Human Bones, Ceviche and lots of Sand

Lima as the capital of Peru and is home to almost 10 million people, a third of Peru’s total population and is the only capital city in South America to have beaches. The two main areas where all the gringos tend to stay are Miraflores and Barranco.
The former resembling one big shopping centre filled with high rises and shop after shop. The latter much more beautiful and bohemian. I opted for the latter and booked in to The Point Hostel

Arriving at 6am like after so many night time bus journeys, I find the party from the night before still giving strong in the bar. With a handful of people still standing, and celebrating Peru’s win over New Zealand in the World Cup. Meaning Peru will be represented for the first time in 36 years. Definitely a reason to still party and also it would seem for the government to declare a national holiday. 

I on the other hand declined the offer of a drink and headed to bed to get some extra sleep. Which I know is so unlike me – but joining a inhibirated group is never fun for the soba one. 

After a few hours of sleep, I explore the local area of Barranco. Full of beautiful old houses, that were once and some that still are owned by Lima’s rich. The majority now having been turned into a cool cafe, bar, restaurant or hostel, with some but not all having been lovingly restored to their former glory. 

I do have to admit that my exploring stopped once I found the Starbucks. Finally a coffee that is not made from instant and resembles dishwater or tar. Two flat whites please…

The next day it was time to see what else Lima has to offer, and make the thirty minute taxi ride to the centre and old part of Lima. The German’s had also made it to Lima so they joined me in visiting the Basílica de la San Francisco and the catacombs.

Apparently you are not meant to take pictures while visiting… maybe my Spanish is not as good as I thought, or i just didn’t care for the stupid rule. It was interesting and beautiful in places, and the catacombs were less eerie than I expected. Yes there were the bones of 50,000 plus dead people, but all I thought was what a cool venue for an event or club.

Ooh and the delicious treat of Churros filled with vanilla or apple cream is a must afterwards. Simply called Churros San Francisco on Jirón Lampa a few minutes walk from the Basílica.

Back in Barranco and feeling quite peckish, I decided to try Rana Canta restaurant that was recommended as being the best place for Ceviche and Peruvian food. The walls were covered in pictures of what I would guess are famous Peruvians who have visited, a really simple but pleasing aesthic. The food speaks for itself, with many options on the menu mainly including fresh fish, shouting eat me again and again.

Which I would have if I’d had another stomach. Two courses was more than enough at around 45,000sol £10 a dish which was enormous. 

Ten weeks into my travels, my hair was in desperate need for a trim. But where would I find a good barbers in Lima. Well I thought “I would consult my trusty local guide app and ask one of the guys”. Turns out Mike from the US who lives in Lima, knows exactly where to go and with good hair I trusted his judgement. 

Cuppers 65 on the intersection Republica de Panama and 28 de Julio in fact reminded me very much of the typical barbers you find in Shoreditch London. Although they need a better waiting system, as one hour and half was a bit excessive, and the old guy keeping track was clueless. Me getting annoyed and making sure they knew I was, just isn’t the same in Spanish… I dont quite have the diva mannerisms down yet with the lingo.

After two nights of drinking on the trott, the last night should be a quiet one. Well thanks to Miguel from Colombia, it was not. I was invited to join Miguel and his friends at Dada bar which was hosting and independent film festival. Always fun when Donald Trump is being mocked…

Dada bar was once a house for the rich, that has been restored and turned into a fantastic bar and restaurant, with a more formal setting on the rear terrace and informal bar setting with pizza at the front. But it wasn’t cheap, with cocktails at 25sol/£5, but they were like goldfish bowls of Gin and tonic which was perfect. I even had the choice of a cucumber or lime. 

After few gold fish bowls it was off to a pub that has live music most nights. Aptly named La Noche de Barranco, it is made of three floors –  the basement where you find the live music, ground was just like a pub and the roof. Jugs of draft beer were freely flowing well into the early hours at only 70sol/ £1.60. 

By far the best deal on beer on South America

I would have spent all night there is it wasn’t for the call of dance and the short walk to the Dragon Club, where more gold fish bowls were consumed and lots of dancing.  My 6am wake up for the bus to Ica was not looking good. 

6am arrived and I walked into the hostel to pack my things and clean my teeth and wait for the Germans to wake so we can get our bus to Ica, six hours South of Lima. I would just sleep on the bus… The Linea bus company was fantastic, one of the most comfortable yet and only cost 45sol/£10 to Ica.

To be honest I had no idea what was in Huacachina, other than some sand dunes with an oasis in the middle. It was never on my original plan, but the Germans were keen and we were going the same way to Cusco. Arriving into Ica, we hoped into a tuk tuk for the final 5km to Oasis de Huacachina for 10sol. 3 guys and plus luggage in a tuk tuk was an experience to say the least, but we made it safely.

Arriving into Huacachina, I wasn’t expecting my breath to be taken away by size of the dunes, towering over the tiny little oasis. The pure white sand against the bright blue sky, was a sight you had to see for real to appreciate. These were not the same dunes I grew up with on the North Norfolk coast. These were mountains covered in sand.

