Friday, 20 April 2012

Beaches, ruins but no Easter eggs

We decided to spend Easter in Huanchaco a small town on the North Coast of Peru. Well the guide book says it was North Peru but it was still a nine hours bus journey south from our last stop. While it was still lovely and sunny the sea in Huanchaco was much colder as the currents flow from the cold seas down South. This meant that my continuing attempts at surfing had to be in full wet suit. This time however after watching the professionals who were taking part in a competition on the beach I decided I should probably have a lesson. My instructor was very helpful and helped me push the board out to the good waves and even a couple of times gave me a push to get me on to the wave fast enough so it was much easier to stand up.

We were staying in a hostel called chill out with an owner called Williams who seemed to take the name of his hostel very seriously, as everytime we talked to him no matter what time of day he always said he was feeling groggy as he had just woken up. The hostel (like Williams himself) looked a little rough round the edges but during the crowded Easter Holiday we were just happy to have somewhere booked.

The highlight of our time in Huanchaco were probably the two pre - Incan temples called Chan Chan and Huacos de Sol y Huacos de Luna. Chan Chan was part of the Chimu empire, it had a large fortress type building which was used for their religious ceremonies including the human sacrifices. It was decorated with wonderful carvings of fish, sea otters and pelicans. All the way round Katie and I kept humming the Indiana Jones theme tune as we imagined some ancient trap was going to set off a massive rolling bolder at any time. Huacos de Sol y Luna was part of the later Moche empire and was even more impressive. It was in fact 5 different temples stacked on top of each other. Each temple was basically the same as the last one but bigger. Archaeologists said that every time they felt that their gods were not happy with them they filled the old temple in with bricks and built a larger one on top of it. On all the walls was a picture of their primary god with a red face and black tentacles coming out of the top and bottom of his head. We thought that with my tan and slightly wild hair and beard he looked just like me. Around each of the temples there were a number of the Peruvian hairless dogs. Even Katie who loves all dogs admitted they were not the prettiest but they did have their uses as we were told that they had a particularly high body temperature so people used them as hot water bottles on cold winter nights. Next to the temple was a fascinating museum where they described how two men were made to fight each other and the loser was brought to the temple to be battered to death with a club as a sacrifice. It also described how the different empires had gone about conquering and killing each other. It made me realise that when the Spanish had come and conquered the Incas it was the same as the Incas had done to the Moche and the Moche had done to the Chimu.

Our one regret at Huanchaco is that we failed to find the proper Easter celebrations we were hoping for. We were expecting all the celebrations to be on Easter Sunday but it turns out that most of the events were earlier in the week. If we had known it would have been nice to have gone to the local big city of Trujhillo to watch the processions but by the time we knew about it we had missed it.

But we did finally find the party we had been looking for for weeks. We got chatting to an aussie couple while we were eating and agreed to go off together and find a party. We first found a bar offering cheap drinks and got chatting to a Peruvian teacher called Paula who wanted to practice her English. She hysterical and larger than life with the most amazing laugh telling us all about her love life. When we got to the club on the beach we were concerned we had missed the party again but it slowly filled up and by 1.30 the place was packed with people dancing. At first I did my normal party trick of falling asleep on a sofa but once I got up dancing I got my second wind and we were happy to dance the night away.

Walking on the sea side and peer at Huanchaco we admired all of the local fishing boats which were made of reeds tied together looking a bit like little canoes. We also saw lots of people fishing with hand lines and thought we would give it a go ourselves. After buying a line we realised the main problem was going to be attaching the live bait. They were little crustatceans who squirmed when I put the hook through them. Fortunately we were not relying on our fishing skills to catch our dinner as we could not get a bite and after a bit while trying to put a new bait on the hook I managed to drop the bag and set the rest of the little crabs free to escape back in the sea.

Leaving Huanchaco we realised we had no choice but to take a night bus to Lima our next destination. After trying to google which company to take we ended up taking the advice of the man in the shop selling the tickets who told us the TRC was a new company but had the best bus you could take. While we did not really know whether to trust him I must admit it was a pretty luxurious bus with big seats that tip a long way back and no loud action film to keep us awake.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Beachtastic time in Peru

After the strenuous hiking and sightseeing in Ecuador we decided it was time to hit the beach. We caught a early bus to Mancora a beach side resort in northern Peru known for its surfing and partying. After surviving two Rambo films on the bus - what is it with action films on buses!! we arrived in Mancora and were instantly happy with ith 32 degree heat and sunshine. We hopped in a tuk tuk which


eems to be the mode of transport in northern Peru which took us hilariously about 500metres down the road and that was after taking us on an unnecessary loop down one road. That was the last time we needed a tuk tuk in Mancora - ha!!

