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Some terms and abbreviations:
|S||:||Peruvian Sole (1 CHF is about 3 Soles)|
|LP||:||Lonely Planet Guide to Peru, ISBN 978-1-74179-921-7|
|Huaca||:||Sacred pyramid, temple, or burial site.|
|Colectivo||:||Usually a shared taxi, but can also be a dormobile.|
|Combi||:||A dormobile or minibus. In cities, they usually have a conductor calling out for passengers.|
|Mototaxi||:||A 3-wheeled motorcycle taxi.|
|B&B||:||Bed and Breakfast|
|The difference between a colectivo and combi was not clear to us. The terms are used somewhat interchangeably in this diary.|
|Kari's diary is on the left.||David's is on the right.|
Day 1, Wednesday 13 Nov, Riniken to Lima
Colin picked us up on the dot of 6 am. It's the first time I've known him to be punctual! After catching the 6:20 'Flugzug' and checking in our luggage, there was plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast before boarding the half-empty plane to Amsterdam. The plane from Amsterdam to Lima was full and lasted 12 hours. It's the same as cycling, the first half seems to take an age and the second half flies by.
Back to the real world in Lima, our taxi to the hotel wasn't there, our mobile phone wouldn't connect (cheap SIM card), so after a while we took a taxi. The driver phoned our hotel to get directions. It turns out that the hotel offers a ride to the airport, but not vice versa. By this time it was about 9:30 pm - so we called it a day and went to bed (3:30 am body time for us).
We were up at 5:30 for a minimal breakfast of a cup of tea and chocolate bar before completing the shutting up of the house and waiting for Colin to come to give us a lift to the station (no good buses at that time of day). I had been worrying for days, if not weeks, about how best to get to the airport. As it turned out, it went like clockwork. The 6:20 train was on time, the airport was quiet, and the small KLM flight to Amsterdam very comfortable.
It was a long trek in Amsterdam from the arrival terminal to the gate for the ongoing flight to Lima, but we got there eventually. We didn't have long to wait before boarding, along with the 300 or so other people filling the plane. The flight was cramped compared to our Singapore Airline's flight to New Zealand two years ago, and just as interminable. On the flight we chatted to some Spanish speaking fellow passengers, both Spanish and Peruvian, about our plans. They were rather worrying telling of the dangers, both criminal and health. We'll have to wait and see.
We arrived on time and the immigration/customs formalities were painless. Alas there was no transport to the hotel awaiting us. As expected, although we had taken the precaution of bringing Colin's old triple-band handy with us for the Peruvian frequency band, my NatelEasy SIM card did not work, so we couldn't call the hotel to see if it was on the way or not. Eventually we simply took a taxi and had a rather hair-raising 30 minute drive to the hotel. At least it got us there and the cost of S70 (CHF 23) was fair. By this time it was turned 21:00, time for a shower and bed.
Day 2, Thursday 14 Nov, Lima
We woke early and had far too long to wait for breakfast, so we went for a walk - to get our bearings. The walk took longer than planned as we got lost, fortunately not too lost, but I was definitely flagging at the end. After a large breakfast and another snooze we set off on the walk suggested by the hotel. It was long and interesting.
We went into one museum, an old Franciscan monastery and had a guided tour. We ended up in Chinatown, where we had a late lunch, which wasn't anything special. The fog cleared soon after midday and we were able to see a bit of the surrounding countryside - steep, dry, unfriendly mountains, with colourful but dilapidated houses going halfway up the mountainside.
All in all it was a successful day. We even bought a new mobile phone as David thought that he had broken Colin's.
As expected, we were awake early as a result of the 6 hour time change. I eventually got up and had a walk around the block. It was reasonably warm but very grey. The main thing that I noticed was the volume of the birds' song and the brilliance of some of their plumage.
When Kari got up, we went out for a longer walk to see what was what and to kill an hour until breakfast at 08:00. There were lots of packed buses, presumably full of people on their way to work, but most things were closed and shuttered up. The Parque de la Exposition was also closed and didn't open until 10:00!
After exploring the central underground bus station, we came out of a different exit to the way we went in, and got lost as a result. We didn't have the compass with us, and with the blanket grey sky, we couldn't be sure which way we were walking. We sorted it out eventually but it was 08:30 before we could have our breakfast. We needed another lie down afterwards.
The goals for the day were: a) to get a working handy; b) to get a Peru-style plug to improve my mains adaptor; c) to get information about buses to Barranca in preparation for leaving Lima on Saturday; and d) to do some sightseeing in Lima's old town. We started with d) on the assumption that b) and c) would get handled along the way. We weren't sure about a).
I had found a proposed walking tour of Lima's old town on our hotel's Web page and had printed it out. This was our starting point, and it turned out well. We set off around the block into the Parque de la Exposition, which was by this time open. We inspected the National Art and Italian Art Museums from the outside. The jet-lag induced lethargy and, possibly, the museum overdose from Madrid last June were sufficiently strong to deter us from venturing inside. The tour continued past the Palace of Justice and on to the very pleasant Plaza San Martin, taking in a delicious café cappuccino on the way. Around the Plaza, the old Hotel Bolivar and the National Club buildings were duly noted. From there we strolled to the main city square, the Plaza de Armas. The street was pedestrianised.
Along the way we found a Claro shop, where we were able to buy a new handy for only S79, including SIM card. We had tried to buy simply a SIM card for Colin's handy earlier in the tour to find that I had probably damaged it beyond repair using a sharp point to turn it off and on. So we had to buy the lot.
In the Plaza de Armas are the Presidential Palace and the Cathedral. Again we resisted the temptation to look around the Cathedral, this time deterred by its entrance fee. As it turned out, the Tourist Office is just off the Plaza de Armas. We took the opportunity to call in to ask about buses. We got a map with some biro marks on it showing where the various bus companies have their offices. They appeared to be on the way back to the hotel.
The Convent of Santo Domingo was just around the corner. This building was free to enter. The arches of its roof are very fine. This was followed by the last sight of the day, the Inglesia de San Fransisco and it's catacombs full of skeletons. We payed to go in to see these. It turned out to be a guided tour. It occurs to me that we also visited a small park with some remains of the original city walls of Lima, and the Parliament Building in the Plaza Bolivar. We also discovered that the end of the tour coincided with a similar tour in LP. The LP tour had the slight advantage of continuing on to finish in the Chinatown of Lima, where we found a restaurant for lunch, it now being mid-afternoon. The food was unfortunately disappointing. The tour, though, was very good with many splendid buildings to see, and plenty of streets to experience. The city had woken up during the tour so that everywhere had become quite crowded. The streets, which had been all shuttered up and unattractive on our pre-breakfast stroll, were now lively and inviting.
On the way back to the hotel, we checked out the bus company depots. It's not totally clear how to get to Barranca on Saturday, but it looks as though we should be able to solve the problem. On getting back to the hotel, we had a beer in the bar to unwind, had a snack in the garden, washed our sweaty clothes, and did some diary writing. All in all, a successful day. Only the finding of a plug was missing. Maybe tomorrow …
As a postscript to the day, here are one or two observations. First, the weather. As mentioned above the day started off with grey blanket cloud. This did eventually disperse by about 13:00 so that the afternoon was bright and sunny and we got a view of the hills around the city, and very ugly hills they are too, more like slag heaps with shanty looking houses spreading up them. Secondly, Peruvians seem to start the day very late and the streets are packed well into the night. Thirdly, the police and other forms of security staff have a very high profile. We are constantly being warned to be careful of both our belongings and ourselves. We are keeping our thumbs crossed that these warnings stem from a national paranoia because, so far at least, everyone seems very friendly and hassle from touts, beggars, etc. is quite minor.
Day 3, Friday 15 Nov, Miraflores
After not having had much success in finding a bus to Barranca, David asked the hotel receptionist. She gave us more ideas as to where we should look. So we decided to suss these out before going to Miraflores, a suburb of Lima. We were successful and found that Movil Tours go to Barranca at 12:30. So tomorrow we will find out if it is so.
Our trip to Miraflores by bus went well - it would have been a very long walk! There were plenty of surfers in the ocean - all in wet-suits. We managed to catch the bus back as well. The snag for the day was that the mobile phone that we bought yesterday doesn't work properly. So David has gone back to the shop to sort it out - all the problem was was that one needs to add the prefix 1912 to the telephone number to be able to call Switzerland. But for some reason the SMS's don't seem to have got through.
After David had had a rest, we braved the evening for something to eat. We found nothing that we really wanted - chicken in various forms seems to be the staple diet - and ended up in a place where one could buy hot-dogs (not European style) which David said wasn't very nice. I had a cheese sandwich, which was not too bad.
We had a little stroll around - a man serving kebabs told us to be careful after 10 pm. It was good to know that the violence doesn't start immediately after dark!
It was a much better night's sleep last night. We again got up to a grey morning, but not too early. The so called 'American breakfast' in the hotel is a bowl of very good fresh fruit followed by an egg in some form. We have chosen omelette twice now, and it wasn't bad. There is toasted sliced bread with jam and butter as an accompaniment. All in all it's not very exciting but quite adequate.
Our plan for the day was to try to get to the district of Miraflores by bus, stroll to the Pacific Ocean, have lunch there, and probably return to the hotel by taxi. I started off however by trying to get the hotel receptionist to help us locate a bus to Barranca for tomorrow. She tried very hard without success, so we decided to first go and do some bus hunting before heading for the coast.
It turned out to be quite easy. We wandered in the direction of the bus stations, which we had found the day before. We found quite a big one advertising buses to Trujillo, which is far north of Barranca, so went in to ask. The girl there directed us to Movil Tours, just two blocks away, and they have several buses per day to Barranca. The bus problem, we believed, was therefore solved and we could proceed to Miraflores.
Lima is teeming with minibuses, each one with a conductor hanging out of the door calling out his destinations. Each has a 4 digit code indicating its route. Which did we want? Our maps show that it's a straight road from our hotel's neighbourhood, St Beatriz, to Miraflores, so we simply stood at a bus-stop (paradero) on the appropriate side of the street and said 'Miraflores' to the conductor. It worked well, and we had a long, rough ride to Miraflores for a mere S2 each.
Miraflores is definitely a relatively up-market area. There are plenty of smart looking cafés around a park at the centre, where we had our morning coffee. I had a so-called Inca Kola, a rather chemical yellowy-green coloured drink, for the experience. It was all right. From there we strolled to the top of the cliffs overlooking the ocean. It was still very hazy, but the sun was starting to come through. It would have been quite hot but for the nice breeze. The sea was dotted with surfers, quite a long way below us. We sauntered down steps to the shore, which was very steep, grey pebbles and big breakers. Down on the beach we were out of the wind, so it got very hot. As we discovered in the evening, the sun must also have been quite strong since we ended up with minor sunburn.
After a while we made the climb back up to the town to look for somewhere to eat. By this time we were looking for shade as well. We found a nice restaurant on the main street where we had quite a nice fish dish, if rather heavy on carbohydrates.
Since the bus ride there had gone so well, and we had noted the route number of the bus, we decided to try to get back to the hotel by bus, rather than taking a taxi. It turned out to be quite a walk to a bus stop because of traffic restrictions in the town centre. What was harder, though, was to pick out the right bus, service OM21, as a swarm of them come along the road towards one, and then you see the one that you want going by in the outside lane. Of course, we managed it in the end and gritted our teeth as the bus drove on accelerator and brakes towards the centre.
Apparently the conductor didn't understand our wanted destination. The ticket only cost S1, and we were expected to get out in the middle of nowhere. We were too embarrassed to simply get back on again and buy another ticket, so we waited for the next bus. As it happened, there was a bus inspector at the stop who was able to put us on another bus service. It got us back to the hotel perfectly.
For late afternoon exercise, I went off for a brisk 30 minute walk to the handy shop. I had tried calling CH from our new handy and couldn't get through. The shop assistant was able to show me the trick - a 1912 prefix is needed for international calls. I contemplated taking a taxi back to the hotel, but the traffic was so jammed up everywhere that I decided that it would be faster on foot. I was ready for a snooze when I got back.
After our big lunch we had decided to just have a snack for evening meal, a McDonalds or equivalent. The hotel is not well located for appealing restaurants. It's chicken, chicken, chicken everywhere. Eventually Kari had a cheese sandwich and I something which called itself a hot dog with a nice cup of clove/cinnamon tea. That ended the day since the hotel's WiFi was broken, yet again.
PS. These reports are getting quite long because of us having quite a bit of time to kill. Most of this day's report was written whilst waiting for the bus to Barranca and whilst sitting on the bus in traffic jams getting out of Lima and through the endless surrounding slums, which took 2 hours. Now we are buzzing up the PanAmericana highway along the coast through desert … and the bus's engine doesn't seem to be that healthy. It's still 140 km or so to Barranca.
Day 4, Saturday 16 Nov, Lima to Barranca
We had a leisurely start to the day as the bus didn't leave until 12:30. David played around on the iPad, but the Internet connection was down - yet again. There was a group of 5 Germans at breakfast. They had just finished a 3.5 week tour of Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. One of them said that it was exhausting, always on the go.
Anyway, we caught our bus, which was very comfortable, and the driver drove very smoothly. Getting out of the suburbs of Lima went on for ages and the traffic was dense. There were lots of shanty towns on the hillsides, lots of dust blown about by the strong winds, and stalls by the roadside. How does one survive in such bleak and dry surroundings? There is a good road (The PanAmericana) crossing the desert, which has some fantastic wind formations in the sandstone. There are pockets of green where there are oases.
We arrived at Barranca, a small town in the middle of the desert - what was the reason for its development? We tried to find a nice place to eat - ended up in the hotel's restaurant, which was another disappointment. Are we getting fussy in our old age, or is Peruvian food not so good?
This wasn't a very hard or eventful day, so it ought to be a short entry. We spent most of it either waiting for a bus or sitting on it. The de-jet-lagging process seems to be progressing smoothly. We're getting up nearer and nearer to breakfast time and generally sleeping better, though Kari claims to have had a bad night, probably due to nerves on leaving Lima and venturing out into the unknown.
The bus to Barranca didn't leave until 12:30, so we spent a long time sitting around in the hotel before finally packing and making the short walk to the bus station. When we got there, we still had 2 hours to wait. The time eventually passed, during which we worked out that we had to check-in the rucksacks. We had front row seats, but they were marred somewhat by the advertising on the front and side windows obscuring the view.
The traffic chaos getting out of Lima has to be seen to be believed. We crawled from junction to junction and then along the dual carriageway out of town. This went through endless slums with masses of people everywhere - quite depressing. It took getting on for 2 hours and 30 or 40 km to get through. Once in open country the bus started to make reasonable progress. It was pure desert following the Pacific coast more or less. There were mysterious road checks and tolls which we didn't understand. We got to Barranca just before 17:00 after 4.5 hours and 185 km, all for S20 each. The bus was very comfortable too, even if the engine sounded in need of a service.
