A Travellerspoint blog

Lima

After a relaxing time in Ica, we booked our bus (directly from the bus company and avioding agents like the plague after the Arequipa experience) to Lima. We hadnt heard a huge amount about Lima, so we were really just using it as a convenient stop to break up the trip to Mancora.

Our first stop was the main town square which has a lot of the historical buildings of Peru. We saw the changing of the guard at the presidential palace which was the longest and most drawn out changing of the guard I have ever seen. By the time they finally changed the guard it was pretty much time to change it again!

We got a local tour guide to show us the buildings and the sites, which was quite good, as old buildings can tend to look the same unless you know their significance. We saw the catacombs which are where they buried people. It is really just massive pits of bones. You have a skull pit, a leg pit and so forth.

We then had, without any doubt, our worst dining experience of the trip. The tourist set menu started with a chicken soup which seemed harmless enough until we realised the only chicken in it was chicken feet and chicken offal which wafted to the surface. The main was meant to be a meat dish, but was really just congealed fat on rice. After choking down the soup, we took one look at the main, one look at each other, put money on the table and walked out without even touching it and made a straight line to Donut King.

That afternoon we went to a modern mall that is built into the side of a cliff. It was pretty cool I suppose - it had bars and restaurants. After a bit of walking around, we played some pool and drank some beers at the mall bowling alley, went to dinner where they served coctails in pint glasses and then went to the mall night club, where general consensus was that it would be a super idea to buy a bottle of vodka.

Long story short, a substantial night was had by all and none of us were overly excited about the bus the next day to Mancora.

However, with beroccas and powerades in tow, we boarded the bus and left Lima. It was a good few days, but really just a large city and we were all dead keen to get to the beach and some warm weather!

Posted by Braddock 11:06 Comments (0)

Ica and the sand dunes

Our next stop was a place called Ica which is on the Peruvian coast and is a solid overnight bus from Arequipa. Ica is a fairly non descript medium sized city in the middle of a sandy desert so most travellers head down the road about 3kms to a tiny desert oasis called Huacachina. Huacachina is only about 200m by 200m including a lake in the middle, albiet a very brown lake and lots of small hotels with pools and quite a few nice restaurants. It is surrounded on all sides by massive sand dunes and the constant drone of these massive dune buggies which look like something from Mad Max and have enormous 7l engines and sound like gang of bikers coming into town.

After getting completely stiched up by a travel agent and paying way too much for our tickets, paying for transfers that didnt exist and getting told Huacachina was almost an hour from Ica, instead of the 5 minute taxi it actually was, we checked into a really nice hostel/hotel which had a great pool and was right next to a great restaurant which had cable for our first soccer game.

There isnt a lot to do in Huacachina besides go in these massive buggies where the drivers (who are very good drivers) tear around these sand dunes like maniacs and drop you up the top of these massive dunes, give you sandboards and let you board down. To sandboard down properly you have to be a pretty good snow boarder so James and Nato were able to do it but after a few turns, I decided to join the rest of the punters and slide down on face first, lying down on the board. To be fair, it was a lot more fun as you could get up some serious speed and have a few races. The only bad side is that you feel all the bumps in some sensitive areas when you are lying down on the board, but there is not a lot that can be done about that!

Besides our day doing this, we ended up spending a few extra days there, just laying the sun by the pool and relaxing which was great.

We then booked our bus up to Mancora which is a beach resort town right up in the north of peru.

Overall, Huacachina is a pretty simple place, built solely on tourists hitting the sand dunes, but it was good fun and the sand dunes were very impressive. It was also nice to be staying in a nice place and having a chance to relax by the pool for a bit.

Posted by Braddock 11:23 Comments (0)

Areqùipa

After a good knees up in La Paz, Nato and I decided to head to Arequipa. Arequipa is Peru´s second biggest city behind Lima with around 1m people.We talked to a few people, all of which had pretty good things to say about it.

