Mancora – sunburn

On our travels, Mancora has frequently been recommended. Stories of a so-laid back it’s horizontal atmosphere, year round sun and surf made this our choice to say farewell to Peru.

Getting off the bus at 6am we can tell we are making our way towards the equator as it’s fantastically warm. A short mototaxi ride and 100m climb and we arrive at a very quiet home for just the next three days – Kontiki Bungalows. We have splashed out a bit and have our own bungalow, complete with thatched roof, perched on the hill overlooking the small beach town of Mancora.

Our home in Mancora

On our travels, Mancora has frequently been recommended. Stories of a so-laid back it’s horizontal atmosphere, year round sun and surf made this our choice to say farewell to Peru. The border to Ecuador is only a few hours away so this is our chance to try all the weird and wonderful local dishes we have missed so far and top up our tans.

By midday the skies are clear blue and temperatures are hitting 30c. With only the beach on our mind, we scramble together a beach kit and spend the next four hours on the sand, watching surfers and sipping Cusquena (the best Peruvian beer). Looking out to sea, we also spot our first humpback whales breaching and jumping in the distance, they must be a mile or so offshore but it’s an incredible sight and makes us more determined to try and catch the whales in Ecuador, although it might be a bit late in the season.  That evening, we literally stumble across the carcass of an enormous, dead sea-lion on the deserted beach.  Surprises like this, although it was a rancid smelling one, keep you on your toes. Just when you become accustomed to a country or place, something is thrown at you like this that leaves you bewildered.

View from our hut

If you’ve never surfed, this would be a great place to learn.The waves don’t look that intimidating and the water is warm. We to- and fro-ed over whether to start surf lessons here and decided against it. Central America in peak season is calling, with promises of white sand and turquoise waters. If we are going to hit the waves, we want the full package. Instead we spend the days on the beach, getting sun burnt. Very sun burnt. We’ll never learn. Leah has legs like a lobster and my face looks like it’s going to blister. The locals are good businessmen, aloe vera aftersun is heart-attack expensive, but we have no option – we are losing skin.

Sunset over Mancora

Our hut/bungalow has a fantastic porch complete with hammock. Just a couple of metres from our door, the cliff edge is sheer, below us the Pan-American highway only slightly disturbs a few fantastic sunsets.  We received a visit from a scorpion which crashed us back into reality; it walked past our feet whilst sitting outside.  We spent the rest of the evenings with our feet firmly OFF the ground.

Visitor on balcony

This is a great place, a place where we could easily spend a week or two. We actually regretted leaving so quickly, three days was not enough.  Maybe it was the sun and sea, maybe the two course meals for £2, more likely the people and the atmosphere. No wonder the German owner of our hut came here on holiday eight years ago and never left. But leave we do.

We’d put Peru near the top of any travel list, but Ecuador sounds exotic and we are excited as ever to be going into another country, although a bit sad to be leaving behind Peru. Ecuador, by all accounts, will be harder travelling and there will have to be a lot more back-watching for light fingered locals.

Wall of local police station

A short bus ride to the border town of Tumbes and then onto the colonial town of Cuenca (colonial seems to be a tag attached to almost any town over here). Ecuador uses US dollars, which is bad news for us as the pound is taking a battering against it. Seems like the economy is in a right mess back home, we still feel a million miles from there…

Trujillo – first taste of the Pacific

Our time in Peru is almost up and Trujillo is our first visit to the Pacific coast. Hours spent with my face glued to a bus window watching local village life fly past have become my favourite pastime.

 

Not dog of the month

We are still ignoring all advice and getting night buses, firstly because as they are still comfortable and we’ve had no problems with security, secondly it saves us a bunch of cash on accommodation. I’m sure as we head into Ecuador and Colombia this will stop – journeys will become shorter but also we will have to be a little more careful. We have heard many stories of robberies on buses although these also tend to be thrown around by the same backpackers who seem to get flights everywhere.

Our time in Peru is almost up and Trujillo is our first visit to the Pacific coast. I’m going to miss Peru – aside from Lima and Cusco, you only have to go a few miles out of any town and it feels like a million. Hours spent with my face glued to a bus window watching local village life fly past have become my favourite pastime (Leah usually asleep next to me).

Our arrival in town didn’t start well. Half asleep, we remove ourselves from the bus around 5am and quickly find a taxi. We are actually staying in Huanchaca, a surfer town about 15 minutes’ drive away. We booked a bed in advance at a place called Lily Surf Hostel but although we let them know in advance what time we will be arriving they are not answering the door. After half an hour a cleaner turns up and lets us in but whoever is in charge does not bother it get up (although she did poke her head around the door and then dismiss us). So we walk out, and trudge around town fully backpacked-up until we find somewhere – Swiss Hostel. Great place, friendly, nice alpine wooden rooms and warm, and our first hot water for a while. We hit the sack. Later we add a review of the Surf Hostel on a hostel booking site slamming them. Revenge is sweet.