We checked into the lovely Wild Olive, a surprise favourite hostel of the trip. The breakfast was either omelette, eggs on toast or pancakes with juice and coffee. A real treat when it comes to hostel breakfasts. The main comunal area had the comfiest sofas and Netflix, it was like being in a cosy home.

We booked our Sandboarding through the hostel for that afternoon, as its the best time to go, so you get to see the sunset over the desert. The dune buggy picked us upat 2pm on the dot – it’s what I would call a cross between a monster truck and and off road 4*4 with only a roll cage to keep you in. This was going to be lots of fun.

The expanse of dunes goes on for miles and miles, all the way to the horizon. The buggy takes us up and down the dunes effortlessly, each dune getting steeper every time. You can hear screams from all round the desert as buggys bound around the dunes like a theme park rollercoaster. 

Sandboarding was fun, but don’t expect to be going down the dunes like snowboarding. No this is down on your front, head first over the steep sandy cliff. Again each new dune would be higher and steeper and your would go as faster as what felt like 40 mph.

If you wish to sandboard properly, you can hire boards just like snowboards, but this is extra and you need to be with a proper instructor. 

After making the most of the hostel having a chilled second day, it was time to leave for another night bus and ten hours to Arequipa with Cruz del Sur – bagging my favourite seat number 4 – the boys sadly got a raw deal with the 2 behind that didn’t recline as much – note : never get the seats that back into the stairs. 

Arequipa was a real surprise and I would say the most beautiful city in Peru, also know as the ‘White City’ because of its white stone building and having the most non indigenous population in Peru. It also boasts to be the second largest city at one million, a fraction of Lima’s 11. 

Surrounded by three volcanoes that cover the beautiful horizon, and filled with lots of little gems to visit – this is a city not miss. The Santa Catalina Monastery was fascinating, which still has nuns living and practicing their faith inside today. It is a city within a city, built over 20,000 square meters of land that conceals the beautifully painted frescos and bright coloured courtyards and little homes that the nuns lived in, baked bread and made wafers.

The walking tour was a great way to find out about the city, the history and how it became the second largest city in Peru. I wish I could have spent a few more days to explore more, but sadly Cusco was calling another nine hour bus journey to get there. 

  

Hello Peru 🇵🇪 

As the most visited country by tourists in South America with over 3 million a year,  I was looking forward to seeing what peru had to offer. Its visited so much due to the history of the Inca civilisation that arrived in the 13th century and then destroyed by the Spanish some 100 years later. Most flock to its main attraction the ruins at Machu Picchu. 

However I have many many miles to cover before I get there.

It’s incredible how much the landscape can change by driving a few hours. Leaving behind the luscious greens of Ecuador, I was now in the north of Peru, which was just sand, rock, pretty barren with not much life. Except for where the sea hugged the desolate coastline, there was clear signs of life in small little beach towns.

Mancora is well known for its partying, surfers and just damned good weather, I knew I was going to love it here. Getting off the bus, I get into my first tuk tuk in South America and head to my Eco Lodge I had booked as a treat, having been in dorms for a few weeks, I needed this.

The Eco Lodge was a few minutes outside the main drag of the town, in a quiet little residential street. I was greeted by the Oriane the manager and the hotel dog tofu. The Eco Hotel is quite small with only 5 rooms, set around a beautiful garden and pool. The pink the flowers against the turquoise of the water and blue sky was just magical. 

The room was perfect, with a large bed and the softest white linen I have tucked myself into the whole trip. The white against the grey stone floor and wood panels walls gave a simple but chic look. 

The breakfast was also magnificent, with a big bowl of fresh fruit and yogurt, freshly baked bread that was still warm, fresh coffee made the Italian way on the stove. Followed by some yummy homemade sweet pastries. The best breakfast yet, by far and well worth $40 a night. 

I had been told about a couple of great restaurants that I must try, so I walked the short distance to the main street in Mancora, which is just filled either side with restaurants and shops. I reach the famous hostel Loki and opposite is the lovely restaurant Aqua

I was lucky enough to find a table on the terrace outside, which was now full and bussling atmosphere. One of the highlights of Peru is Ceviche, and here would be my first opportunity to try it. 

Ceviche In Coloumbia and Ecuador just isn’t the same, it more like soup. 

The menu sounded delicious, there wasn’t one dish I wouldn’t have eaten. I was super excited not to have flattened chicken, with rice and potato, a main staple for lunch and dinner in South America. 

The oyster Ceviche and seafood curry was absolutely divine. By far the best meal in South America. It did cost 45- 50sol £10 a dish, which to be honest is cheap for such high standard of food. 

After the fantastically delicious dinner I returned to my large comfy bed and watched Netflix for the night. A much needed quiet night to my self.

As I mentioned earlier, Mancora is one of best places on the Pacific coast to surf and kite surf. Neither being something I have ever tried or thought of trying. But when in Peru…. and after all this trip is about trying new things.

Getting into wet suit for the first time, was something of an experience. I ended up more like a mermaid to begin with, until I managed to get both my legs in the correct holes. My instructor on the other hand was more than happy, as it gave him more time to toke on his joint. Thankfully it didn’t hinder his teaching ability. 