We got into town around 4am, after a pretty painful trip, which involved 5 different means of transport, being 2 buses, two taxis and a boat. However, as we often find ourselves saying, normally in the middle of the night in a bus station in the middle of nowhere, if we wanted to go to Club Med, we would have gone to Club Med.

The next morning we had a look around town and were really impressed. THe main square is really nice and the buildings are all made of a white volcanic rock, which is a pleasant change from the shitty red bricks that all of Bolivia seems to be made out of.

The main attraction in Arequipa is the Colca Canyon which is the second deepest canyon in the world. The deepest one is the next canyon over but because it is a lot less accessable, this one gets all the glory. We booked our tour to the canyon for a few days´time, as Emma and James were keen to come via Arequipa after their Pampas tour and Nato and I were keen to muck around for a few days.

Our two day tour started off with a supposed 3am pick up which was tough work, especially after a big night the night before. We drove for about 4 hours to the canyon and checked out a good lookout where you are meant to be able to see condors. This lookout was offensively touristy, with all the people who just go out for the day. We didnt really see any condors, but jumped back in the van and headed to the place where we started our trek from.

To be honest, when the guy at the travel agent sold us the trek, he said there was a bit of walking, but whether he played it down, or Nato and I got the wrong end of the stick, we walked away thinking the walking was going to be a stroll in the canyon, certainly nothing like the kind of stuff we were doing on our Salkantay walk.

The first day ended up being 15km walking, all downhill, all on steep, loose rocks and shist! We were not really ready for it at all, so by the end of the day we were massively relived to arrive at the oasis at the bottom of the canyon. The canyon itself was pretty cool. There was nothing in the way of trees, forests or animals (although we did see a few condors cruise past which was great) it is just a canyon, with mountains on either side that is massive. Really massive. Sometimes you would stop and look up and see the biggest sheer rock face you have ever seen.

Everyone slept like baby alpacas that night as we were up at 5am to ¨knock the bastard off¨before the sun came up. Although day 2 consisted of only 5km, it was 5km straight up and out of the canyon. It took us about 2 and a half hours and by the end of it we were spent. It was at least as tough as the climb we did on day 2 of Salkantay.

That afternoon, we operated a Peruvian buffet, where we all tried guinea pig, which is a popular Peruvian dish. We then had a look around town and purchased some truly awful vodka orange mix for our bus ride home.

Overall, im glad we did the 2 day trek, not the 3 day trek. The canyon was amazing for one reason only - because it was so big. Standing at the top and looking way down to the valley at the bottom was great, but easily done in 2 days.

Since we have been back in town, we went and hired some more motorbikes and had a burn around. It wasnt as good as what James and I did in La Paz, especially at the start when we had to push start the 600, the saftely equipment the agent talked about was actually just knee pads that an 8 year old would use for rollerblading and my helmet was held together by masking tape. I would have been impressed if I could have guessed within 3 crashes how many crashes that helmet had been in!

Once we got going though, it was ok. James and Emma were on a 600, Nato a 250 and I was on a 400 (despite our favourite big mouthed agent assuring us that we were all on 600s). The bald tyres made the sand riding interesting, but going around the outskirts of towns on bikes is a great way to see places that the average gringo in the hostel wouldnt be able to get to. It was a good reminder that although central town is really nice, with plenty of good restaurants etc, peru is still a third world country and you do not have to go too far out the city centre to see that.

Tonight we are getting on the bus to Ica to do some sandboarding and do around the sand dunes in buggies. I think we will be doing a fairly brief stop there and continue with our push up to the beach. It would be great to be in Mancora for my birthday and also for the All White´s first game but we will see how we go. We will most likely pass through, or at worst, briefly stop over in Lima as we havent heard many good things.

Posted by Braddock 14:22 Comments (0)

Sorata and the Amazon

after getting my 3 hour minivan up to Sorata for the princely sum of 15B ($3nzd) we checked into our hostel and got our briefing for our week long mountain biking and amazon trip.