Barranca is a rough looking small town. We took a mototaxi (a 3-wheeled 2-stroke scooter) to the Hotel Chavin, the best looking, and probably most expensive hotel in town. There was a room available for us, if not particularly cheap (S270 for 2 nights), considering the look of the town. However, the lady on the desk turned out to be very helpful to much better effect than the receptionist in the hotel in Lima.
Our first priority was to organise how we are to travel further. Eventually we asked the receptionist, who directed us to a couple of travel agents around the corner. The first one was able to book us onto a Cruz del Norte bus to Trujillo at 12:30 on Monday. The second priority was to organise a trip to the ruins of Caral for Sunday. It's about 35 km from here. Again the receptionist could help. She has booked us a taxi for S100 for 09:30, which should take us there and wait for us and then bring us back again.
At that point our organisation was done. It remained to eat. I had spotted a reasonable looking café, that looked as though it would do us a McDonalds style meal, on our outing to the travel agent, so we headed there. It was just off the Plaza de Armas, the main square. When we poked our nose in, though, the smell put us off. We haven't definitely identified the smell yet, but we think it's the smell of frying in old oil. We went back to the hotel's restaurant, where I tried 'Pikante de Cuy', or Spicy Guineapig. It wasn't too bad, but there wasn't much meat to get at of course. It was deep fried and the skin was very tasty. It came with a mound of potatoes and rice - no shortage of carbohydrate here! Kari was less lucky with her 'Rice and Duck'. There was a mound of dry fried rice and some rather dry duck. She had to leave most of it, most unusual. On the whole, we haven't had much luck with restaurants yet, and can't understand LP's enthusiasm for Peruvian food.
Day 5, Sunday 17 Nov, Caral
Today we visited Caral, one of the oldest settlements in S America. Excavation of Caral first started in 1970. The hotel organised a taxi for us. It's about 30 km out of Barranca and took 1.5 hours of driving. The last 23 km were on a dust road and our driver thought a lot of his car so we were being overtaken by enormous lorries all the time.
Caral is up a very fertile valley with lots of sugar cane, sweet corn and chillies. There were lots of irrigation channels and almost no water in the river. The sun didn't come out today - we could have been in Switzerland.
Caral is in semi-desert land, but how the archeologists knew which stones were which and how they looked all those years ago is a mystery. The 9 small pyramids looked like a heap of stones before excavation started.
After we got back, we walked down to the beach. Not many were surfing - high tide. We went back to have supper there, but nearly all the restaurants were closed, all bar one. We had fried fish - it was the best meal so far!
Since there was no breakfast included in the price of the room, we had to go out to get it. It wasn't far, just next door and still part of the same hotel. Again, the American breakfast wasn't very American, but the omelette was better this time. The coffee was rather odd. It was a cup of hot water with some thick brown syrupy liquid to put in it. It reminded me of wartime Camp coffee.
We had a potentially long and hot day in front of us in a remote location, so we went out to buy some bread and bananas to supplement the flapjacks and chocolate brought from Switzerland. As we were slowly getting ourselves together the phone rang at about 09:00 to say that our taxi was already there. It was a rather beaten-up affair.
We set off for Caral at a rate of knots with the car's windows open. The blue sky, which had greeted us on getting up, had changed to the usual grey in the meantime, and it was rather on the cool side. We followed the old PanAmericana road south to Supe, where we crossed the new PanAmericana highway to get onto the side road leading up the Supe valley to Caral. There was still 25 km to go, and the road had turned really rough and dusty. Our taxi driver crawled along through countryside quite green due to irrigation from the river. It finally twigged that a lot of the greenery was sugar cane. There was also quite a lot of maize. The sugar cane is trucked out on huge trucks. We also saw a field of chile peppers.
We eventually managed to do the 35 km to Caral in about 1.5 hours. The road is really bad, especially the fording of the river just before the ruins are reached. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to wander around the ruins alone. One has to wait until a group has formed and go around with a guide. The cost of S20 per group is divided amongst the participants. We were a group of 7, so it was S3 each. The entrance fee for retired people is only S1, which is hard to complain about.
Our guide was very knowledgeable, probably an archeological student, but unfortunately only spoke Spanish. It got quite hot as we went around the site for about 1.5 hours. Everywhere was dry and dusty. It's amazing that the site could ever have been found, and not simply been buried under the desert sand in the course of time. The ruins stem from a civilisation about 4500 to 5000 years ago. Actually, it's difficult to tell if the mounds are really man-made rather than simply piles of stones. Now, of course, the pyramids have been restored with little bits of wall built up here and there. But what were they like before the archeologists got to work? I guess one shouldn't be too cynical though. The site is really very impressive. It was also amazing how many birds were picking around the sand of the ruins. It is so dry and dusty everywhere that it is hard to imagine that there is food to be found there.
On returning to the taxi, we offered our driver a drink from the information centre. We had a chicha morada, a purple soft drink made from the black sweet corn that grows here. It was slightly sweet and quite refreshing. Hopefully it was also sterile. For the return as far as Supe, a Korean student had a lift with is. He had reached the site in a colectivo, a shared taxi, which therefore wouldn't wait for him. The return was just as slow and bumpy of course. As we reached the end of the rough road, there was also a sudden drop in temperature. It almost became chilly, as well as grey.
Back at the hotel, I decided that it was my turn to wash some clothes. Kari had washed a few things the day before, and we had had the brilliant idea of hanging them from the ceiling fan to dry. It worked beautifully, so it seemed to be a good opportunity to get a few more clean things.
It was still quite early in the day, so we went for a stroll down to the coast visible from our bedroom window. It wasn't far, but we had rather too few clothes with us to enjoy it properly. The large, cold beer that we had watching the big breakers didn't help either. We took a mototaxi back to the town centre to avoid the quite big climb back up again. After a rest, though, we went back down to the beach for evening meal. It looked as though we might get some fish and there seemed to be a reasonable choice of restaurants. As it turned out, most of them had closed by the time we arrived, but there was at least one open. It's fried sole with sea-food in a mildly spicy sauce was first rate. It was the first meal where we both ate with gusto and cleared our plates. With a big beer between us, it only cost S60. We walked back to the hotel this time.
Day 6, Monday 18 Nov, Barranca to Huanchaco via Trujillo
After breakfast we walked round town to buy food for the bus ride to Trujillo. The bus arrived 30 minutes late. The bus was comfortable, but the journey was hottish - the air conditioning could have been better. Fortunately we were on the shady side of the bus. At Chimbote we had to change buses, which also meant changing our tickets - a big hassle. But we were pushed in the right direction at the ticket office and all turned out well. The second bus was not as comfortable as the first. It was desert all the way, very bleak.
There were lots of taxis at the bus station in Trujillo, so there was no problem getting to the Hostel Naylamp in Huanchaco. It is very nice with good food too.
I shall start this day's diary by cutting and pasting the draft email for the mailing list, which I prepared on the bus to Trujillo, but haven't yet been able to send. So, there will be some duplication.
Bus riding and iPads seem to be made for each other. There is lots of time with not much to do, and the on-screen keyboard is easy to use despite the vibration. Of course, there's no Internet so it's necessary to write a draft then wait for a hotel and some semblance of civilisation before one can send it. Hopefully that will come in 3 or 4 hours time when we reach Trujillo. At the moment we are cruising up the PanAmericana Highway passing through miles and miles of desert, broken every now and then with a town where a river flows down from the mountains away to our right. We left Barranca at 13:00, about 30 minutes late, at the start of a 6 hour, 350 km bus ride for CHF 8 each.
Actually, just at this moment, we've come round a corner at the top of a climb and, there below us in the distance, is a large green plain. Time to stop writing in case we can stretch our legs for a few minutes and spend a penny.
About at hour later …
First of all, the stop was further away than expected. In the green oasis that I had seen from the top of the hill, we just stopped to let people get off and to take on some new passengers. When we finally got to the bus terminal in Chimbote, where we could get off the bus for a few minutes, it turned out to be more exciting than we wanted. We dashed off to spend our pennies to find, on returning to the bus, that they had decided that we had to change buses, and to another bus company at that. So we had the hassle of queuing to change tickets. Anyway, we're on the new bus now (not as comfortable by far as the first) and the sun is setting on the left, so we must still be heading north.
We eventually reached Trujillo at about 19:00, 8 hours from Barranca. It was dark by this time - it's true what they say about it going dark quickly in the tropics, it's just like having the lights turned off. We jumped in a taxi and had him take us to the Naylamp Hostel in Huanchaco, which had been recommended to us by 2 people that we met on the plane to Lima. We had phoned ahead to reserve, and it worked well, even if the hostel isn't up to the hotel standards that we have become used to. But it looks fine, really. We had a small meal and beer with the 2 gentlemen from the plane to unwind before turning in. There was only cold water in the shower.
It seems as though I have picked up a cold along the way. Let's hope it doesn't last long.
It looks as though we might have escaped the fog now. It was sunny when we got up this morning.
Day 7, Tuesday 19 Nov, Huanchaco
Huanchaco is a very peaceful surfers' paradise - much appreciated after the noise and fumes of Lima. Even Barranca was quite noisy.
In the morning we walked around Huanchaco - it's expanding but not yet too touristy. After a snooze we took the bus to Trujillo, had a look round the sights recommended in LP, sorted out the bus station and ticket for the next leg of our journey, and returned to Huanchaco by taxi.
We called in at a chemist's to get something for my diarrhoea. We were given a litre of some sort of drink. I only hope it works!
This was a quiet day nursing my cold and Kari's digestion - nothing serious as of yet, just being careful.
We awoke to sunshine and had breakfast in the hostel, which is extremely good value for money. Then we had a stroll along the promenade and pier, then up to the church at the top of the hill above the beach, and back down again, taking in a cinnamon tea and slice of apple pie on the way. Despite bright sunshine, the wind was surprisingly cool.
Back in the hotel we rested awhile, before taking a bone-shaking bus into Trujillo, some 12 km away. Trujillo is a nice town with large, manicured main square and several buildings dating from the colonial period. The last of these, the Casa Ganoza Chopitea, has a rather expensive café, where we treated ourselves to a cappucino, the best coffee that we've had for a while. Peruvian everyday coffee leaves something to be desired. We also had a slice of 'tres leches' cake, which is basically a Madeira sponge soaked in sweetened, condensed milk. Even I found it rather sweet, and heavy going towards the end.
From there it was a short walk to the post office, where we could get some stamps, and outside there was a stall selling postcards, the first that we have seen in Peru. That was very successful, and compensated for our inability to change some UK travellers' cheques, which we had left over from New Zealand. The bank wanted US$ 12 commission!
It was time to organise our exit from Trujillo on Thursday. It is very difficult to get reliable information about buses in Peru. There are dozens of independent companies operating from different termini in a town, so it's hard to get a complete picture of what is available. We want to make the first hop on our way inland to Chachapoyas by going another 4 hour stretch up the coast to Chiclayo, and we don't want a night bus. We ended up at the terminus of Entrafesa and got tickets for the 10:35 bus. After doing that, we took a taxi back to Huanchaco and vegetated for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow we have a tour with guide booked to some archeological sites, including Chan Chan.
Day 8, Wednesday 20 Nov, Tour of Chan Chan
Today was a culture day. We went on an organised tour of some of the old temples and cities. It was an all-day event. In the morning we visited the Temples of the Sun and Moon - very impressive. We also had a good guide. The temples are still being excavated, having been discovered by chance in 1996.
In the afternoon we visited Chan Chan, an ancient city run by the Chimú. It was huge, but not as colourful as the Temple of the Moon. Also, our new guide wasn't as good as the one we had in the morning.
The tour ended at Huanchaco, where we left it. We tried to post some postcards, but the post office had closed early - Peruvian style, perhaps.
My cold hasn't worsened particularly, but is definitely a pain, and could be developing into a cough. Kari's digestion has behaved as well as, if not better, than expected. We had, however, signed up for a guided archeological tour of the environs of Trujillo, so we couldn't just mope around and nurse ourselves. That will have to wait for tomorrow's bus ride.
We had the hostel's fruit and yoghurt muesli for breakfast, an absolute must to anybody coming to stay in the Naylamp Hostel. Kari followed it up with a portion of toast, I with a honey pancake. Feeling suitably stuffed, we waited for the tour company to pick us up at 10:00. Of course, they were nearly 15 minutes late. There was a young woman already in the minibus, who turned out to be Swiss. We were taken into Trujillo and sat outside the company's office near the Plaza de Armas for quite a while waiting for the rest of our group and English speaking guide. Eventually we were complete, we'd paid our S35 per head for the day (not including entrance fees to museums and sites, which added S21 per person to the bill), so we set off for the "Huaca del Dragón" (Dragon Temple), also called "Huaca del Arco Iris" (Rainbow Temple). This is an ancient adobe pyramid with interesting engravings. The guide wanted them to be rainbows. In my opinion, it depended on how one counts up to seven. It was excavated starting in 1963.
From there we drove out to the "Huaca del Sol" for a quick photo stop. It is still very much covered in sand. Next to it, though, is the "Huaca de la Luna", which is in a much more advanced state of excavation and restauration. Both huacas are apparently 1500 years or so old. Right next to the "Huaca de la Luna", though, is an impressive natural pyramid in the form of the Sierra Blanca. It would have been nice to have time to try to scramble up it. It looked as though it might be a bit tough.
From there we went into Trujillo for lunch. We just shared a chicken nuggets menu in McDonands. We are being so inactive that we don't need to eat much.
After lunch, a new tour group with a new guide was formed, and we headed out to Chan Chan, taking in an archeological museum and the Chan Chan museum first. Chan Chan is a 20 sq km site of a 13/14th century adobe city housing some 60'000 inhabitants at its peak. One drives through a non-excavated part of it between Trujillo and Huanchaco. It looks like a dried out military practice area for tanks. The excavated structures are impressive, especially because of their size. But I'm afraid that I find archeology a bit fanciful. Even more so in S America where there appears to be absolutely no written record of these civilisations to corroborate any of the theories. Chan Chan, for example, is a mere 700 years old with just skeletons and pots to help piece together its history. It's not much compared with Greece and Rome.
Anyway, by the time we got back to the minibus, it was clear that everyone had had enough. There was one stop left, in Huanchaco to photograph the rather elegant reed boats used still by the local fishermen. They only last a few months before they become too waterlogged to use any more. But they are apparently quite quick and simple to make. Since we were staying in Huanchaco, we left the group there and returned to the hostel.
By this time it was clear that something was brewing in my guts, so I stayed in whilst Kari had supper in the hostel's restaurant. For me it was an early night, which was to be disturbed many times.
Day 9, Thursday 21 Nov, Huanchaco to Chiclayo
David is not so well. Maybe he's not been too careful about what he's been eating, or just been unlucky. Restaurants have been giving salted roasted sweet corn as a free offering - it could be that they are not fresh for each customer, but recycled!?