After practicing how to get on the board on the beach, it was time to attempt to ride some waves. And these waves were not small. After being battered by six, and lots of tiring paddling back out to sea I finally managed to stand up and ride a wave. The sense of achievement and feeling was of pure delight. Again again I shout. 

Sadly my hour was up, but I managed one more wave and surfed all the way into the beach. 50sol/£11 for one hour is a bargain. Kite surfing was more and takes the effort of 3 days to learn for $100, which im told is still cheap.

Tonight it was time to try La Sirena d’Juan with my newly found friend Gaby from Lima. Gaby is a vegan, yoga-Pilates teacher and a complete nutter and I loved hanging out with her. Sirenna is rated as the best restaurant in Northern Peru, and it did not disappoint, the Nikkei Tuna Ceviche and grilled fish was devine and the service was impeccable. I could have been in a top restaurant in London. 

After two quiet nights, I decided to see what all the fuss is about and booked in to the Loki hostel for 2 nights. I had been warned about the constant partying till all hours, and it did not disappoint. With drinking games during the day and themed nights every night. I managed to get a large penis painted on my back with UV paint. 

I only went an won a third night free… the guys seemed to find it funny.

The hostel it self is pretty impressive and more like the whitewashed apartments and pool you find in Spain. The rooms were pretty big, although had little defence against the loud music. However hot Ben my fellow dormie more than made up for it. 

One of the highlights of travelling is meeting other travellers, all be it they tend to always be younger than me, either on a gap year or just finished school. Few are like me on a career break. I certainly haven’t found travelling to be a lonely experience, quite the opposite. Travelling alone forces you to chat to people and you know me, I never shy away from getting involved.

I have talked about bumping into the same people along the way before and how great it is. While sat by the pool, its only Toby who I met in Santa Marta and last saw in Minca Colombia that walks up to me. He is with a couple Ben and Jess who I first met in my second week in Medellín when paragliding. They happened to be staying at the same hostel. Was good to catch up and have some beers.

Bumping into the same people gives a new place a sense of familiarity. Like on my first day in Mancora walking along the beach I bumped into the two Germans I met in Baños. The ones with the flat tyre and their tops off. I invited them to party a Loki that evening. 

Staying a Loki was a lot of fun, and I met so many lovely people that were staying or working their as Volunteers. Like Yaniv the Israeli or Erik and Malte from Sweden. The Threeamigos Becky, Tom and Dave from Nottingham travelling together were all so much fun and great people to spend time with.

Staying at Loki isn’t for everyone, and if a party hostel isn’t for you, then I recommend you stay somewhere like The Point and take advantage of the Loki facilities by being a day guest.

After three heavy nights of partying, where one night didn’t I get back until 3pm it was time to leave Mancora and make my way towards Lima via Huanchaco. A ten hour bus journey South.

There were a few of us leaving at the same time, and all heading the same way. While some opted for the cheaper bus at 65sol/£15. I opted for the more luxury option on Cruz del Sol at 95sol/£22. I had seat number four, right at the front, right side and slept so well. Maybe it was the zop and not the seat 😂

The same cant be said for the guys that got the cheaper bus. It took them 14 hours, due to it breaking down for three hours in the middle of nowhere, the toilet not working and producing an odour similar to that of the guys sat near them. Sometimes it makes sense to pay the extra £5 for some luxury… even when on a budget.

The bus arrives in Trujillo, the third biggest city in Peru and not terribly attractive, so most gringos head thirty minutes in a taxi to the Huanchaco on the coast. Again another fantastic place for surfing. 

I arrived at the Frogs Chillhouse hostel and find Keno and Esteban the Germans making breakfast. Now this wasn’t a coincidence this time. We had agreed we would meet here and spend a few days. 

The hostel is perfect for budget travellers, it was clean, two great roof terraces with a fantastic view of the sea and the daily sunset. The fully equipped kitchen was good for cooking all meals and saving some money. 

Which after Mancora I desperately needed to do…

Huanchaco’s highlights are the surf and its pier, and it only being a fifteen minute bus journey from Chan Chan. An archeological site over 20skm with ten palaces and temples that date back to pre Inca times of the Chimú civilisation and the largest city in the Americas 600 years ago.

First found in 1960, the city of Chan Chan has been slowly rediscovered and restored. With the largest of the ten palaces being excavated to showcase how the Chimú people would have lived 600 years ago. 

Walking around and listing to our guide – the cutest old Peruvian lady you just wanted to put in your bag and take home she was so small – I was fascinated at what I was told. How they worshipped the moon and the sea, and understood the connection between the moon and tides. Sadly the Chimú civilaization was completely destroyed by the Incas as the Inca’s were by the Spanish 200 years later.

The entry was only 30sol/£6 and the guide was an extra 50so/£11 for a group of five. Well worth the extra money. The entry ticket also gains you entrance to the sun, moon and dragon temples a short taxi or bus ride away. Sadly I didn’t have time to visit them, but heard from Ana and Lana it was worth it.

It was time again to think about making the rest of the nine hour journey to Lima. Keno and Esteban were heading the same way but via Huaraz. A trip I had to decline, as I cant do everything – as much as I would like to. We would see each other in Lima.