An interlude in Peru

Lima, Llama, Lame

After our 36 hour bus journey from Quito, we finally arrived in Peru. We stayed for a night in Lima, spent the morning having a wander, then swiftly moved on to our next stop. Heather, Lucas and I had been informed by other backpackers that it wasn’t really worth a visit. It’s densely populated and there’s nothing that really distinguishes the city as anything special, so onward and upwards. Well, Eastwards to be geographically accurate.

Paradise in Paracas

Mission number 1 in Paracas was to book our tour for the next day and then find transport to Huacachina. This was fairly easy as there are travel agencies everywhere, and everyone is so keen to get you to book onto their tour that we merely had to step out onto the street before we got accosted with offers. The other amazing thing about touristic places is that almost nothing has to be booked in advance. We then found some dinner in a little burger shack and drank Pisco Sours, the national Peruvian cocktail. A few sips in I realised it’s made with egg whites so I quickly switched to mojito’s!!

The next morning we woke bright and early for our boat tour. A man arrived at the hostel with a checklist with our names on, so we followed him to a pier. Being unable to speak any Spanish at this point, most things had to be undertaken with a bit of blind faith. There’s not the certainty that comes from handing over a ticket, or presenting an ID. Often, someone rocking up and saying your name is the only validation you’ll get that you’re going on what you paid for. So we arrived at the pier, queued for our tickets and got ushered onto a speedboat along with a hoard of other tourists. We were taken to a group of rock formations out to sea which were home to Peruvian Boobies, Humboldt Penguins, Pelicans, Dolphins and Sea Lions. Fortunately we caught a glimpse of the penguins, one of the highlights of this trip for me. Another highlight was the man sat in front of the three of us; a middle-aged South American man on the trip on his own. His pure excitement and need to share everything he saw with the strangers around him was infectious and soon had us laughing and sharing in his childish happiness. He anxiously kept his eyes darting around the horizon, steeling glimpses in every direction to make sure he wouldn’t miss a thing: pointing and shouting every time a fin peaked out of the water or a sea lion could be seen basking in the sun. This was made even more hilarious by the fact that most of what he pointed to from our speeding boat disappeared from view in the time it took for everyone to look to where he was pointing, so most of the time it looked like he was gesturing excitedly at nothing.

After this we took a bus out into the desert where we learnt about fossils hidden in the sand and saw flamingos drinking from the oasis. Having grown up in a desert, this wasn’t as exciting for me, but it was beautiful nevertheless. After lunch in the desert, we continued our journey onto Huacachina.

Huaca-fucking-china

Not really knowing what to expect, we arrived in a deserted, dusty desert town with nowhere to stay that night and no idea what it offered, so we walked into the nearest hostel and asked for 3 beds. Fortunately, it was a relatively cheap, nice hostel with comfortable beds and its own bar – always a good sign. To our great surprise, out the back of the hostel was a beautiful lagoon, nestled in the middle of a circular boulevard. Having not realised this would be there, we all felt like we’d stumbled unknowingly into a little paradise. We spent the night drinking Sangria, eating Pizza and Pasta and feeeling really suave for the first time since coming to Peru. The next day we ventured over to a different hostel with a pool and sat in hammocks, chatting, eating, writing and reading until 4 o clock when we had booked on to go sand boarding. We took our place at the back of this massive 15-seater doom buggy, and were thrown around as we drove to the spot where we were to start boarding. There were 4 dunes in total, the 4th one being absolutely massive and scary looking from the top, although  actually perfectly fine. Pumped full of adrenaline and endorphin’s, we returned to Huacachina sweaty, hungry and sun burnt.

The next stop on our journey through Peru was Nazca, although we also had the choice to just go straight to Arequipa. We had been umming and aahhing about doing the plane trip over the Nazca Lines. We’d heard from a few other travellers that it was quite scary and dangerous, and a lot of people threw up in the plane. But in the end decided we wanted to do it – when in Peru – so booked and sorted our transport, accommodation and tour in Nazca for the next day from a travel agents in Huacachina, then had the afternoon to chill out by the pool.