We weren't sure if we would be travelling today. David was sick in the morning and missed breakfast. However we continued with our journey - a taxi took us to the bus terminal. Whilst waiting we bought some bananas and Ritz biscuits for the journey. The bus ride was very comfortable, the best so far. But the countryside was not as spectacular as the mountainous deserts we have had so far. It was very flat with an awful lot of rubbish lying around - mainly plastic bags. It must be a tough life living in the desert. One very quickly gets dirty. It's also very windy so that sand gets everywhere.
We found the hotel in Chiclayo, which we had selected from the LP, no breakfast included, but the way David's going, he won't be needing any. The receptionist was a bit surly, but the room is okay. We've booked a bus ride to Jaén at 9 am and it takes 6 hours. I hope David manages to survive. We also managed to post some postcards!
The one positive side-effect of my digestive problems is that they dispelled my cold. However, it was a difficult decision at breakfast time whether or not we should rest up for another day, or catch the bus at 10:35 to Chiclayo. We decided to risk it. Kari had breakfast and then we set off for the bus terminal. The bill for the 3 nights, by the way, came to about S360, including all the food and drinks from the restaurant. It's a very recommendable hostel. By the way, we awoke today to grey skies again!
On walking out onto the street, a taxi immediately cruised to a stop beside us, giving the customary peep-peep as it did so. It was an old jalopy, but got us to the bus terminal in Trujillo for the standard S15. The Emtrefesa bus terminal is quite professionally organised. There are good signs, a luggage check-in counter, and sufficient chairs for waiting. The buses also seemed to be reasonably punctual. Our bus was a so-called VIP grade service, and it really was something special. We had front row seats upstairs, soft padded reclining seats just 3 across, and a loudspeaker for the video that one could turn off. Real luxury. The ride was a bit bouncy, especially with all the speed bumps that there are in Peru, but we got used to that.
It was only a short 4 hour journey, but the scenery was generally miserable. The landscape was either flat desert, or flat irrigated fields. Where it was desert, it was nearly always absolutely full of litter. The housing conditions for most of the people are also very distressing. I must try to find out what percentage have water and/or electricity.
We were in Chiclayo by 14:00 and soon had a room in the Latinos Hotel, picked from the LP, for S115. My guts had behaved on the way, but I was in no mind to try eating. We walked over to the Civa bus terminal a couple of blocks away to book a morning bus to Jaén tomorrow, changed some dollars on the street, and walked over to the post office to post some postcards - very difficult in this country. It's only possible in the few post offices that there are when they are actually open.
Apart from going out later on for another disappointing meal, that about sums up the day.
Day 10, Friday 22 Nov, Chiclayo to Jaén
Today was a sort of rest day. After breakfast, which came with a delicious pineapple juice, we made our way to the bus terminal. The bus was already in and, having noticed that there were curtains in front of us (we had booked front seats), we decided to change our seats, much to the amusement (or was it disgust on her face) of the ticket lady.
David had taken 2 Imodium tablets to help with the travelling. He was up all night going to the loo. They worked very well.
So we just sat in the bus for 7 hours - it should have been 6 hours, but getting going was the problem. One stop lasted 35 minutes. First the bus stopped before it had even left the terminal, then just outside the terminal, then again a few metres further on. Passengers kept on coming in dribs and drabs, but once everyone was on board, the going was good and the driver drove very smoothly.
We got through the flat lands and then started to climb - all the way up to 2100 m. It was very spectacular. There were lots of little villages along the way, how do they make a living and how do the children get educated? We had a long break in Tomba, roughly at the halfway point. One can tell by the humidity that the jungle isn't too far away. We arrived at Jaén at 4 pm, found a hotel, and tried to suss out the bus for tomorrow. We have to go by colectivo and change once. It might be fun!?
We strolled around Jaén. Unlike in India we were not harassed at all, which was very pleasant, but the Peruvian food still leaves a lot to be desired. We've not had many dishes that we liked.
There have been no mosquitoes so far. Perhaps it's not the mosquito season.
It was a hard night for me, lots of visits to the bathroom. Hopefully it will sort itself out soon. Kari gave me a diarrhoea suppressant pill before we went to catch the bus. Let's hope it is effective. The grey skies in the morning continue, by the way.
We were up at 07:00 to give ourselves plenty of time for breakfast and walk to the bus terminal for the 09:00 bus to Jaén. The bus was both empty and on time as we left Chiclayo, but that soon changed when we stopped on the outskirts of the town to pick up quite a lot of passengers and a ton of packages for transport. It took 30 minutes. We'll never know if it was planned in the timetable or not.
Once we had been under way for an hour, and left the piles of rubbish with their vultures behind, the agriculture started to look much richer and the villages better cared for. The country is still incredibly flat but, in some 100 km time, we're expecting to climb to 2145 m and start to follow rivers that flow into the Amazon. We'll see. At least this bus doesn't have an interminable, loud video playing. We've got a story teller, or maybe a salesman, instead. It would be good to understand him. He's keeping the other passengers in stitches.
Later … He did, indeed, turn out to be selling something, green tea, but he was far better than loud videos. And indeed, after 100 km or so we did reach the Andes, and very spectacular they were too. The bus climbed up very well, but didn't stop at the highest point for photos. It wasn't a tourist run.
Going down the other side it got hotter and hotter and greener and greener. It was really nice after all the brown colours and dust. We stopped for a 30 minute food stop in Tambo, after which we plodded on to Jaén. There were rice fields along the sides of the river, which were a vivid colour of green. There were also trees bearing fruit in the villages. Eventually we reached Jaén at about 16:00. It seems as though most Peruvian bus rides take an hour longer than scheduled.
We took a mototaxi to Prim's Hotel, where we obtained a very nice room for S90. Kari's diarrhoea pill was effective, thank goodness.
Tomorrow night we've booked in via email to Gocta Lodge near the Gocta Waterfall, so we have to get there somehow. Our map of Peru, which has a minuscule scale of 1 to 1,500,000, isn't really adequate for this mountainous country. We think that we need to take a colectivo to Pedro Ruiz some 100 km away where the road to Chachapoyas branches off the Tarapoto road. Then we need to get a mototaxi for the last bit of unknown distance to the village of Cocachimba.
We were told where the colectivos leave from and tried to walk there, but without a map of the town, we didn't manage it. Cocachimba is only about 150 km away, so we should have time to sort out any problems tomorrow.
Some Thoughts: After 10 days on the road, and having left the coastal region behind today, perhaps it's time to try and sum up our experiences so far. Most of these are rather negative, I'm afraid, probably due to my upset digestion at the end of the first week.
• Weather: Until today, we haven't felt as though we were in the tropics or, in particular, in S America. We were expecting hotter days. This might be due to the fact that we are here out of season. I didn't realise that when I booked the flight. I naively assumed that November south of the Equator has to be a good tourist time. Typical David, some might say!
• Security Personnel: The number of security personnel has to be seen to be believed. It seems as though every second person is either a policeman or security guard. It's not just the banks and public buildings. Even shops like chemists have security personnel on the entrance. And everybody is absolutely paranoid about safety. Maybe we have been lucky so far, or maybe we are blind to the dangers, and it only takes one mugging to be proven wrong, but so far the dangers seem no worse than some areas of Brugg at night.
• Noise: If you can't stand noise, don't come to Peru. Every vehicle hoots all the time, especially taxis indicating that they are for hire. Every café or restaurant has a TV blaring away. And on buses, there is usually a video running on high volume.
• Traffic fumes: Compared with India, we are finding traffic fumes here not too bad on the whole. The fumes seem to be proportional to the density of mototaxis on the streets. Lima was so-so; Barranca was rather bad in the town; Trujillo was super (mainly taxis, very few mototaxis); Huanchaco was super-super since it was such a small quiet place; Chiclayo was on the bad side; and Jaén was pretty bad, seeming to have about one mototaxi for each resident.
• Food: The LP is rather enthusiastic about Peruvian food. We cannot share this enthusiasm so far. OK, our stomachs have been somewhat out of sorts, which makes it difficult to be fair, but the restaurants often give out such a stench of garlic, that it completely kills any appetite that we might have, before we even get as far as ordering. The portions also seem to follow the British pub philosophy of quantity rather than quality. We're not having luck finding dishes with sauces. We're nearly always faced with a plateful of dry food.
Day 11, Saturday 23 Nov, Jaén to Cocachimba (Gocta Falls)
Today was another bus ride, but with colectivos. They are dormobile size and every seat is taken. We were tightly packed like sardines.
First we changed some dollars at a cubby-hole sized bank, i.e. not at an official bank. One gets a better exchange rate in this way. Then we bought some water, went back to the hotel, and the receptionist, who was very pleasant and helpful, gave us a full description of how to get to where the colectivos start from. We took a mototaxi to get there. We would never have found it by walking.
As we arrived at the depôt, the dormobile was almost ready to leave, so we soon set off. We had to change at Bagua Grande and then continue on to Cocachimba, where we left the bus, and had to either wait for a mototaxi, or walk the last 6 km. We waited for an hour and then decided to walk up to the village. Just as we were about to set off, a local stopped and gave us a lift - it would have been a long, dusty walk.
The setting of Cocachimba is so idyllic and peaceful that it almost hurts. It's hard to believe that such beauty can be in the same country where there is also so much poverty, fumes, and noise. The village green is a football field.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed. There was no call for the bathroom in the night, and we've both been fine all day. It's been a hot, sweaty, really super day.
We started off with continental breakfast in the hotel. That, as usual, is a glass of super fruit juice, coffee or tea, 2 bread rolls, and a minuscule portion of butter and jam. I then wanted to change more money before setting off to the expensive lodge out in the sticks, that we had reserved for the night, so we went out onto the streets with US$ 200 in our pockets. We were too early for the banks at 09:00, but found a money exchange office open after we had sat in the main square for 10 minutes or so. The rate was fair, US$ 2.78 compared with 2.80 quoted on the Internet.
It was then simply a case of pushing everything into the rucksacks, settling the hotel bill, and finding transport. The receptionist of the hotel was extremely helpful. She wrote down details for us, got us a mototaxi, and sent us on the way to the colectivo collection point, which we had abortively looked for the previous evening. She wouldn't let us put our bags on the back of the trike, though, in case they got snatched. We had to nurse all our bags. It made it a rather cramped ride, but it was fortunately not very far.
The next step of the journey, about 60 km, was to Bagua Grande, a village on the Chiclayo to Tarapoto road. There were 17 of us plus driver squashed into a minibus with the roof piled high with cargo. It was actually quite comfortable and fast. We left at about 10:00, and were in Bagua for about 12:00. We then needed a second colectivo for the next leg of about 80 km. The problem was that we didn't know exactly where to ask for. Pedro Ruiz is the town at the junction where the road to Chachapoyas turns off south from the main E-W Chiclayo-Tarapoto road. But we wanted to go further than that, to the turn off to Cocachimba, somewhere before Chachapoyas. We didn't have a name for the junction. Fortunately I had a sketch map from the hotel in Jaén that I had photographed with the iPad, and could show that to the driver.
It was a smaller minibus this time with only 11 passengers, but there was less leg room. It wasn't too bad though, and again, the taxi made good progress. We were in Pedro Ruiz by about 13:15, and dropped at the turnoff to Cocachimba by about 14:00. In retrospect, we should have got out of the colectivo in Pedro Ruiz, and taken a private taxi from there to the hotel. We'll know better next time.
As a result, we were now pretty much in the middle of nowhere with a signpost pointing up a dirt road saying that Cocachimba was some 6 km away. We settled down to wait for a passing mototaxi. There were a couple of houses about 300 m further along the road. I wandered down there to see if they had such a thing. Indeed they did, but no driver. They could sell me some bananas, though. They said that the driver would be back some time. We settled down to wait. There was, of course, no handy connection where we were.
We waited until getting on for 15:00, when we thought that we'd better start walking to make sure of getting to the hotel before dark. No sooner had we got the rucksacks on our backs and headed out onto the dirt road, than a beat-up estate car turned up the road too. He stopped and gave us a ride, despite the fact that the car was full with himself, his wife, 2 more ladies, maybe his daughters, and a toddler. The road was rough and steep, but it didn't seem to bother him. They were a family from Pedro Ruiz, presumably out for a weekend trip to see the waterfall.
They dropped us in the village, essentially at the end of the motorable road. The hotel had a nice room for us, with view across the valley to the Falls, apparently the 5th highest in the world. We are splashing out staying in the Gocta Andes Lodge at S219 per night, but that's only CHF 73, less than we've paid for B&B in England, for far less space and much less of a view. One downside is that the village is so remote that it is only served by the MovieStar handy company, and they have neither an agreement with Claro of Peru nor with Swisscom. They also have no Wifi service. Hence we are incommunicado until we get to Chachapoyas.
We had a swim in the hotel pool, had a walk around the minute village, drank lots of water, ate a fair, though somewhat dry evening meal of trout with a bottle of red wine, wrote this diary, and shall now call it a night. Regarding the dry evening meal, I should really be fair to the hotel's restaurant. The fault was ours. The following night we read the menu more carefully to discover that the main dishes come with one side dish and one sauce. We had omitted to order the sauce!
I'm now sitting out on the patio with a light on under impressive stars, but the size of the moths have to be seen to be believed. I'll go in before one of them starts to eat me. There are some mosquitoes for the first time this trip, but not many … yet.
Day 12, Sunday 24 Nov, Hike to Gocta Falls
We were up earlier than usual as we had been told that enrolment for the walk to the Falls was from 7 am onwards. Also it was Sunday and there would be extra people. One has to have a guide and only 150 people per day are allowed in, in groups no bigger than 10 people. I'm sure this wasn't the case. Towards the end of the morning I'm sure there were some groups without a guide.
The way to the Falls is about 5 km. it doesn't sound much, but it was tough going - a lot of elevation loss and gain. We had a guide to ourselves. He was very pleasant and pointed out the tobacco plants, coffee plantations and lime trees. Also we saw a green toucan and some red parrots. They were so noisy that I thought they were monkeys. They were also more orange than red.
The Falls are very spectacular, but are apparently more impressive in the wet season. They are 770 m high, and fall in 2 steps. Each step is vertical, and the pool at the bottom is quite small. Maybe it's bigger in the rainy season. The strata of the rocks are very fine, almost like the rings of a tree trunk. When standing at the bottom and looking up, one has the feeling that the rock face never ends.
Somehow we managed to get back quicker than going, despite it being more uphill than down. The sun really does go overhead here. The shadows just don't seem to change.
David asked the hotel manageress how best to get to Chachapoyas - he had the idea of taking a mototaxi down the dusty road to the main road and picking up a colectivo there. She said that she would ring for a taxi. Life can sometimes be very easy!
There was a slight stress in the morning because we wanted to do the hike to Gocta Falls and there is apparently a quota of 150 visitors per day. With it being a Sunday, we weren't sure how early the quota might be exhausted. So we were up for 07:00 for breakfast and off to the office on the village green where all the organisation is done.
