A Peruvian experience

Wow! It has been an extremely long time since I have blogged (basically an entire month, oops!). I apologize for the upcoming length. 🙂 We are in Peru and have covered a lot of ground in the last month. With the onset of our fourth month traveling, we are becoming the experienced travelers giving advice to newcomers. The roles begin to change. This is especially true for us because we have so much time that we actually get to stop and enjoy things rather than breeze through. Well, without further ado, our Peruvian experiences thus far…
We hopped on the bus in Guayaquil and headed for Màncora. In the middle of this trip we were crossing the Ecuador/Peru border. This can actually be an atrocious process. Since crossing, I have heard several horror stories about people crossing that border. These range from people getting scammed in taxis for absurd exchange rates (even the police are in on this one), taxis in cahoots with thieves who come up to the vehicles with guns or knives, and even more scary, whole buses getting robbed by people entering the bus with weapons or stealing the stored luggage below. The danger is amplified by the fact that there are two border customs, one for Ecuador and one for Peru. They should mark the actual border between the two countries except they are about 300 meters apart. This middle area is sort of a lawless area where neither country necessarily has jurisdiction. These customs buildings are not exactly secure either. In Ecuador you just wait outside and walk up to a window. During the daytime, these areas can be packed with tons of people, making it a prime pick pocket area. When you get to Peru, you immediately want to exchange some money, but you have to be extremely careful with that as well. Fraudulent money is an everyday occurrence here. Not even ATMs are exempt from spitting out fake bills. ATMs also have a tendency to give hundred and fifty soles (it is approximately 37 US cents to one Peruvian Nuevo Sol), which you then have to immediately go wait in a bank to have exchanged for tens and twenties since small shops tend not to have change and you just do not want to be carrying big bills on your person. Well, horror stories aside, Aaron and I passed through Tumbes at 1:00 AM when there was literally no one else around and crossed the border unscathed and completely ignorant to the potential danger we could have been in. Step one into Peru was a success.

Our first destination was Máncora. We arrived at some awfully early time with one other guy, Colin. After being shown our rooms, we slept for a long time. Máncora is basically a tourist beach stop for lazing all day in the sun. We were there about one week at the Loki hostel (aka party hostel). It was basically a resort complex, providing all your needs. You would literally never need to leave. Not that Máncora is large. It is basically a long town built up along the beach with no further development or growth inland. Easily explorable in a single afternoon. But that is why these mini resorts are there, entertaining your free time with a pool, ping pong table, pool table, and nightly activities. You can go surfing, though it is not great and the water is on the colder side. Truly it is like a time warp though. For how few activities we partook outside the hostel, we spent almost a whole week there. One activity which we excelled was socializing. But what else are you supposed to do in a beach town with nothing else going on? We met some wonderful people. To name a few, Ryan, Hannah and Sarah from England; Colin from Ireland; Simon and Greg from France; Helen from Sweden; Rina from Israel; and many more. It was a great time, but I think we grew bored quite quickly as we had just finished with a month at the beach in Bahía de Caraquez. There is one major event from Máncora that I will continue to be bitter about. I had my camera stolen during karaoke night. My camera was probably the sole item that I cared for most of my possessions on this trip. It was a yellow, Olympus Tough Series. This means it was me-proof (waterproof to ten feet, drop proof to 6 feet, no external lens to damage). It served me well and I will miss it. Alas, a camera is replaceable. But I did not budget for a new one of that caliber and I will never be able to replace the two weeks of photos that were lost on the memory card. This was perfect timing (and I really mean horrible timing) as I literally just replaced my memory cards due to an internet cafe disk-corruption problem. Grr. Also, we had the opportunity to share in a Roshhashanna supper with the quite large group of Israelis who were staying at Loki. It was really nice, actually. The Loki chef cooked the meal and we had a fancy table set up for us. The table was really aesthetically pleasing but I no longer have those pictures… Anyways, we eventually decided it was time to leave and hopped on a night bus heading towards Huaraz.

