boards to play and sailing along nicely in the top half of the field. Then disaster. The last four boards; 5%, 0%, 32% and 0%. Indeed on the last board we (I) gave away 4Hxx making 13 tricks, a mere score of 2280 to E/W! Amazingly we didn't finish last. 43.00%, 10/13.

Oh well, there's always next week.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Company B - Belvoir Street Theatre

It is Big Daddy's 65th birthday and although under a health cloud his family gather for a party to celebrate the milestone. Younger and favoured son Brick, drink constantly in hand, is under attack from his sexually frustrated wife, Maggie. Older son, Gooper, his wife and brood of children, are currying favour with the patriarch.

Tennessee William's classic 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' is being staged by Company B in a somewhat muddled interpretation. The cast use their natural accents and purport to be playing out a situation 'here and now'. Whilst this doesn't distract overall it certainly provides an odd counterpoint with the deep south and American sporting references in tact in the dialogue.

It is not until the second act that there is any reference to the heat that supposedly pervades the setting and the absence of the play's original southern accent means the languid rhythm of the piece is missing.

There is a lot of noise that irritated me and the longest off stage fireworks display this side of a millenium new year's eve.


★★

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Silver Linings Playbook


Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are troubled by mental health and drawn together in 'Silver Linings Playbook' despite the best intentions and worst behaviour of their families.

This film is almost too well acted. So realistic are the early scenes of Cooper's bi-polar behaviour, it seemed to me, that I became quite nervy just watching his interactions with his family. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver complete a splendid ensemble cast.


★★★★

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Flight


Denzel Washington usually plays squeaky clean characters so it comes as a surprise when in 'Flight' he is a sleaze bag from the opening scene engaging in drink, drugs and 'fast wimmen'. He is an airline captain and a very competent one too as evidenced early on when his aeroplane malfunctions in a major way.

But contrary to what the trailers might suggest this is not so much an adventure film about an aeroplane in trouble but rather a study of a flawed man in trouble. It is quite good but it is a bit overlong and could have done with a snip of twenty minutes or so.


★★★

Monday, 18 February 2013

Bridge

tonight, the first game for three weeks and we did OK, 52.80%, 4/14.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Subtitles

The mind is strange thing; well mine is anyway.

During my recent trip to South America I would have the hotel television on in the background before bedtime and in the mornings. Mostly I sought out the BBC World Service for the latest news. That service is very fine but it can get a bit repetitive at times. Often in the evening I would seek out an English language movie as an alternative all of which carried subtitles in the local language (Spanish or Portuguese, as applicable).

Despite the fact that I cannot read or understand either language my eyes would constantly be drawn towards the subtitles notwithstanding that all I needed to do was listen to soundtrack in my own language.

Strange.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

How I know I'm home

OK, let's work this out.

Lima to Santiago - 3 hours and 25 minutes.

Transit in Santiago - scheduled to be 5 hours but became 6 hours and forty minutes with a tarmac delay.

Santiago to Auckland - 12 hours and 50 minutes.

Transit in Auckland - 1 hour and 50 minutes.

Auckland to Sydney - 2 hours and 50 minutes.

Counting the three hours pre-departure time spent at Lima Airport for check in, outwards immigration and security checks, an overall elapsed travel time well over 30 hours. Thankfully at Sydney Airport, immigration, baggage collection, customs and quarantine (because we had been in South America) clearances did not take long at all. I was home just after 9.15am.

And when I say home, I mean home. I returned to find my home telephone out of order. My first telephone call had to be to that Telecommunications monolith whose name I will not publicise here. How I dislike dealing with them. Someone in the Philippines call centre informed me external problems have caused my telephone fault. Something to do with flooding whilst I was away. He blithely informed me that he has ordered repairs with a deadline for completion by 25 February! In the meantime calls to my home line will automatically be redirected to my mobile phone. Yessiree, I'm home.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Beating the International Dateline

There should have been no 15 February for us with our departure from Santiago scheduled for 11.20pm on the 14th and our scheduled arrival the next morning in Sydney on the 16th at 7.45am but events conspired to give us the 15th after all.