It's S10 per visitor, and S30 per group for an obligatory guide. I suppose it's not a bad way of ensuring that the village gets some income from its tourist attraction, but it ties one terribly when one is an experienced hiker. Making up with some others into a group was beyond us, so we payed our S50 and waited for a guide to turn up. It was about 08:00 by the time we set off for the 2 hour, 5 km hike to the base of the falls. It was actually tougher than expected with quite a lot of up and down. The trail contours along a hillside which is farmed. Among other things which we couldn't, and the guide didn't, name, were sugar cane, coffee, cotton, lemons and maize. Soon after the start, we passed a shelter where 2 oxen were being driven round and round turning a mangle to crush sugar cane. I believe that the extract was then being boiled and fermented to produce a local alcoholic drink.
There were quite a few people on the trail, some on horses. The weather was pleasantly overcast, so we had no sunburn problem. Insects were also not troublesome. On the way we saw some parrots and toucans, but no monkeys. We made it to the pool at the bottom of the falls comfortably inside the 2 hours. There was a school class there enjoying a bathe in the river, but it was a bit too cool for us near to the waterfall, so we went back along the path, where it was significantly warmer, to have our rest and fortify ourselves for the return hike with some bananas.
The parrots were still in the same tree on our return, which was very nice. On the other hand, the sun had come out so that it got quite hot, which was not quite so nice. There was a long climb on the return that didn't want to end. Eventually, though, we were back in the village, again in just under 2 hours, despite the expected time for the return being a bit longer. We went straight to the restaurant on the village green and sat for quite a while over a much needed beer and mineral water.
Our room was still being cleaned when we got back to the hotel, so we ordered a soup each and sat out in the shade on the restaurant's patio enjoying the peace and the breeze, which had blown up in the meantime. But by the time that we got around to having a dip in the pool, the school class had returned from the Falls and had asked permission to use it. So as not to spoil their fun, I waited until they left before having my dip.
Now it is 17:50 and the sun is setting. Soon it will be dark. We've ordered our evening meal with a sauce this time. Hopefully it will be good. We've also asked the hotel receptionist to book us a taxi to Chachapoyas at 09:00 in the morning. So it's unlikely that anything else of interest is likely to happen tonight, so I'll close today's diary here.
PS. The meal was good.
Day 13, Monday 25 Nov, Cocachimba - Chachapoyas - Kuélap
After a super breakfast with huge bowls of tropical fruit, and paying the hotel bill, we took the taxi to Chachapoyas. For an hour's ride the fare was the same as from Brugg to Riniken. We turned up at the door of a hotel in the town, and they took us in, despite it being only 10 am.
It turned out to be possible to visit Kuélap today, but only with a private taxi. We won't be doing any walking, which is maybe just as well as the ruins are up at 3000 m. However, this means that we gain a day. It's amazing that we could organise this tour at 1.5 hours notice.
The 70 km drive up to Kuélap was very spectacular, 34 km of asphalt road and 36 km on a dirt road. Life in a mountain village is very different to life in the towns. Chickens, turkeys and ducks all have free range. Horses were tethered. And pigs were usually in an enclosed field. The children all had school uniforms.
Kuélap itself was impressive; a fortress built up at 3000 m on top of a mountain. The views from it were stupendous. Steep sided mountains - the soil looked very fertile - potato fields on a steep slope. In fact everything was cultivated on steep slopes.
We got back sooner than expected, and tried to find the post office - yet another office that had changed its location since LP was printed! After a lot of asking, we eventually found it, posted our post cards, and got more stamps. On the other side of the road was a colectivo terminal, and it advertised a service to Tarapoto, where we want to go next, so we got tickets for the 9 am bus tomorrow, just perfect for us.
Supper was a Spanish omelette in a vegetarian restaurant. It was good, but accompanied by too much rice.
We've managed to get quite a lot done today. We started off with a bit of a shock, though, when the total bill for our 2 days in Gocta Lodge came to S660.50. We didn't think that we'd consumed so much. Never mind, it was very nice. If I haven't mentioned it, Cocachimba is situated at about 1800 m, a little higher than the bottom of the Falls. Chachapoyas is at 2300 m.
The taxi was waiting for us at 09:00 to take us to Chachapoyas in just under an hour. We had picked the Hostal Orquídeas from the LP, so got dropped at their door. We were a bit early for check-in really, but they let us have a room right away for S95.
It was a bit awkward to decide what to do for the rest of the day. There was only one thing on our agenda, and that was to visit the ruins of Kuélap, but the LP is not too clear what that involves. It talks of an hour's drive followed by a 10 km/6 hour hike with lots of height gain (Kuélap is at 3100 m), or, rather than the hike, an extra 2 hour drive to some village followed by a 2 hour hike. It all seemed a bit out of the question for a half-day trip.
We went to a tourist agency in town anyway to see what the situation was, and if it was possible to visit the site in an afternoon. They were a bit doubtful, but arranged it anyway for S210 starting at 12:00. That gave us an hour to sort out a rucksack, food and clothing. The taxi turned up soon after we got back to the office. He drove around a few blocks and eventually picked up our guide, a petite lady who transpired to have roots in the village of Kuélap. It turned out that LP wasn't far off the mark, it just didn't give the full picture. It should add that there is a 3rd alternative, the one that we were doing.
To get to Kuélap from Chachapoyas, one must first drive down a long hill to the Pedro Ruiz to Cajamarca road and head for Cajamarca. After a short hour there is a turn off onto a dirt road at Tingo Nuevo. The 10 km/6 hour hike starts near here in the village of Tingo Viejo. The dirt road, however, continues on and winds around the steep valley sides for another 35 km, eventually ending up at the village of Maria. This is where the 2 hour hike starts. The third alternative, perhaps not available when LP went to press, is to continue driving on the dirt road through Maria right up to the Kuélap ticket office. This is the option that we have paid for.
Our driver made good time, not being particularly careful of his vehicle's suspension, so that we were already in Maria for 13:30. To our surprise, we stopped at a restaurant in the village for lunch. We had fried fish, which turned out to be the second best meal that we have had so far after the fried sole in Barranca. We picked up the tab of S55 for all 4 of us. We continued to the Kuélap ticket office, where we were relieved of a further S30. The steep hillsides far and wide around Maria and the other villages are intensely cultivated. It is fantastic. In fact, as impressive as Kuélap most certainly is, the journey getting there and away is a fantastic experience in itself.
From the ticket office to the ruins is a short 2 km but uphill, and that, at 3100 m, was rather strenuous, especially at the route-march pace set by our guide. The ruins are quite extensive, tall stone walls with narrow fortified entrances and, inside, lots of round huts. We were marched around the site enjoying the distant views for about one and a quarter hours. On returning to the taxi our guide said goodbye. She was going to spend the night in her village, where her husband is living apparently. She lives in Chachapoyas with her 4 children.
It remained to descend the 35 km of dirt road and the remaining tarmac stretch to the town. Our driver made good time again so that we were back by about 18:00, just before nightfall. There was a big procession around the Plaza de Armas going on when we got there. It turned out to be in support of the International Day against Violence to Women. This seems to be a hot topic in Peru.
We wandered around a bit to find a bancomat, since we weren't happy with the dollar exchange rate that we could get, and then went to the vegetarian restaurant which we had already earmarked for evening meal. We picked Spanish omelette, and were disappointed. It was rather stodgy. We set the alarm clock for a relatively early time to get up for breakfast, since we had to be at the bus station at 08:30 for the 09:00 bus to Tarapoto.
Day 14, Tuesday 26 Nov, Chachapoyas to Tarapoto
I had a good start to the day. My digestion seems to have settled down at last. Whether it stays settled is another matter!
We made our way to the colectivo terminal for 8:30 as instructed, but it wasn't necessary. We could quite easily have turned up at 8:55. There were 4 or 5 other passengers in the dormobile when we left Chachapoyas, but when we reached the river valley at Pedro Ruiz the bus filled up, almost. So we set off on a 9 hour trip to Tarapoto. Soon after leaving Pedro Ruiz we were held up for a quarter of an hour with rocks falling down onto the road. Some were quite big. I think the loose rocks were being knocked down by some workmen. The scenery was spectacular.
Along the way the driver stopped to pick up people who were only making short hops. At Moyobamba, about 120 km from Tarapoto, there was a longer stop of about an hour, enough time to eat. We shared a plate of chips, and very nice they were too. We arrived at Tarapoto still in daylight, asked about tickets to Yurimaguas, and took a mototaxi to our chosen hotel.
Tarapoto is in the Amazon basin and the weather is muggy. One sweats for no reason, but there were practically no midges - they must be somewhere.
For supper we went to a restaurant recommended by LP. I had a vegi omelette, which would have been perfect if the veg had been cooked a bit more. David had a fish dish. It looked very exotic. There were huge prawns in it too. It had a distinct Peruvian flavour from one of their herbs.
This was simply a bus riding day. We were up at 07:00 for your standard Peruvian idea of an American breakfast, then still had some time to kill, so we sat in the main square for a while watching people on their way to work.
It was only a short walk to the bus station, which was quite quiet. The rucksacks got loaded onto the roof under a net and plastic sheet in front of all the other cargo that was loaded on. We left about 15 minutes late with only 4 passengers in total for the expected 9 hour trip to Tarapoto. We started by retracing the route to Pedro Ruiz, passing the turn off to Gocta Falls on the way. We then turned east into seriously mountainous country. We also gradually picked up passengers until the minibus was essentially full.
The scenery was wild, yet green and cultivated. At one point we climbed to 2270 m crossing Abra Pardo de Miguel. Progress through the mountains was tortuously slow, and not particularly comfortable in the non-air-conditioned minibus. Eventually, though, we were through and could start to make fast progress. At about 15:00 we reached Moyobamba, where we stopped for 45 minutes to eat. We only had a plate of chips, but they were delicious. Then it was back into the full bus for the last 120 km or so.
We reached Tarapoto just after 17:30 before it went dark, and could get a mototaxi to La Posada Inn, which had room for us for S90. It's incredibly warm here, but the insects, so far, have not been a problem. We ate out at an up-market restaurant, and had an Amazonian fish and shrimp speciality. It wasn't bad with an interesting herbal sauce, but I assume that the prawns were fresh water prawns. They were certainly big, but their texture wasn't up to prawns from the sea.
Tomorrow we return to the bus station to take a bus to the end of the tarmac in Yurimaguas. Hopefully we shall find a river boat there to take us down-river to Iquitos.
Day 15, Wednesday 27 Nov, Tarapoto to Yurimaguas
David ruined the start of the day by showing me a report on the Web of what we are planning to do next - sail down the river from Yurimaguas to Iquitos. It put me right off, but he was still keen to go. So, for better or worse, I agreed to go along.
The scenery was very tropical, getting more and more jungle like. We managed to find a boat which was going to sail today. David did well keeping the touts at bay.
David has just realised that we've no or very little money left. The boat is supposed to sail in less than an hour, and he's just dashed into town to change some dollars - I hope he gets back in time ...
The bus to Yurimaguas didn't leave until 10:30, so we had plenty of time for breakfast before getting a mototaxi to the bus station. The breakfast was a bit heavier than usual - 2 fried eggs and a plateful of fried bananas. With a big cup of coffee to help, we managed to get them all down. We were actually at the bus station for 08:45, in time for the earlier bus. There was a bus standing there, and we were told to get on it. It didn't leave until an hour later, so we don't know if it was a late 08:45 or an early 10:30 bus. Anyway it set off in the right direction. What more does one need when on holiday?
It is much more mountainous in the upper Amazon basin than expected. It was only about 130 km to Yurimaguas, but the first 20 km took for ever. At one point we were stopped for road works, supposedly for 20 minutes, so everyone piled off the bus to refresh themselves at a nearby tap and buy some bread, when suddenly a shout came and we all had to run to get back on the bus. Again, it was a spectacular bus ride with the road often damaged from heavy rains.
At about the half way point, it suddenly started raining for the first time this trip, and it really threw it down. The bus was old and had lots of leaks. At least it woke up the driver, who seemed in real danger of falling asleep at one point. In the end we rolled into Yurimaguas and the hassle of sorting out a ferry to Iquitos started. We took what we thought was the least aggressive mototaxi driver to the port, not so far out of town but all quite muddy after the rain. There were 2 cargo boats being loaded, and there was too much chaos to sort out the better option. In the end, we settled for the first one that we went on when they offered us a cabin with double bed, rather than needing hammocks. We said we'd pay the S350 fare when the boat sailed, which it was supposed to do at 17:30.
Of course, 17:30 came and went and the only action was the constant manual labour loading the cargo of sacks of maize, metal girders, and eggs without end. It was eventually communicated to us that we wouldn't be sailing tonight. They insisted that we pay, presumably to deter us from moving to the other boat. It's hot, hot, hot, and sticky. The water in the showers in light brown, and that in the toilets certainly comes straight from the river, so there's no way we are going to wash properly for 3 days. Let's hope that we set sail early in the morning.
At some point I did a money count, and was surprised at how little we had left after paying the fare for the boat. So I risked taking a quick trip back into town with a mototaxi to a bancomat. As it turned out, there was, of course, no need to rush.
We've misplaced our nice map of Peru, probably in last night's hotel. What a pain. I also can't find my camping towel. That's not so tragic (it turned up next day under the bed).
I mentioned above the hassle on arriving at the bus station. It was even worse on getting to the port. On the whole, though, Peru is very hassle-free. One can walk the streets of a town without getting constantly pestered by taxis or beggars. Most people are friendly, greeting one as they pass in the street. It's much more pleasant as a western tourist than expected.
Day 16, Thursday 28 Nov, Boat: Yurimaguas to Iquitos
... he got back in plenty of time. That was last night. Another passenger told us then that the boat should sail this morning, but it's a cargo boat, not a passenger boat, so it'll probably sail when there's no room for any more cargo. It's anybody's guess when we'll sail. At the moment a lorry load of oranges has turned up, the oranges being loosely packed, and they have to be bagged before being carried onto the boat. It's all very labour intensive. Yesterday evening a lorry load of eggs was being loaded. It took about 4 hours. Eggs were packed in 6x5 trays, 6 trays high, and the men were carrying 3 such packs on each trip. Unless we've done our sums wrong, that's over 25 kg per trip!
A German student boarded the boat at about 6:30 pm today, and we sailed at 8:30 pm. He was very lucky.
It was a case today of having nothing to do, and all day to do it in. But also not being sure if we dare leave the boat at all. Kari had bought a hammock yesterday for relaxing in, and it looked good. So we bought a second one on the dockside for S27 so that we could swing together.
At about 17:30, the neighbouring boat of the Eduardo line set sail, looking very full of passengers compared to our boat. We are on Linares III. Ours started to fill up afterwards. We were also fed 3 meals, which helped to keep us halfways cheerful. There were a few occasions when there was activity as though we might sail, but they petered out. Time passed slowly, but at least it was comfortable and not too hot swinging in the hammocks in the shade on the lower deck. Our cabin was full in the sun and like an oven.