Nazca Lines, alien signs

The bus journey that evening was only a few hours, and we got to Nazca around 9:30pm. The hostel we had booked was in walking distance from the bus terminal, and when we got there it was locked and dark. We had walked past a couple of old drunk guys, and after peering in through the glass door to the hostel for a while, one of them came up to us with a key. He was stumbling around, jabbering in slurred, accented Spanish and half his teeth had rotted or fallen out. We didn’t know what to think about the situation, but let him let us inside and show us to a room. A bit later on, a much younger, cleaner Peruvian came and greeted us, apologising for the behaviour of his drunk uncle, but it worked out well because the drunk uncle had accidentally put us in a private room when we had booked into a a dorm. The next morning we were woken up at 7am by the hostel owner banging on the door, telling us our taxi was outside. At the travel agents the day before, she’d told me we were going to get picked up at 9am, albeit using my very basic Spanish and her even more basic English, so this was a bit of a surprise. We threw on some clothes and groggily made our way into the taxi. I was the first in, so sat in the front. I reached round to put my seat belt on, only to find there wasn’t one. The taxi driver saw me grappling at the empty space, and hastily assured me that there wasn’t one, and not to worry, “tranquillo tranquillo” (‘relax, relax’). If you say so?

At the airport we watched a hilarious Nazca documentary that was showing on screens around the building, depicting what life was thought to be like around the times the Nazca Lines were formed. There are a few theories as to how the Nazca Lines exist: aliens and religious reasons being the two most popular. They are quite amazing. We went up in a little 8-seater plane and flew over all the different shapes and lines on the desert. I could see why a lot of people throw up, there was a lot of dipping and weaving and turning the plane on its side so the people on each side could see clearly, although I never at any point felt unsafe. My favourite lines were the hummingbird and the spider. My other favourite was a little astronaut on the side of a rock. It absolutely paled in comparison to the rest of them, it was so poorly drawn, the lines haphazard and uneven and the shape barely distinguishable as a person, but that’s what made it funny. You can just imagine that each Nazca person was assigned a shape to draw in the desert, and one guy got an astronaut and completely fucked it, and the rest of his group turns to him, masterpieces finished, and see his terrible drawing, and just walk away sighing and shaking their heads. To me and Heather, this guy was Daniel. For fucks sake Daniel.

So after our little plane trip, we had the afternoon off. We found a hotel with a pool, had a swim and sat around reading for the afternoon. The next journey was a night bus to Arequipa.

Arequipa, you a keepa’

In Arequipa we stayed at party hostel, Wild Rover. Wild Rover had a bar and pool in a courtyard out the back, a ping pong table, a pool table, a cinema room and free shots at lunch time, what more could you want. We spent 2 nights in Arequipa and got on really well with the staff, most of them were really fun and up for a laugh, although there was this one douche who took a fancy to Heather and wouldn’t leave her alone. The food was fairly good, even the vegan stuff, and the drinks were cheap. The city itself is pretty beautiful; cobblestone streets, quaint little cafes and a big square. We could have been somewhere in Europe, easily. We spent our day mooching round the shops, chilling by the pool and playing ping pong. It was some well-deserved and needed down time from the hectic schedule we had been keeping so far. The night out was fun, we played games, got free shots and ended up at a club nearby that was sweaty and crowded.

Whilst in Arequipa we booked a 2 day trek into Colca Canyon. There were 3 options, the 1 day, 2 day and 3 day tours. The 1 day you don’t do any hiking, just drove there and had a look. The 2 day you hike down into the canyon on the first day, and back out again on the second day. The 3 day, you do exactly the same as in the 2 day trek, except you take 3 days to do it and drag it out a bit longer. Heather and I decided to do the 2 day. We were short on time and fairly confident in our fitness, so thought we would go for the hardest of the 3. Looking back we grossly underestimated the challenge and hadn’t been adequately warned about the difficulty of the hike: everyone else doing the 2 day hike with us seemed to be seasoned hikers with professional gear. There was a group of 4 beautiful, scantily-clad Americans obviously making one of those GoPro adventure videos you see on YouTube, and it was funny to see the filming process. Most of it was them hiking clumsily like us normal folk, then getting out the GoPro’s on the good bits, reapplying their make-up and filming each other strutting along looking perfect. Well, now we know the truth.