Despite everyone being on board ahead of the scheduled departure time, the plane remained at the gate with all of us on board and with no explanation for the delay for a further hour and forty minutes. Our eventual departure at 12.50am on the 15th means we cheated the dateline (in a manner of speaking).

It also meant we had a full dinner served to us on the flight at around 2am with two consecutive breakfasts (before and after a transit stop in Auckland) to follow. The joys of international travel.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Sunset over South America


Quite fitting, the view from my hotel room in Lima as the sun sets into the Pacific Ocean on the final night of my South American holiday with Australia somewhere over the horizon.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Just travel

Not much to report today.

We departed the hotel by the side of Lake Titicaca driving through Puno City then on to nearby Juliaca to the local airport; a drive of about one hour.

The sign indicates it is an international airport but with only three domestic flights listed for the entire day and modest terminal facilities that title comes as a surprise.

Juliaca Airport
Our plane for the flight to Lima. You can see dark clouds gathering.



By the time we boarded it was raining and by take off time the Captain considered the winds excessive leaving us sitting on the tarmac for another half an hour or so. The wind wasn't noticeable to us passengers.

Eventually we took off arriving in Lima for our final night after an otherwise uneventful flight. After a week at altitude, it is a relief to be back at sea level.

Tonight our group is meeting for a farewell dinner. Tomorrow (Thursday, South American time) Hn and I fly home via transit stops in Santiago and Auckland. Through the magic of the International Date Line we miss Friday altogether arriving in Sydney (if on time) around 7.45am Saturday.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Llama, Floating Islands, Lake Titicaca

Our second last full day spent mostly on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake on the planet.

Departing the hotel this morning for the outing we had the delightful sight of a Llama in the hotel driveway.

S/he was eating grass from the hotel lawn
First stop was the floating islands just off shore from the city of Puno. These islands have about 2,000 inhabitants. Their islands and the buildings constructed on them are created from the reeds abundant in the area. The inhabitants are taking advantage unabashedly of the tourist market.

The welcoming committee for our group
Each island has a President and the President of the island we visited, with our local guide, demonstrated how each island is created and maintained.

The President (of 22 people!) left; our local guide right

The womenfolk then demonstrated how they barter their respective goods at the local market. Very noisy and funnier than the following image suggests.




We took a sort of leisurely joy ride on their local water taxi; each island appears to have one. Local children joined us on board, some even doing the rowing and they also sang songs in their local language as well as in English, French and German. Surprise, surprise the cutest looking child took her hat around for donations. In addition to any donation each passenger was charged 10 Peruvian Soles (approximately $A4.40) for making the trip. Other taxis on the water at the time carried Japanese, American and British visitors.

Their mothers saw us off with songs that included 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' before our 15 minutes return sailing.

Our 'taxi' sailing away with the children on board following our trip

Following the floating islands visit we then motored by ferry for 45 minutes to another spot, a somewhat remote one for lunch. Lake Titicaca is very large, over 8,000 square kilometres according to our guide. About half the lake is in Peru and the remainder in Bolivia.

The lunch spot was beautiful and peaceful. Here are three images of the view from our lunch spot. The first looks north-west, the second looks north and the third looks north-east with Bolivia in the distance.




Following lunch we had to negotiate a steep set of stairs to catch our chartered ferry home. The man closest to camera in the last image is our Tour Director. He has done a terrific job managing our group through all manner of unexpected issues and personal difficulties. In this image he is carrying an oxygen cylinder. A number of our group have had problems in the high altitude and have had to receive oxygen. Despite being asthmatic and experiencing several shortages of breath I have managed to get by without a puff on the cylinder nor from the personal Oxishot cylinder each of us was issued.


Tomorrow, (Wednesday in South America), we fly back to Lima and the following day Hn and I will fly home to Sydney via Santiago and Auckland.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Carnival in Cusco City

We may have missed the actual Carnival event in Rio de Janeiro but we found our single full day in Cusco City, once capital of the Inca Empire, coincided with their own Carnival style event.

Here are images of the day.




All manner of spectators, the man on the right is a policeman
All manner of vantage points
Um, I think they are in the wrong pageant

Side walk food 'stalls'
Queueing for free bottles of a new energy drink
Aside from the formal proceedings there are two traditional 'delights' that the watching crowd engage in. One is throwing water bombs at each other. The second is spraying others with shaving cream.

