Location: Huaraz & Lima, Peru
Our first day in Huaraz was spent hiking up to a cross high above the city and collecting rubbish from the surrounding area! A couple of Canadian girls from our hostel had been up the day before and were horrified at the amount of litter, so we put a crew together and subsequently ended up being filmed by a local guy for our efforts (for educational purposes, people!)
Huaraz is the base for a number of multi-day treks through the surrounding mountains, however we were content with taking the only 1 day trek offered - a long day to a place called Laguna 69. It was the highest climb we had done up to this point, from 3700m to 4800m in close to 3 hours. We probably should have taken a bit longer to climb that height at that altitude, however unfortunately we were teamed with a pint-sized guide we like to refer to as Speedy Gonzales! But despite the difficult climb the lake was like nothing I have ever seen - the blue-est of blues and ice cold to touch, we even witnessed a couple of avalanches on the other side (not far enough away to be comfortable!)
While the following day did not bring as much walking, it did beat the record set the previous day for the highest altitude reached. Friday we set off for Nevada Postoruri, where at 5000m we opted to take some mules for part of the way! Being just that little bit closer to the heavens made all of the difference, because once off the bus we found perfect snowflakes forming on our gloved hands - it was snowing! A couple of snowmen later and it was time for the trip home, at which point we promptly freshened up for a night on the town at Coca Bar and Macondo´s (Nik and Kristy making an early departure after having 1 too many tequila shots with the Israeli´s!)
And with Sunday night came the most horror of our horror overnight bus rides. 8 hours to Lima and not the worst bus we have travelled on, but it quickly took out first position when a baby screamed for almost the entire trip. At one point with about half an hour to go a man sitting across from me clapped his hands a few times and said something I didn´t understand, although it seems the baby did because it stopped crying immediately! Which begs the question - why was this not done 8 hours earlier?!
So after emerging from the bus in Lima at 5am with a heightened dislike for small children we once again headed for the coast, this time at Miraflores. After a quick sleep in our baby-free hostel (it was a pre-requisite before entering) we hit the streets in the afternoon, stumbling across some really interesting Indian markets and strolling along the cliff top with the ocean far below. Miraflores is fabulous - what this place is to Lima, Scarborough or Cottesloe is to Perth. We ended our walk at Larcomar, a massive mall-type set up dug into the side of the cliff where we got perhaps our first feel of the Western World - there was a Hooters, complete with a ´Kids Eat Free on Sunday´ promotion!
On our way back to the hostel there seemed to be a lot of commotion coming from the middle of one of the city parks, and on closer inspection we found a group of oldies dancing in a sunken amphitheatre to some absolute classics! The tiers were full of spectators cheering and clapping along, one couple in particular busting out some hilarious moves!
After everything we had been told about Lima we were a little sceptical about going in. But we couldn´t bypass it completely so Tuesday was spent exploring Peru´s capital city. A lot of what we had been told was correct - it is a filthy, grey city - but after finding a cool pedestrian mall between the 2 main plazas we quickly filled our day. I purchased a cheap Calvin Klein top that I have taken quite a liking to, and for my troubles Pirra and I received a free manicure from the beautician renting the mezzanine level of the store!
My next entry begins with another bus journey further south, but for now - chao!
Location: Mancora & Trujillo, Peru
Our final day of the Galapagos we travelled by boat in the morning, plane in the afternoon, and by bus in the evening - air, land and sea! After 18 hours in transit and a border crossing into Peru we piled off the bus at Mancora with a slightly increased group size, as 2 friends from the Galapgos were heading the same way.
Daylight allowed us to see what the guidebooks had described - we were in the most visited coastal resort in northern Peru, and what a great place to chill out for a few days! It reminded me a lot of Bali, with one main beach strip and umbrellas dotting the sand all the way to the water´s edge. Lots of sun, perfect surf (for me), and subsequently plenty of cute Peruvian surfers! A sad goodbye after a night out at Bar Rojo (Bar Red - guess what colours the walls were), mainly because we were leaving the good weather and surf for places severely lacking in these.