Our first stop was actually Chimbote. However, after some last minute internet shopping for hostels, I discovered that Chimbote is actually not a pleasant place at all. Therefore, we hopped off one bus and then right back onto another for Huaraz. This involved about 20 hours off bus time. Not exactly the ideal travel length. However, we met a really nice guy from Germany who accompanied that time with us. He is a geologist, just finishing his Master´s degree and taking a short break before beginning work with the same company. He already booked at a different hostel than I wanted to stay in and so we parted ways after catching a meal when we arrived in Huaraz. As he walked away I realized that after our 20 odd hours together, neither Aaron nor I ever caught his name. I am glad we stayed with my accommodation choice because it was fantastic! Anyone ever going to Huaraz, Peru, should stay at Caroline Lodging. It is hands down one of the best places we have stayed yet. We called them and they picked us up from the bus terminal, as well as dropped us off a few days later, completely free of charge. The rooms were nice and the prices cheap. The kitchen area had a television and they had an awesome movie room on the top floor. There were great views of the surrounding mountains from the roof. Caroline Lodging is a family run operation, and they take people on various trekking trips. Since they take people out on the single or multiple day treks, they also have all the knowledge and maps to send people off on their own as well. It is hard to describe, but it was just a really nice place.

Huaraz is basically at the base of the Cordillera Blanca, an endless and mesmerizing mountain range. This also means it is at a higher elevation. With sickness of Latacunga still fairly fresh in our minds, we decided to take it easy in Huaraz. Our first evening we met some guys heading on a day hike for the following morning and joined them. They were Anael from France, Vincent from Holland, and Barnt from Canada. We trekked up to Lake Churup, elevation 4,450 meters. We took a group van to the town of Llupe then walked 1.5 hours to Pitec, the base camp area of the Parque Nacional Huascaran. From there we started the three hour trek, all mostly up a steep grade, to Lake Churup. Near the top there is a waterfall area where water just runs down the steep rocks. Due to the steepness there, there are actually metal chains bolted into the rocks to help you climb up. At the top, the lake is gorgeous. The water is so blue and mostly clear. On the other side from where we arrived there was still snow on the continuing upward peak. That side is actively eroding down into the lake. We stopped by the lake to rest and eat some food. Several people decided to jump into the lake (prompted by Aaron´s strange need to jump into every lake we hike to). As the previous day there was literally snow and ice on the water, I can tell you that the water was extremely cold. The views and trek were fantastic, but possibly not the best hike when adjusting to altitude. You really are just going straight uphill the entire way. One particular memorable moment was that as we started up the trek, we crossed paths with the two French guys from Máncora on their way down. They had left Máncora two days before us and, I thought, heading for the jungle.

After the hike I was suffering from a headache that lasted until the next morning. I do not remember ever having altitude problems like this before. We decided to do an easy day and Aaron, Vincent, and I went to Willkawain to see two archeological sites (Instituto Nacional de Cultura-Ancash: Monumento Arqueológico Willkawain). The first site had a small museum of the history and discovery as well as a few remaining buildings. This was a site dedicated to the dead for burials during the Wari culture empire, 700 – 1000 C.E. It was interesting. A dog joined our group, eager to see if we would share our lunches. At one point in the temple, I was peering into this small, dark little passageway when suddenly the dog came out of the dark at me. This startled me greatly, much to Vincent´s and Aaron´s delight. We also went to the second ruins area which was actually more impressive. We kept walking up the road beyond the ruins for quite some time before eventually turning back for Willkawain. We walked through a labor strike that morning. There were tons of people just sitting around a plaza chatting and eating ice cream. It looked like a nice time, though the streets were quite crowded. That evening, Vincent, Aaron, and I went to a pub that actually brews there own beer. It was nice to have an actually good tasting beer. The next days we actually left. There is so much trekking in Huaraz that you could spend months there, but we are not really gear prepared or financially prepared to outfit such adventures. Not getting in more treks in Huaraz just leaves something to return to Peru for. Plus, there are supposed to be more accessible treks in the Arequipa area in southern Peru. I loved Caroline Lodging and the people we met there were all fantastic. It was really nice being surrounded by outdoor enthusiasts for a while.

