Category Archives: peru

And then it was over

australian-flag-mapAs I sat on the flat, spongy mattress of a cobbled together dorm room near the airport on the island of Tahiti listening to the woes of an eighteen year old French lad who’d had his money and laptop stolen whilst on a cruise out to the Tuamotus and now didn’t have any other option but to wait for a flight home, I realised that this too was the end of my journey.

Well, not really. If Stage 1 had been my initial South American adventures within Ecuador and Peru, and Stage 2 my previous time in Australia and New Zealand, then this travel through Brazil, Bolivia and Ecuador followed by a delivery sail from the Galapagos Islands to Tahiti could be deemed Stage 3.

So Stage 3 was drawing to a close. There would still be more adventures up ahead, surely?

One of my favourite modern-day philosophers, Alain de Botton, says: ‘We’re getting better at learning how to structure journeys so that they can assuage what we’re lacking within us.’ And when I looked inside myself and questioned what was lacking (and causing a bit of concern), it was simple: health, familiarity, money. And a big, fat cuddle.

The biggest issue was my health, and my body was begging me to settle for a while. In the last few months, Bolivia had physically punished me and although I’d felt fairly healthy – inactive but healthy – during the Pacific crossing, now Tahiti had delivered up a fever thanks to some tropical sores, sores that stretched the skin on my left leg so tight that touch shot sharp tingles right down to my foot and up to my thigh. My immune system was shot. (I think if you’d told me then that I’d still have another two loads of antibiotics coming up once I was back in Australia, I would have cried. Seven lots of antibiotics within six months? Sorry body. Some people deal better with South America.)

I booked the cheapest flight back to Australia that I could find. But where to? Melbourne had been my original choice destination, a cultural city with opportunities for work and an agreeable cost of living, but Sydney was starting to appeal to me with its sailing scene. So why was I descending into a peachy, sunset Brisbane in mid-June?

I thought back to my French friend and hoped that his misfortunes hadn’t overly soured his impressions of paradise or deterred him from the wonders of travel. Life without travel, without adventure? Unimaginable.

I got off the plane, cursed the fact I’d worn flip-flops and a vest top as I shivered into an Aussie winter, and paused for a moment before I stepped through the Arrivals doors. My heart beating faster and a smile twitching on my lips, I pushed my airport trolley into a politely crowded Arrivals lounge. Still far from my UK home, Australia would be home for now.

Stage 4 starts. An empty page. Some good ideas, hopes and needs, but no plans or expectations. But definitely adventures. Always.

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Filed under australia, bolivia, brazil, ecuador, moorea, new zealand, oceania, pacific, peru, solo travel, south america, tahiti, travel

13 ways to be childish

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Kids playing in the plaza in Pucara

I met Adele* whilst she was beating a bug out of her system in Sucre, stole her friend when she left for Cochabamba and met back up with her in La Paz for some partying. Like me, she’d left behind her entire life to throw caution to the wind and see what life and travelling had to offer.

Unlike me, though, she was having a little panic about her upcoming birthday. And she wasn’t the first person I’d met who was worrying about the big 3-0.

For me, being 30 has been an incredible year, a real rollercoaster of emotions and experiences that have let me reconnect with what matters to me. My philosophy is that every year I get older, the happier I get.

How so? I am more comfortable in myself, I know myself better, I’m more confident to say no to things, I’m more open to life.

And I care a whole lot less about what people think about me. Too much of my life I’ve tried to adapt to be how I think other people want me to be; so much effort gone into appeasing others and losing myself into a falsity. So yeah, I’m not scared. Bring on the ageing process.

But! Not at the expense of immaturity and silliness!

Travelling has taught me to reconnect a bit with my inner child. Not necessarily in some intense hippy way but more just reminding me: don’t take things too seriously.

During my travels in the last year I’ve helped out and hung out with toddlers in Sucre, volunteered at a school literacy fair, stayed with a young family in Australia, taken bus journeys with teenagers in Bolivia and sat in amongst a smiley school group on their way to Galapagos. These are some of the times where kids have reminded me how to live. Untouched by the trials and tribulations of life, they cut through all of the bulls***t and live life openly and honestly.