There were 14 people in our group, including Nato, Emma, James and I. We loaded the bikes on the roof of 3 land cruisers and took off for about a 2 hour drive up hill.

We started the riding pretty high up and unfortunately it was freezing and cloudy! The first part of the trip was some pretty difficult mountain biking for a punter like me, whose previous mountain biking experience was biking to school in intermediate school. There were some really competent bikers in the group but i just took it easy as we were going down fairly steep, shisty track with some quite large rocks.

Emma was first to break the instructor´s ¨no crash¨ rule when she was being too extreme for her own good and stacked it over the handle bars after hitting a large rock. She got a pretty solid graze through 5 layers of clothing, but, credit where its due, everyones´favourite pint sized grafter dusted herself off and kept on riding.

As we got down lower, we kept going though cloud, which was a shame, because we could see enough to know there were some great views out there, but as we have leant on this trip, there is not a lot we can do about the weather.

It was then my turn to break the no crash rule, when we were riding through some pretty thick and gluggy clay. Because it had rained the few days before the track was pretty wet and this section was like a bog. I tried to get out a tyre rut, but just slid back down and went flying over the handle bars. Thankfully, it was so muddy, I had a soft landing and was able to keep going.

If was around this time that we saw the Bolivian efficiency at its finest. One of the jeeps that was following us with all our packs on blew its rear shocks so limped into a repair shop. When we finished for the day, wet, muddy and buggered, the hostel we were meant to be staying in in the small Bolivian town was locked and no one home. Unfortunately, this town only has one phone, and the guy who answers the phone for the town only has one leg, and because our hostel was on the top of the hill, we were told that sometimes he cant be bothered to hop up the hill and tell the hostel we are coming!

We were put in another hostel, but couldnt have a shower since our packs were still on the jeep getting fixed. However, our bags arrived in the morning and we were back on track and ready for another days biking. Thankfully day 2 was slightly less eventful - besides a few broken chains, we all arrived at our accomodation safely.

Again, we were treated to a another fine display of Bolivian efficiency that night. We asked why there was only a dribble of water coming out the shower, only to be informed that the guy who is in charge of the town water supply had been off on the piss for a 2 day bender and no one in the town had much water at the moment. We took it in our stride and stood under the dribble to wash off two days of mud and dirt.

The next two days we were on the river. We were in a long, skinny wooden boat which was good fun, but a lot of time to have your knees around your ears. We did a few tramps, swam in a waterfall and saw a bit of wildlife.

Two low lights were:

1. My new camera decided to shit itself and now the screen is just white. It still takes photos but the screen is broken. I didnt even do anything to it so I will have to send it back. Niggle. My bad luck with cameras continues.

2. The last night we were camping on the river we stopped at a beach which was infested with sandflies. If you opened your mouth before dark, when they went away, you were eating them. We all got fairly smashed by them and I got a good lower leg full of bites. Hopefully they dont get too sore and infected like the last lot! I am on doxy for malaria so I am hoping that it will be good.

We got into the jungle town of Rurrenbaccqui last night and had a good farewell dinner and beers with our group, who were all pretty cool. James and Emma booked a pampas tour to go into the jungle and see monkeys, dolphins, fish for pirranhas etc but Nato and I decided we had enough of sea level, nature, sandflies and humidity so just booked a flight back to La Paz which is where I am writing this from.

Plan from here is to have a good night tonight with Bridget, Kate, Spoons and Huss and then look to get up to the sand dunes on the coast of Peru and then to the beach in Mancora which is right at the top of peru. We are just figuring out the best way to go there, given some parts are a bit dangerous supposedly and it is a long way. We will meet back up with James and Emma most likely in Mancora.

