16 hours overnight from Cusco and we arrived in Huacachina, and quite a pleasant bus ride it was. Yes, it was full of Israeli backpackers (make your own judgment if that would be a good or bad experience) but they did come armed with a selection of decent dvds they insisted the bus conductor play, rather than the usual Jean Claude van Damme trilogy or ”Ballads en Ingles” we are usually treated to.
No more than a tiny town encircling a desert oasis, but towered over by giant sand dunes which gives this place it´s reason for visiting.
The only way to experience the dunes in full is to sign up to a dune buggy and sandboarding tour. The experience was Screamtastic! Our driver, Jesus, was crazy and took us on a real life rollercoaster ride across the desert. You could see the tracks left by other buggies in the sand and the only thought you could have was we are not driving up and over there, that is impossible, but yes Jesus sent us on a thrill ride that had the eight passengers screaming for more, nearly tipping over sideways and making air on several occasions, this had all the guys dreaming about buying their own buggies.
Then it was the sandboarding turn. I was going to chicken out of this when I saw the size of the dunes, but after I saw a 6 year old girl go down and survive, I thought I can’t let her get the better of me, so gave it a go. I didn’t try the snowboarding technique but opted for the faster, flat on the belly technique that filled every fillable nook and cranny with sand and left a few purple souvenirs to show off the next day.
This is usually the type of place we avoid, only existing to cater for tourists and full of touts trying to sell you a tour, but once we barged through all that we had no regrets here, it was an adrenaline rush we can highly recommend.
Grey, grey, grey and a bit more grey. That’s the only shade Lima has during winter time, when the clouds roll over from the ocean and settle in a thick coat of fog permanently across the city.
Lima is a huge sprawling, commercial city, bustling with traffic and taxis that like to add a gringo tax on to every ride. But the question is ‘How long do you have to wait for a bus in Lima?’, the answer is about 5 seconds. There are thousands of minibuses roaming the streets that will take you where you want to go, or if they’re not going exactly in your direction they will drop you as near as they can. A seemingly chaotic system that works smoothly, once you get the hang of it. The city didn’t have much to offer us apart from some ghoulish catacombs located under one of the biggest cathedrals in Lima, which originally held 25,000 corpses which all decomposed on top of one another in giant wells, nice! We are in danger of becoming obsessed with anything skeletal or mummified.
Lima did turn out to be the perfect place for Ryan to celebrate his birthday though, when he became reacquainted with an old friend of his.
10 hours overnight from Lima and we crawl back up into the high altitude of the central Andes. Huaraz is a great place to explore the Cordillera Blanca from, the most impressive section of the Andes, often likened to Switzerland, and according to specialists, containing THE most beautiful mountain in the world, Alpamayo, alongside plenty of stunning lakes.
One thing you can not avoid in Peru is a Plaza de Armas because every village, town and city contains one. They were used as a place to gather arms in the event of an attack so are often surrounded by grand cathedrals alongside military and government buildings. The most interesting or thought-provoking Plaza de Armas we encountered was in Yungay, just outside Huaraz. In 1970 a huge earthquake hit the coast of Peru sending shockwaves up into the Andes. Yungay sits directly below Huascaran, the tallest mountain in Peru, and a huge avalanche of ice from the glacier slid down the mountain creating a landslide of granite at the same time, which completely buried the town under 8-12m of rubble, along with 18,000 residents. Today, a new town has been built down the road but the Plaza de Armas remains a reminder of the tragedy. The top part of the cathedral is all that remains, poking out of the soil, along with some huge boulders that show the size of the rubble that devastated the area.
The residents built a replica of the cathedral frontage in honour of the dead and will not build on top of the old town site. Huascaran, dominating the background, still bears the scar from that day.
In the nearby town of Chavin we put on our Indiana Jones hats to explore the ancient ruins of Chavin de Huantar built from 1200 BC. It seems to have belonged to a bunch of crazy cats as the keystone heads were carved to represent the transformation of man into an animal, which took place to them under the influence of hallucinogens.
But it was the ladies of the town that turned our heads with their traditionally decorated hats and outfits.
Another cold overnight bus and we arrived very weary in Trujillo and proceeded to look for accommodation. Unfortunately, every decent room in town seemed to be taken as there was a national holiday approaching. Fed up and needing to catch up on some sleep, we opted for one of the worst rooms we have seen in a long time, but after finding used condoms in our room and establishing that we were possibly staying in a brothel, we checked out after only 20 minutes, jumped in a taxi and got the hell out of town.
Luckily for us there is a lovely little seaside town just a $5 taxi ride away with plenty of accommodation on offer, we should have just headed here in the first place! The Peru coast doesn’t have much to offer in the winter, apart from surfing, as it’s too cold to swim and there’s generally no sun, but it’s still a nice place to relax, eat some seafood (if your into that kind of thing) and watch the local fishermen heading out to sea in their traditional reed canoes.
Just down the road is another archeological site for budding Indie’s, the complex of Chan Chan. Built by the Chimu empire around the 14th century, it’s the largest adobe city in the world, filled with labyrinth style passages and courtyards decorated with friezes depicting sea otters, fish, pelicans and other characters that would have been part of the daily life here. Although interesting, after here we finally agreed that we were “ruin’d out” for a while.
This town was just a short stop-over for us, arriving late at night and leaving early in the morning to make our way to Ecuador. However, it saw us sink to new lows in the accommodation stakes. The town was packed due to the national holiday and most hotels were booked up, but instead of traipsing around looking for a good room, we opted to share a single room at a ridiculously low cost. It actually wasn´t as bad as we thought and could be a good way to cut costs for the rest of the trip!
Can I have a bottom sheet that stays on the bed so I don’t have to keep making the bed all night long?
Can I have a toilet seat to go with the toilet please?
Can I get a taxi that doesn’t cost double the recommended price please?
Can I have a treat from the swinging snack machine please?
Ok, we liked Peru, just not as much as we liked Bolivia, but we always had an underlying feeling of mistrust when dealing with anyone who was in the tourist business, especially taxi drivers and tour operators. Peru has many interesting and spectacular attractions on offer, but the success of Machu Picchu seems to have spoiled the rest of the country who try to take advantage of the influx of tourists. Peru was in danger of becoming a Vietnam of South America for us, but of course we still met some friendly people, had some great food and still can’t believe how amazing Machu Picchu was!
Favourite Place - Huanchaco (Jo) Nazca (Ryan)
Favourite Attraction - Sandboarding (Jo) Nazca Lines (Ryan) of course Machu Picchu (Both)
Food - Lomo Saltado (Jo) Arroz Chaufa (Ryan)
Beer - Cristal (Ryan)
Drink - Chicha Morada (Jo)
Gringo Tax (Both)
For those of you thinking of possibly travelling to the region: Costs in USD
Accommodation - $7-20 for private room
Restaurant meal - $2.5-5
Set menu - $1.25-2
1L Bottled Beer - $1.25
350ml Soft Drink - $0.5
2.5L Bottle of water - $1
Bus - $1.5 / hour
Jo y Ryan