We climbed up a hill with our packs as we had decided to stay in some very cute bungalows up on a hill overlooking the beach as we wanted to make sure we could get some sleep away from the party! The owner was lovely and we had lots of nice chats with her and her very entertaining mum who also lived there. It was lovely to sit in the hammocks outside our bungalow and go to sleep hearing the sea. We instantly dropped our bags and went for a long walk along the very pretty white sandy beach. Our days in Mancora ended up being fairly similar and very relaxing. We did a lot of reading, eating and of course splashing about in the sea. As for the surfing we hired boards for two days and we had mixed success. The tough thing was actually getting out to the waves which were quite far out and there was a strong current pulling us in the other direction. Lets just say we did a fair bit of paddling and we certainly felt like we had had good work outs. What didn^t help was the fact that it was mainly a spot surfed by expert local surfers and I mean expert in that they would surf in balanced on their heads or would do all manner of tricks and spins. It was great fun watching them. We did manage to catch some good waves in when we eventually made it to where the waves were!!

As for the party we didn{t quite find it which as you might have gathered by now is a bit of a story of our travels!! Whenever we turn up somewhere it seems to be quiet but usually just for the few days we are there we are told. Oh well we still had some great evenings starting off with a drink watching the sunset and finishing up playing backgammon in a bar with only a few other people in it - but with the bar pumping out incredibly loud music as if the biggest party was going on in there. There were lots of fun bars lining the beach all pumping out music but there was a definite lack of people to turn it into the atmosphere we quite wanted. So Mancora for us really was all about the beach, relaxation and eating!!

We then took quite possibly the shortest bus ride we might take on our travels, 20 mins down the coast, to another very peaceful beach resort called Los Organos and stayed there for another verey relaxing two days on a hostel on the beach this time. The beach was gorgeous, even whiter sand than Mancora and we swam a lot, walked, found geckos and crabs, chilled and enjoyed the local seafood. Jonty tried the local dish Ceviche, raw fish with lime and onions which he enjoyed but found a bit sour!! I tasted it but Im not big on Sushi and enjoyed a paella type dish a bit more. We did try surfing again but it was very rocky so we didn{t go out for too long as our feet got cut up a little! Next we caught an overnight bus to Trujillo/Huanchaco as we needed to get somewhere we wanted to stay for a few days as it was Easter and everywhere was booked up!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Hello shrunken heads goodbye Ecuador

As we got on our 8 hour bus to Cuenca we knew that we were in the comparatively small Ecuador and were heading for the much larger countries of Peru, Argentina and Brazil so we better get used to long bus journeys.  To keep ourselves entertained we watched the film Larry Crowne on the Blackberry, it was only marginally better than the terrible action films they normally show on the South American buses and they are all badly dubbed into Spanish.

Cuenca is a beautiful town full of pretty squares with colonial architecture.  When we arrived at the bus station it was getting dark so we asked the taxi driver to take us to the hostel we had reserved.  We settled in and then went to a little local cafe that served some very tasty Columbian food.  It was only a couple of days later that we realised we were not actually in the right hostel and that the taxi driver had taken us to a place with the same name but on the wrong street.  By that time we did not really care as the place we were in was comfortable and friendly.

On our first full day in Cuenca we went to the big museum and inca ruins in the centre of town.  The museum focused on the different cultural groups in Ecuador.  There are exhibits on the different dresses and musical instruments.  While it was fascinating to see how many different cultural groups there were I have to admit that I was most fascinated by the exhibit at the top of the museum which held a collection of shrunken heads.  We learnt how Amazon tribes captured rival tribe members or members of their own tribe who had committed a crime, cut their heads off and then applied a special technique to dry and shrink their heads.  Seeing the actual heads staring out of their cabinets was a strange morbid experience but undeniably fascinating.  The museum made sure to point out at the end that the pracice is now illegal and the only shrunken heads allowed to be made these days are those of sloths, although I still felt very sorry for the poor sloths.

Our one important job we had to while in Cuenca was to meet the British consulate to collect Katie´s emergency passport.  We were told that the British embassy did not have an office in Cuenca and the consulate was just a British businessman who lived in Cuenca and agreed to help British citizens in distress.  When katie phoned he told us to meet him at one of the big malls in town outside the KFC.  We thought that maybe he was going to be this suave James Bond type but when he said meet outside KFC I then thought it was more like a scene from a Graham Greene novel.  When  he turned up he was neither the Bond lady killer or the Graham Greene decrepid ex pat but was very charming and helpful.  We were also very relieved that the passport did not specify which dates we had to leave each country giving us a bit more flexibility  to sort out our travels.

As Cuenca was our last stop in Ecuador we were sad to leave but were excited about the fact we were heading to the beach to soak up some Puruvian sunshine.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Hiking in the Andes