From Huaraz we headed back toward the coast and further south to Lima! Lima was wonderful. We stayed in the tourist Miraflores district. First we stayed at Cirque Hostel then moved to Dragonfly Hostel to be closer to Park Kennedy where everything is located. In Miraflores, we walked along the bluffs at the coast. The whole distance has been designed into an assortment of parks and recreation areas up on the bluffs and down at the beach level. This is really lovely and brilliant for aesthetics. We went just passed the Larcomar, which is a large shopping and restaurant complex built into the bluffs down to the beach. We went to Park Kennedy and Ovalo de Miraflores, the very center of the restaurant, bar and shopping areas. I replaced my camera. 😦 I am still sad about the loss. I purchased a Canon PowerShot. It is nice so far, though not waterproof. It is small, though, which my Olympus was a little bulky. We also wondered around the Inca markets and in general walked around exploring the streets. Miraflores is a fairly ritzy district.

On one day we went to Huaca Pucllana, an archaeological site of a 200 BCE Incan temple to the water goddess. Today there is 6 hectares remaining/exposed of a believed 20 hectares. The ruins are a giant pyramid structure made for sacrifices, feast, and other offerings. I was really impressed that is was only discovered about 30 years ago. It was disintegrating into a mound that was being used as a dirt bike course! Now excavation and restoration is underway. They are digging down to the last remaining intact layer and then restoring the original bricks. They predict that it will take an additional 30 years to complete restoration. They have also begun to purchase the surrounding land to expand the excavation. They have discovered several mummy graves in the structure where the burials where simply built over. It is difficult to say how many internal layers have been built up and over. As excavation is still underway, they are still discovering graves and possibly ones that were not ransacked and desecrated by the later people ruling the area. That night was a soccer match in Lima for Peru versus Paraguay. It was crazy at Kennedy Park that evening. People were swarming the restaurants and bars to watch the live match. I cannot even imagine the mayhem at the stadium. We watched the match at our hostel (Dragonfly Hostel) with several people who work there and two other women staying there. Peru won. I suspect that mayhem became chaos at Kennedy Park. An Argentinian man staying at the hostel was playing in a band that evening, so we all went to check it out. We went to the Barranco district which is where all the clubs are. The music was great. There were four or five band arrangements all playing blues rock music. Our hostel people were able to get us in for free which was really nice.

The next day we went to the historic center of Lima via the light rail system. We came out at the Civic Center and grabbed lunch (Aaron found his first Subway and was really excited). We were sitting outside on some steps eating when Anael from Huaraz suddenly walked up. An underlying theme of this trip has been how frequently we run into the same people or connections to the same people. We saw the Plaza Francia Recolete with a really cute vividly blue church. Then we went to the Plaza San Martin and the Plaza de Armas. We walked through the central market which was a plethora of shops, vendors and people crowded everywhere. This was an extremely busy area. There are also several government buildings there where guards were at the really with batons and crowd control shields like a riot could break out at any moment. Eventually we worked our way over the the Convento San Francisco to tour the convent turned museum and the catacombs below. There are some 25,000 bodies in the crypts and not all of them have been uncovered. In the open pits, the bones have been sorted by bone type. It is a little strange passing crypts with thousands of femurs, skulls, tibias and more just arranged in a sort of morbid display for our viewing pleasure. Apart from the catacombs, my favorite part of the tour was the library! It is a completely wood inlaid room with two spiral staircases leading to a balcony style second floor with more books. There are big wooden reading tables and windows lining the room (they had no electricity back in the day). The best part is all the original, hand written, leather bound books still in place lining the floor to ceiling shelves. It was a dream library. I wish that I could have actually been allowed to wander around the room and touch the books. It was fantastic! That evening, we met up with the French guys, Greg and Simon, for a Lima pub crawl. The pub crawl was fun and we got a really good deal, but I cannot say that I would do it again. Besides our group of four and then four people associated with the tour, only one other guy, Boris, showed up. It was a good deal though. I found out that Lima clubs charge anywhere from 50 to 100 soles ENTRANCE! That is ridiculous! I would never go out if that was the cost. With our tour we had free entrance. As for the rest, it was fun but not exactly what I had in mind for a pub crawl. After a long night, we relaxed the next day and planned our departure for the following morning. That evening I met up with Irish Colin to retrieve my towel that he thankfully rescued for me from Loki in Máncora. He did not come out to the pub crawl because he actually went to the Peru-Paraguay soccer match that previous evening. I saw the craziness of Kennedy Park that night, I cannot imagine actually being at the game.