When you feel some adult heaviness creeping in, I invite you to try one or more of the following:

  1. When with a group of friends, chatter and giggle and whatever you do, don’t stop. Occasionally stick out your tongue or pull the other person’s hair or ear. They won’t be annoyed (if they too are subscribing to this childish therapy, or are indeed a child).
  2. Lie on the floor and just stare at the ceiling. Maybe hum to yourself, if you feel like it.
  3. Be affectionate with friends. If you like someone, hold hands and cuddle them. Simple.
  4. When you get up off the floor, put your hands in front of you, lean a little forward and lift your bum up first. Your hands and feet should both stay in contact with the ground. This doubles up as yoga practise.
  5. Put on some silly music and dance around, flailing your arms, bouncing on your legs, waving your hands and shaking your head. Don’t think about it, just feel it and let go. Completely.
  6. When on public transport, really enjoy it. Whoop and scream if you hit a turbulent spot in an airplane. Similarly, when taking off and landing, let your excitement spill out. Verbally and physically. When on a bus, clamber over the person next to you to look out of the window at the moon. Be fascinated by the little streaks of water slithering across the pane and follow them with your fingers, leaving smudges on the glass.
  7. Smell everything, including the clouds and sky. When people ask you what it actually smells like, come up with something obscure or silly. ‘Poo’ normally hits the mark.
  8. Stamp your feet and stick out your lip when you’re annoyed. Forget why you stamped your feet when you’re easily distracted by a passing airplane.
  9. Run to the window and wave frantically at airplanes.
  10. Be brutally honest. If, for example, someone makes silly voices in an effort to make you laugh, just go for it and say ‘Finola, you’re really funny… and weird’.
  11. If you don’t get your own way, lie face down and bash the floor with clenched fists. Check someone is watching you and if not, move to a spot and repeat where someone can take note.
  12. Blow raspberries and pull silly faces. At strangers is usually more fun.
  13. Finally, melt an adult with tired openness and affection. ‘Nola?’ ‘Yep?’ ‘Nola, I love you’.

*name changed to protect identity

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Filed under australia, bolivia, ecuador, oceania, peru, random, south america, volunteering

What’s in my backpack?

www.travelola.orgPEOPLE HAVE ASKED ME ABOUT a post that I wrote a little while back where I downsized my backpack from an 80 litre to a 45 litre bundle of joy.

How did I do it? What am I carrying?

I wasn’t totally sure so one day in Sucre I laid it all out and took stock. I had bought a couple of extra things, but it still surprised me: it looked like a lot.

  1. Wash bag. This tough bag by North Face is waterproof but although it holds things in snugly, I find it a bit awkward to use on a daily basis.
  2. First aid kit. Everything from antibiotics to anti-malarials and antiseptics. Anti-everything, then. Oh, and some vitamins, plasters/band-aids and a thermometer.
  3. Second wash bag. Yes. Two washbags. Excessive. This one contains items that I don’t use often, such as anti-mosquito spray, make-up for nights out, spare razor blades, that kind of stuff.
  4. Electronics pouch containing chargers and cables. And a converter that works EVERYWHERE.
  5. Sun hat. My third one in the last year. The Inca Jungle Trail claimed one, a bus in Ecuador another. I get sunstroke and sunburnt fairly easily so head protection is a must.
  6. Merino buff®. This works out to be a scarf, hat, muff or whatever you want it to be. I barely used this but it is small, light and has been a blessing during some chilly moments, like in Cuenca.
  7. Zip up tops x3. One hooded fleece, one lightweight base layer and one heavier, lined hoodie.
  8. A RAB down jacket that folds down into its own pocket, and a raincoat. The raincoat was used fairly regularly, and although it took a month and half before I needed some extra warmth, the down jacket was a beautiful cuddle when I visited the glacier in Peru.
  9. Travel towel.  A little bigger than I needed; smaller would have been fine.
  10. Pants/undies/bra x10. There is no point skimping on underwear, I realised, so I stocked up in New Zealand.
  11. Legwarmers x2. Some Bolivian additions that are well loved in the chilly climate.
  12. Socks x4. One thicker pair for walking, the rest cotton. Other than when I went on hikes or travelled in Bolivia, for most of my travels my socks stay have stayed buried at the bottom of my bag.
  13. Eye-mask. Nothing exotic, just a freebie from the airplane but I wouldn’t travel without. Totally useful in hostels or when on overnight public transport.
  14. Shorts x 3. One longer pair, one roll-up, and one short. Two pairs would suffice.
  15. Jeans, combats and zip-off synthetic walking trousers. People say not to travel with jeans. Well I like them, so tough (and I have to carry my bag so I only have to face myself on that one really). I did downsize from proper jeans to skinny legs to save on a bit of space, but actually these are less versatile and only worn in cities or on nights out.
  16. Silk sleeping bag liner. I’ve used this less than I expected but the moments when I need some extra warmth or an extra layer between me and the bed bugs, it is great.
  17. Skirts x 2 and one dress. My skirts are all casual but absolutely adaptable for when I need to glam up a little.
  18. Black leggings and PJs. When I got to Oz I downsized my PJs to a shorty set to save on space. The leggings are great worn under trousers or with a skirt when it is cold.
  19. T-shirts x4: black, blue, yellow and white patterned. Versatile. Nothing fancy.
  20. Belt. Not always needed but was still worth having, either to hold my trousers up when I lost weight after my parasite incident back in Ecuador, or to open bottles with the built in opener (something I only discovered en route).
  21. Bikini. I did start my trip with two bikinis but my favourite set got left behind on a washing line in Raglan, New Zealand. One bikini, realistically, was enough.
  22. Long sleeved t-shirts x5. Mostly in plain, light cotton ideal for layering, these are adaptable to smart or casual situations. One of my favourites for that extra snug hug is my Howies’ merino top (although it has been so well worn that it is now pretty holey. Want to send me a new one, guys?!).
  23. Vest tops x 7. It may sound like too many, but I do use them all. Pretty much. And they don’t take up much space at all. Two of the seven were more going out style tops.
  24. Teva hiking sandals. Brown leather, these can come across fairly smart when I need them to whilst still being totally practical and cushioned comfortable.
  25. Salomon hiking shoes. Dark brown colour is perfect for making these not stand out too much or show the dirt too obviously. These are my go-everywhere shoes that are comfy, have good grip and are Goretex® waterproofed. The only downside is that in some countries I’ve found them to be a little too hot.
  26. Converse casual shoes. I didn’t have a pair of ‘hang-out’ shoes and didn’t intend to get any either as my trainers had doubled up fine for this purpose… but then in Bolivia I decided to buy myself a cheap pair of Converses. Probably fake but they fit and do the job.
  27. Flat, strappy sandals. Super light, these barely take up any space at all. After a backpacker in New Zealand lent me some sandals for a night out, I decided to go girly and get in on the action. And these sandals have actually been well used.
  28. Flip flops. I travelled for six months with just one pair but when I got to Brazil, home of the Havaianas, I couldn’t leave without another! Totally useful, including when using communal showers.
  29. Head torch. Most used item in my backpack, maybe? I keep this close at night and pack it at the top of my bag so that when arriving, for example, into a power cut Villa Serrano late at night, I can still find my way.

