...I arrived back in Lima from the eco-farm and spent a week staying with Marcelo, a couchsurfer that I met at the New Years Eve party. He lives with his cousin, Jaime, and a Gringa, Jessie, in a plush flat in the heart of Miraflores - a perfect base for taking advantage of the vibrant nightlife. We went out quite a bit including a number of couchsurfing related parties. The first weekend I was there Marcelo, Jaime, and I went to one of the beaches South of Lima where the Limenos go at the weekend to relax and party.
I went out with a number of CS potential dance partners who were into Salsa, but didn't end up dancing much Salsa. I connected well with Pamela and we went out a few times including to a Cuban Salsa class where she goes regularly.
At the couchsurfing event on Thursday night I met Alegria, an energetic Californian at the start of her travels. She turned out to be one of my best Salsa partners so far when we danced that night. We hung out the next day around town and over the weekend. The Friday night we went out with
Marcelo to another CS party ending up in a club in Miraflores. On the Saturday night we went out dancing at Son de Cuba, which had an excellent Cuban Timba band.
On the Sunday night Marcelo, Jessie, Alegria, and I went to the Circuito Magico del Agua. This water and light show is a top attraction in Lima. It features numerous water fountains lit up by changing displays of light set to music. The finale was films of different dances with the accompanying music projected on to a wall of fountains.
I invited Alegria to join me on my journey South so the next morning we set off for Paracas, a fishing village used as a base for visits to the national park of the same name. Arriving in Pisco, famous for the Peruvian spirit of the same name but not much else, we took a share taxi to Paracas. The scenery on the way was less than impressive: fish processing plants reeking of rotting fish lined the coast. Paracas itself turned out to a quiet and friendly place, but with very little going on.
The following morning we took a boat trip to the island part
of the national park. The island was swarming with all types of birdlife and sea lions. I've never seen such a concentration of birds in such a small area. There were Sea Lions, Boobies, Frigates, various Sea Gulls, Pelicans, Penguins... and a strong smell of Guano, which is harvested yearly.
In the afternoon we took another bus down to Huacachina, which is a desert oasis popular for sand boarding. The settlement was formed as a health retreat around the natural mineral rich lake but fell into disuse. It's situation within the vast sand dune desert made it the perfect place for tourists to go sand boarding, and hostels, restaurants, and shops sprung up.
That evening we did a two hour dune buggy and sand boarding tour of the dunes. One of the most exhilarating trips of my journey to that point. The dune buggy plunged down and over the sand hills like a roller coaster accompanied by the screams of the girls in the group. The buggy dropped us at the top of a number of steep dunes which we boarded down. The ride is similar to snow boarding but not quite as fast, but with a steeper
Later on we joined a party full of locals in one of the bars and danced quite a bit but turned in early. We relaxed the following day and then took a night bus to Arequipa - the white city.
Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and full of grand colonial architecture including some impressive churches and convents. We stayed in an excellent hostel, Arequipay Backpackers, which to quote a review from Hostel World is like "staying at your rich aunt's house". The owner had gone to great lengths to make the place as homely as possible and it was full of every mod-con you could want. We developed strong bonds with the other residents and it was a perfect place to relax for a few days. Just as well as Alegria was ill and it was an ideal place to convalesce for a few days.
I walked around the town centre and visited the huge convent of Santa Catalina, which is like a walled village of something like 5km sq in the heart of the city. I met up with a couchsurfer, Van Isa, for coffee and also visited some of the many
traditional restaurants. Arequipa is famed for its cuisine, which is delicious. My favourite, and possibly one of my favourite dishes ever, is Rocotto Relleno - a bell pepper shaped large spicy chilli stuffed with a mixture of mince, peanuts, spices, and raisins. I ate Alpaca several times, which is very tasty and similar to Beef. I also ate potatoes in a variety of creamy, spicy sauces, stews...the only horrible one was the pigs trotters they served as part of a large plate sampling different regional dishes.
I took a two day tour to the Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world at over 3000m deep. The deepest is also actually close by but Colca is the most popular to visit. As you would expect the views when we arrived to the top were extremely impressive. Our group of three hiked an undulating path down to the bottom where we had a lunch of Alpaca Saltado, a local speciality, in an indigenous village then walked on to another village. The locals in this regions speak a number of different languages - Spanish is the second language and only spoken by some.
In this village we visited a
small museum where they showed us some of their culture and ways of growing and processing food. I especially like the hats that the young men wear at festivals. A string veil hangs over the face supposedly making it difficult to distinguish who it is, and giving the wearer anonymity to pursue girls without reproach.
We were invited to drink some Chicha, which the locals imbibe on a daily basis. I've probably mentioned it before, but it's a traditional fermented corn alcohol. Originally it was made using spit as a catalyst but, fortunately for us, now they buy the enzyme spit contains.
At night fall we arrived at "the Oasis" a green patch standing out against the arid rock of the rest of the canyon, tucked away on the canyon floor. After a dip in the ice cold pool and dinner by candle night - there was no electricity - we slept in a rustic cabin.
At 5am the next morning we began our ascent of the canyon wall. We feared the worst - it looked very steep and was supposed to take 4-5 hours. But we made it in two and a quarter hours and it
wasn't so difficult. It got the lungs working, especially toward the top where the altitude is somewhere between 2500 and 3000m.
Next stop Cusco....
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