After a very uncomfortable 9 hour bus ride we found ourselves outside a petrol station on the outskirts of Trujillo, where we promptly hailed a taxi to take us to the nearest beach! No comparison to Mancora, but nevertheless we strolled the beachfront at Huanchaco where totara reed boats line the water´s edge - fisherman paddle out on the boats with their nets and then surf back in with their catch when they are done! The afternoon gabe us a bot of culture when we visited the Huaca de la Luna, or Temple of the Moon. The Moche culture pre-dated the Inca´s by lots of hundreds of years (yep, I was listening to the guide) and they painted some pretty cool murals around the place.
With Trujillo´s attractions ticked off the list it was another horror 10 hour bus ride until we hit Hauraz. From sea level to the mountains the temperature went from very hot to very cold and none of us were prepared - I got on the bus in my thongs and 7 hours later my feet were inside my handbag and wrapped in one of the bus seat covers!
But there was light amidst all of this darkness - when we emerged from the bus as ice blocks I heard 2 Australian accents that thawed me out immediately. Almost 7 weeks had passed and it was the most beautiful of sounds! It turned out Jim and Pete (how Aussie!) were heading to the same hostel as us so as well as sharing a very cold, early morning walk we also shared a room for the next 5 days. It was so good to share in some good (and not so good) Aussie humour! Pete was hilarious and Jim just freaked Pirra and I out - Joel, he is so much like Swifty in every single way; his looks, his mannerisms, even his laugh is identical!
And while Jim was Swifty I officially became Rosita. The Spanish people have so much trouble with my name (because of the ´J´) that it is just easier to be Rosita!
Huaraz is beautiful and we spent quite a bit of time here, but I will leave all of that to my next posting.
Location: The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
When I departed on this long journey I knew I would really miss our ocean, although it didn´t occur to me just how much until we flew in to the islands. I can´t describe my feelings as I stood on the front of the boat but it was a kind-of happy homesick - I felt a familiar calm and just couldn´t believe we were here (and so far from home).
Despite the islands´ amazing differences after 8 days they all sort-of blur into one, so I will spare you the day-by-day account and just get on with the good bits.
Bachas Beach has parts of an old US Navy barge sticking up through the sand (apparently ´barge´ is a hard word for the Spanish so ´barges´ became Bachas and hence the name of the beach).
The sand on Floreana Island is an amazing red colour and on further exploration inland we found ourselves up to our necks in water in a series of lava tunnels (after being told by the guide it would be only a metre at its deepest - but his shortcomings are a whole other story!) This island is also home to Post Office Bay, where visitors can post their postcards and subsequent visitors go through the piles and take any that are close to their home (so yeah, if you actually want your message to arrive you should probably not post it here).
Santa Cruz is the main island with the primary town of the Galapagos (sort-of like the settlement on Rotto). A day on land mid-way through the cruise left us all feeling very dizzy and begging to get back to the gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) rocking of the boat, but not before we partied it up at Bongo Bar (which really should have been called J-Lo Bar for all of her music they played).
Walking on all of the islands made me feel like I was on another planet, like I had perhaps stepped in a time-machine and gone a long way back. Bartoleme Island in particular is what I imagine the moon would look like, and a number of the islands smelt curiously like aniseed!
And the wildlife!
Sealions plague every island, probably one of the only things linking the islands to each other. And they are not quiet animals - male sealions sound like a foghorn (except instead of one loud sound it is intermittent), and if you can imagine someone burping the alphabet but they are at the end so it is sounding less like letters and more like a gargle, OK you are now close to knowing what the female sealion sounds like. But despite their seemingly unfriendliness above water, below it is a completely different story. They are so friendly in the water, darting about and dancing around those who don´t seem interested (one even came up and touched his nose on my mask!)
