We’re on the road to nowhere / highway to Hell

“Travel by local bus to Lima (approx 8-10 hrs)”. So say the trip notes. Dunno about any of my travelling buddies, but when this trip is over i may never get on another bus, ever.

The trip notes make it clear how much bussing is involved, but you don’t really appreciate the implications (bad back, sore arse, Oreo cookie overload) until you actually get on the ground. Some of these distances are BIG! Also, unlike Ecuador and Columbia covered in lush vegetation, Peru’s landscape is dry and barren. A 10hr bus ride basically means 10hrs of desert, although i have got some cool photos of sand blowing across the roads … Still makes for a pretty shitty game of ‘I spy’ though!

Bare it may be, but parts of Peru’s coastline are stunningly beautiful in a sad and almost eery kind of way. Miles and miles of coastline and beach, no people, houses, animals or trees. Just the sea, sand, wind and bright, glaring sun. So arriving in the heaving metropolis that is Lima was a bit of a shock!! It is HUGE. With a population of 9m, the city is a seething, sweaty mass of cars, people and KFCs. We only got to spend a day in Lima (did I mention this tour is quite fast-paced?!), which isn’t enough to scratch the surface. We did, however, get to walk around part of the city and eat some great food in a little restaurant off the beaten track, popular with the locals. Nice to see that h is a big deal out here – can’t quite believe it’s December. If it wasn’t for the decorations everywhere, I’d never know! Our tour leader also changed in Lima, and we are now being ‘looked after’ (I use the term loosely) by Sebastian, who we have nicknamed ‘Ricky Martin’. So far i think he’s a bit of a dick – he’s got a long way to go to pull it back, but we’re stuck with him until La Paz so he has plenty of time to improve.

Next stop, Pisco, home of the ‘Pisco Sour’. Actually I quite like them, although the quality varies dramatically between ‘pretty good’ and ‘nasty’. Pisco is a mere 4 hrs by bus from Lima (4hrs now feels like nothing, especially when you get free twiglets and ‘Johnny English Reborn’ in Spanish). There wasn’t a lot going on in Pisco and it isn’t very big. It did however have a cute plaza with some interesting hedges …

Dinner was a comedy affair. The ATMs here spit out 100s notes, which are bloody hard to break, even in supermarkets. In fact, the smallest note is a 10s, so coins are a necessity. Having been to the bank and changed our 100s notes into coins, we duly paid our 360s dinner bill with a couple of notes, and the rest in 1s and 5s coins!!

Next day   the morning on a boat to the Ballestas Islands – the Galapagos for skint people!! This was basically a boat trip out to some small islands which were home to a huge colony of seabirds (Hitchcock´s wet dream) and sealions, with the odd dolphin thrown in for good measure. It was the first time we really felt like we were on the tourist trail, with about 8 million boats all being loaded with people doing exactly the same thing! Once back on shore, we were en route to Nazca, via the desert oasis of Huacachina. The optional activities this afternoon – dune buggies and sandboarding! Apparently beginners don’t get to stand up on sandboards – you lie on the board on your belly and go down head first. Very dignified, should be hilarious …

Standing at the top of dune #1, first thought was ‘cold day in hell before i…’ However, once Aussie Matt had thrown himself down and survived, the rest of us quickly followed suit, all getting through the first run without incident (the odd mouthful of sand or sand burned leg still counts as “without incident”). Hooning around the dunes in the buggy was awesome fun as we were ferried between boarding runs. The boards are basically snowboards with a bit of wax rubbed on the bottom, so effectively the shorter you are, the easier it is …

The second run had a couple of humps in it. Once again we let Aussie Matt take one for the team, and he emerged unscathed at the other end. Next up – Seamus from Ireland. Seamus is 6″5, so you can probably guess what’s coming! He got off to a bit of a slow start, and basically got about 20% of the way down and got stuck. What followed was possibly the funniest display of arse-wiggling ever beheld as he tried to restart. This continued for several minutes, to a soundtrack of tears and hysterical laughter from the spectators. Definitely worthy of £250 from ‘You’ve been framed’ …

“Travel from Nazca to Arequipa by local bus (approx 9hrs)”. Oh for fuck’s sake. Arequipa (luckily) was really quite pleasant. Nicknamed “the white city” (something to do with volcanic rocks), it’s pretty and has some good places to eat. And shop! We found a fantastic restaurant serving a positively orgasmic chocolate cake, and started our collections of Peru souvenir tat. The accommodation was interesting. Having submitted our laundry on a promise of getting it the same day, the water went off. This meant no showers, and no laundry. The laundry eventually came back at 6am the following day, slightly damp, and not completely clean! We also visited Santa Catalina nunnery (a nunnery which only accepted rich chicks with hefty dowrys). Each nun had servants, which I think kind of defeats the point!

Next up – Colca Canyon!! This involved 5hrs in a minibus (yak). En route, we stopped to see vicunas, alpacas and lamas. The difference being the price of their fur, with vicunya being the most expensive. Gloves, anyone?! We tried coca tea (tastes like nettle), and stopped at 4900m to take photos in the snow. Needless to say, it was extremely effing cold! We also built little stone towers and made wishes, and had a comedy bathroom moment while we selected our respective bushes and tried to keep our feet dry. We spent the night in Chivay town, where we visited the local thermal baths (another tourist trap), ate and watched a cultural floor show. That was an unbelievably cold night – I slept in 2 pairs of pants and 4 tops, and I was still freezing under all my blankets. God help me on the Inca trail!

The next morning we drove to the Colca Canyon, where we took pictures and looked for condors. Highlight of the morning – watching a backpack belonging to a dozy Japanese tourist go bouncing down into the canyon. Dóh! The views were pretty spectacular, and the condors were huge – their wingspans can be up to 3 metres!

So now, after another epic bus ride, we are in Cusco, jump-off point for the Inca Trail. The altitude is starting to bite, although hopefully with rest and water we can get over it! Today we went shopping again! I am now the proud owner of the following:

Alpaca scarf x2, alpaca jumper x2, alpaca poncho, alpaca legwarmers, alpaca gloves, alpaca socks, alpaca beanie hat, alpaca beret, and toy fluffy llama. No idea how i´m getting it home, or how many llamas are now feeling the cold to satisfy my shopping fetish! Whether I can get it through Aussie customs remains to be seen …

Anyway, tomorrow we are off to the sacred valley and then the Inca Trail, so i´ll be in a black hole for a week. If I survive, i´ll see you on the other side!!

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