Category Archives: Short Story

Writing letters all of their days – Travel Tale

Up until then they were just two older men meeting for dinner. Then they ordered desert!

I was tempted, as one of the deserts looked particularly elaborate. I had to ask them what it was. That was the start of our conversation.

Beneath the canapé of the restaurant with candle lights dancing in table top lanterns, the waiter presented me with the delicious Hungarian delight. The gentlemen saluted me as I dipped my spoon into the chocolate dreamy folds of cake.

 

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Budapest

 

Now we were in unison, enjoying treats and absorbing the magic of lapsing twilight into deeper night time sky. I settled back in my seat for a moment, observing the city passersby and raised my eyes to the roof tops of stately buildings. I had found rest after my hours of walking and deciphering of maps and streets, this moment felt like my reward.

‘Is it your first time to Budapest?’ He addressed me in English but German was his first language. His friend smiled at me. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘And you travel alone?’ he enquired. ‘I’m going to a wedding in a Slovakia in a few days,’ I added. They both seemed very pleased with this response and as we had now moved to coffees they saluted me again.

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The Danube

Our tables were close enough for comfortable communication although, I had to pay close attention because the other gentleman spoke with a French accent and his English was not as coherent as that of his German friend.

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Budapest

They enquired about my homeland of Ireland, saying that they had visited some years ago and had enjoyed the beautiful landscape. Ireland had been in the news a lot that week, as the American President had paid a stately visit. The German man being, more chatty, made a reference to our famous USA visitor. I told him my tale of how I had seen Barak Obama twice in one day, as his car drove past and he had waved at me both times!

And I couldn’t stop myself from telling the story about his ‘stately tank of a car’ getting stuck in the hollow of the Embassy gates in Dublin and how they had to get a crane to lift it out. As we erupted into laughter, so too did the diners at the next tables. They were American!

Car Budapest

Budapest – Wild Star Landing

I decided it was time to find out more about my new friends. Their story touched my heart. Here we had two men in their seventies who had maintained a friendship since they were schoolboys. One grew up in Germany and the other in France. And how their friendship grew? They were pen-pals!

It was explained to me that this was an initiative instigated between schools after World War 2 with the intention of establishing good relations between future generations of the two countries. What a genius idea! As young boys they had shared their stories with each other, letter by letter, each building a sense of what life was like for the other. I imagined how it must have been so exciting receiving those letters and how their imaginations must have been set alight.

 

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Budapest – Wild Star Landing

 

There was thoughtfulness between them as they recounted their story in turns. They both had families of their own now, all grown up and there were grandchildren too. Throughout all the other events of life they had maintained this special bond.

In later years, they decided that every year they would meet in a European city and spend a few days together, which is how I found myself sitting next to them on this very night. Such a story warranted an additional salute. We continued our conversations while enjoying a nightcap of red wine.

Car Budapest

Budapest – Wild Star Landing

They wanted to know about my friends who were to be married and my plans for getting to Slovakia. I thanked them for sharing their story which was so inspiring.

People seldom write letters anymore. My mother writes them to her friends in sympathy when they have lost someone close. I recalled how, as back-packers in Australia in the 90’s, fellow travellers sometimes sent each other letters to say ‘I made it home’ or ‘it was lovely to meet you’, even if the meeting was just for one day. This was before things like email and mobile phones were all the rage. I still have a stash of those letters saved, promising myself I’ll read them when I’m 80 or if I ever get incapacitated.

It was time to say goodnight. We paid our bills and walked together to the train station. We embraced, kissing each other from side to side, then waved goodbye.

And that was my first night in Budapest.

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Budapest – Wild Star Landing

This article is dedicated to a group of twitter pals of mine who instigated a chat around the topic of letter writing. I remembered this story and a few of our group made me promise to share it once I added the story to my blog. I hope you enjoyed the tale.

Do leave a comment to let me know if you still write letters or have some stashed away too. Or maybe you had a special trip to Budapest too?

© Caroline Cunningham

A Final Blessing – Journey In Peru

Waking up that morning was very different from all the others spent in this Sacred Valley story-book town. Like that first morning, my clothes for the day were arranged close to my bed, not because of the cold morning air, rather to save time for the last of everything.

Henry opened the door to the street and let me out. We spared our words for later. At seven in the morning I took my last walk around the world heritage town of Ollantaytambo. I took in the sounds of the gushing silvery water, racing through the river and the stone cut aqua-ducts. I relished the cobbled stones pressing unevenly through the soles of my shoes. I spied a large bird, possibly the condor, soaring way up high against the jagged peaks that traced the surrounding skyline.