Then, at 20:30 in pitch darkness, the boat suddenly sailed 300 yards up river to the customs station. After a lot of toing and froing on the dock, believe it or not, the boat finally set off into the current, turned round heading downstream, and left Yurimaguas behind. He has no radar, just a hand held searchlight, which is switched on now and again to check where the banks of the river are, and to see if there are any unlit small craft in the way. The river is incredibly wide and fast flowing. Orion is in the sky on his side watching us.
Day 17, Friday 29 Nov, Boat: Yurimaguas to Iquitos
Breakfast was at 6:20 am, an hour earlier than yesterday. Fortunately David heard the bell. It was chicken and rice - it was good. The 2 cockerels were no more, so at least the meat was fresh.
The river looks like sludge, thick and viscous! We stopped at several villages, delivering and picking up goods. The villages seem well cared for, buildings in good shape and no litter lying around. There are lots of children playing happily in the muddy water, and women washing clothes in it too. One boat was devoted to washing trousers. The boat was filled with soapy water and 2 women set to. They hit or slapped the trousers and then scrubbed them - hard work. Others washed smaller clothes in bowls.
We have just stopped in the middle of nowhere and are picking up more goods, mostly bananas, but how does the captain keep track of it all. Which bananas came from which village? There is no sign of a village, it must be back and away from the river. We had a rain shower - very heavy, very short. The children learn very early to row and manoeuvre boats. I've just seen the village from which one of the boats came; it's on a tributary, set a little way back from where it joins the main river. There are lots of birds, bright yellow and black.
The boat chugged along all night non-stop. Believe it or not, despite having done nothing all day except laze around and doze in our hammocks, we slept well. At about 03:00 I went out for a leak to see the most wonderful sky full of stars, flashes of lightning all around, and the moon rising as an upturned sickle in the east.
We were surprised by the breakfast bell soon after six, so had to quickly dash down to get it. We're the only 'cabin' passengers on board, and get our food served on a plate, and we sit at the table. The rest have to have their own plastic bowl and go away with it to perch on a bench to eat it. We also get a drink. At breakfast, it's a sort of sweet milky drink with some rice in it and it tastes of cloves. At other meals it has been a cold orange juice. Breakfast was a chicken stew, with quite a nice piece of meat in it. The cockerel, which was in a box next to the kitchen until now, is alas no more. For lunch, we asked for a small portion with no meat. We're not doing enough work to need so much food.
There's a difference in price for the cabin. We've paid S175 each. The only other "westerner" on board, a German, who boarded just before we left yesterday, is travelling 'hammock class', which cost him S90. The difference is worth it to have a bit of private space. And if we're on the boat for 4 nights, which seems likely, it will work out cheaper than staying in a town.
The boat made its first stop at Lagunas at about 08:30 to deliver a lot of bags of cement. Just before, we had had a very heavy rain shower. Fortunately it stopped in time. Soon after Lagunas the Río Huallaga, which we had been following from Yurimaguas, joined the Río Marañón to make the river even bigger. We chugged on, dozing and moping around, all very pleasant. At one point, as I was trying to chat with one of the passengers, actually he was trying to chat with me, a dolphin showed its dorsal fin for a few moments.
Every so often, the boat would stop at an idyllic looking village with thatched roofs and children playing. Occasionally something would get unloaded, but mainly bananas were taken on. By the evening, the boat looked like a banana boat with bananas piled everywhere. We decided to skip evening meal.
It's now just turned 19:00, is pitch black, the sun having set an hour ago in a lowering storm which looks as though it is going to come to nothing. And the boat has turned in to yet another village to do some business. There are very few of these cargo boats on the river. I think I've only seen 3 others today. They are clearly doing a necessary service for all these native villages.
I've only noted 2 other village names today. They were Pucacuro at 11:35 and Urarinas at 17:30. At one of these, a lady with her children pulled alongside in one of the elegant narrow Amazonian boats, climbed aboard, and started selling kebabs. I bought one before I realised that it was a kebab of maggots. I nibbled a couple of them, but I'm afraid that the rest went into the river!
Day 18, Saturday 30 Nov, Boat: Yurimaguas to Iquitos
We woke up to a cloudy sky. It's not so overpoweringly hot as when the sun shines. We saw a pod of dolphins playing next to the boat. They were grey and quite small.
We stopped at more villages; dropped and picked up people with the ship's small boat with outboard motor. We are now at Miraflores, quite a large settlement. The houses are built on stilts, probably due to the river flooding, or does it keep out unwanted animals?
We have just passed a lodge. It looks very new and is certainly luxurious in comparison to the locals' abodes. We reached Nauta at 6 pm, so we should be at Iquitos sometime in the morning.
Again, I have drafted an email today for sending when we get to Iquitos tomorrow. I'll cut and paste it and then edit it, so there will probably be some duplication. Today was another day of having nothing to do, and all day to do it in, hence the draft of the email. But it was delightful. It has been cloudy all day, so the temperature has been very pleasant. In fact, as I write this journal sitting on deck outside our cabin, it has become cool enough to put on a gilet.
We were up for 06:00 so that we wouldn't be surprised by the breakfast bell like yesterday. On leaving our cabin, there was a school of dolphins swimming around the boat - quite a nice start to the day.
After we had passed Lagunas yesterday morning, we sailed into a gap in the photocopies of our map (if you remember, we lost our paper map in Tarapoto). The first stop of the day at 07:25 was at Santa Rita de Castilla, which was not on our photocopies. There were, however, small passenger boats moored there from Parinari, which was well onto our next photocopy, so it's possible that Santa Rita was simply too small for our map. We were there until 08:20 whilst enough metalwork was unloaded to build a village hall.
We chugged on and the jungle drifted by with scattered small villages looking neat and tidy, at least when seen from a distance. The houses are generally on stilts with pretty thatched roofs. The larger villages tend more to have corrugated iron roofs. The next stop was at Miraflores some 4 hours later. Now we were well and truly on our map again, with Iquitos looking reachable at last. Miraflores received a big delivery of sand and cement. The 42 kg bags of cement were carried across a narrow plank to shore and then up a steep bank. The local labourers cannot have a very long working life given the loads that they have to carry.
The next village on our map was Veinte de Enero (20th January!). We didn't stop there, but were able to recognise it from the bends in the river and, from this, we could estimate when we might reach Nauta. We thought that it would be between 18:00 and 19:00, if there were no more stops. It turned out to be 18:15, definitely inside the error bars of our estimate.
It is possible to leave the boat at Nauta to travel the last 70 km or so to Iquitos by bus on a paved road. As a result, many passengers left the boat there. In addition the thousands of eggs also left the boat. We estimated that a labourer carried 540 eggs per trip, that's about 25 kg of eggs! It took about 45 minutes for 6 men to unload them all. Now we are off again with the help of the spot light to do the last stretch to Iquitos. We should get there during the night, I should think, well within the estimated 2.5 days of travelling time that was quoted in Yurimaguas.
By the way, travelling down a river by boat is very similar to canoeing in Canada as far as seeing wild life is concerned. One actually sees very little. Today, though, in addition to the dolphins, we have seen a colony of black and yellow rook-like birds with hanging nests, vultures, herons, and tern-like seagulls.
As a further note, the insects are nowhere near as bad as forecast, certainly far less troublesome than in Norway in summer. We have hardly used any mosquito repellant. Unfortunately, though, there is always the nagging thought at the back of one's mind that they could be disease carriers, just like the ticks in Swiss forests.
Day 19, Sunday 1 Dec, Iquitos
We arrived at Iquitos at 3:15 am. Some people left the boat at that unearthly hour. Benedict, the German student, left at 4 am (he is studying medicine in Vienna). He knocked on the door to say goodbye. We stayed on the boat until daylight, then packed up our bags to leave. There were so many boats at the quayside that they were double docked. Yes, we had to climb off our boat onto another boat before reaching land!
We took a mototaxi to town, sat in the Plaza de Armas for a while, and searched for plane companies. We then went to our selected hotel and had a proper shower - it was heaven!
We had a very good breakfast in the Amazon Bistro, watched a procession around the Plaza de Armas. It was a patriotic procession which apparently takes place every Sunday. We wanted to buy our plane tickets out of Iquitos, but all the agencies in town were closed (Sunday). David had the idea of going to the airport to buy tickets there - we went by bus. I have never been so squashed on a bus, but we got there. It only cost 3 soles for a 7 km trip for two!
We weren't able to buy any tickets - no ticket offices at the airport - so we came back to the town, wrote our remaining postcards, and later went out for a stroll. The Europeans here stand out like sore thumbs. We met an American who has a Peruvian wife. She was visiting her family in the jungle whilst he waited for her to come back to Iquitos. Supper was good - fried fish and aubergines. David had pizza!
The boat docked in Iquitos at about 04:00, but we kept to our cabin until it was getting fairly light at about 05:30. There were boats docked everywhere, so thickly that they were two deep. We had to get down off the front of our boat onto another boat and walk through that one to get onto shore. It was not a very enlightening shore. There was waste paper everywhere.
There were plenty of mototaxis waiting for fares. The one we chose was a bit on the weak side for the weight of us and our baggage. We got taken to the Plaza de Armes to avoid the driver coming in to the hotel with us looking for commission. We had already picked out the somewhat up-market Hotel Marañón for the night, which was only a block away. It was slightly more expensive than expected at S150, incl. breakfast, but the air-conditioning in the room is very welcome in the muggy climate here. The shower, though a bit on the weak side, was also very welcome after nearly 4 days on the boat. Clean clothes were even better. We had breakfast at a restaurant on the Amazon Promenade (Malecón) with a fantastic view over the river. It was a toasted bread roll with butter, jam and cream cheese. It was delicious. The espresso coffee made it even better. On our way back to the hotel, there was a procession going on in the main square. It was very patriotic with goose-step marching and singing soldiers carrying rifles with bayonets attached. It was all very military, despite the non-military groups such as students taking part. The heavens opened towards the end of the parade, which caused us to curtail our spectating.
We're not sure how long we're staying in Iquitos. It depends on how soon we can get a flight out. With it being a Sunday, the airline offices in the town were all closed. We took an extremely noisy and packed bus ride out to the airport to try to buy tickets back to Lima there, but there were no ticket counters. I don't really want to book a flight on the Internet with no printer available to get a hard copy of the booking. There's a flight at 13:30 to Lima via Pucallpa tomorrow, which we would like to catch. We'll be waiting at the Peruvian Airlines office when it opens in the morning.
We did find some postcards and a post office at the airport. They are really rare in Peru.
After a siesta and postcard writing session in the hotel, we went out for a beer on the promenade. It was very pleasant, but somewhat marred by more hawkers than we have had so far on this trip. There are also a lot more tourists like us around in this town than we have been used to seeing so far. We stayed at the restaurant for a meal, but moved inside to avoid being pestered. Kari had a nice looking fish dish with aubergines. I had a rather bland pizza. It's been more or less grey all day and not very warm, but muggy all the same.
Day 20, Monday 2 Dec, Iquitos to Huancayo via Lima
We had a good breakfast, then went to see about a flight out of Iquitos. We first tried Peruvian Air - their prices were much higher than the prices quoted on the Internet, and the assistant who served us was so surly it was hard to believe. So we tried another company, StarPeru. We were able to get what we wanted and the service was a lot more friendly. We fly out at 4 pm.
We checked out of the hotel, had a snack lunch, and took a mototaxi to the airport, where we had plenty of time to wait. Cleaners were busy trying to keep on top of the dust, frequently walking up and down with very wide mops.
The flight was comfortable, left early, stopped in Tarapoto, and arrived in Lima early. Knowing how the system works helps a lot. We found a taxi and drove to the terminal of the Cruz del Sur bus company. It had moved from where it was shown on the map in LP, and both David and I were getting worried that we were being taken for a ride as the journey was so long. However, we got there in the end, and there were lots of buses to Huancayo, three between 11 pm and 11:45 pm! The bus was very comfortable, reclining seats with a leg rest, but as we were on the top floor and at the very front, there was rather a lot of motion, which David didn't like.
It's 15:00 and we're sitting at the gate waiting for the StarPeru flight to Lima via Tarapoto at 16:05. We were at the Peruvian Air office when it opened this morning, but they wanted US$ 124 per person rather than the US$ 80 quoted on the Internet. So we went over to the StarPeru agent around the corner. They had a slightly later flight than we had wanted, but it was only US$ 91 each, so we opted for that.
We killed some time by trying to find a new map of Peru, unfortunately with no luck. The only maps we could find were wall maps suitable for use in a school. It was very warm and muggy in town, so that we could really have done with another shower before checking out of the hotel. In the knowledge that the effect of another shower would wear off as soon as we left the hotel, and having just survived for 4 days on the boat without a change of clothes, we did without.
At 11:30 we checked out, crossed the street to a small café, and had a second American breakfast. This time the omelette was much nicer. Then it was into a mototaxi to get to the airport. We knew that we were too early, but it was just as easy to sit and wait in the cool of the airport as in the heat of the town. Check-in and security check both went very smoothly, and the flight left 10 minutes early. It's quite a small plane, but quite full. There was a thunder storm around the airport just before we left.
We're hoping to get to Lima on time at soon after 19:00 and get a night bus out of the city tonight. Let's see how it turns out. If the worst comes to the worst, we'll go and see if Hotel Clifford has a room for us.
As it turned out, it worked like clockwork. The flight arrived 10 minutes early in Lima after a short hour's flight to Tarapoto, and then a long hour's flight to Lima. The bags were also out in no time at all.
We got a taxi to take us to the Cruz del Sur bus terminal. It's just as well we did, because the terminal had moved from the location given in the LP, and the taxi driver knew where it had moved to. There were several buses that evening to Huancayo. We picked the 23:15 so that we could have seats together. It was a so-called 'Suite' comfort class bus, which is really very plush. Despite that, I found the reclining seats too uncomfortable to sleep, and spent most of the night sitting up watching the rain on the bus windows.
Day 21, Tuesday 3 Dec, Huancayo
I must have slept more that I thought. I woke up to daylight and rain. David was so travel weary that he wanted to walk to the hotel. It should have been a short walk, but very few streets were named, thus making it difficult to find our way. After an hour and lots of studying the map and asking people, we eventually found it. We have decided to stay here for 3 nights. It's not a fantastic hotel, and its restaurant for breakfast isn't that wonderful either.
After breakfast we had a shower and a snooze. When we woke up it was still raining, but it eased off after a while so we went out to explore and look for a bookshop to buy a map of Peru, and the Information Centre. The Info Centre has disappeared completely, and other tourist offices don't seem to be able to tell us anything about the railway, which we would like to travel on. After a lot of traipsing around, we finally found out that the railway is no more, and one has to travel by bus. We've noticed with a lot of things in LP that the references have changed.
We also visited the Museo Salesiano, which is integrated in with a school. Supper was good. We had a mango in our hotel room afterwards. They are really good.