It is a lot, yet somehow it all fits into my 45 litre Berghaus backpack. Sure, it’s a bit of a squash but it weighs in at 15kg and is a doddle to carry around. I guess I should mention that I use some roll down vacuum bags. They’re great for packing things down small and keeping similar things together.

And! – I carry a little day pack with my sunglasses, wallet, water, pen, paper, and other valuables that I want close by, including a fake wallet with some old cards and a bit of cash so that if I get mugged, I can hand over something without losing everything. I always carry a photocopy of my passport (in each wallet) and I’ve found laminating them to be really helpful (compared to other travellers’ tatty bits of paper that means they often have to still produce real identification, my copied ID often  gets me past official  check points without any bother).

Looking at the above picture, I realise that I could quite easily prune my luggage a lot further but there does come a point where it’s quite nice having SOME choice.

So, if YOU’RE heading off soon and thinking of throwing in hair straighteners and high heels, just stop for a moment and think about the kind of travelling that you’ll be doing. A weekend in Paris? Maybe. A month trekking and roughing it? Nah. The tousled, flip flopped look will work just fine. Trust me.

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Filed under australia, bolivia, brazil, new zealand, oceania, peru, random, solo travel, south america, travel

21 things travelling has taught me

I’ve been on the road now for just about eight months. I’ve visited two continents, taken 12 flights, reversed my round-the-world ticket back to South America, lost track of the number of bus journeys I’ve taken, crossed borders on foot in the middle of the night, got told off for trying to climb a glacier at 5,200m and met too many people to keep count.

And, despite this not being a ‘find-myself’ trip, I’ve realised a few things along the way.

  1. A light backpack has everything to do with happiness. It took me six months to figure out what I did and didn’t need but I think I’m now on the right track.
  2. Leaving stuff in hostels is great when going off on tours or treks; giving stuff away is even better because it makes someone else happy too.
  3. Quinoa is magical food. I am in love with quinoa and vegetable soup.
  4. Whilst we’re on food, I don’t crave chocolate in hot climates as much as I do in the UK.
  5. The quickest way to cool down is to take off your hiking shoes or trainers. Others might not thank you for it but it works.
  6. Saying yes to new experiences can make you happy and proud or in some cases, sick and ill
  7. I can do all sorts of stuff by myself and I like my own company.
  8. But! I need social contact and travelling solo does get lonely at times. There’s so much joy in sharing travelling moments when you’re with the right person or people. I’m now ready to travel with some other people.
  9. I’ve become less tolerant of people who annoy me, particularly rude travellers.
  10. Age is just a number; attitude and experience are so much more important. I’ve met some annoying older and younger travellers, and some awesome ones too. Age irrelevant.
  11. Hitchhiking is a great way to get around but don’t do it alone, especially not as a female. But I did do it, and I got lucky, and I actually met some good, good people as a result.
  12. Solo travel opens up many more random opportunities and experiences.
  13. I love to dance and laugh, and I don’t do it nearly enough. I think I’m still a bit inhibited. Trying to belly dance in New Zealand was fun and started to loosen me up a little.
  14. A spare camera battery is a must. In Bolivia I was on a bus ride with the most amazing scenery and my camera died. Where I stayed that night had no electricity to recharge. Be prepared!
  15. The main awkwardness of dining alone is other people’s awkwardness.
  16. If I wasn’t writing about my travels, I would probably get pretty lost, like many other travellers I’ve met. I think that there needs to be a point, a purpose to one’s travels beyond the three month mark.
  17. Wear sunscreen! Needs no further explanation!
  18. I haven’t really missed my job or professional identity. This is different to not wanting to work. I have worked and volunteered and it felt good on so many levels.
  19. Since my Peru accident, I’ll always wear a bike helmet. In Byron Bay in Australia, people cruise around topless and sans-helmet. I looked less cool, but I didn’t care.
  20. Facebook and Skype have stopped being my enemies. On the road, I understand their value. I talk to my family, send photos through to my friends, keep up to date with what’s going on outside of my little world.
  21. Travelling indefinitely is maybe not the ideal after all. I realise I need to settle in places for a little while every now and then.