Trujillo beach

Half of South America we are travelling off season. It’s much quieter, cheaper and there are less annoying gap year kids. This does mean the weather can be a bit off, and though it’s nice and warm here, it’s a bit grey, and although it’s a ‘surfer town’ it’s not full of bleach blonde Neanderthals yet. For us, it’s really just a break in our journey into Ecuador.

That afternoon, we spend a few hours in town; the architecture is stunning around the main square. We book our onwards bus, and Leah also forces me at knife point to buy some new boxer shorts. I only have three pairs and she thinks it’s not enough – I don’t understand.

Trujillo - main square
Trujillo - main square

We also visit the local pre Inca ruins – Chan Chan, an impressive site between Huanchaca and Trujillo near the beach.  It’s definitely worth a visit, but it’s going to take something for us to be impressed after Machu Picchu.

Pre Inca Chan Chan
Pre Inca Chan Chan

Two days is all we have allowed ourselves here, seems like a nice enough town. The sandy beach is a bit muddy for my liking, but food and accommodation is dirt cheap and we had the best apple pie ever in a lovely café called Chocolate – worth visiting this place for that alone.

Leaving on the bus at 9pm we feel very far from home. The bus terminal is packed with hundreds of people (and a fair amount of chickens and dogs). We are the only tourists and attract a few bemused looks as we struggle with our backpacks onto the next overnight bus to Mancora. We are promised hot weather and blue skies – as well as a warm Pacific. Leah is already planning a beach day.

Huaraz – turquoise lakes and a taste of guinea pig

We’re keen to get out of Lima and pretty soon we’re on a bus back into the Andes again, this time on our way to Huaraz. It’s a trekkers’ paradise, and whilst we don’t plan on doing the most famous, four day hike, the Santa Cruz circuit, we’re hoping we can squeeze in a few day tours before heading further north.

It’s a scenic eight hour drive through the mountains, and we arrive around 5pm. It’s a fairly small town, and although there’s a good number of tourist-oriented restaurants around, it’s still got a bit of an edge to it. It’s certainly a far stretch from the Westernised world of Lima, that’s for sure. After a bite to eat at the only busy restaurant we can find, we head to bed, hoping to book some trips in the morning.

Around Huaraz

The next day and we decide to head off to a nearby lake and glacier – Lake Llaca. Most of the tours require you hiring a private taxi, so if you can get a group of four together it will be much better value. As it is, it’s just the two of us, so it costs us around £30 – but that’s for a two hour drive there and back plus waiting time, so it’s pretty good value!

It’s an incredibly bumpy ride through dirt tracks, winding up into the surrounding hills, but the taxi driver assures us his trusty Toyota has served him well for five years so far! Once we arrive at the national park, it’s a half hour walk or so to the lake. Like some of the lakes we saw in Patagonia, it’s a beautiful turquoise colour, with the bluish glacier sitting behind it, and it’s absolutely stunning. Even after some of the amazing landscapes we’ve seen so far, we’re still impressed and spend some time taking it all in before heading back to the taxi. Then it’s another bumpy ride home.

Lake Llaca

That evening and we decide it’s finally time that we tried some cuy – guinea pig. We were planning to taste it in Cusco, which is supposedly the best place to get it, but we were never quite in the mood. It’s not got quite as distinctive a taste as llama, and pretty much tastes like chicken (sorry, can’t be much more descriptive than that), although unsurprisingly there’s not a whole lot of meat on the bone.

Dinner - guinea pig (cuy)

Day two and it’s off to another lake, Llanganuco, this time on a more traditional minibus tour. The tour companies here cater very much for the Peruvian market so there’s no English and we’re the only gringos in the group, but never mind.

Our first stop is at a town called Yungay, which was completely wiped out by an avalanche in 1970, which occurred following a massive earthquake. Today there is a monument to the dead and from the top, stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

Yungay

After another hour or so on the bus, we arrive at the lake, another turquoise beauty. We spend an hour exploring the area, whilst some of the group take a boat out onto the lake. Then it’s back on the bus as we head off for some lunch.

Lake Llanganuco

I must point out that the tour guide was extremely chatty and spent most of the time on the bus talking. I’m sure if I spoke better Spanish I’d be able to tell you some interesting facts about Yungay and the lake, but unfortunately I don’t. Sorry.

We arrived back in town around half 6, with just enough time to grab some snacks and drinks before heading to the terminal to catch our onward bus to Mancora. Finally, a bit of beach time.

Lake Llanganuco

Lima – just passing through

American fast food chains have a total stranglehold on the Lima. KFC, Burger King, McDonald’s, Dominos, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s are on every street here.