It was a really miserable night for me in the bus. The windows steamed up, it was raining, and the mountainous road and bumps and bounces over the sleeping policemen gave me a queasy stomach. I was glad when it started to get light at about 05:15 so that the end was nearly in sight. We reached Huancayo about 15 minutes late at 06:15. Huancayo is located at 3244 m. The locals are dressed for December in Aargau. It's cold, but not that cold.
To help get rid of motion sickness from the bus, I persuaded Kari that we could walk to the Hotel los Balcones. According to the LP it shouldn't have been far. Unfortunately, Cruz del Sur also had a new terminal in Huancayo, further away from the hotel than before. In addition, it started raining again. We persevered despite having problems because a) the LP map wasn't up to its usual standard (only main roads were shown with intermediate minor roads missing; and b) the road labels were rather sparse. We got there in the end, hung some clothes up to dry, had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and went to bed for a couple of hours.
By then it had almost stopped raining, so we went out for a lunchtime snack. The afternoon was spent strolling around town and visiting the Museo Salesiano. The museum had a large natural history section with lots of stuffed animals from Peru. They also had a big collection of butterflies and moths. Some of the butterflies were very colourful. We also tried to find out about trains to Huancavelica, which is supposed to be a worthwhile rail journey. We can't find a Tourist Information Office in the town, and the tour operator, whom we tried, wasn't very informative either. He suggested going to the nearest of the 2 stations in town and asking there. We found the station, but couldn't find a way to get into it. Eventually someone told us that the trains don't run any more. So we gave up for the day and went out for supper.
We ate in a restauant behind the Cathedral called, of course, Detrás de la Catedral. I had an unadorned hamburger with a selection of sauces to go with it. It was very good, and of a manageable size.
Day 22, Wednesday 4 Dec, Huancayo
We did a lot of walking. We first went up Cerro de la Libertad, a little hill just outside the city with a super view over the city and countryside. Then we walked on further to some mud towers - natural formations. They were quite spectacular, very high with some pebbles on top protecting them from being eroded away. We wandered through them. The paths were not too bad considering the rain which had recently fallen making it a bit slippy in places.
We walked back down, passing a large school. The children wear uniforms, which looked well cared for. I don't know how the school system works. Is it free for all, or do parents have to pay something?
As we were then not far from the railway station which is supposed to go to Huancavelica, we thought we'd go and see if it really had closed down as reported. It hasn't! But it has a very strange setup. One man was all alone in the 'enquiry box'. He sent us round the back to the ticket office, where another man was all alone in a huge empty hall. Someone had phoned the person who mans the ticket office, and he came to sell us a ticket. It was afternoon by this time, and the office is only supposed to be open in the mornings!? But they were all very friendly and helpful. After this, both David and I were on a high, so we walked back to the hotel (25 minutes) instead of taking a taxi.
After a collapse, shower, and a bit of washing mud off my trousers, the rest of the day was spent lazing around. After studying a new map of Huancayo, that someone had given us, David realised that the Information Office was now in a different plaza. We went to investigate, and there it was! Supper was chips and a quarter chicken.
We started out by going out for breakfast just a few metres up the road from the hotel. It's quite an expensive café, but packed all the same. We had the continental breakfast and a pancake each. It turned out to be more than we really wanted.
The goal for the day was to go for a walk, first up to the Cerrito de la Libertad, a view point overlooking the city. That was easy to get to, although the rain was trying to make it difficult. It stopped, fortunately, when we were at the viewpoint, so we continued to our next goal, Torre Torre, some natural rock formations on the side of the hills to the NE of the city.
It wasn't easy to know how best to get to them. We could see them from the viewpoint, so we took a more or less direct line, which seemed reasonable. Unfortunately, there were some steep valleys in the way, and the paved roads had turned to sticky mud. We had to pick our way through some poor outskirts of the city, up and down sticky muddy tracks, but we got there in the end. The sun had come out by then, so it was really very pleasant. Unfortunately the going got a bit steep and exposed in places - a bit too much for Kari, really. Because of the altitude, the going was really tough.
Torre Torre turned out to be eroded pillars of earth, protected by caps of stone or gravel. They are quite extensive, and well worth the effort to visit them. The lower ones are the most impressive. The way down was, of course, much easier and shorter than the way up. We were soon down on paved roads again, skirting around the base of the Cerrito. We stopped for a banana snack on the way.
From here, we wanted to walk out to the east of the city to find out about buses to Huancavelica, which we want to go to on Friday. The second of the 2 train stations, the one from which trains to Huancavelica are supposed to run, is also out in that direction, so we were going to visit that too. There is a railway track running around the NE part of the city between the 2 stations. It is disused, but forms quite a significant feature in the town's geography. We wanted to walk down to this track, and then follow it round to the second station. On the way to the track, we walked through a most fantastic market selling masses of fruit and meat. The meat section wasn't for the weak of stomach.
We stopped for a drink on the way, which was very welcome. Eventually we got to the railway station, and it really looked as though nothing was going on there. We persevered however, and a man in what looked like a ticket office said that trains do, indeed, run 3 times a week to Huancavelica. He couldn't sell us a ticket, but indicated that we should go around the corner to another place to buy them. It was really all so implausible that the faint of heart would have long since given up. We went around the corner, crossed more train tracks, and found another large, empty looking, wooden building that could be a railway station. We found another man, who said that yet someone else would come soon to the ticket office, a tiny cubbyhole in the corner of this building. He sold us 2 tickets at S13 each for the Friday train. This is going to be a 5 hour train ride in the most expensive ticket category! It leaves at 06:30, we believe, but it might be 06:00, so it'll be an early start on Friday.
With this supreme success behind us, we didn't need to go to the bus station after all, so we simply walked back to the hotel, which took about 30 minutes. By the time we got there, it was about 15:00 and threatening to rain again. We had a well-earned rest, had a mango and banana as substitute for lunch, and wrote up our diaries.
After a while we went out for a walk to Plaza Huananmarca (or Civic Centre). We had obtained a newer map of the town from a tourist agent at some point and it showed the Tourist Information Office to be there, rather than where LP showed it to be. It was there, in a small kiosk in the form of a lady's head in traditional costume. We asked about how to get to Concepción tomorrow. The answer was not very clear, but seemed to indicate taking a colectivo from in front of the kiosk.
By this time we were getting quite peckish, so we stopped in a restaurant on Plaza de la Constitución that had chickens roasting on a spit. We ordered what seemed to be the minimum portion, viz. a quarter chicken with chips each. My chicken looked more like half a turkey. Anyway, it was well cooked and tender, but with a different flavour to home. Not just the local people have a different diet to us, the chickens do as well. Excepting the fact that the portion was too big, it was good. Despite the large first course, I was still able to face a dessert - a portion of rice pudding.
On the way back to the hotel past the cathedral, the doors were open and people were coming out, so we popped in for a quick look. Compared with Europe, Christmas hype is late in starting here. But it is getting going now, with lots of flashing, kitschy lights. There was a small group of folk musicians coming out of the service, who gave an impromptu short concert outside. They consisted of 2 guitars, 2 trumpets, a violin, and a female singer. It was very pleasant. After that, we had an early night, no doubt the after-effects of the night bus ride.
Day 23, Thursday 5 Dec, Río Mantaro valley
We started the day lazily, and then went to the Plaza Huamanmarca, where the colectivos pick up passengers. We missed 2 going to Concepción, but there were lots going to San Jerónimo. We didn't know where it was, but it turned out to be in the right direction. It's the village before Concepción.
San Jerónimo is a small, tidy village. We stopped for an ice cream, then caught a second colectivo to take us to Concepción, which is another pretty village. We wandered down a street full of market stalls, and bought some bread and bananas for lunch. The market sold everything. We sat in the central plaza to have lunch, and then took a taxi to Santa Rosa de Ocopa, where there is a famous convent. It was closed when we got there, but the church was open. It looked very Catholic. As it was a 2 hour wait to be shown round the convent, and the tour would be in Spanish, we decided not to wait and walked back to Concepción instead.
There is a hill there with a huge statue of the Madonna and it's possible to climb up it and look out of her crown. There was a fantastic view over the valley, which is very wide. We came down a different way and, of course, ended up padding through places where we shouldn't really have been. Once we got back to the village, we had trouble finding a beer. We found one eventually in a very nice restaurant, which had a tame parrot in the garden. Whilst there we also saw a humming bird, all bright florescent blues and greens. We caught a colectivo back to Huancayo without having to wait too long.
David then went to change some dollars and buy bananas for our early start tomorrow. It's breakfast on the train.
We were a bit more modest with our breakfast order this time - a simple continental breakfast each. The plan for the day was a bit vague due to lack of a good local map. Huancayo is in the middle of the Río Mantaro valley, and many of the villages in the valley have strong handicraft traditions. We thought it would be nice to visit some, preferably alone rather than in a group with Spanish speaking guide and, almost certainly, psychological pressure to buy some artifacts.
Tomorrow we shall be heading SE further down the valley by train, so it was natural to head out in the NW direction for the day. The best we could think of was to start by heading for Concepción. We hung around on the kerb near the Information Office trying to work out which combi to flag down. It wasn't easy. They all have names on the side, but most are unknown to us, probably suburbs of Huancayo. In the end, we opted for one going to San Jerónimo, which was on our map just short of Concepción. The fare prices for these combis is so ridiculously low, that it doesn't hurt if you make a mistake.
It was a 30 minute ride in ever improving scenery as the urban sprawl of Huancayo was gradually left behind. San Jerónimo was a very pleasant small town specialising in jewelry and silver plate. We sat awhile over a soft drink before finding a second combi to take us on to Concepción, another pleasant small town. There was a huge market going on down the length of one of the streets. We found ourselves a souvenir there.
The next port of call was the Convent of Santa Rosa de Ocopa, some 5 km from the town. This appeared to be too far for the local mototaxis, so a group of mototaxi drivers organised a taxi for us. As we were expecting, we reached the convent in the middle of their 3 hour lunch break, and it was raining. It was too long to wait, despite the apparently very worthwhile library in the convent. We started to stroll back through Ocopa (it had stopped raining by this time) towards Concepción, past fields full of big globe artichokes. After a while a combi stopped and took us the rest of the way.
On the way into the town, Kari spotted a footpath up to a statue on a hill above the town. We got out and climbed the hill. It was very hard work because of the altitude. It also started to rain again. The statue was a big concrete Madonna with crown, and steps up to the crown. It was a wonderful view from up there over the valley towards the surrounding hills. A group of local young adults spotted us soon afterwards and were very friendly, wanting photos with us, etc.
We found an alternative descent which was not quite so steep as the ascent and going more in the direction of the centre of the town. About halfway down, we took a detour down to a small grotto. Rather than climbing back up again, we followed a trail going in the general direction of the town. The trail, of course, deteriorated as we forged our way on past some sheep and pigs. Eventually we reached the town without getting too muddy.
After a nice beer in a lovely restaurant on the main road, where we saw a humming bird, we squeezed into a combi that took us back into Huancayo. All in all a successful outing, despite its shaky start.
We ate again in the Detrás de la Catedral restaurant since we had enjoyed the previous meal there. Tomorrow we're up early for the train, so it's another early night.
Day 24, Friday 6 Dec, Huancayo to Huancavelica by Train
After a miserable night's sleep, we were up at 5 am. We had to be at the station for 6 am. We found a taxi with no problem, even so early in the morning. The big hall, which had been so empty when we bought the tickets, was now a different place. There was a long queue in front of the ticket office, and lots of passengers sitting around the edges. The women were in their best costumes, which are really beautiful, but I'm not sure if they are practical.
The train left bang on time at 6:30 am, and it trundled through the streets blasting its horn. The route it took was very spectacular. It followed the Río Mantaro downstream to Izcuchaga, where it then followed the Río Icha, a tributary, upstream to Huancavelica. All in all it was a 6 hour journey for 127 km. The gorges it went through were impressive, but more impressive are all the small fields of agriculture, which one sees in all the most inaccessible places, e.g. on a steep slope with no path to it, or down by the river miles from the nearest habitation. The train had a kitchen, and the staff were kept busy providing passengers with food - huge portions they were too.
Huancavelica is at 3700 m, and one feels it too, especially when going uphill. We visited a thermal bath, but it was too cold, so we didn't go in. The mornings and evenings are really cold. I'm very glad that I've got my thermal underwear.
We were up at 05:00 and out of the hotel by 05:30 without breakfast to make sure of getting to the railway station in time. There was a couple at the reception desk clearly waiting for a taxi to the same place. We, of course, are by now so blasé and self-confident that we didn't need the hotel to call a taxi for us. A simple walk across the Plaza de la Constitution was enough to have one stop for us, even at that time of the morning. He took us to the station for a mere S5, including a S1 tip. Tipping, by the way, seems to be unusual in Peru. Waitresses and taxi drivers don't seem to expect it. We were at the station before the couple from the hotel!
The station was a complete contrast to 2 days previously. There was a queue about 15 deep in front of the ticket office cubbyhole, and quite a lot of people already sitting around waiting to be allowed to board the train. The train, all 4 coaches of it minus the engine, was waiting at the platform. There were lots of local people waiting to catch the train, and lots of the women were clearly dressed in their Sunday best national costumes. It was very colourful.
We had tickets in the so-called 'buffet class', the higher of the 2 classes. The seats were well padded, if extremely well used. There was a table to 4 seats, and we had such a unit to ourselves. All the rolling stock was extremely old. After a while, the engine joined itself and 2 goods vans onto us, and off we chugged, horn blaring as we crossed the main road. The train left on time at 06:30 - we could have had another half hour in bed.
It was a very slow, but spectacular trip. It took almost 6 hours to do 127 km. We started by following the Río Mantaro downriver for quite a while losing about 200 m in altitude. Then it was uphill for the rest of the way until we finally got to Huancavelica at 3690 m, some 450 m higher than Huancayo. All the way we seemed to be on the side of steep slopes with vertical drops into the river. The mountains were very steep, and looked very unstable being a mixture of rocks and dried mud. At times, there were stones sliding down the slopes towards us. I even think that I heard one hit the train. It does, however, seem to be a very fertile area. Even the steep hillsides are cultivated.
We stopped at about 5 villages along the way, and at a few unmarked shelters, to pick up new passengers or set some down. The train had a kitchen, which was kept very busy serving meals to passengers. All in all, a marvellous trip.
We walked from the station to our chosen hostel, the Gran Hostal La Portada. There is not much choice in this out-of-the-way town. The double room with bathroom is only S40 per night. Of course, not everything works as it should. But that's been mostly the case in the other more expensive hotels. But it's quite cold.
We went out for lunch, which wasn't bad if, as usual, too much for us. The town has what it calls thermal baths, so we had to try those next. It was quite a tough climb up a flight of steps to get there - the altitude is really a problem. When we finally got in to the baths and changed, we tested the water before jumping in. It was no warmer than your standard Swiss indoor swimming pool. We got changed back again and gave the dip a miss.