We headed back to Quito for 2 more nights unexpectedly, to apply for a new passport at the embassy after having it stolen on a bus. Luckily we didn't have to wait there for it as the very kind embassy lady said she could post it on to one of our future destinations which was a relief as we wanted to continue with our travels and not wait around in a town that we had already enjoyed for a quite a few days. So we set off for quite possibly one of our biggest adventures so far - 3 days of hiking around the remote andes and villages armed only with a guide for day 1 and trek notes off the internet!! We caught a couple of buses through spectacular scenery and then hopped in the back of a truck to make it to the tiny village called Quilotoa. As soon as the truck stopped two very enthusiastic ladies in traditional dress led us to their hostel to encourage us to stay there. They were so friendly that, after exploring the town a bit and deciding that theres was definitely the best hospitality on offer, we headed back and took a room. We enjoyed a hot tea around the stove with some other foreign travels. The tea was very welcome as it was pretty cold and misty in this village - not surprising as we were at 3900 meters!! We headed to see if we could see the volcanic lake and the main reason travellers come here. And after not being able to see anything at all as everything was completely shrouded in mist we were lucky as it cleared away and we saw the most stunning lake. It was getting dark so we headed back for a truly international dinner. There were 12 of us from at least 7 different countries and it was fascinating as most of the conversation was conducted in Spanish, which was great practice for us, and occasionally French and English. It was a lovely evening with very friendly people finishing up with some dice games. Jonty and I then gat

hered up some logs for our fire that we were very excited to have in our room. It was great having a log fire. After hearing reports that it gets bitterly cold at night, we were a little worried, but lets just say I think we were lucky as we had a very efficient fire going long into the night. We set off on our walk down to the crater lake at 8am ish after an early breakfast and it was a stunning walk. We had it pretty much all to ourselves and the water was so turquiose in the sunlight. We made it down to the beach area in about an hour and then the hard walk back up began. It really was an incredibly work out for the legs going back up but that really was just a warm up as after that we found a local guide called Augustine who would lead us on to our next little village,called Chugchilan, on our 3 day expedition. Augustine was quite a character and looked very dapper and totally unprepared for our supposed 5 hour walk! He was dressed in an orange cardy, smart khaki trousers and black business shoes with no grip, a hat but no water or food. But, he was like a mountain goat and he set a good pace for us. The walk really was stunning. We walked along the edge of the crater to begin with up and down and then through some moon like landscape and then descended down into some tiny villages with very cute and friendly children playing in the streets and lots of people herding animals. Towards the end of the walk we came to this incredible canyon that we realised we would need to descend to the bottom and climb up the other side. This was pretty tough especially as we realised that Augustine really had been setting an incredible pace and that we were going to arrive at our destination an hour and a half earlier than the walk was meant to take. We'd been going at such a fast pace as Augustine needed to walk all the way back home before night fall. On the walk up the canyon we met a English girl, Sarah, who was also staying in our hostel so we walked with her. There were also two other English people in the hostel (only 5 of us there that night) and this was the most English people I think we had met all trip. We had dinner together and then played table footie and table tennis. Sarah was walking on to the town we were heading to too so we decided to walk together and this time it was just us and the trek notes we'd printed out. Although we were lucky enough to pick ourselves some canine guides again - I don't know how we do it. We had two golden retrievers guiding us for at least 3 hours of our walk. They were so gorgeous and friendly! The scenery was amazing again, rivers, canyons, patchwork mountains, pigs, lamas, sheep! WE also enjoyed crossing an Indiana Jones style bridge. Sarah was good company and 6 hours later we made it to a lovely hostal in a tiny town called Isivili. And as luck would have it there was a religious festival taking place when we arrived. We investigated and joined in a religious parade and brass band which went around the streets blessing each of the houses in turn, throwing petals. It was a lovely thing to just come across and everyone was very friendly. We ate some local food in the main square and chatted to some children who were so full or beans and were all brothers,5 of them! There was a band playing very lively music in the main square but it was quite funny the Ecuadorians here didn't go in for big exuberant dance moves it was a very restrained little shuffle that everyone performed. Jonty and I adapted our moves and we think managed to pull off a very satisfactory shuffle of our own!! We were exhausted from our walk so it was a pretty early night that we had. But we were up the next day for brekkie at 6.30am. Sarah caught the bus to the next town but we wanted to complete the full 3 day hike so we set off with our trek notes in hand again. But unfortunately, the notes weren't particularly good for this route and we found it hard to work out which tall eucalyptus tree we needed to turn by!! Hmmm, we worked out we must have taken a wrong turning so I asked a lady who was in her garden for directions and was very surprised when I couldn't understand the answer as I didn't think my Spanish was that bad. But, I then realised that the lady wasn't speaking Spanish she was speaking Quechua a local dialect it was then we realised what a remote area we were in. She was very eager to help and made big gestures with her hands but unfortunately we didn't take much from her suggestions. We continued on and made our own way asking people, who did speak Spanish along the way, but after an hour or two we did manage to get back on track after spotting a bridge we knew we needed to get to - and crossing several barbed wire fences and fields of cows to get to it. It was a hot beautiful day with much of the walk going near a raging river and up and down the mountains of course once more. We made it to Sighos a market town after 5 hours and we were pretty tired once more. After a quick look round we caught a bus which had a strange passenger travelling or surfing you might say on the roof - a sheep that had been bought at the market. It was a pretty fascinating sight seeing it being winched up there and I'm not sure what the sheep would have made of it's 2 hour journey round the winding roads. We were planning to get the night bus that night to our next destination, Cuenca, but there was an unbelievably storm that started when we were on the way to buy the bus tickets. We had to shelter for about an hour as hail and rain lashed down and shop fronts came down. We decided not to travel in that and stayed a night warm in a hostel in Latacunga instead.