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Published: October 13th 2013
On my return from Machu Picchu, I stayed for a couple of nights back at Ecopackers in Cusco to recuperate. Before the trek, I got on well with Andrea from Denmark and we decided to travel together for a while. She had visited Peru five years earlier and as I'd done very little research on the country, she basically acted as my tour guide. Our first destination was Huacachina, a village 25 miles inland set around an oasis in the desert (as featured on the 50 Soles note). We arrived at a hostel where the owner seemed quite rude and just finding out the price of the accommodation was a challenge - he responded by telling us to "chillax"! It turned out it to be cheap, with a discount if we did the dune buggy and sandboarding tour, which was the primary reason for our visit, so we stayed. The dune buggy ride was great fun and unnerving at times as we drove over blind summits at speed. The sandboarding was also a thrill, as we went down face first and it felt fast with your eyes so close to the ground. My attempt at standing up wasn't very successful, much
like my attempt at snowboarding several years earlier. At the end of the trip we drove to one of the big dunes to watch the sunset.
There wasn't much else to do in Huacachina, so we travelled up the coast to Lima, mostly in fog, passing some bleak-looking settlements. We stopped briefly for a hamburger, then took a night bus to Trujillo, followed by a taxi to the nearby coastal town of Huanchaco. The weather was cloudy and being low season, the place had a very sleepy feeling. Andrea and I fit in with this vibe perfectly as we went for lazy walks, ate at the cafes and restaurants, played Perudo (the dice game I learnt on the Salkantay trail
, which was responsible for most of the rare times we didn't get on) and sat on the beach with beer. On the first day, we went to a restaurant overlooking the sea and I had my first taste of ceviche, the Peruvian national dish consisting of raw fish marinated with onions, chilli, lemon and lime. I found it delicious - definitely the tastiest thing I've eaten in South America! While we ate there was a break in the clouds and
we were treated to what would be the first of many sunsets over the Pacific.
Huanchaco is a surfer town, and having tried surfing on two previous holidays with limited success, I thought I should give it another go. It didn't go well at first, as the waves were small and I only managed to catch one and fell over when I tried to stand. Then I saw some people having lessons and they seemed to be standing up almost every time. I noticed the instructor was giving them a helpful push when a wave arrived and so I swam over in hope. Luckily the instructor offered to push me and on the second attempt I managed to stand up. It was a great feeling but technically cheating, so I persevered and eventually managed to catch a wave and stand up independently for the first time!
After four days in Huanchaco we took a night bus further up the coast to Mancora, where the sun was shining brightly and there was a pleasant sea breeze. We stayed at PK's hostel, which backed directly onto the Pacific Ocean and Andrea in particular made the most of this by swimming
regularly. After a few more days of taking it easy, we went on a snorkelling trip to see giant turtles. Getting used to the flippers and breathing with my head in the water was tricky for me, but no problem for Andrea who is an experienced diver. I was just getting used to it when the turtles came, lured by the food thrown by our guide. The turtles were indeed giant and it was a remarkable experience to swim with them. It was also fun swimming under the pier we were next to as it was teeming with fish of many different colours and sizes. Later, we went back in the water and found a turtle of our own accord and followed it for a while.
That evening we sampled the Mancora nightlife, starting with cocktails on the beach at sunset. Later, we were joined by Robert, a man in his mid-50 from the USA who looked in a bad way. He said he was looking for his Peruvian wife. I got the impression she was living off his money and not being entirely faithful - and now he'd run out of money. He seemed grateful to have some
other foreigners to talk to and we took pity on him by buying some bracelets off him, which he used to buy beer. Later, three men teased him as they walked past and he said he wanted to cut off their thumbs, arguing that there's not much you can do without a thumb, at which point we called it a night. He seemed to have a few enemies in town as the next time we saw him he was arguing with some tuk-tuk drivers. As a kind of bizarre threat, he asked Andrea to confirm to them that she had seen his box of thumbs he'd cut off people. Andrea was having none of it and although we saw him a few more times it seemed wise not to get too friendly.
When we left Cusco, Andrea had about a month left before going home and I didn't want to hijack the rest of her trip, so we planned to travel together for a week or two with the idea of parting ways in Mancora, as I was heading north while she had to get back to Lima. However, I was really enjoying Andrea's company and we were having
a lot of fun together, and so when the time came it really didn't feel right to separate. So we decided to stay longer, moving to Laguna Surf Camp, just down the road from PK's in a quieter area. It featured plenty of hammocks, a restaurant with an enthusiastic Belgian chef (his Burger was a particular highlight, being at least twice as high as my mouth is wide) and an incredibly placid and friendly cat who joined us one evening when we were sat outside - we called him Leonito.
It was whale season and Andrea and I didn't want to miss the opportunity to see them. We were told that it was possible to take a boat trip for as little as 10 Soles (about £2.50) along the coast at Los Organos. As with most things that sound too good to be true, it seemed this was, but we did find a man called Gollo who would take us on his small fishing boat for about £20, a third less than the official tour. It was much better than being on a big tourist boat anyway as there were just two others with us. At first the whales
were elusive and after talking to a fisherman on a makeshift raft, who couldn't offer any insight, Gollo got on his mobile phone. Then we set off again with purpose and suddenly in the distance a fin appeared among the waves. We got closer and saw a humpback whale with its calf alongside, coming to the surface periodically. We weren't treated to the sight of them jumping out of the water but saw enough to appreciate what impressive animals they are and it was a privilege to see them first hand. Later, we sailed to a platform where there were sealions and many birds. Andrea returned there a couple of days later to go diving.
We ended up staying ten days in Mancora before crossing to Ecuador together, during which time we ate at enough restaurants to become food critics for the town. In addition to that at Laguna Surf Camp, the highlights were a pizza restaurant opposite PK's, a ceviche restaurant near the market and a sushi restaurant with an eccentric chef who invited us into the kitchen to hold a freshly caught tuna and kept offering us more food for free - shame we were so full!
It was a real pleasure spending time with Andrea and getting to know her as we travelled on the Peruvian coast and it felt like we spent a very special time together.
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