Country housing the best food that South America has to serve
Once you travel in South America for a while, you will get to know that what the bus operators tell you about a journey is exactly the opposite of how it will transpire. Our journey from La Paz to Arequipa was estimated by the guys at the tour agency to be 11 hours and we ended up in Arequipa 17 hours later. Mere difference of 6 hours, that’s all.
Chapter 1: Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
Arequipa is known as the white city as most of the buildings around the city have been painted in white. The city is surrounded by 3 volcanoes and is popular in the hiking community for offering various opportunities to scale volcanoes, mountains or canyons. The inspirational sight of the volcanoes persuaded me to buy my first pair of hiking boots and lucky I was to find a good pair thanks to our wonderful CS host Percy who took me out a shopping mall a fair distance from the city.
Arequipa had not much to offer apart from a day’s walk around the square, so the next morning we headed off to the wonder that is the Colca Canyon. Located at 3,500m above sea level, the Colca district offers magnificent views of the surrounding snow covered peaks, a few volcanoes and of course the majestic Colca Canyon. We were staying at Hostal Panchamama who were housing just us and another Dutch couple at that time. Marc and Maike were great to talk to and whilst watching the sunset that evening, we made plans to do the trek down to the bottom of the canyon and back up
However, the following morning Marc woke up with a strong bout of fever and Dee was feeling generally sick, so it was left to Maike and I to salvage some pride and do the grueling 10 hour trek. We were not alone though. On our way from our hostel to the point in the mountain where the trek starts, we had 2 stray canines tag alongside our ankles and this being South America where strays are in abundance, we expected them to stop following us once we commenced our descent down the canyon. To our utter amazement, the two of them continued to follow us, almost behaving like they were leading us down and did so for the entire two hour trek down to the bottom.
There’s a small village at the bottom with swimming pools at every corner and it was hilarious watching the dogs nosedive first into the pools given the 30+ C temperatures. What happened next had me convinced that there is no better friend than these ‘ondas buena’ (beautiful things). The trek uphill was steep and had us climbing over 1,100m in altitude and I found it especially tough given that the conditions had become colder with a fair bit of rain lashing down as well. However the two dogs stuck by us and came back with us all the way to the hostel over the 5 hour trek up to the top. Not only that, they got to sleep outside our rooms as we had requested the hostel owner to permit it just for the one night. I bid them a heart wrenching farewell at the bus stop the next day when they came to see me off right upto the steps of the bus. An experience I shall remember for as long as I shall live.
Chapter 2: Paracas and Huacachina
We caught a 12 hour bus to move on from the chills of the Colca to the searing heat of the desert at Paracas. The ‘Dakar’ was in full throttle through Paracas, Huachachina and was on its way to Chile and we managed to get a sight of it from the bus.
Paracas is a tiny little town that has little to offer apart from some great Ceviche and a tour of the Islas Ballestas, also known as the poor man’s Galapagos. Given that we could not afford to get to the Galapagos this time, we embarked on a tour of the islands and quite liked what we saw. It was almost like a sneak preview to the wonders that the Galapagos would showcase.
An hour away from Paracas was Huacachina which housed some enormous sand dunes and we decided to get our sand boards on and give it a shot. It was our first time at sandboarding and the valuable lesson learnt was to wear full sleeved shirts whilst doing it unless you want to show off some sandburnt skin.
We stayed in Paracas with Jose Vela and his roomies and although they were really busy with work, they still would always have time for a chat over a beer at night.
Chapter 3: Huaraz
Having braved the heat at Paracas we once again found ourselves in the chilly mountain region of Huaraz. Also known as the hiking capital of Peru, it is home to Peru’s tallest peak, the mighty Huascharan on which you can only trek during the dry seasons of August – October.
We wanted to do the day trek to Laguna 69, and in hindsight should have given ourselves more time to adjust to the altitude prior to commencing the trek. Nevertheless, we set about next morning on the trek with two girls, one from the US and one from Austria (by default you’ll always find an Austrian/German/Dutch person on a trail). Cherry and Vanessa kept us humoured throughout the 8 hour trail which at times was breath sapping and also gave me my first experience of hypothermia when we experienced a hailstorm in the midst of our climb.
Chapter 4: Huanchacho and Mancora
We continued our journey up the north coast of Peru to a little beachside town called Huanchaco near the city of Trujillo. We wanted to have a couple of days of downtime and this place provided the perfect respite. The weekend we were there saw plenty of tourists from other parts of Peru come up to soak in a bit of sun and sand at what I thought was a not so pretty beach. Nevertheless, being a coastal town, the Ceviche was once again mouth watering delicious.
The surfing village of Mancora was to be our final destination in Peru before we headed to Ecuador and we thought we’d give hitchhiking a shot given that we had heard from many travelers on the way that it was easy to do so. Armed with our signs and backpacks we waited for an hour and a half on the Panamericana highway before a horde of locals including truck drivers advised us against hitchhiking for fear of our safety. I would like to think they were being fairly over cautious and as locals do in these parts, were being protective of us lest something untowardly happen to us and give a bad reputation to their country.
Hence we took a 10 hour bus to Mancora and got there in the late hours of the night. The town at night reminded us a lot of Byron Bay back home, with plenty of surfers, restaurants and bars playing ear shattering music and twenty somethings walking around fairly drunk. We joined the party along with the rest of the revelers that night.
Next morning we headed to the beach, as we do so every second day of our travels, and walked up to the west side of the beach which had a Caribbean feel about it and spent the day doing what we do best, chat, read and swim.
Visit Islas Ballestas at Paracas if you do not plan to see the Galapagos. It’s called the poor man’s Galapagos for a reason
Next stop: Ecuador