Journey In Peru - A Final Blessing

Journey In Peru – A Final Blessing

The train station was quiet, as the early morning train had already taken its first passengers of the day to Machu Picchu, plus the tourist season was waning a little. Not many auto-taxi’s buzzing around yet and most shops had yet to open, including that of my friend Hoovert who had made me promise to call to say a last goodbye.

Ollantaytambo Peru

Ollantaytambo Peru

I had another area, to complete the tour, amidst the labyrinth of Cancha Inca buildings. A woman dressed in traditional attire, complete with the relevant hat of the area, spied me looking through the door of her courtyard. She gave me a great big smile and waved as if, she not only knew me, but sensed that I was leaving.

Cancha Inca Buildings

Cancha Inca Buildings

The Fortalezza was as stunning in the early morning as at any other time of day. The golden statue of La Ñusta (Inca Princess) urged a more positive spring to my parting steps. The Apu watched over me from Pinku Lluna as I made my way through the granite grid.

I walked on the market side of town passing my first home of Qusiqoller. The memories of those first mornings were strong. The fresh cool air, the hushed murmuring of people gathering their grasses near the entrance to the market and the men with taxi’s lining up for the days trips to Cuzco, Urubamba and other locations.

Ollantaytambo - Wild Star Landing

Ollantaytambo – Wild Star Landing

I stood in the middle of the Plaza De Armas square. I tried not focus on the closed doors of the Coffee Tree, where I had spent many of my days helping out and cementing friendships that would last forever. The ancient tree that was declared to be dying, looked upon its newly planted counterpart positioned close by. During my nine weeks in this town I had witnessed significant change not only in myself but for this little place also. Nothing stands still. We are always moving forward. The longer we stand still, the faster we die.

The Tree's - Plaza De Armas

The Tree’s – Plaza De Armas

Saying GoodBye at Worlds Coffee Cafe

Saying GoodBye at Worlds Coffee Cafe

Apu - Pinku Lluna

Apu – Pinku Lluna

One last vision to install in my memory banks. I took the avenue that gives the greatest view of this town’s most special Apu. She was glorious against the azure sky. I understood why these people, descended from Incas, held Veronica in such special reverence. There was something very inspiring and promising about that glacial mountain.

Veronica - Apu Mountain God

From the very beginning it had intrigued me. It held some secret of a life more extraordinary which lay in waiting of discovery. I had dared to travel beyond her stature by taking that trip to Santa Teresa. I had glimpsed a world to which I could never fully belong, because, my growing up entailed an entirely different set of memories and experience, to those who had furrowed in the midst of Veronica’s domain.

Early Morning Ollantaytambo Peru

Early Morning Ollantaytambo Peru

Journey In Peru - Wild Star Landing

Journey In Peru – Wild Star Landing

A lurking sorrow began to well. Just in time, I received her final blessing. ‘Yes, you do belong here’. I bowed to the glimmering mountain. Taking her message to me I echoed, ‘I do belong!’ I had been embraced by the people of this town. The final days had been the most telling. They were just as sad as I was, to be saying goodbye. I had been told over and over that I was regarded as family, not just of one family but of those whose threshold’s I had crossed. I had allowed their ways to merge slowly and gently with my own, keeping judgement and unnecessary fear in the deeper dungeons of my heart. We had helped each other at every opportunity, to learn, to grow, to understand. I thought I had lost a great big battle that I had set up for myself but here I was realising how much I had won.

Sorrow turned to gratitude, the kind that also makes you cry, so my tears did not go to waste. I was really going to miss this wonderful place, all of its people, every sight and sound. Hoovert was not yet at his shop. At least we had said goodbye the night before.

The Shop On The Corner

The Shop On The Corner

I returned to collect my bags. Now the pangs of departure were setting in. ‘We feel the same,’ Catty consoled me as she saw the evidence of my sadness. Henry allowed me to sob upon his shoulder for some minutes without any words save for, ‘ I feel the same.’ Catty could not let me go without the reminder that I was to return soon. Her last wish for me I cannot share because I have not found it yet but it was for something ‘good.’

Getting ready for the road to Cuzco

Getting ready for the road to Cuzco

Paola and Liz were also taking the trip with me to Cuzco, as they were returning to their home, at that time, in Lima. I was grateful to have their company. As the mini-bus (taxi) pulled away from the area of the train station, I quickly asked Liz to request the driver to slow down and beep his horn as we passed by Hoovert’s shop. He actually stopped outside the door, I could see Hoovert sweeping the dusty floor. He saw me waving and rushed to the mini-bus. Opening the door wide, he stepped inside and gave me the greatest hug and a parting kiss. As the mini-bus pulled away I watched through the rear window. Hoowert stood in the middle of the road, with his hand held in high, in Inca-style salute, until we were out of each others’ sight.
The Plaza De Armas remained quiet at that hour and the Coffee Tree, unusually, was not yet opened for business.