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Filed under australia, bolivia, brazil, culture, dancing, ecuador, health, new zealand, peru, random, solo travel, south america, travel

Chao for now, South America

I’ve got a wonderful flight planned for you’, said the pilot of our Boeing 736 to Houston. His tone was undeniably cheery. ‘Please enjoy it, and please also enjoy the wonderful crew we have on board today’. It was barely breakfast time and love was pouring out of this guy. I wondered whether he was a believer, or whether he’d been swotting up on some self-help books or whether he was in fact on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He seemed so calm and level though, so damn happy, and my own morning grumpiness after a night of zero sleep was accentuated. I was both envious and hateful. How dare he?!

As the airplane engines started to roar and the strong sun shone through the windows and reflected off of the wing, I gazed out at the snow-capped Cotopaxi and contemplated my months in South America. Butterflies filled my stomach, feelings of excitement and apprehension and adventure. And a little bit of sadness. Was I ready to leave?

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View from hostel balcony, Quito

We lifted off, the size of Quito only really appreciated from the air with its dense sprawl of colourful buildings spreading out and up into the hillsides. And somewhere down there was Rosario in Laundry Practika and Luz in Hostel Galapagos and Edith in the Simon Bolivar Spanish School. And all the other people I’ve met in Ecuador and Peru came into focus: Frank and Kelvin at Andes Camp, Sonia of Casa de mi Abuelo, Eran and longer-suffering Chen for being my travel buddies and putting up with my chaos, and so many other interesting and crazy and fun people who shared moments in my journey including Argentinian Juli who hated all the backpackers who ‘just drinking and f***ing’ and ‘I’ve come here to learn something’ Matt and  ‘Oh my god’ Miranda, and Gareth from Tourist2Townie and Robin and Avi and Rebecca and Dan and Amy and Hernan and Cait and Pablo and Raz and Matthius and Penny and Alanna and Katey, and, oh so many more. A rich mix of randoms. Gotta love it.

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Sandscapes and sunsets, Huacachina, Ica, Peru

My memories of Peru will forever be linked to colour palette and environment: a yellow, rocky, dusty and inhospitable backdrop of flat desert scrubland and amazing sand dunes that reach high into the sky (the exception would be the jungly area of Machu Picchu, but I’m talking overall impressions here). Accompanying the desert landscape was a desert climate: hot and dry during the day, cold and crisp at night when chullos and woolly jumpers were a welcome wardrobe addition (llama patterned, of course). The heights of Peru caused me some problems, although I loved what some of those magical places had to offer. Pasturori and Churup? Wow. Worth every last bit of headache and shortness of breath.

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Writing and refuelling with Oreos at Churup

Distances between places in Peru took some getting used to, but before long, a ten-hour journey seemed short-haul. And then there was the luxury bus travel, luxury compared to Ecuador, luxury compared to anywhere I’ve been but costing a relative premium.

I enjoyed Lima, I could live there, however Cusco grew on me with its straight-talking shoe shiners (‘very dirty your shoes’) and great places to hang out, like Maracuyea and Wachumas and The Real McCoys. But Peru was considerably more hassly than Ecuador, more desperate in some respects with kids sent out to sell sweets and old, shrivelled men making approaches for money, shaky hands outstretched. Poverty and financial disparity were visible here.

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Cusco outskirts

Food highlights from both Ecuador and Peru have to be quinoa and juices of all sorts. It’s official: I am in love with quinoa soup and its wholesome, tasty goodness. I got over my vegetable smoothie phobia, stocking up on vitamins whenever I could by drinking orange and carrot blends (I also tried aloe vera and strawberry, tasty, great option!). Humitas were another favourite of mine and don’t forget the trusty empañada in all its various guises. Rarely a disappointment, the cheese and sugar combo was a surprise hit for my taste buds.