The next day we left Lima for Paracas, however our bus driver never announced when we were supposed to get off so we missed Paracas and stopped in Ica instead. This is always a potential problem when taking buses that stop in every little town to pick up and drop off passengers. Ica is the actual city but we went on to Huacachina. Huacachina is a tiny little three street place built literally just for tourists coming for dune buggy tours. There is nothing there but hostels (we stayed at Carolas del Sur), restaurants and shops. Haucachina is surrounded by 300 foot sand dunes that go on for miles. That same afternoon I was able to catch a dune buggy tour (Aaron opted out). I was strapped down into this twelve person buggy and then we headed off at high speed over the dunes. The ride alone and the views are worth the tour, but then there is the added excitement of sand boarding down the dunes. They give everyone a board with foot strappings to board down the dunes like snow boarding. This was so much fun! I have never snow boarded before but others on the tour thought I did really well. Though I cannot say that the bruises on my bottom agreed. Sand is not nearly as soft as snow. I was, however, a natural at riding down on my stomach. You just keep your legs up and you can shoot down the dunes so fast. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. I also got to catch a gorgeous sunset over the dunes. So much fun! The next morning we left for Nazca!

Upon arriving in Nazca we were able to book a night bus that same evening for Cuzco, store our packs at the bus terminal, grabbed some lunch and headed out for a tour of the Nazca Lines all in about two hours time. Due to our penny pinching, we decided to forgo the flight over the lines and went on a car tour instead. The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs believed to have been created by the Nazca culture during 400 to 650 CE. There are mostly geometrical lines and shapes thought to be potentially related to a farming calendar. At certain points on the lines, however, there are also many zoomorphic designs such as a monkey, lizard, spider, birds, sharks, and a human figure. First we went to the natural lookout on a hillside where we saw tons of geometrical lines and shapes. Then we went to a constructed lookout and saw the Hands and Tree. It is not actually known who created the lines or why they created them. The association with the Nazca culture is due to the discovery of mummy burial sites among the lines. Also astonishing is how well they have been preserved. The dry climate and the isolation of the lines are the major factors in their preservation. But they have barely been altered even during extreme weather flukes. After checking out the lines, we went to the home (now a museum) of Maria Reiche, the German archaeologist who spent most of her life researching the lines starting in the early 1940´s. She dedicated a lot of time and effort into the preservation of these lines, thus putting them at their tourist attraction status. I was really intrigued when our guide said that everyone in the area thought she was just some crazy, white women wandering around the desert until tourists started coming to see the lines. Now they have a whole tourist infrastructure surrounding these lines. This site was officially made an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 and Maria died in Lima in 1998. What a career.

That evening we left for Cuzco, which is where we currently are located. This entry is long enough however, so I will update you on Cuzco at another time. I will try to not wait a month this time. 🙂 Spoiler for the brilliance of Cuzco includes the gorgeous historic district, museums, churches, archaeological sites, and yes, Machu Picchu! Until then,

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