Journey In Peru

Journey In Peru

The mini-bus made two rounds of the square before making for the exit route. Then it was the closing of the book, the one whose pages I had stepped cautiously between in my first days in this ‘Living Inca Museum’. Like the gaps between the cobbled stones I had fitted nicely there.

Veronica Glacier Peru

Veronica Glacier Peru

I took my memories with me, all the gentle sources of love, all the friendship and the final blessing. I made a promise, never to forget a single moment of that special time in my life which allowed for so much transformation. But, there was much weeping all the same, as I watched the Sacred Valley slowly slip away to the enormity of mountains and our descent into the throb of Cuzco city.

©Caroline Cunningham Author Of Wild Star Landing (Blog)

Three Times Finalist In Ireland Blog Awards 2015

Three Times Finalist In Ireland Blog Awards 2015

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Every Day A Celebration – Journey In Peru

Everyday gives cause for celebration and in Peru this is especially so. I witnessed many parades, festivals and demonstrations of the Peruvian culture during my nine weeks there. There is a Catholic Saint dedicated to almost every profession you can think of, along with days of thanksgiving to the natural elements such as the Earth, Water and all that comes from these sources.

Celebrating Saint of Police Peru

Celebrating Saint of Police Peru

Patron Saint Of Police - Celebration in Peru

Patron Saint Of Police – Celebration in Peru

Parades featured music, dancing, flowers and decorated ornamental dolls held high. Often those parading would be dressed in colourful costumes of various traditions.

Water Day - Peru

Water Day – Peru

In the city of Cuzco, once the Inca capital of the World, these demonstrations were more frequent and colourful but even in this small town of Ollantaytambo they had their ways of putting on a show.

Cuzco Celebrations

Cuzco Celebrations

Independence Day was the most spectacular of all during my stay. Day Of The Water saw little children parading with balloons and banners displaying the importance of clean water for washing teeth and various activities. The water in Peru is often not fit for drinking so it was interesting that little children should be highlighting this.

Independance Day Ollantaytambo Peru

Independance Day Ollantaytambo Peru

The day of the patron saint of transport saw every taxi and minibus parked up with balloons floating above them. The patron saint of the police gave rise to a gathering of police and their families drinking beer outside the station. When locals get married it is customary for the couple to parade around the town accompanied by a brass band playing the same tune I heard in other parts of Peru the previous year.

Independance Day Ollantaytambo Peru

Independance Day Ollantaytambo Peru

Passing by the door of the church in the square one Sunday I waited a while to observe the goings on. The paintings on the walls were not the typical ones you’d see in a Catholic church, in fact, they displayed images more in line with the history of the people and their original beliefs, which were more associated with nature. At communion time the music switched to a Salsa rhythm and I learned afterwards that only those who had recently taken confession were eligible to receive.

Independance Day Ollantaytambo Peru

Independance Day Ollantaytambo Peru

I had the privilege of being the onlooker of these eventful days. I concluded that I was living amongst a joyful nation. Each group taking its turn to keep the collective spirit high, perhaps preventing obsessions that rob the heart of its rightful state of sharing and being free.

Fiesta Del Carmen Peru

Fiesta Del Carmen Peru

Back in Ireland, the closest resemblance of this joyous celebration was the sound of Harry Krishna’s beating their drums, dancing and singing, on their way down Dublin’s South William Street now and then. I always opened the window a little wider to hear them more clearly.

Having returned to live in the Irish countryside, I listen to the birds singing in the trees. They are either Peruvian or of the Harry Krishna faith because they sure know how to greet each new day in celebration.

©Caroline Cunningham Author Of Wild Star Landing (Blog)

Long Listed Best Travel Blog in Ireland Blog Awards 2015

Peruvian Nights – Journey In Peru

I may have been the most cautious adventurer to visit this Peruvian town but my caution paid direct dividends in the best of friendships. Sure I could have followed other paths to chicha house’s or dens of lucid smoking. In a far away conversation I recalled the mention of ayahuasca.

I made a determined decision during my time in Peru to take advantage of this fresh start. No people pleasing habits (of any kind) to be entertained! I preferred reliable, natural company and took my time getting to know this new culture and language so as to be respectful to those who were here to help me on my way.