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Making empañadas in Hostel Galapagos, Quito

When thinking about South America, music and dancing are firmly in the picture. From a totally biased viewpoint, much of it is pretty bad music – schmaltzy or mainstream pop – that undoubtedly mentions ‘el corazon’ (heart) at some point but will often be so catchy and conventionally structured that the next time you hear it you’ll be tapping and singing along before you realise. Your hips may have even started to sway along to the likes of Fainal or Farruko or Joey MontanaHola Que Tal* is one of those tracks, truly horrible, but once you’ve heard it for the umpteenth time (thanks Kelvin at AndesCamp) you have some affection for its crapness.

A few comparisons between Ecuador and Peru include the service in restaurants and cafés, which is generally much faster in Peru than in Ecuador. Peru isn’t actually that much cheaper than Ecuador, in fact, much of the time it’s on a par or more expensive. Something I had barely noticed in Ecuador was impossible to ignore in Peru: casinos are everywhere in the big cities and small towns alike. Middle aged men and women sit at slot machines, gambling S/.0.10 at a time to while away the evening. Security guards block the entrances to these places.

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Views around Cotocachi and Laguna Cuicocha

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Chill out in Mompiche, Ecuador

And although I’ve previously covered Ecuador in some depth, it is a country that will forever be recommended by me as a place to visit. Accessibility and diversity are among the things that make it so appealing. If it were a choice between Ecuador and Peru, don’t follow the crowds, follow the lush beauty of Ecuador. You won’t regret it.

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Home in the Cuyabeno jungle, Ecuador

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Biking in Baños

So, back to the flight to Houston that’s just left Quito, and I’m feeling that great sense of adventure tingle through my body. The woman behind me pulls down her window blind firmly just as I open mine as wide as is possible. Sunlight streaks in, pushing through the morning mist, highlighting the chains of mountains and marshmallow clouds that we’re now flying high above. What a beautiful day. A fitting ending to a beautiful South America trip.

 
*I’m still trying to remember the actual name and artists for this song… if anyone knows it, please let me know! I think its by a band called Mana…

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Toilet etiquette in Ecuador and Peru

Before leaving the UK I asked for recommendations of things to blog about, and toilet behaviour and etiquette seemed to come up a fair few times. Whilst travelling through Ecuador and Peru there were undoubtedly a few dos and don’ts that one needed to be aware of, including:

  • Relax! Ecuadorian and Peruvian toilets typically are Western style with seats and all that fanciness. In little villages away from the tourist trails you are more likely to find long drops and less endearing places, but when you need to go, you need to go. When travelling on bus trips and the on-board toilet doesn’t work (very common in Ecuador), toilet stops can be in the middle of anywhere, sometimes with no privacy in sight. Girls: travelling with skirts can help keep things polite and squatting discreet, unless bum out is your style. Guys: not so much of a problem, right?
  • Toilet paper does not get flushed down the toilet. It gets placed in a bin besides the toilet. The waste pipes can’t cope with toilet paper so to avoid blocking the system, it’s crucial to follow this simple rule: nothing but pee and poo gets flushed.
  • In public toilets you typically pay a fee to go to the loo, and if you want toilet paper it costs extra. Hand over an average of $0.15 to the toilet attendant who will then hand you over a little, neatly folded gift of toilet roll. Don’t spend time thinking about the hygiene of this. Just get on with it!
  • In shopping centres and some public toilets you will have to queue to get toilet paper before joining an actual toilet queue. It’s very public, – everyone can see how much you take. Apparently this is done because there is a tendency to steal toilet paper, why, who knows (the only experience I have of that is amongst backpackers who are quick to shove a half used toilet roll into their bag when leaving a hostel).
  • In houses and restaurants there will usually be toilet paper in the bathroom, but don’t rely on it, particularly when out and about. It’s always worth carrying some tissue or toilet paper with you.

Maybe this is some help to someone. Who knows?! Just don’t worry about it. It should definitely not be a reason to avoid a place.

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It’s a long, long way back to Quito

I was sitting on a Cruz del Sur bus in the downstairs VIP area feeling a little bit pukish after eating my dessert, a fluffy, overly sweet slice of chocolate roll. And I also felt pretty zombiefied. This was day three of a week’s worth of travel back up to Quito, Ecuador and onwards to New Zealand via Houston and Los Angeles.

I had left Arequipa, right in the south of Peru, Monday mid-afternoon, waved off by the lovely, smiling Cristina. Initially intending to set off for Lima much later at night, a surprise travel buddy turned up in the form of a friend who needed to get to Lima for onward travel to Argentina. This first fifteen hour leg was therefore more fun and social than anticipated: seats at the front (upstairs, economy) meant extra space to spread out so we put our feet up, we chatted, we laughed and we watched Peru pass by, great, chunky sand dune landscapes and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean as the sun set.