On walking around the town after that, trying to find the way to a second thermal pool outside the town, Kari became very quiet. She thought that the altitude might be getting to her and making her feel giddy. So we walked slowly back to the hotel, where there was hot water in the taps. We had showers and a long lie down. The problem with the oxygen deficiency is that it is marginal. If one breathes deeply, everything is all right. But as soon as one forgets, as when going to sleep, one suddenly starts to feel giddy or get a headache. It's quite unpleasant. Let's hope it's better tomorrow.
Before going out for the evening, we put on all the clothes from our rucksacks that, only a couple of days ago in Iquitos, looked as though they were not going to get used on this holiday - headband, long-sleeved thermal vest, gloves, and long johns. It helped a lot. Only the waterproof over-trousers were left in the hotel room.
We went looking for bus stations for buses to Pisco. We didn't have much luck, but found the school children practising country dancing in one of the public squares.
Day 25, Saturday 7 Dec, Huancavelica
We had a very good breakfast in a café on the Plaza de Armas. After cleaning our teeth, we set out to see if we could find a bus station with buses to Pisco. Unfortunately the office that we went to only did night buses, and that's a no-no for David. The lady told us of another company that would take us to Rumichaca, about half way there, and then we would have to catch a bus going to Pisco from Ayacucho. The only snag is that the bus leaves at 4 am - not my idea of fun!
On the way to this bus agency, we saw school children getting ready for a parade. I think it was a dancing competition or festival. But the children were very brightly clad in different regional costumes. Boys danced in separate groups to the girls.
Then we slowly walked to the Seccsechaca thermal springs. The situation is very peaceful and it has all been very tastefully organised with crazy paving from one pool to another. We had a dip, and very welcome it was too. We took a taxi back to the hotel, dropped off a few things, then left again to have a snack lunch.
Each area has its own type of artisan work. Here it is mainly knitted ware. I found some leg warmers for myself and Mirjam. The price of food here is so low. We had another cake and some orange juice, about a litre of it. It all came to 6 soles, or 2 Fr. How can it be so cheap?
The sun has lost its strength and it's suddenly gone cool - time to put the long johns on again.
We survived the night in the first uncomfortable bed of the holiday, a double bed tipping us both into the middle. At least there were plenty of heavy blankets to keep us warm, and altitude related problems abated. On getting up in the morning, it was a case of putting on all one's warm clothing until the day warmed up.
After a nice breakfast in the Plaza de Armas, we walked over to Plaza Santa Ana to see if we could book a bus to Pisco for tomorrow at one of the agents there, Oropesa. Unfortunately, they only had a night bus, which I vetoed. The girl in the agency said that the only possible day bus was the 04:00 bus to Rumichaca with Union Andino. Their office was to the west of the centre, a cheap ride with colectivo number 1 or 7. Getting to the office worked well, despite diversions in the town centre for a folk dancing festival. We discussed with the lady in the Union Andino office for quite a while trying to be sure of what she was saying. In the end, we understood that we have to be at the agency's office, a 15 minute walk from the hotel, by 3 am in order to get a lift to the bus terminal for the 04:00 bus. If we're late, the lift won't wait for us. We paid S14 each for the tickets. What happens in Rumichaca, where we have to pick up a bus heading from Ayacucho to Pisco, is in the lap of the gods.
The town today has been full of visitors dressed in local costumes for a folk dance festival. It has been incredibly colourful and busy. We didn't see much of the dancing, just a small sample as the groups were forming up for a procession. Our intention was to find the Seccsachaca thermal baths. These are the ones a few km from the centre of town, which we had failed to find the previous day. This time we asked the hotel receptionist to show us how to get there. We strolled down to the riverside promenade and followed it downstream to the last road bridge over the river. We crossed that, turned right over another bridge, where the road turns into a dirt road, and followed that for another km or so. Along the way, the day had been warming up, and we had been gradually stripping off.
The entrance fee to the baths was only S1, and they are very, very nice. By this time, it was such beautiful weather that I just had to have a dip. Fortunately I had foreseen this and had my bathers with me. It was delightful, with a cool waterfall to use as a shower, and a nice pool in mountain surroundings. The water wasn't hot, but at least it was pleasantly warm, mabe 27 degrees or so. It was so nice that I was able to persuade Kari to give it a try too. She borrowed my swimming costume and wore her thermal vest. Afterwards we sat around drying in the sun to save getting the camping towel wet. We strolled back in the direction of town, taking a taxi No. 7 as soon as we reached the paved road again. Just after we got back to the hotel, there was a downpour.
We have done essentially nothing this afternoon. We've been out for a snack in the form of a cake and hot drink, strolled around the shops buying a present for Mirjam and another for Kari, and had a second snack of cake and about half a litre of freshly made orange juice each. Now, at 17:00, a thunder storm has developed and it is pouring down.
Some time later … After the storm we went out to eat - quarter chicken and chips again. Again there was too much chicken, but it tasted more like the chicken that we have at home and was well cooked. We set the alarm clock for 02:20 and went to bed.
Day 26, Sunday 8 Dec, Huancavelica to Pisco via Rumichaca
The day started at 2:20 am! Usually I don't sleep well before an early start, but this time I did, maybe because I was secretly hoping that we'd miss the bus. Well, there were already people waiting at the agent's office when we arrived, and we got there just before 3 am for a bus which should leave at 4 am. When the bus turned up, we all got on, and it quickly filled up with locals, one carrying a puppy, and another carrying a lamb.
At about 3:20 the bus drove away from the office to the bus terminal on the outskirts of town. Yet more people got on. Every seat was taken, and lots were standing in the gangway. I slept a bit during the first 2 hours then, as it got light, I noticed that the mountain tops were covered in snow. We must have been up well over 4000 m (on checking when we got home, it turned out that the highest point on the road was 4853 m). There were small villages and dwellings up at that height. The houses were made of mud bricks with thatched roofs, and had neither windows nor chimneys. The smoke seeped out through the thatch. How they manage to eek out a living, let alone keep warm, is to me a marvel. The bus was about half full when it arrived at its destination, Rumichaca, about 3.5 hours later. Rumichaca is a 1 horse village, where the road from Huancavelica meets the road from Ayacucho to Pisco. It was cold. We don't know how high Rumichaca is, but it was certainly cold. We had a welcome cup of coffee. The village was much smaller than expected. It seemed to be a row of stalls selling hot food. It did also have 2 hostels.
Here we had to wait for a combi or bus. It was a Sunday, and still quite early. There was very little traffic. Other travellers were also waiting, so that was encouraging. They all got lifts with either lorries or pick-up trucks. We weren't too sure about that, so we continued to wait. Eventually a combi came by, but he unfortunately only had one space, so we continued to wait. Not too long after a bus came. The conductor said something that we didn't understand. It turned out that all the seats were taken, but we could sit in the spare seats in the driver's cabin. There's room there for 7 people plus the driver. We were lucky to be able to get onto the bus at all. The view was very good from the driver's cabin, but the driver drove a little bit on the fast side. I'm glad we weren't on the top deck - the bus swayed a lot going round corners.
We climbed still higher. The views were spectacular, huge mountains, very bleak and barren, lots of herds of alpacas or llamas. The pass was high, about 4000 m. Then we started to come down, and we'd been coming down for an hour or so, and were still at 3700 m! Slowly the vegetation turned to desert. We stopped for a welcome lunch at some unidentified place and had a shellfish soup. We also took the opportunity to take off our thermal underwear.
We arrived at San Clementi, just outside Pisco, after about 3.5 hours. The bus went on to Lima without going into the centre of Pisco. So we took a taxi into the centre, got dropped at the Plaza de Armas, and looked for a hotel. It doesn't matter how many stars a hotel has, there's always something that is only just working. We had to change rooms because the fan didn't work. In the new room, the loo seat is only held on by a thread, and there are no coat hangers!
Of course we couldn't sleep knowing that we had to be up at 02:30 then dash for the bus. As it was, we were up before the alarm and had plenty of time to stroll to the bus agent's office. There were still some Saturday night revellers around, but fewer dogs than expected. Peru has lots of very docile stray dogs.
The office was open, and a few other people were already waiting. A bus turned up and Rumichaca bound people were asked to board. We didn't pay much attention to seat numbers, but simply sat in the places we had picked on the bus plan earlier. The numbers didn't correspond, of course. We didn't worry too much since we expected to be driven to a bus terminal and loaded into another bus, when it turned up. As it turned out, we were already on the right bus, and it got more and more crowded. In the end, there were people standing in the aisle when we left the bus station at 04:15, a mere 15 minutes late. We had managed to stick to our seats, but the lady standing next to me was carrying a puppy wrapped in a blanket. I expected an accident of the worst kind at any minute. Another lady was carrying a lamb.
After about an hour, the bus stopped in a village where quite a few people got off, so the crush was more bearable. It also got light, which helped a lot too.
The bus did a lot of climbing until we could see snow covered mountains. After a while there was even snow beside the road. How the people survive up there is a mystery. The houses are windowless and chimneyless, it is cold, and there is no air. We were well over 4000 m. LP mentions a road pass at 4850 m between Pisco and Huancavelica, but it's not clear to me if that's the road that we took. On getting home, where we could buy a replacement road map of Peru, it is clear that the road from Huancavelica to Rumichaca really does go over that pass.
In the end, after about 3.5 hours of travelling, gradually dropping off passengers in the most unlikely spots in the middle of a very bleak high mountain plateau, we reached the bus's and our destination, Rumichaca. This is on the main road between Pisco and Ayacucho. It was the tiniest of hamlets, and it was drizzling. I had expected a much bigger village given its strategic location. We had a coffee to warm us up a bit before going to stand by the road to wait for something that might take us in the direction of Pisco. We also put on all of our warm clothing, including the over-trousers this time.
The road was deserted, just a lorry passing by now and again. At one point a combi stopped, but only had room for 1 more passenger. After 2 hours or so, the bus on which we had arrived set off on its way back to Huancavelica, so we started considering possibilities like: "If we are still here at this time tomorrow, we'll take that bus back to Huancavelica and so get back to Lima via Huancayo". It had in the meantime warmed up so that we could take off headbands, gloves and over-trousers.
Of course, in the end a bus did come by after about 3 hours of waiting and, although he had no proper seats for us, he let us get on. We ended up in the driver's section of the bus. Kari even had a comfortable seat with full panoramic view. My seat was not so good, but the view excellent. I think that we got fleeced with the fare - S30 each. This is a lot more expensive than we have become used to, but we didn't grumble after the long wait. A night spent in Rumichaca would definitely have been too much of an adventure.
We saw lots of alpacas grazing on our way to the coast. Even after we had been going for quite a while and having dropped down quite a lot, we came to a sign showing that we were still at 3600 m, so I can't guess what the highest point was.
The landscape became drier and drier as we descended into a steep sided valley. The bus stopped for lunch at one point, and it was so hot that we had to strip off. We were eventually dropped off at about 15:00 some 6 km from Pisco when the bus reached the PanAmericana highway, where it turned north to carry on to Lima. A taxi soon got us to the centre of Pisco, and the LP directed us to a pleasant hotel, the Hotel Residencial San Jorge, at S75 per night, without breakfast.
Day 27, Monday 9 Dec, Pisco
I must admit, I'm getting quite excited about going back to Switzerland. It's not that I haven't enjoyed Peru - it's been a real experience - just a pity that our Spanish wasn't better. David had the basics and managed well, but a little bit more would have been nicer.
Today we booked a half-day tour of the Paracas Peninsula and a boat trip to some islands. Then we just slowly walked down to the beach, which was really good and stretched a long way, but no one was on it. No breakers for surfing. We didn't go in, it was rather cold. Then we ambled back to town to look for a present for Finn. We found T-shirts for both Finn and David. Then we strolled round the market, crowded, cramped, everyone shouting out his wares.
As it was lunchtime and we were feeling peckish and David wanted to eat with the locals, that's what we did. But the kitchen hygiene left a lot to be desired. If I don't get diarrhoea after that, I should never get it again! We had a minestrone soup.
Pisco has a lot of buildings, including hotels, which have high, heavy iron gates protecting them. We have to be let in and out of our hotel.
After lunch, we wandered slowly back to the hotel, stopping for an orange juice on the way. They really are good. David counted 6 oranges going into it. We had a swim in the hotel pool when we got back. Supper was a pizza and a very filling strawberry milk shake.
We haven't really done much today, but I'll report it just the same. We were up at around 07:30 to find high blanket cloud like we had had in Lima, but it wasn't as cold. We had our standard American breakfast in the hotel's café. It was better than average. The scrambled eggs had enough salt in them, the bread was in the form of fresh rolls rather than toasted sliced bread, there was plenty of jam, and the coffee was powdered coffee rather than the usual dark brown syrup diluted with hot water. The only minus point was the small portion of butter. Actually, I'm coming to the conclusion that butter must be relatively expensive in Peru. One always gets a very small portion.
We then went out looking for a tour by boat around the Islas Ballestros, which are about a 20 minute bus ride down the coast. The hotel owner tried to push us into taking a day tour before we had even completely checked in yesterday afternoon. That put me off that option straight away. There's nothing like a pushy salesman to turn me off buying his product. In any case, he was toting a full day tour of both the islands and the Paracas peninsula. On LP's recommendation that the second half of such a tour in not very interesting, and our experience of Chan Chan, where we found the full day tour too long, we were really only looking for a half-day tour. His quoted price of S80 plus extras was also off putting.
There were 3 tourist offices in the town that we found. We took the last one with Bahia Tours for S40 per person plus S5 of extras. We should get picked up at 07:00 from the hotel in the morning, and be finished by about 11:30. The guide should speak English.
By this time, the high cloud had dispersed so that it was nice and sunny. We strolled down to the beach, calling in at a bus terminal on the way to book seats on a bus to Lima on Wednesday. It turned out not to be possible. They only sold tickets for the current day!
It was a very pleasant stroll along a clean road with not much traffic. Pisco was destroyed by an earthquake 6 years ago. It was apparently of magnitude 8. There are only a few buildings of more than one story, and lots of gaps in the buildings, usually walled off pending rebuilding. It must have been devastating.
To reach the beach, we wandered through a plot designated to be a new park, but which was not yet completed. At the other side of the plot, there was a shallow lake blocking our way, but an old pier spanned it. The pier was in a miserable state of repair, but wasn't barricaded off, and we could see people on it, so we stepped onto it and headed out over the lake to the beach and the ocean. The sea was a very nice shade of blue and there were only small breakers. It was not possible to reach the very end of the pier. There was a gap. The last, unreachable bit had what looked like old cranes on it. Perhaps it was once a boat loading pier. The people at the end were fishing in a strange way. They were simply dangling big fishing hooks in the water and snatching at them now and again. They seemed to have neither bait nor lures on their hooks. They also didn't seem to have caught anything. The unreachable part of the pier was full of sea birds. They looked like cormorants.
