Jeff Minter - The Camelid Tour '84 - C&VG

What do programmers do on their holidays?

We decided to ask the man who launched a thousand camels and

other assorted furry creatures, JEFF MINTER.

Read on for a really cosmic experience.

It all started early in 1984, just after I'd moved in to my new lab/games room extension. I'd decided to have a mural done all down one wall of lots of llamas. The artist who came to do the painting brought lots of source material featuring my favourite beasts, and in one magazine was an article about someone who'd been to Peru, the very centre of camelid territory, for a holiday.

As any follower of my game style will doubtless know, I have long been a fan of llamas and Peruvian stuff in general. It had often seemed to me to be a good idea to actually go there, but I didn't think that many people ran tours there. There couldn't be very many llama freaks in England wanting to go...

Luckily for me there are a small number of firms specialising in unusual trips abroad, and it was with one such firm that I booked a 15-day tour of Peru. There are only two or three trips per year and the one I picked coincided with the PCW Show. So in due course I shouldered my bag and left Olympia headed for the tube, Heathrow and subsequently Peru.

Jorge Chávez International Airport
Jorge Chávez International Airport - Lima, Peru.
The flight was gruelling, to say the least. From London (where I had a final few games of Galaga at the airport, needing a final fix of video games before departing for unknown territory) we went to Madrid where we waited three hours in the airport. Finally boarding the Iberia jet at 2.00 in the morning, there followed an exhausting 18-hour flight with stops at Puerto Rico, Bogota, Ecuador and finally Lima. After such an ordeal you never, EVER want to see another plastic tray of airline food as long as you live!

We staggered off the plane but I cheered up as we queued for Immigration, because over Passport Control was the symbol of the Peruvian national tourist board - a vicuna (like a llama but smaller and more delicate).

After stashing the bags at the hotel I set off for a wander around the capital city of Peru. A short distance up the road was the Bing Bang Arcade, a fairly dingy but adequately stocked place (Defender, Sega Turbo, Scramble, Time Pilot, plus a few others).

There were masses of shops selling model llamas, llama rugs; jumpers, hats, scarves, even gold and silver llama jewellery, pottery llamas, llama belts, even llama matches! In the main square is the cathedral (very ornate) and some of the main Government buildings, patrolled by guards toting sub-machine guns, and also a water cannon (which they didn't like my taking photos of).

Whilst in Lima we toured some of the more interesting museums, including the famous gold museum which contains an immense private collection of Inca gold (yes, there WERE gold llamas there ...) and tried some of the Peruvian food.

After a couple of days in the capital, we left to tour some of the other parts of Peru. First on the agenda was Arequipa, the second largest city and situated in a beautiful setting beneath a conical volcano (like Mount Fuji, the one you see in the background of Pole Position).
Museo Oro del Peru (Gold Museum)
Museo Oro del Peru (Gold Museum) - Lima, Peru.

After Lima which was interesting but a little dingy, Arequipa was very refreshing. The mountain air (this was about 8000 feet) was clear and the sun warm and bright. We explored the city on foot (the best way, I might add, to explore any city) and it was here that I first drank Inca Kola! This amazing drink is as big as Coke out there - they have huge adverts all over the place and even on the radio. Mind you, it is nothing at all like Coke - it's yellow for a start and tastes like ice cream soda but a bit tangier. It's ace! I drank gallons of the stuff out there and sorely miss it now!

Arequipa City - Southern Peru
Arequipa City - Southern Peru.

Close to Arequipa is the Colca Valley, an amazing place little known outside Peru. Within the Valley are villages which are being visited for the first time now after 400 years without any outside contact. The Valley itself is the deepest ravine on Earth, being twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Cruise-Missile-Land... !

After Arequipa we proceeded to Puno, located on the shore of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at around 13,000 feet. At this height we all learned the "high altitude shamble", a slow, lazy walk you have to adopt if you're going to explore: there's only two-thirds as much oxygen in the air as there is at sea level and too much exertion is very tiring. Many of our tour group developed headaches and sickness and some had to be given oxygen (available free on demand in all the hotels!), but I was OK, probably because I'd been doing regular running for a few months before the trip to prepare for the high altitude.

Colca Valley and Canyon - Peru
Colca Valley and Canyon, Peru.

Here we visited the descendants of the Uros Indians. These people actually live on Lake Titicaca, on incredible floating islands made of reeds. We visited an entire village floating on such an island, which was weird. The ground undulates under your feet, and one fat German actually put his leg right through the island into the foul-smelling ooze beneath (yak yak!). There was even a floating school on the island ... can't be many of THOSE in the world!

Lake Titicaca - PeruLake Titicaca Island - Peru
Lake Titicaca and Island - Peru.