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Driving through the desert a few hours after leaving Lima

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Sand and sea: dusk by the Pacific Ocean

The following day, Tuesday, started early with an ejection from the bus at just gone 6:00AM. Lima felt pleasant and fresh, the sun not yet melted the morning mist. Sitting for a while to await a more appropriate arrival time at my great aunts house, I watched a constant stream of buses turn up at the terminal, sleepy passengers getting off and waiting for their luggage in a bit of a daze.

After a great night’s rest, I was ready for the biggie: twenty-eight hours from Lima, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador. For S/.30 extra, I’d treated myself to an upgrade, my first time downstairs in VIP. Additional comfort and attention and food and space were part of the deal (although I would argue that the front of the Cruz del Sur upstairs had as much if not more leg room than my downstairs VIP front seat). And a seat by myself, no sleepy stranger nodding off and slobbering on my shoulder. Space to sit and think and write. To be by myself, no, to be with myself. Needed.

It didn’t feel like long before the breakfast wake-up blasted out over the tannoy, preceded by soothing classical music and booming deep voices belonging to two noisy Peruvian guys who I’d been trying to block out with ear plugs. Clearly, I’d slept a bit, my eyes unable to stay open despite an attempted mental override (I had wanted to finish the film). It had almost felt drug induced, such a strong, all-consuming tiredness that has made a fair few appearances during my time in South America. No point trying to fight it.

Finally, by nearly 2:30PM we had cleared all border controls at Tumbes. Compared to the night-time crossing at Macara, the daytime Tumbes crossing was an extended, hot process involving hours of queuing in 35°C heat, once for the exit stamps for Peru and a short bus ride later again for the entry to Ecuador. A further four and a half hours along, back into the greenery and banana plantations of Ecuador and a setting sun, and we arrived into Guayaquil, a city which seemed to have a surprisingly low-level of light pollution.

And the last stretch to Quito? Well, I was back in Ecuador, back to upright seats and lack of air flow. Out came the fan, off came my shoes and I snuggled down for another night on a bus. The young guy next to me plugged into his MP3 and didn’t utter a word and we both nodded off, unavoidably resting into each other. The only disturbance? A sudden sleep sing from the guy next to me; a repeated phrase, clean, tuneful and haunting. Three times he repeated the phrase, and then nothing but shut-eye and an eventual arrival eight hours later into Quitumbe, Quito just before 6:00AM. Home.

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Bussing about Peru

Imagine a bus with loads of leg room, a comfy reclining seat, hot meals, regular drinks and smartly dressed hosts and hostesses… no, don’t imagine being on an airplane, imagine a double decker sleeper bus, perfect for long distance travel across Peru.

The procedures before you board a bus in Peru are not unlike those at airports. You check in your main luggage, and then show your ticket and passport (and in some cases provide a finger print) before going through a security scan. You also often need to pay a departure tax, although it’s usually only a couple of soles. In case its of any use to anybody out there, the main bus companies that I travelled with are as follows:

Itsa

I travelled with Itsa from Piura to Trujillo which cost S/.35 (£8.37) for a semi-cama (reclining seat) upstairs. Having come from Ecuador, S/.35 felt like a fortune, but the quality of the bus was amazing – plenty of leg room, comfortable, and well-ventilated with good service. It took six hours. Food included a snack and juice after we set off and a hot meal an hour before we arrived.

Movil Tours

An overnight trip from Trujillo to Huaraz cost S/.45 (£10.76) for semi-cama, upstairs. The bus felt considerably more cramped than Itsa. For an 8 hour ride, there could have been more food or drinks available – there was only a snack and drink at the start (although to be fair, it was some very tasty olive bread).

Cial

A good bus with plenty of leg room and comfy seats costing S/.40 (£9.57) for a semi-cama, upstairs for a journey from Huaraz to Lima, an 8 hour overnight trip. The bus was really empty which meant I could spread out. By all accounts, it should have been a relaxing, restful journey… had they not turned the air con off and the heating on. I slowly cooked into an uncomfortable, grumpy mess.

My second trip with Cial was from Nasca to Cuzco, a 15 hour overnight journey costing S/.80 (£19.13) for a semi-cama seat. A bit of an older bus with broken lights and looking a bit tired overall, but the fact that the window opened kept me a bit happy. And it was cheaper than Cruz del Sur who were charging S/.108 for the same route, albeit with full recliners. Food on the Cial bus was minimal and a bit rubbish: a sorry looking sandwich at 9:30am and some wafers, no drink. What’s that about?