Night Of The Perseids Peru

Night Of The Perseids Peru

NIght Of The Perseids

NIght Of The Perseids

I had watched, listened and learned and when the time was right, I was ready for lots of fun. The musicians from the night of the Perseids at Misha Wasi were about to perform at a local hotel. Henry and I went along to part-take of red wine and listen to the sublime instrumentals of this group, who have since disbanded to continue their wanderings of the Earth. They had an audience of tourists from around the world along with some familiar faces of local folk and non-Peruvians, like myself.

Journey in Peru

Journey in Peru

Journey In Peru

Journey In Peru

Afterwards, I had agreed to go dancing at the ‘Inka Disco’ with my friends from the Coffee Tree. It was a tiny venue in one of the Inca built dwellings, so typified with large granite boulders evident in the internal walls. Seeing the coloured disco lights swirling across them was a surreal and cave-like experience. The music was not my favourite, hip-hop not being of my teen-age generation but I hopped and swayed around the small disco floor as lively as the rest of them. Half way through the night, the music switched to a traditional style. It was beautiful, as I had the opportunity to experience the bachata style with my good friend Alex.

Inka Disco Peru

Inka Disco Peru

We danced all night until eventually, there were no more people in the room, except the four of us. The music showed no signs of stopping as long as we were there. I was the weakest link. At two a.m. I was wondering when it might be time to go home.

Night Time Ollantaytambo Peru

Night Time Ollantaytambo Peru

Late night Peru

Late night Peru

As I entered my room on the rooftop of my lodgings, I gazed in the direction of the Fortalezza and shuddered a little in the cool breeze. In less than a week I would no longer have this splendid view, the mountains that hugged me closely here would be replaced by distant lower lying ones and the stars would be up-side down once more in their arrangements.

I gripped the moment to my heart knowing the exact measure of it could never be maintained just glimpsed through memories and their transposition to these meagre words. These were my Peruvian nights which I so cherished.

©Caroline Cunningham Author Of Wild Star Landing (Blog)

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Culture On Street Corners – Journey In Peru

My silent quest with regards to my journey in Peru had been torn to shreds. In the end it was for the very best. My remaining weeks in the country were more precious now. It was unlikely I could afford to dream up another wild reason to return.

Conacky - Crafter

Conacky – Crafter

I handed in my notice to Alex in The Coffee Tree Cafe where I had been helping out a few days a week. He made me a coffee and I proceeded to explain to him the concept of a travel blog and introduced myself as a travel writer. He agreed to be interviewed in Spanish the following day.

Art Of Conacky - Ollantaytambo

Art Of Conacky – Ollantaytambo

In this way I opened myself to knowing the people of this town and its culture in a deeper way. One evening, at the corner near my accommodation, Conacky (the craft maker) called me over to introduce me to his parents who were visiting from Lima.

Art in Ollantaytambo Peru

Art in Ollantaytambo Peru

He introduced me as a writer and told me that his father, Louis, is a poet. This was a rare privilege. It is not often I meet a poet, although I suspect there are many secret ones about, especially in Ireland.

Family of Conacky

Family of Conacky

I listened hard to hear Louis’ poetic words. My Spanish was not advanced enough to understand the depth of his words. But I understood the depth of feeling that he conveyed. He was rooted in the nature and spirit of things. I took off promising to return within minutes. In my bedroom I booted up my laptop, took hold of pen and paper and began to translate, with help of internet, a few of my simplest poems. I ran back to the corner waving the paper in my hands.

Author and Conacky - Peru

Author and Conacky – Peru

We stood side by side as I recited my poems in Spanish. He thanked me and indicated that he understood. I agreed to return the following evening with more poetry in hand. We had some quiet conversations on the topic of writing over the coming days, until he and his wife had to return to their home in Lima. We made a parting promise to continue our writing and to share it openly.

Wild Star Landing

Wild Star Landing

Blog Awards Ireland 2015 Best Blog Article

Blog Awards Ireland 2015 Best Blog Article

©Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing (Blog)

Wild Star Landing Blog has been long-listed as ‘Best Travel Blog’ in Irish Blog Awards 2015 and shortlisted in same category in 2016

Best Travel Blog in Irish Blog Awards 2015 - Long List

Best Travel Blog in Irish Blog Awards 2015 – Long List

Night of The Perseids – Journey In Peru

Another 6a.m. phone call from home, this time to notify me of a global astronomy watch for a meteor shower peaking on this coming night, to be witnessed from cloudless parts of planet Earth. I was smiling to myself. It was suddenly cool to be an astronomer. It was now the stuff of news bulletins, family conversation and social media glitter.

