Lima to Arequipa

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November 14th 2015
Published: November 15th 2015
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I warn you now this is going to be a fairly long read as there has been a lot going on in our first week in Peru...!

We touched down in Lima after a very long day (up in Chicago at 2:45am followed by a 3hr flight to Florida, 8hr wait in airport followed by 5hr flight to Lima) with a large part of it spent on planes that had less leg room than Ryanair. Vicks however did manage to make friends with a very cute baby called Emilio whose dad told us that he was on his way to see his Grandma for the first time.

Given we got through customs at 11pm we thought the roads would be quiet and we would get to our hostel in a fairly leisurely fashion. Wrong! Turns out traffic in Lima is ALWAYS mental. Our taxi driver seemed to have the reflexes of a Jedi with the constant need to change lanes whilst sounding his horn angrily at the same time. He did seem just as bad as all the other drivers.

Having (only just) safely made it to our hostel in Miraflores we came down to breakfast the next morning to be greeted by possibly the coolest dog ever. We found out she was called Inca – only from the ladies who ran the place constantly shouting at him for jumping up on people. We wanted a relaxing day so we took the advice of the hostel and did a walking tour around Miraflores and the coast. This involved having to cross roads for the first time. Similar to being in a taxi you take your life in your own hands as nobody stops for you and you tend to have to take advantage of the smallest gaps. There were a number of parks that lined the coast, including Parque del Amor (Park of Love), all containing odd sculptures/modern art along with a pretty little light house. The coast line really isn’t that impressive to be honest and along with the very overcast sky (practically always cloudy in Lima according to the locals) the sea didn’t look great either. We stumbled across a very western style shopping mall built into the cliff before heading back.

We ended up with an extra day in Lima due to coach timings, giving us an opportunity to leave the relative comfort of Miraflores (nicest and most touristy area of the city) and head for the centre. This was again a nuts taxi ride away. When in the centre we saw the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace. This involved mainly a lot of music (played by a marching brass band), a lot of shouting and a lot of funny walking by the guards. We also took in the Cathedral, Plaza de Armas and a cool blue church. We caught yet another nuts taxi back to Barranco (the arty area of the city) and strolled back to our hostel after making a wish on the Bridge of Sighs.

Next morning we were up early to be picked up by the Peru Hop bus for our journey towards Paracas. However the 12 soles lunches (£2.40 for 2-3 courses and a drink) caught up with us and our stomachs showed their dissatisfaction which made for a fairly uncomfortable bus journey! We stopped at a war memorial for the soldiers lost in the war with Chile which had good views back over Lima. It was here that we saw the massive poverty in Peru. There seemed to be miles of shantytowns all around us. Also a thick layer of smog sat right over the city, no doubt caused by the always packed roads.

We left Lima (obviously late because of the traffic) and headed for an old Colonial house near Paracas. It was extremely pretty and had a number of tunnels underneath it to hide slaves and gold (they use to be taxed based on how many slaves they had). From there we headed to Paracas. This is a cool little village by the sea which survives from fishing and tourism. After an awesome lunch overlooking the sea which included ceviche (South American dish of raw fish) we wondered along the beach watching a load of local men play a game of football until sunset. It was here that we realised too that Inca the dog was an extremely lucky to have a good family as there were a high number of strays in varying conditions around Paracas.

The following morning, fully loaded up with Immodium, saw us start early for a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands, known locally as the “poor man’s Galápagos”. We were a little mifted at having paid Peru Hop for the trip only to find out the hostel we were staying in sold it for half the price! Also our ‘tour guide’ for the trip with Peru Hop was now starting to annoy us a little as it was starting to feel like we were on a school trip! It took about 30mins via a speed boat to get out to the islands. Here we saw so many birds it was unbelievable – must have been hundreds of thousands either flying around in formation or taking a rest on any one of the collection of islands. The main birds we saw were massive pelicans and some small vultures. On lots of the rocks there were colonies of sea lions basking in the sun and we saw a few trying to climb the rocks which was highly amusing as they looked so cumbersome out of the water. Mixed in with the masses of birds were also some Humbolt Penguins. These were fairly small bit pretty cool. The islands were pretty amazing and we took what seemed like millions of pictures. As you can imagine with that number of birds there was a lot of bird poo (guano) around. We were told countless stories that the Peru’s main export a number of years ago was guano as it is used in fertilisers!

Upon returning from the Ballestas Islands we headed to Huacachina. This is possibly the most bizarre (in a good way) place that I have been. It was a small village built around an oasis surrounded by the biggest sand dunes I have ever seen. Once we were checked into our rather scummy hostel (it was more of a building site than hostel) we embarked on a buggy and sandboarding tour of the dunes. Our buggy driver was called Eduardo and Vicks immediately became his favourite in the group as she was able to translate for him to the rest of us. She also had to ride up front with him in the rather cramped buggy. Eduardo was really good laugh and driver, bombing along happily down the steepest dunes and getting airborne a number of times. We then started the sandboarding. Basically we were given something similar to a snowboard by Eduardo who then told us (via Vicks) how to lie down on it and then pushed us straight off the edge of a massive dune. He was also handing round pieces of candle so we could wax our boards making us go faster! The first couple of massive dunes went pretty smoothly and it was ace fun. Some of the group decided to try standing up on the boards which we didn’t attempt, especially given that two Norwegians who could snowboard were finding it really tricky. However on the third dune after I had gone down and was watching Vicks slide towards me, when near the bottom of the dune, her board caught in some old tracks and dug in meaning that she properly face planted in the sand! I ran over to make sure she was ok and realised there was a small dot of blood on her sand covered face, and she’d managed to graze her hand and fingers in the crash too. However being as hardcore as she is, she carried on and flew down the remaining dunes (albeit with a slight egg appearing on her forehead). Eduardo then took us to watch the sunset in a place where you could see nothing but desert sand dunes.

After a leisurely start the next morning we jumped on board the bus to start out to Arequipa. We had a couple stops on the way for a vineyard tour and the Nazca Lines viewing tower. The vineyard tour turned out to be just a tasting session (mainly of Pisco which is the national drink of Peru – kind of tasted like a mixture of brandy and vodka), during which our annoying tour guide completely misread the group and tried to turn it into drinking games. Not really that great an idea given that we were going to be sat on a bus for the next 15hrs! Some of the wines we tasted were ok but generally extremely sweet – at least the guy that ran the place was funny (he looked like he was annoyed with our guide for continually trying to top peoples glasses up).

We then rocked up to the Nazca Lines viewing tower. The Nazca Lines are some crazy drawings that have been carved into the floor of a really remote desert area which were date back to 300-700BC. Nobody knows how they got there or why they are there, and they were only discovered around 1930. In order to see the lines properly you need to take a flight. However from a very basic scaffold tower right next to the main road you can see two of the lines – supposedly a tree and a frog. These were fairly underwhelming to be honest, especially as (in standard Peru style) they had decided to build the road directly across a third set of lines meaning it could no longer be seen. Apparently they even let the Dakar Rally drive over them a few years ago and it hasn’t been until recently they have protected the area.

We then had an overnight and fairly jolty bus ride up to Arequipa. The bus journey was mainly eventful for the constant changing temperature during the night (luckily they gave us blankets), the driver managing to run over a stray dog, and finally upon arrival at 5am seeing a massive fight outside a club from the safety of the bus!

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