Cruz del Sur

Cruz del Sur is often cited as the best bus company in Peru for safety, security, punctuality and comfort, but the journey from Lima to Paracas felt like one expensive trip costing S/.55 (£13.15) for a 3 ½ hour journey. Seats were surprisingly cramped but the food – a full almuerzo delivered shortly after departure (rice, chicken, a slice of spinach and egg quiche, rice pudding and a drink) was tasty and hot. Working Wi-Fi on board was a plus and despite being a short, daytime route, the chairs were still recliners in case you wanted to snooze. If leaving from Lima, check which terminal the bus goes from as there are a few Cruz del Sur terminals in the city (most, including international, leave from Javier Prado). Three buses leave for Paracas per day, although they go on to Nasca. I wanted to be in Pisco so had to travel to Paracas and then get a taxi to Pisco for S/.8 (£1.92).

The second trip I took on Cruz del Sur was from Arequipa to Lima and it cost me S/.43 (£10.28), a half price fare thanks to my onward international ticket to Ecuador. I sat up front in economy upstairs. It was a comfortable journey with tasty food, although the vegetarian option was a little overdone on the amount of tofu based sausage.

My final trip with Cruz del Sur was a biggie: 28 hours of international travel from Lima, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador. For an extra S/.30 I travelled VIP consisting of a small cabin downstairs with comfier seats, more leg room, seats that recline to 160° and attentive service. For the distance, it was worth the extra. No problems with air conditioning or comfort. It was great. Even better was that I had a seat by myself, no neighbour. Overall this journey wasn’t cheap at S/.243 (S/.216 for economy) (£58.12 or £51.66) but it stopped at the borders and waited whilst the necessary visa stamps were awarded. The international service between Peru and Ecuador only runs on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

PerúBus

I caught this basic bus with upright seats on the Pan American roadside from Pisco to Ica. It cost S/.4  (£0.96) for an hour and a half journey. To get there you need to take a collectivo from Pisco to the Pan American highway, which should cost in the region of S/.1.50 per person. Buses run really regularly to both Lima and Ica. It was a basic bus with movies but not much else. Fine for the distance travelled. I wanted to go on to Huacachina, but as the bus terminates in Ica it was necessary to get a taxi to Huacachina which cost S/.6 (£1.43).

Soyuz

Another standard, basic bus for shorter routes, I travelled with Soyuz from Ica to Nasca. The trip took 2 ½ hours and cost S/.11 (£2.63). Nearly got ripped off when buying my tickets – check your change! No security or comfy seats like the main, long distance buses.

Flores

I travelled with Flores for a night time journey from Cusco to Arequipa, that should have taken 9 hours but an hour delay at the start to let on people at different town stops increased it to a 10 hour trip. The ticket cost S/.40 (£9.57) and there was no real security – we just had to dump our bags into the bus luggage section. The police did however come on board to carry out the usual videoing. The bonus of this trip was that it was cooler than previous journeys but there was very little leg room and I’m sure that the guy in front of me will have had my knees in his back for the journey duration. The lady snoring, on the other hand, could have happened on any bus, but my goodness, it was annoying! Food was a cold meal of rice and chicken followed by some runny, dodgy jelly for dessert and some hot, very sweet tea. There were no options with the food and drinks; you got what you were given. It wasn’t terrible, just not great either. The Cusco to Arequipa route is covered by a couple of companies including Cruz del Sur, each running a couple of buses per night.

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Taking a holiday in Arequipa

Most travellers go to Arequipa for the Colca Canyon Trek or the Santa Catalina convent. I did as many Peruvians do and went for a one week holiday. I wanted to hang out with a friend, to get over a bad belly and just relax.

My stay in Arequipa started badly with yet another tired hostel decision resulting in a damp, dingy room in an otherwise empty place. Situated in the desirable area of Yanahuara on a beautiful, tree lined road across from the bridge – Puente Grau – it had so much potential, but inside it was tired and in the midst of a load of building work (a disadvantage of travelling in low season is that hostels do their upgrades during this time so wires and cables and bricks lying around the place shouldn’t come as a surprise).

The next hostel, Bothy Hostel, was closer into town with clean dorm beds starting at S/.18 (£4.31). It was much more of a traditional hostel setup, one which I can imagine in high season is a crowded mass of travelling bodies and flirtation with its schedule of party activities and drink deals. In late November, however, it was nicely populated, enough to be social without the mess. And quiz night and all the other daily activities? Forget it. Nothing to be had in low season. But I truly didn’t mind spending lazy evenings swinging in a hammock on the roof terrace watching the sun set through the haze over the surrounding volcanos. It was more than enough to satisfy my lethargy.

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Views from the roof terrace, Bothy Hostel, Arequipa

Arequipa, the ‘White City’, feels like a big place and it is: the second largest city in Peru (after Lima) with over 800,000 inhabitants. In terms of infrastructure, to my untrained eye, it appears to be somewhere between Lima and Cusco, obviously a city with big roads and high buildings and shopping malls but mixed with some appealing, cultural elements alongside a little bit of rough.