It wasn´t just the sealions that made our snorkelling exciting - there were so many fish (including one that looked remarkably like a rainbow paddlepop), and other animals that you wouldn´t necessarily expect to see in the water - sharks and penguins, yes, iguanas, no!
Like Nemo once did Pirra and I spent a long time one afternoon riding the back of a green sea turtle, thanking him afterwards for his most graceful of company (´totally, dude´). It is interesting to note the difference in grace between the sea turtles and the land tortoises, who are quite possibly the most awkward creature I have ever seen!
The wildlife above water was just as spectacular, with the strangest species of birds always nearby. The tropic bird reminded me a lot of a bride with their long white tails - although the noises they make liken them more to Bridezilla!
So despite the major dent in my bank account it was all worth while, and I wish for all of you to make it to these amazing islands sometime in your lifetime.
Location: Cuenca, Ecuador
Cuenca is fabulous! Ecuador´s third largest city and by far the prettiest, it has such a youthful vibrance with some of the friendliest people we have met on our trip thus far.
In keeping with our tradition of heading out in a new place every weekend, Saturday night started at a place called Fusion where we were witness to some very strange happenings - the locals would dance to the band but then when they stopped briefly between songs everyone would go back to their tables and sit down, only to return 10 seconds later when the band resumed! Some of them would have only just touched bum-to-seat, why did they not just remain on the dance floor?! We only stayed at this bar long enough for me to dry-retch my way through a Long Island Ice Tea (I forgot that tequila was a main ingredient and most of you know that me and the ol´ tequila don´t get along well!)
Back on the streets and we happened upon a young local named Diego who promised us some good dancing. After an hour of walking past a number of pumping pubs only to find ourselves at places that were either empty or closed-down we decided to go it alone. We stopped a young couple and asked them for some advice on the local nightlife, and they directed us to a place across town. A short taxi ride later and we were face to face with one of the scariest looking clowns I have ever seen - the piece of art identified us as having arrived at PopArt. A little apprehensive at first because the place looked like any house on a suburban street, but once inside it was straight to the dance floor where the good songs were pumped out one after the other, leaving us no choice but to delay any bathroom visits until such time as we could not dance a second longer! Kristy and Nikki made some ´interesting´ choices with their dance partners, and Pirra ended up with the manager of the club who was spotted pole-dancing on a very unstable structure earlier on in the night! And me - I shared my dance space with an Afro-Ecuadorian who was very hard to see in the dark, a challenge made more difficult by the fact that he was there with his twin brother in almost identical clothing!
Partying aside, Monday was spent on a mountain-bike riding tour through nearby Parque Nacional de Cajas. We started up at a very cool 4000m and rode downhill all the way back to town, but not before Kristy had a minor altercation with a bug leaving her underneath instead of on top of her bike (clearly she lost this round). After a delicious lunch and a bathe at some natural hot springs we did not arrive home without another drama - one of the Canadian girls on the tour was bitten by a dog while rolling through a village and without having had her rabies shots became quite distressed and opted to hang up her riding shoes and take the car for the rest of our journey.
Our conversations with many of the locals suggested that in fact Wednesday night was the night to hit the town. Never one to turn down a good party I gathered the troops and headed for Ladies Night at Cafe Eucalyptus, where we paid $3 for 4 extremely strong drinks (would you like some tonic in your vodka?!) None of us can remember where our entourage came from but we soon found ourselves on the inside of a nice red pick-up and on the way to La Mesa, a local salsateca. A really small place with the floorboards sinking under all the people, including Nik´s squeeze of the night who looked remarkably like Che Guevara! Pirra and I had a plan to ward off the unwanted attention from the males by telling them we were girlfriends, which ultimately backfired when one of the groups asked us to prove it and kiss! Not wanting to be caught out we humoured them for a little while, yet it was not long before I found myself in Pirra´s arms again - I found her crying in a dark corner of the club and on making some gentle enquiries discovered she simply couldn´t find her jumper!
A difficult bus ride back to Guayaquil in anticipation of our Galapagos cruise, of which you will know all about after my next entry.