Having visited last year, I planned to quickly travel through Peru -seeing one or two things- but on the whole focus on heading south to Chile as fast as the buses would allow. An interlude between Ecuador and Country #41. As things turned out, I ended up staying for longer and I’m pleased I did.
If I could have picked a country to be my first one as a solo traveller, from past experiences, it would have been Peru. The people, the food, the prices; just how everything works. So I was content to fist bump James goodbye in Quito and revisit one of the friendliest countries I’ve been to.
I think the only significant change (in terms of finance) will be having to foot a taxi bill myself rather than split it in between two. I kept an eye out for other travellers at the border crossing – none; and attempted to ask a Colombian couple if I could jump in their car to Tumbes, but I must have mispronounced something because they just shrugged and mimed turning the steering wheel back at me. I accepted defeat and paid the $10 taxi fare, and annoyingly the couple followed right behind my white cab; I guess they realised what I was asking for when we both stopped outside the bus terminal.
The 1,300km, 20 hour and S./120 bus journey that took me from Tumbes to Lima should have been gruelling; but with the sun setting over the canyons that surround Mancora, causing the sky to turn shades of pastel pink and blue at the same time and with conversation flowing (in Spanish) between myself and the Peruvian I was sat next to, Eduardo; a smile broke over my face uncontrollably. “I absolutely love my life.”
From what other travellers (and Carlos) had told me, Lima is a bit like San Jose of Costa Rica – a waiting room, so I wasn’t too fussed by staying inside the bus station and wait for the connecting bus. Last year, I spent a few hours in Lima with GK, waiting for a flight down to Cusco (which is what I consider Peru’s tourism capital), but this year I planned to visit a new place in Peru- and finish off something that GK and I started. Arequipa: home of the Wild Rover Hostel, notorious in backpacker land. (GK and I had stayed in both the Cusco and La Paz Wild Rovers when we travelled around South America in 2015, but hadn’t the time to complete the ‘wildest threesome in South America’ in Peru’s southernmost major city.) It was also convenient that Eduardo was heading there as well.
“Where are you Man? Come to Cusco bro! You should come back to Cusco!” Whilst revelling in the free wi-fi that the Lima bus terminal offered, I received a message from Evert ‘Spider’, my tour guide from my last trip to Peru, who encouraged us to make history by hiking up and over the Dead Woman’s Pass three times in the same day. It would have been rude to ignore his texts, so I said “Adios!” to Eduardo and caught a different bus to Cusco. Evert had promised me two days of sights in Cusco that I didn’t have time for last time, so I checked in to Cusco’s party hostel for 2 nights and bumped into a friend from university, Steve, who was in Cusco before starting the Inca Trek.
Steve and I went to my favourite drinking hole in Cusco, Norton’s Rat Bar, and we played darts until Evert arrived. He turned down the offer of a beer in town because he was heading to an indigenous villages’ 50th anniversary; and wanted to bring us to the Quechan community. A quick decision. After hitting the innards of Evert’s car bonnet with a spanner, the car burst into life and we were able to drive to the town, just outside Cusco. Here we drank beer, ate chicken and danced for a solid 7 hours, and Evert bundled me up onto the stage to dance with a Quechan clown.
View this post on Instagram
Last night's field fiesta, celebrating Coreo village's 50th birthday with several hundred indigenous Quechan people. 'Dragged up'/I chose to get up on stage and perform some good old English indie two stepping as one of just two Westerners there. . . . #favouritecountry #favouritecity #peru #southamerica #cusco @geocusco #inca #quechan #travelling #travels #backpacking #hostellife #explore
The next day, Steve headed off to begin the trail and (as it was a definite ‘fresh air’ hangover rather than a ‘stay in bed’ one) I went to one of the free walking tours that most major cities provide. It was really insightful, even for my 2nd visit to Cusco, and stopped by a traditional musician, an alpaca farm and ended up at a bar where we had a free shot (perfect for a hangover?) and a cerviche salmon dish.
On my third day in Cusco, I woke up at 4am and joined a gaggle of German’s (and a Yorkshireman) on a hike to Rainbow Mountain, which was absolutely stunning and worth the 6 hour walk. I had always planned to go to Puno after Arequipa, but one of the German girls was heading there on the sleeper bus that evening so I changed my plans again and shared a taxi with her to the bus station.
A short 10 hour (anything under 24hrs I now consider short!) bus took us east to Puno; residing on the Peruvian side of Lake Titiaca that straddles both Peru and Bolivia. I waved off Franzi as she caught her bus to Chile and hiked up to Mirador Kuntur Wasi to get a good panoramic view of the lake.
In the middle of the lake, the Uro people have built an entire complex of houses, hotels, shops and workshops on a type of reed that floats, and can support substantial weight. It was one of the most bizarre habitations I’ve been to, but spending a day there was enough and I wasn’t too tempted to stay the night in one of the ‘habiticiones’, even if my budget had allowed for it. I returned back to last night’s hostel to get my bags and hailed a cab back to the bus station for a final night bus to Arequipa, where I planned to be a week ago (but the week I’ve had has been totally worth it!).
Of course, it wasn’t just the lure third and final Wild Rover hostel that pulled me to Arequipa; the Colca Canyon with its ginormous swooping condors interested me enough to book a bed in a dorm for 2 days (split with a day in between for an excursion out of the city!) upon arriving. I showered, napped and played pool with Argentinians (who called Buenos Aires the “cancer of their country”, I’m intrigued to prove/disprove their theory in February) before booking myself onto a 2-day hiking trip into Colca Canyon.
Condors fascinated the Quechan/Incan culture: they were seen as the porthole to the heavens, their gigantic feathers were turned into wind-instruments, their monogamy and commitment to their partners influenced their human relationships and they were fascinated by their acceptance of old age, choosing to fall to their deaths once old rather than become a burden to themselves and their family. Bizarre creatures, and I was grateful to spot one early on in the hike down to the bottom of the Colca Canyon, one of the 5 deepest canyons in the world. It took 8 hours to walk from the top via San Juan for lunch, before we arrived in Sangelle de Oasis; where we slept in huts and drank ‘mate’ with yet more Argentinians (these were more proud of their capital!). The next day, we hiked back up a different route, across homemade bridges and attempting to spot more condors amidst the fog back up to civilization.
A week later than planned (I told border control I’d only be in Peru for 5 days!), I caught the same bus that Franzi had to the Peru-Chile border, ready for country #41. This won’t be the last time I’m in Peru: I still want to fly over the Nazca lines situated in between Lima and Cusco, and when I go back (sometime) to Bolivia to explore the salt flats I doubt I’ll be able to resist nipping across the border once more. I wholeheartedly urge everyone reading this to visit this incredible country at least once in their life – if you have any questions please leave a comment below and I’ll help you plan your trip!
If you enjoyed reading this travelogue, please share it around on Facebook/Twitter; read through the other posts from this incredible journey so far; and make sure to subscribe via email at the bottom of the page so you don’t miss out on the next installments. Thank you!