The central area is clean and appealing, two main roads – Santa Catalina and San Francisco – leading up off the main plaza, both streets with appealing architecture and visual pleasantness. Archways into houses spread out into cute little internal courtyards decorated with flowers and colourful paint jobs. These little pockets of prettiness are everywhere. Arequipa, it would seem, works on multi-levels of beauty; look beyond the obvious and it reveals itself to you.

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Arequipa archways

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Santa Catalina street, Arequipa

Up at the top of San Francisco street is the Plaza San Francisco, a small affair where people sit on the steps in the shadows of the Iglesia San Francisco, seemingly just lounging, little other purpose or rush. I did the same, kicking off my shoes and having a drink. A group of young guys walked by and pointed at my feet and wafted their faces, grinning cheekily. (I know I’m travelling but on the subject of hygiene, I’ve found keeping my clothes clean is not that big a deal in South America with plenty of opportunities to get laundry washed and dried for under £1 per kilo).

Plaza de Armas is the busiest of any plazas and parks that I’ve seen in Peru or Ecuador. Heaving with people of all ages at most points of the day, I wish you good luck trying to find a spare bench. Pigeons and people crowd the central area, businessmen take time to catch up on the day’s news whilst getting their shoes buffed and polished, and tourists and kids enjoy generous dollops of rich, tasty ice-cream from nearby Artika and Ice Palace.

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Plaza de Armas, Arequipa

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Catedral de Arequipa

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Social time and shoe shine

I walked south and east of the plaza, down Peru passed scores of little shops spilling out onto the street until I reached San Camillo and the local indoor market with sections for fresh juices and meats and household goods and more. Cats slept cuddled in sacks of pet food, traders scooped out ample servings of caramelised peanuts and police patrolled the perimeters of what is known as a prime spot for thieving. There was very little at the market in terms of artisanal goods, in short, this isn’t a tourists market (there are a few shops around Plaza del Armas and along San Francisco and Santa Catalina that offer the typical Peru t-shirts and llama chullos – woolly hats with ear flaps – and ponchos and postcards).

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Cats having a cuddle and snooze

 

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The start of the juice bars

 

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Fresh(ish) fruit ready for juicing

I discovered a penchant for pedestrianised streets and Arequipa centre boasts two lovely options for lazy strolls. Simon Bolivar runs from up by Puente Grau and right down until it merges with Sucre and reaches Iglesia La Merced. Benches and shops and eateries are scattered along the street but nothing is of significant interest. It is quiet, save for when the school children spill out of the colegio and attempt to practise their English on you. The second area dedicated to those on foot is Mercaderes off of San Francisco and Jerusalen. Much shorter and busier with posher shops and chocolatiers, it was the atmosphere that I enjoyed as people strolled arm in arm and window shopped.

So other than wandering around pretty streets and eating ice-cream and hanging in the parks and plazas and watching the world’s population of Beatles drive by, what else did this lazy holiday entail? I feel a bit of a backpacker travel cheat admitting it, but I also spent time roaming the malls up in Real Plaza and Saga Fallabella up in Yanahuara, and working my way through giant servings of popcorn whilst watching some truly terrible movies. Yes, this could be done in any large city in the world, it’s not a unique travel experience. The way people bought their tickets and watched the film was, well, as expected. Why wouldn’t it be?

It was a ‘break-from-travelling’ trip, a week of passively engaging with the high and low culture of the place,  and a chance to psyche myself up for the long journey back to Ecuador. Arequipa as a place to visit? Absolutely. In terms of activities? No idea.

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Inca Jungle Trek (Day 4): Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, finally!

I’m not overly enamoured with traipsing around ruins and have thus far passed up on visiting some places along my route through Ecuador and Peru. I had wondered, for instance, about Chan Chan, but was reassured when another traveller told me that ‘the photos are great, they show it at its best, but when you’re actually there its just a bit boring… and shortlived‘.

Machu Picchu is, however, a whole different thing: famous, revered, a place of intrigue and cultural and historical interest. And if its good enough for Mick Jagger, who bought up all the tickets for the morning session a few weeks back, well, then it’s more than good enough for me.

I, along with over half the group, took the bus up to Machu Picchu. Tired and worn down, the 05:00am start was a significant effort. Rain swept the bus windows as we took the winding road up into a lush mountainscape, and I wondered how the others were getting on climbing the many, many steps in these miserable conditions.

We all met up by the entrance. They were soaked through but pumped up, physical challenge completed.

We all headed into the Parque Arqueologico Nacional Machu Picchu, and through misty, mystical wafts of cloud we saw those infamous views, the site of Machu Picchu spread out beneath us; quiet, green, impressive. A moment to be still and breathe and take in the wonder.

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06:00am at Machu Picchu

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