We were meant to be picked up between 3am and 3:30am, so being me, I aimed to be ready for 3:15am. Of course, the driver arrived at 3am on the dot, and so I made us late and they left and came back half an hour later to get us again. The route included the standard stop for breakfast in a random village, and an hour at a lookout point to see some condors, and then finally arriving at the set off point for our trek. The next two days were a blur of blisters, altitude sickness, pain, beautiful views, sweating, exhaustion, pain and pain. The hike on day one took us down into the bottom of the canyon and along a Peruvian flat (extremely hilly) to our base camp for the night. Fittingly called The Lagoon, our camp was a collection of chalets with a few icy cold pools and bars. After our 8 hour hike, the pool was a welcome relief to sore feet and achey muscles, and bed beckoned not long after. The wake-up call on day 2 was 4:30am, with the aim of reaching the top by 8am. It was a very, very steep, constant ascend along a sandy, rocky path that took Heather and I just under 3 hours. There’s a lovely picture of me reaching the summit, desperately trying to conjure up some happiness from my exhaustion at reaching the top. Digging deep, the best I could do was a half-hearted arm raise, and a grimace.

The journey back was nice, we spent a lot of time in a minivan, but also stopped by some thermal baths which were just beautiful and put Budapest to shame. All in all, Colca Canyon was absolutely gorgeous and there were some rare moments that took what little breath I had away. We spent another night in Arequipa for a bit of rest and recuperation, and prepared ourselves for the next 36 hours.

You know, Puno?

One overnight bus later and we arrived in Puno at 5am. This was not a nice journey, no one got ANY sleep at all. All 3 of us (Heather, Lucas and I) got window seats so as to have 2 seats by ourselves, and when we got on, the bus was fairly empty which was a relief, but then this man sat next to Heather. He had booked an aisle seat next to a window seat that was taken, when there were loads of empty seats on the bus! It was really strange, and meant that Heathers night was cramped, stressful and frustrating. Needless to say none of us were in particularly good moods when we arrived. Regardless of our shit night, the day was amazing. We went on a tour round Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is the 18th largest lake in the world and the largest if you look at lakes over 2000m in altitude, it borders Peru and Bolivia and is home to the floating islands of the Uros and other amazing natural islands. We started off the day by visiting the floating islands. There’s a community of people that have built islands made out of reeds to live and thrive on. The main trade now is tourism, but in the past it was reeds and fish. We were given a ‘how to make your own island’ demonstration and learnt about the way of life there. Something that was quite funny, is that if a man and woman are dating they can’t really do anything in their homes because their houses are made out of reeds, and it’s so quiet and peaceful there that anything would be heard, so they take a boat out to the reeds in the night so as to get some privacy. So if you saw a suspect boat hidden in the reeds at night, you’d know exactly what was going on.

We went to Taquile Island for lunch, it looked exactly like a small little Greek island, except in the distance you could spot glaciers on Bolivia’s shore line. We had lunch there and learnt about how the men on this island were expected to knit hats, and their knitting ability was a show of masculinity and manhood, and they knit themselves a hat to signify when they get engaged. We got back to Puno and headed back to the bus station because that night we were on another overnight bus to Cusco. I honestly don’t know how we thought this was a good idea because it ruined us, but it saved us a day and meant that we could make the most of Cusco.

Cusco: a must go!

Completely beautiful, Cusco charmed us all with its bold character, charming residents and good food. We had been recommended a vegan restaurant and bakery which I was so over the moon about. The food had been average at best on the trip so far, and I was really looking forward to having a proper meal with a pudding. This restaurant exceeded my expectations. It was amazing. So much delicious food, chocolate cupcakes, nutritional shakes, a salad bar, humus!!!!!! I could have eaten there every day for a week. We all came away absolutely stuffed to bursting, having only spent £7 on a 4 course meal, a cupcake and a shake. I would go to Cusco again just to visit this restaurant.