It’s a twenty hour overnight bus to Lima -we are totally ignoring the advice of not travelling on night buses – so far nothing too grave has happened, although we have passed several hideous crashes on our travels so far.

Inca ruins in Lima

Maybe I’m getting grumpy in my old age, and it does seem wrong to post negative stories of places we visit when a place does not live up to expectations. But that’s what I’m going to do.

Lima is the greyest of places I’ve ever visited. It’s not that cold, or warm, but is blanketed by clouds of fog and pollution. Apparently it’s like this eight months of the year, the rest the clouds may shift, but the pollution remains. The traffic is appalling, everybody rides their horn constantly and it seems like the American fast food chains have a total stranglehold on the city. KFC, Burger King, McDonald’s, Dominos, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s are on every street here. Even non-chained restaurants offer little aside from pizza on their menus. It’s a little disappointing after months of colonial squares and cobbled street with local traders selling empanadas and street food.

Lima traffic

We decide on just two days here. The first day we take a walk around the very pleasant ‘Miraflores’ district where we are staying, up to the beach front, which has been taken over by a large cinema/fast food and restaurant complex. We contemplate splashing out cash at a Texas-themed rib restaurant but instead head to the supermarket and cook up a chorizo and asparagus pasta thing – slightly over seasoned with chilli which stinks out the whole hostel and chokes everyone to death.

Central Lima

We also bump into an English lass who we met in El Calafate, Argentina  AND Copacabana, Bolivia over four months ago. There are some other great people at the hostel and we spend a few hours talking travel etc.

On our second and final day in Lima we take a city tour with Mirabus from gringo central – Kennedy Park. It’s not so bad, a few nice sights, including the catacombs at the San Francisco cathedral. All the city residents were buried here years ago and the remains are morbidly on display. In the evening we give in to temptation and head down the inspirationally named ‘Pizza street’ for a meat feast special and some waitresses in ridiculously short skirts and very VERY low cut tops (entirely coincidental, honest).

Central Lima

Lima, kinda different. Not quite the experience we are after on our travels, but not offensive.  Still loving every single day, even if some are not so good as others.  Our sights are on Ecuador, with a couple of stops en route to break up the journey. The hope is that it’s going to get hotter going forward, and we are heading to the beach…. at last. But first, some more mountains…

Cuzco – post Inca Trail weight gain

The plan is to spend just three days here before heading off to Lima. The truth is we are almost done with Peru, we’ve already done most of the ‘must dos’ and the ‘have to sees’ have been seen.

Inca Trail over, we decided to stay in the centre of town, which is a good thing as we can barely walk. Climbing and descending over 4000m has left me with painful concrete-like calves and we both hobble up and down steps for the next few days. The plan is to spend just three days here before heading off to Lima. The truth is we are almost done with Peru, we’ve already done most of the ‘must dos’ and the ‘have to sees’ have been seen. Although the capital is next, all reports paint a grey and miserable picture, with the nightlife being the main draw.

Cuzco - Streets

Dodging the kids peddling cocaine and weed in Cuzco is only slightly easier than avoiding the constant pestering from ladies offering massages – it’s annoying as hell. The local Irish pub sells t-shirt with the blissfully simple words ‘No Gracias’ on the front – perhaps I should have invested in one.  Cuzco is one hell of a party town at night, scores of bars and clubs spill of the main square and run till sunrise. We don’t really manage a big night out, we’re still bit tired from the Trail, but we do manage to become locals at the ‘paddy bar’, as well as Indigo’s, an incredible Thai bar/restaurant that serves the best green curry I’ve had outside of Thailand. The spice scale is a bit weak though, you need to ask for the hottest available – I guess the ‘farang’ here are a little delicate.

Cuzco - Main Square

To congratulate ourselves on completing the Inca Trail (ignoring that fact that only those who die en route don’t complete) we decide to treat ourselves to some traditional English dinner at the local Brit café – curry it is. The Real McCoy is a great little place serving PG tips, peanut butter on toast etc. We went to their inaugural ‘spice night’ and had a very decent curry and a bottle of wine, followed up with numerous pisco sours in town. Don’t know what a pisco sour is? A local tipple founded on grape brandy and raw egg white. Good stuff. Recipe here.

Cuzco - Main Square

Cuzco, a place where you could easily lose weeks/months and septum if you’re like that. But what a waste, there are plenty of places nearby that you’d be mad not to visit (Bolivia is spitting distance). After almost two weeks in and around the city, we are ready to move onwards and upwards towards Ecuador.

Sacred Valley - outside Cusco

I can’t leave an entry on Cuzco without a mention to a new friend made and now missed, Lorenzo.  This chap was continuous company whilst staying at our hostel, he would always come and greet me at breakfast and sit for hours with me in the afternoons while reading. The staff mentioned he would complain and had to actually be removed from the public areas when I left as he would pine my leaving. I forgive the few times he crapped on me.

Lorenzo