Posted by Braddock 11:20 Comments (0)

Cuzco

Thankfully we made it to Cuzco on time after an admin mistake had us thinking the bus was leaving at 8am instead of 8:30am. On the upside, we provided great entertainment to the other passengers as we had to run after our bus through the terminal to get it to stop so we could get on.

Cuzco used to be the capital city of the Inca empire, but, like a lot of other Inca places, got ¨spanished¨with arrival of the spanish in the 1500s. Now, it really just serves as a base for the huge amount of adventure tourism, hikes and of course machu picchu tours. Having said that, it is a nice base, and was a pleasant change from the pretty rough poverty of La Paz.

After settling in, we had our meeting with our tour guide Raul and got the details of our walk. We had signed up to do the Salkantay walk, which is around 60km over 5 days.

We took off on our tour at the very crisp time of 5am and had a 3 hour drive to the start of our trek. The first day was mostly uphill and at jungle level, which meant it was hot. That night however, we made it up to a plateau that was right at the base of 2 huge mountains, Salkantay mountain, which is the second biggest mountain in the Andes and another one which I cant remember.

The second day was walking through the valley between the mountains with amazing cliffs on one side and fairly large glaciers on the other.

The rest of the three days were coming all the way down valleys through jungle. we followed the rivers for the most part and ended up walking to the town of Acquas Calientes (definitely wrong spelling) where we stayed the night in anticipation of going up Machu pichhu the next day.

Without going into details (this entry is long enough already), we all really enjoyed the trek part. It was challenging, espeically with the heat and the altitude but everyone grafted through. Rolled ankles were strapped, blisters were drained and taped and everyone did really well. Our guides were really good too. The main guide who did the talking would spend time over dinner or when we were taking breaks to explain the history of the Incas, as well as the recent policital history of Peru, which was equally interesting - apparently if you want things changed, a military coup is the only way!! He also spent a lot of time explaining the background of Machu Pichhu itself and how the Incas were affected by the arrival of the Spanish. All this made our visit to MP a lot more informative and interesting.

The final part of our trek was to get up early one final time and get the bus up to MP. For me, this was probably the highlight so far. Although it was ridiculously touristy, it was worth it. You just look at this city, built into the side of a cliff (literally) and wonder what they were thinking. We also climbed Waynapichu which is a mountain with fantastic views of MP and the whole mountain range of the Andes. We all just sat there for a while and took it in. It was a great day. How these guys managed to build this city, I dont know. They have walls with perfectly smooth and shaped rocks that are over a metre square. They have running water coming from a water source over a km away. All in all, it was very impressive and i am glad the spanish never found it!!

We were then on a train, followed by shuttle followed by bus back to Cuzco. Needless to say, after 5 dry days, rum was consumed and a great trip was had back by all. We continued festivities on our arrival in Cuzco.

The next day unfortunately, was Lucy and Bridgette´s last day as they were flying out at 6am the following morning. Like the true campaigners they are, they realised they can sleep anywhere and didnt want to waste their last time on tour in bed, so another big night was had by all and we made it back to the hostel in time for the girls to pick up their bags and head to the airport.

After that, Misha, Spoons and Huss left to go down to Ariquipa. James, Emma and Nato headed to Lake Titikaka and I decided to spend a few more days in Cuzco because 1. i heard Lake Titikaka is not that good and 2. because i picked up a bug and ended up having 2 days in bed.

The good news is i am back in La Paz now and tomorrow will get on a 3 hour bus to Sorata where I meet James, Emma and Nato. From there we are doing a week long trip which involves 3 days downhill mountain biking and 3 days on the Amazon. It should be good and I am looking forward to some warm weather!

The blog wishes a sad goodbye to Lucy and Bridgette, who were half of the original blog team members. Their antics will be missed (well, some of them at least) and the tour will be a lot quieter place without their vocal presence. Good luck in the UK girls, keep in touch and let me know beforehand if you are looking to go to France.

Posted by Braddock 12:15 Comments (0)

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