Concert At Misha Wasi - Sacred Valley Peru

Concert At Misha Wasi – Sacred Valley Peru

I had spent some nights trying to reconfigure upside-down constellations as they appeared in the Southern sky of Peru. When I had internet Wi-Fi available I relied on the Google Sky application on my mobile phone.

Misha Wasi - Journey In Peru

Misha Wasi – Journey In Peru

Tonight’s concert at Misha Wasi was perfectly timed. Misha Wasi had started as Bio Museum. It housed a display of Peruvian grains and plants for the purposes of educating tourists to the nutrient rich, diverse crops of Inca legacy. Thanks to a transient eclectic group of foreigners, Misha Wasi also housed art, craft and fashion and posed as a cool out-doors concert venue.

At that time, a group of travellers had come together from different parts to form a resident musical ensemble at Misha Wasi. I found them much too late in my time in Ollantaytambo for I would have loved to have joined them.

Night Of Perseids

Night Of Perseids

‘Fil’ was the only Peruvian member of the group, his instrument was the cello. My friend Henry affectionately referred to him as ‘Phil Collins’, the name stuck in my head from then on. The other group members played guitar, percussion and flute.

Journey In Peru

Journey In Peru

We gathered in darkness of the courtyard amidst a hush. Star-lights dripping from the surrounding trees and shrubs created a fairy-tale scene. I recognised some faces as I purchased my glass of wine.

Sacred Valley Peru

Sacred Valley Peru

I found a bench and soon the music began. Slow, soft melodic, instrumental, transcendental, hypnotic, gentle rhythms infused our collective souls. Having finished my wine, I lay across the bench facing towards the sky, waiting for the shooting stars otherwise known as meteors. They were faint but frequent until I saw one that blazed a bright silent trail of fantastic light. Then I was so happy.

Misha Wasi Concert - Peru

Misha Wasi Concert – Peru

The music found a deeper path into my being at that very moment. I was connected to every element, thankful to be in this perfect place at this perfect time with eyes and ears to witness the sensuality of this finest night. The night of the Perseids at Misha Wasi and all around planet Earth.

©Caroline Cunningham Author Of Wild Star Landing Blog

You Never Know – Journey In Peru

You never know what’s outside your door until you open it and venture out into the light of day. This is especially so when you are traveling in a distant land, with everything so new and exciting.

A child-like state automatically takes me over when I am in the surrounds of the beauty of a culture so rich as that of Peru. The only country in the world that would find strong competition in my eyes would be India, which I dearly love.

As a solo female traveler, I preferred to travel to the sanctity of the Sacred Valley of Cuzco’s Ollantaytambo. Perhaps I will one day graduate to solo travel in India, the first country that made me fall in love with every part of it.

Afuera La Porta

Afuera La Porta

On one particular morning in my new lodgings in Ollantaytambo Peru, I opened the door to find two labourers resting with planks of wood. They made such a striking pose as they stood there smiling. I ran to get my camera and asked them if I could photograph them. They nodded their approval, smiling all the while.

 

El Horno - Ollantaytambo Peru

El Horno – Ollantaytambo Peru

Another day I came upon a man at the adjoining bar, busily stomping bare-footed in a pile of wet mud. He did not mind me stopping to watch. ‘What are you making?’ I asked him in Spanish. ‘El horno!’ was his reply. Pizza’s are popular in Peru, more especially with tourists, and where there is business to be made our Peruvian friends are not slow to act. Clay oven’s were particularly popular. And this man was making an addition to the services offered by his funky ‘Quechua Bar’ (the one that plays the Bob Marley Music and the Spanish version of ‘The Streets Have No Name’).

 

 

 
My neighbour grabbed a bucket and began to sprinkle clumps of black strands into the mix of mud. ‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘Hair!’, his reply. ‘Human hair?’ said I. ‘Si,’ he affirmed, ‘it helps the mud to stick together.’ I enquired if there was any other spiritual belief attached to the practice of using the hair, but no , it was purely a practical solution.

Making an Oven with Human Hair - Peru

Making an Oven with Human Hair – Peru

Making an Oven - Peru

Making an Oven – Peru

Making an Oven - Ollantaytambo Peru

Making an Oven – Ollantaytambo Peru

I delighted in such happenings for my collection of childlike wonders. The fact that I was making these discoveries through learning a new language added to the experience. To learn like a child is such a lesson in life. It is a humbling experience and can be vulnerable too. Fortunately, I was surrounded by kindly souls for the most of my visit. My adventures into the lessons of adulthood however, were to be treacherous in comparison.

Making a Pizza Oven - Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo

Making a Pizza Oven – Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo Peru

Quechua Bar Ollantaytambo Peru

© Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing (Blog).