We strolled back to where the pier was over the beach and climbed down a short ladder to the sand. It was very nice walking along the water's edge paddling in the occasional wave. We didn't feel tempted to go for a bathe, even though the water looked clean and safe. After a while, we noticed that the sea birds from the pier were circling around a spot in the sea, presumably a shoal of fish. On looking through the binoculars we saw that there were some pelicans amongst them. They are enormous compared with the other sea birds.
We wandered back to town, stopping next to a drink stall in the shade to have some bananas and a bottle of Inca Kola. We were still short of a gift for Finn, so we started strolling along any streets full of shops that we could find. On the way we stopped at a hairdresser's to get my beard trimmed. It was starting to get a bit straggly after 4 weeks away from home. It was a very nice cut for S15. In the end we found a T-shirt for me and one for Finn. We found ourselves in an area of town with a busy road running through it and lots of shanty-town style shops along it. These suddenly turned into a market area full of eating places. To Kari's horror I wanted to stop and eat something there. We had been looking for a place to get a fruit juice and fruit salad, both of which are absolutely fabulous in Peru. Kari vetoed such things in this sort of market place, so we compromised on a bowl of soup each. We tried to get a vegetable soup in vain. What came was a big bowl of soup with unidentifiable lumps of meat in it. We ate the soup leaving the hunks of meat - it was good with lots of veg and pasta in it. But I agree with Kari insofar as the standards of hygiene in the kitchen left much to be desired.
We spent the rest of the afternoon lazing around the hotel swimming pool. Our selected up-market restaurant for the evening meal was closed on Mondays, so we settled for a Peru style pizza (mediocre) followed by a strawberry and condensed milk purée (excellent). A sit in the Plaza de Armes watching the people walk by finished off the evening.
Day 28, Tuesday 10 Dec, Boat Trip to Islas Ballestros
Our last full day! We were up for an early breakfast as we had arranged to go on a boat trip to the Islas Ballestros. We were picked up from the hotel at 7 am, then on to pick up a few more people. We got to the village of El Chaco, where a lot of boats were moored ready to take the tourists out to the islands. Our boat was moored a little way off so we got into the combi again, collected yet a few more people, and eventually got to our boat.
The guide was good with a good sense of humour. The islands are a nature reserve, and are home to lots of sea birds, Inca terns, boobies, Humboldt penguins, pelicans, guayana cormorants, and red-headed vultures, as well as sea lions. It is very impressive. The guano is collected every 3 or 7 years (he said both!). On the way out we were overtaken by a skein of sea birds. They were flying low over the water, waving up and down, marvellous to watch. The boat was doing 35 to 40 kph. I didn't know birds could fly so fast.
We came back with the bus that took us. We went out for a lunch of soup and apple cake, followed by another walk to the pier. We sat on the end watching the bird life. An egret landed near us. Its legs were quite strange - it looked knock-kneed. Basically we were winding down, getting ready for the flight home tomorrow.
We had supper in the most expensive restaurant yet. The food was good, as was the ambiance.
We were up early this morning to have breakfast before going off on our boat trip to the Islas Ballestros. The organisation had a rather sleezy feel to it at first, but it turned out well in the end. A minibus picked us up at the hotel at 07:00 along with an American/Peruvian family, picked up a few more in the town, and drove down the coast for about 30 minutes to Paracas/El Chaco. Here there was a general sifting of people into various groups, and we ended up being led off on our own back to the minibus, after being relieved of S5 each for a tourist tax. We drove off, picked up some others, and ended up in a rather posh residential area of El Chaco village. We walked along the front to a small pier and a fast looking boat. My theory is that we were being taken to a private pier to avoid charges at the village's central pier. We were a group of 22 altogether, about 6 or 7 short of a boatful.
The sea was calm, and the boat set off at speed - 35 kph according to the guide. The guide wasn't bad, switching between Spanish and English all the while. It was about a 30 minute ride out to the first island, stopping on the way to look at the Candelabra geoglyph, a bit like the white horses on chalk hills in England, only this is dug out of the sandy hillside. It is located on the Paracas peninsula. Its origin is apparently unknown, but could be between 200 and 500 BC. On the way to the island we were accompanied by a skein of seabirds not merely keeping pace with us, but gaining on us. They made a wavy line as they headed out to sea.
The rocky islands were full of bird life and sea lions. The birds included pelicans, blue-footed boobies, Homboldt penguins, Inca terns, and cormorants. The boat cruised very slowly around the islands, in and out of coves, through arches, etc. giving us a very good view of the fauna. The guide was also quite knowledgeable. All in all, it was a good tour. On the way back, we passed a huge swimming flock of guano cormorants. We were back in Pisco for about 11:00, somewhat earlier that promised, but it was long enough.
With a large evening meal in mind, we went out for a snack lunch in town. It was a bowl of soup again, with indescribable bits of meat in it. We just ate the soup, which was very good, and didn't tackle the meat. We followed it with a piece of apple pie. Afterwards we strolled down to the coast and out to the end of the pier again. It seemed further this time! We sat at the end of the pier until the wind started to make us feel cool. Now we are sitting around the pool in the hotel waiting until it's time for that evening meal. Last night the chosen restaurant was closed. We're hoping for better luck tonight.
Some time later … The restaurant was open and the food was good. It was also expensive compared to our usual fare (S109 = CHF 38). I had fried plaice with tartare sauce and fried yuccas. Kari had a large portion of mashed vegetables, mainly beans, with prawns and a mildly spicy sauce. For dessert, we shared an enormous bowl of fruit salad with a cappucino each. We were truly in need of a long sit in the Plaza de Armas afterwards to let it all settle.
Day 29, Wednesday 11 Dec, Pisco to Amsterdam via Lima
Our last day! After a long breakfast, we went to the bus terminal and sat and waited for a long while before the assistant was ready to sell us a ticket.
There were only 3 passengers on the bus at Pisco, and not many got on along the way. It all helped to make the journey pleasant. The terminal in Lima was in the La Victoria district, near to where we stayed when we first arrived. It made it easier that everything wasn't totally new, and we knew where we had to go. David wanted to see if he could replace the map of Peru, LP having a reference to a place where maps were sold. The place turned out to be a one-man kiosk on a street corner. He didn't have what we wanted, so we went to get some lunch.
Our late lunch consisted of a shared plate of chips and a shared bottle of orangina. Afterwards we took a taxi to the airport. The driver only wanted 25 soles. The other taxis which we had taken from the airport were twice that price!
It was time to set off home. The flight from Lima was scheduled for 21:15, and the bus ride from Pisco to Lima was supposed to be 4 hours. We therefore decided to catch the 10:00 bus with Flores, whose bus terminal in Pisco was only a block away from the Plaza de Armas. That gave us plenty of time to have a leisurely breakfast, to finish our packing, and to walk to the terminal. It was a relatively old and uncomfortable bus compared to many of those that we had taken on the busier routes in Peru, but the price of S15 each helped to eek out our remaining Soles.
It was hot and sunny leaving Pisco, so we thought that it might be a hot and sweaty ride in the old bus. As it turned out, the bus was relatively empty so we could open the windows near us and get a nice cooling breeze. About a third of the way to Lima, it turned foggy and the temperature dropped accordingly. The PanAmericana was smooth and dual carriageway most of the time, so the drive was quite smooth. It was desert all the way. The nearer to Lima that we got, the more we saw of holiday apartment developments in the various bays along the coast. There were also secured residential estates looking very posh, like I imagine one finds in South Africa.
As usual, the bus took longer than scheduled to get through the traffic in Lima. Despite that, we were at the Flores terminal in Lima on Avenida 28 de Julio by about 15:30. This was very convenient, since it was an area of town which we knew. To pass some time, we decided to walk to the Plaza de San Martin, maybe 1 km away. LP recommended a kiosk there for getting maps of Peru. As expected, the recommendation was unfounded. The kiosk did have street maps of Lima, but its maps of Peru were no better than those which we had found elsewhere.
By this time, we were getting quite hungry, having had only a packet of Ritz-type biscuits and a banana on the bus. We were getting quite low on Peruvian money, and it didn't seem worthwhile changing any more for our last few hours in the country. We therefore simply found a Peruvian equivalent of McDonalds to have a portion of chips and soft drink. The portion of chips was huge, and very good. The Fanta, which we had with it, was rather Peruvian. Its orange colour looked as though it had come straight from a chemical factory.
Getting a taxi to take us the the airport was, as always in this country, trivial. It was also cheap at S25. We have paid S60 twice for the journey in the opposite direction. It was a very typical Peruvian taxi ride, aggressive with lots of horn blowing and weaving in and out of all the competing traffic. One can only cross one's fingers and be happy when one arrives at one's destination safe and sound.
The prices in the airport were quite a shock. There was no problem to use up our remaining S60 or so on a coffee and bottle of duty free Pisco schnapps. Check-in and the other departure formalities were painless, and we left pretty much on time. There are quite a few empty seats on the flight, which makes everything much more comfortable than on the flight out. It's now 04:30 body time, so we should be just over half way. I don't expect there to be much more to report. The transfer in Amsterdam is quite short, and we should be in Zurich for about 18:30 local time.
Day 30, Thursday 12 Dec, Amsterdam to Riniken
I was wrong about having no more to report. We had a big hassle in Amsterdam. The bottle of Pisco schnapps, which I had bought in the duty free shop at Lima airport, was not sealed. As a result, the security people in the transit area of Amsterdam airport insisted that I either discard it, or put it into my shoulder bag and check it in. Naturally, I opted to check it in since we had about 90 minutes to wait for the flight. Getting to the check-in desks involved leaving the transit area. I asked Kari to wait for me near to the security checkpoint that wouldn't let me through.
On the way to the check-in desk, I dropped my passport. In addition the distances were enormous, and my route back to departures didn't go through the same security checkpoint as before. By the time that I had responded to the public announcement call to get my passport back, and had asked for an announcement to be made for Kari to get her to go to the gate on her own rather than to wait for me, there were only about 15 minutes left before the flight started boarding. We could have done with a shower before getting on the plane.
In Zurich, there was frost on the ground. There was no convenient bus when we got to Brugg, so we walked up to Riniken. The house was still standing, but it was only 12 degrees in the living room.
Some Thoughts on Peru
• Noise: The towns are large and noisy. The taxis are constantly hooting. Smaller town have mototaxis - rickshaws with 2-stroke motors. They were very noisy, and always racing each other, and hooting for customers.
• Dust: There is always dust in the air, either from the desert or the dry dirt on the roads.
• The People: People on the whole were very friendly, especially in the mountains. In the mountainous region, all the young children were carried on their mother's backs - I've never seen young children looking so placid and content.
• Buildings: Lots of buildings aren't finished off properly. The reinforcement steel rods are just left sticking up out of the walls.
• Maintenance: In the hotels, lots of things only half work, e.g. lavatory cisterns. Lavatory seats are held on with only one hinge. Thermos flask tops are half broken.
• Scenery: The countryside is very impressive with beautiful views, huge mountains, and very interesting archeological sites.
• TV: The television is always on in public places such as restaurants.
David's Notes: The following notes are a direct copy from my 7th email circular dated 14 Dec 2013. If you've read that, you don't need to read this.
• Language: I knew before we came that one needed to be able to speak some Spanish to be able to get by reasonably well in S America. To that end, both Kari and I spent the last year attending Spanish courses. Despite investing quite a lot of effort into this, I was disappointed at how little I was able to communicate with the local people. This is a criticism of myself, not the Peruvians.
As a result, though, our interaction with the local people was very limited. People would come up to us and try to talk to us. The most that we could do in return was smile. It was so frustrating, and our success so limited considering the invested effort, that I don't see any chance of overcoming this obstacle in the future. I never was much good at foreign languages at school.
• The People: The local people were extremely friendly and tolerant. Whatever the discomfort in a crowded bus or disparity between our comparative wealth and their all too evident poverty, we always felt welcome wherever we went.
• Safety: Personal safety, I feel, is impossible to quantify in a meaningful way. A statistician might be able to calculate the probability of being attacked or robbed, and it might be very small, but if it happens to happen to oneself, then it is a catastrophe. Both before and during the trip, everywhere we went, we were for ever being told how dangerous this place or that place was. If we had followed all the advice that we received, we would never have gone anywhere.
As it turned out, we were neither robbed nor attacked. What is more, we never felt threatened in any way, nor had we the feeling that we were a possible target. Maybe we were lucky. It was clear how easily one could have been robbed. We were stopped at police checkpoints many, many times, travelling by bus and taxi, for the checking of ID cards and passports; at one checkpoint near Chachapoyas, we were checked 3 times in one day! Any one of these checkpoints could easily have been a road block set up by bandits. Some of the police on the checkpoints looked a lot like bandits anyway.
Naturally we were careful, but there are limits to how careful one can be. For example, one recommendation is not to go out after dark. Given that it is pitch dark by 18:30 or so, this is clearly impractical. We did, however, take care not to be out after 10 pm, except on the night when we had to be at the bus terminal at 3 am on a Saturday night. We were relieved when we got to that terminal safely!
• Food: We never really enjoyed the Peruvian cuisine. Our Lonely Planet guide book enthused over the various dishes available. To us, it was chicken, chicken, or chicken, or indescribable cuts of meat, usually pork. The portion sizes were also off-putting, much too big.
Just like with safety issues, there are general recommendations to travellers, which are totally impractical when underway as backpackers for several weeks. The basic advice that one reads everywhere of "Cook it, boil it, peel it, or forget it" cannot sensibly be adhered too. As a result, we took our chances in the first week and paid for it with digestive problems, as expected. Once these were over, our digestions behaved more or less like at home. We were rather conservative, though, when it came to buying food from street stalls.
• Hassle: We were very positively impressed by the lack of hassle from hawkers, beggars, taxi drivers and the like. Obviously one did get hassled when coming out of a bus station, but a firm "No" was usually enough to put an end to it. This was definitely not the case in India.
• Noise: To Peruvians it would seem that silence is a vacuum that just has to be filled. There is noise everywhere from hooting taxis, televisions in restaurants, DVDs in buses, etc. On walking into an empty, quiet restaurant, the waitress is sure to turn on the TV specially for you!
• Dogs: There are stray dogs everywhere. In our experience, they were all very docile and no problem, but one cannot walk without looking at one's feet all the time. Actually it's not just dogs' droppings that one must look out for, but missing manhole covers as well. For some reason or other (theft, earthquakes, ???), many of the drain covers in pavements are missing. One could easily step into one and break a leg. Once, we even saw a missing manhole cover in the middle of a busy street.
• The Towns: There seems to be hardly a finished looking building in the whole country. The outside walls are usually just rough brickwork, and nearly every building seems to have steel, reinforced concrete rods sticking up into the sky ready to add on another floor when money is available. As a result, every town looks like a shanty town, not very beautiful to the eyes of a tourist, but no doubt a result of money being tight. On the other hand, nearly every town and some villages have very pleasant main squares, usually called Plaza de Armas.