Heather and I decided that we wanted to do Machu Pichhu ourselves rather than go with a tour in order to cut down on the price. Most tours charge upwards of £500, and doing it ourselves meant we only spent around £150. Without the help of a few good blogs, I’m not sure we’d have worked out how to actually get there and back! So after an afternoon of planning, an evening of partying and a morning of throwing up, we started the journey to the town of Aguas Calientes, the starting point of the Machu Pichhu hike.

The journey started with a walk down into the city centre, a taxi to the bus terminal, and public bus to Ollantaytambo and finished with a train to Aquas Calientes. The train journey was an event in itself, the train travelled through base of the mountains and had windows in the roof so you could see all the way up. That night in Aquas Calientes we were kept up by (what we later found out was) the Miss Machu Picchu awards ceremony, the rats in the ceiling didn’t help either. We started our gruelling climb the next morning just before 5 and reached Machu Picchu around 7. We arrived a pair of sweaty messes, our clothes soaked with sweat and cloud water, with the ruins still completely immersed in clouds so we couldn’t actually see anything. After a few hours the clouds had cleared and we could truly appreciate how amazing the ruins of the Inca Empire were. We had also bought tickets to hike to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain and set off at 9:30am. This climb, labelled ‘moderate to difficult’, took us to the very top of the mountain so we could see the ruins in the distance far down below us. It was over 3000m in altitude and we saw a baby Andean bear up there!! It was very cute! We made an American friend, Tim, who accompanied us down to the bottom of the mountain and for lunch. He’s actually currently walking from China to Turkey for the next two years, sounds like an epic journey!

Then we made the long, faffy journey back to our hostel in Cusco and went straight to bed, because the next morning we were picked up from the hostel at 4am to go to Rainbow Mountain. I did not feel good that day. Even before we set off, I felt groggy and ill and exhausted. Our guide was really fun, he seemed very switched on, impressively good at English and really experienced. I got chatting to him later and it turned out that he had travelled the world and lived in lots of different countries teaching salsa! Cool guy!

The journey to Rainbow Mountain was pretty amazing. For a long time we were driving along roads built into the side of mountains. At some points the roads were only as wide as the van, and looking out your window all you could see was a half mile drop into a deep ravine. The closer we got to the bottom of the trail, the more colourful the surrounding mountains got. Reds, blues, yellows and greens snaked their way across the rocky faces of the mountains, and glaciers started to appear on their tips. We were high up.

At the start of the trek I felt okay, but really tired, and by the time I got to the top I was broken. There was a point where the end was in sight, but I sat down on a rock and just burst into tears. I felt so ill. There was no energy left in my body, I was out of breath, headachey, and slightly nauseous, but I couldn’t not go on. Towards the end, I would sit for 30 seconds, then walk as fast as I could for 10 seconds, then sit for 30, and repeat, until I got to the top. Finally, I reached the top, tears streaming down my face with the effort (getting strange, curious looks), and just soaked in the view. 5000m above sea level and insanely beautiful, the mountain looked so raw and untouched. It’s only been a tourist attraction for 2 years because up until then it was covered in snow, and the locals won’t allow scientists to discover what minerals are causing the colouration because they don’t want to destroy its beauty. The guide caught sight of me in a lot of distress and gave me something to smell which helped a little bit. The only cure for altitude sickness is to descend (well and chewing coca leaves for the nausea but I was past that point), so I started the long 2 hour journey back to the van. At the bottom, I felt less tired but for some reason developed a migraine. So did Heather actually, we both had colds which was probably why. We sat in the van on the way to the lunch with invisible axes lodged in our foreheads, me just openly weeping, and Heather stonily silent grimacing in pain. We both agreed that we had pushed our bodies past their limits over the last few weeks and were suffering the consequences.

We couldn’t relax quite yet when we got back to the hostel, because we were leaving at 4:30am the next day in order to fly from Cusco to Quito, so we had to pack. The contents of our backpacks had been steadily growing since we had arrived in Peru, how my bag didn’t start splitting at the seams after I’d shoved everything in there, I don’t know. We were both sad that our holiday was over, but so glad to be going to Quito and having a few days to ourselves with no plans and nothing to do. For the last 7 days of our holiday we had been awake before 5am, it wasn’t natural. So we said sad goodbyes to Peru, and made the journey back to Ecuador, excited for our next big adventure into The Amazon.

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