This masked man approached our group and sprayed shaving cream at...
...this man. He was not amused.
I was sprayed twice but thankfully not to the same extent.

There is one of these and a KFC here too.
Tomorrow we travel to Puno on the Andean Explorer. It is a ten hours long Orient Express train trip. From there we visit Lake Titicaca.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The best laid plans....

...go awry.

Yesterday as we descended Machu Picchu rain set in. Hardly surprising. This is the wet season and the famous Inca Trail is closed in February for that reason. The rain continued through the night and into the next day. Nothing torrential but very steady.

Unbeknown to us whatever rain was falling elsewhere in the region, it was sufficient to cause several landslides on the rail line between Aguas Caliente and Poyo. The stations at those towns service respectively Machu Picchu and Cusco City. We've been told many times that the only way to access/depart Machu Picchu is by the train (apart from the closed Inca Trail, I presume).

We were due to depart at 5.50pm on the Hiram Bingham Orient Express, a luxury train serving a five course dinner on the three and half hours trip to Poyo for our next stop, Cusco City. Our luggage was already at our hotel in Cusco City and we were in possession of only overnight bags for our two days stay at Machu Picchu.

It was a free afternoon for our group of twenty and we were dispersed around Aguas Caliente in the various markets and cafes as well as in our Machu Picchu hotel.

Around 2pm word started to spread about the landslides and then the news that Hiram Bingham Orient Express trip into Aguas Caliente would not operate meaning it was not available for our booked return journey. Hundreds of other tourists were also stranded because the other services were also disrupted.

Our Tour Director did a fabulous job of organising an alternative train to Olantaytambo, the next stop up the line and for a bus to take us from there into Cusco City. Sure, this meant missing out on the Orient Express train experience but at least it kept us on track with our tour. All this simplifies the owrk the Director had to due, not the least rounding up 20 straggling tourists spread across the township in pouring rain, all of us unaware of the unfolding drama.

The train trip had the atmosphere of an evacuation, which in a way it was. We travelled by Peru Rail which provides one of the standard services on the line. The two carriage attendants, one male, one female, have to perform a variety of tasks. Apart from checking passengers onto the carriage, they also serve a simple snack, airline style, serve drinks, model stylish fashions up and down the carriage to the applause of the passengers before trawling a trolley along the carriage attempting to sell said fashions to the passengers.

As if that wasn't enough the male attendant has to don an elaborate costume and perform a series of native style dances including with a couple of female passengers drawn at random. I didn't catch the symbolism of this costumed performance but it certainly enlivened proceedings.

Here is an image;


Saturday, 9 February 2013

At Machu Picchu

What extraordinary people were the Incas?

At Machu Picchu in Peru they constructed a complex settlement high in the mountains using granite taken from even higher in the mountain. They created perfect markers for the position of the sun on the longest and shortest days of the years and for both equinoxes. They created markers that perfectly indicated the four major compass points. They created terracing in which the temperature variation between each level was exactly 0.2Âșc. So well constructed was the site that it remained undamaged by two major earthquakes.

Here are images from my visit today. (Click on images to enlarge)

Driving up the mountain to Machu Picchu, we started at river level







Friday, 8 February 2013

Sacred Valley

In the Sacred Valley of the Incas in and around Ollantaytambo, Peru.

Market place targeting tourists
Earning money posing for photographs
Climbing hill to visit a school, white roof of our bus just visible mid-photo
Horse and dance show at Peruvian BBQ lunch
Inca ruins with perceived silhouette of Inca king at left edge of mountain
Guinea Pigs (ie future meals) with free reign in an Andean home
Off to Machu Picchu by train tomorrow.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

At altitude

We have flown into Cusco, the capital of the old Inca empire. I think our guide says we are at 4,400 metres above sea level. From there we have been taken into the Sacred Valley of the Incas and are spending two nights at Urubamba.

Unsurprisingly internet access is slow and I'm not certain what I can download and despatch but I'll try to send some images here.

Cusco City
Locals and Alpaca
Cleaning the Alpaca wool
Dyeing Cochineal
We tour the Valley tomorrow then to Machu Picchu the following day. Will post when possible.