We made it to Mancora and immediately bumped into Adam who has become the third member of our ‘wolfpack’. I mentioned in my last post we were keen not to spend too much time and money in crazy beach towns so we limited ourselves to just 3 days in Mancora. Seven days later after a few too many beers, many late nights and a few failed surfing attempts, we finally escaped the grips of the town and left for Chachapoyas. Our time in Mancora was great though, we met a lot of lovely people, visited a beach full of turtles with Lucia and Paula, our new friends from Chile and finished most nights with Ed playing guitar on the beach into the early hours. Sun, sand and cervezas is a difficult combination to beat!
We took a bus from Mancora to Chiclayo which wasn’t the most exciting of places although we were only there for a few hours so it would be unfair to judge it. Twelve hours later we arrived into Chachapoyas in the early morning, we didn’t have much time but managed to find a hostel and take a full day tour to Kuelap which is an ancient ruin that predates the Incas and is actually bigger than Machu Picchu. The walls surrounding Kuelap are up to 19m high and almost 6oom long. Apparently it took over 100 years to build and over 200,000 tonnes of rock. We took a tour which was done in English and Spanish, really good practice for learning a language. Later that day we returned to Chachapoyas and had a calm relaxing evening, a long way from the bright lights of Mancora.
Our final day in Chachapoyas took us to Gocta Falls, Peru’s highest waterfall. It was originally deemed to be the fourth highest waterfall in the world but that’s now changed as it’s considered as two separate falls. Still, at over 500m, it’s the 16th highest and amazingly impressive. We had a two hour walk through the beautiful surroundings, immersed in the jungle but with views of huge valleys all around. As we approached the falls, we were treated to, somehow, even more stunning sights with the entire falls in an eye shot. The story behind Gocta Falls is perhaps more surprising than the feature itself. It wasn’t until 2007 that a German explorer ‘discovered’ the place. Of course, there were locals who knew about this for a long time before but it was believed that a mermaid inhabited the pool below the falls and most people kept away from the site. After talking with my guide, Tia, she explained how there used to be monkeys there but with the influx of tourists, they had now scarpered further into the dense jungle. It was a little sad to hear her talk about how the place had changed but she was also grateful for the job opportunity it had given her and many others from the area.
After returning from Gocta, we wasted no time and took a 13 hour bus that night to Trujillo. We parted ways with Adam there as he was heading to Huaraz whereas Ed and I went straight to Lima. Three hours after arriving into Trujillo, we left again to spend another 11 hours on a bus. It was easily the best bus we’ve been in with nice food and lots of spaces for us to spread out on, so it was a bit of a shock when one of the staff came and told us that our rucksacks hadn’t been put onboard! Fortunately, they were able to be put on the next night bus and we were only without our bags for a matter of hours. We entered Lima around midnight and I was glad that Alfredo, a friend from my university days, was waiting for us at the terminal. Like, most of the capitals I’ve seen in South America so far, Lima is huge and navigating it at midnight after over 20 hours on buses was not what we wanted.
Alfredo was a great host, it had been almost five years since we graduated and apart from a brief coincidental reunion in Barcelona I hadn’t seen him. We immediately settled into a life of luxury at his house with a private bedroom, playstation and TV in the room! It was helped by the maid who prepared us breakfast, lunches and snacks as we wanted. It made it a little difficult to leave the house! Once Alfredo finished work on the Friday we left Lima and made our way south to a place called Asia. I felt privileged to be seeing this place as although it’s a very popular destination for Peruvian’s, not many foreigners get there. Well, we were impressed by the accommodation we had in Lima but it was nothing on the house Alfredo’s auntie had in Asia. Complete with swimming pool, relaxing areas and a balcony with sea view as well as delicious food our life of luxury continued. It was a long way from the stuffy dormitories and cheap almuerzos (lunches) that we’ve become accustomed to.
We returned to Lima at the end of the weekend and on Monday we spent the day with Lori, a friend we had made in Asia. She took us on a tour of various places around the city. We started at her sister’s apartment in Miraflores and walked along the coast after eating some delicious Peruvian seafood. We finished in Barranco and stopped off at Larcomar along the way. Barranco was a very nice area with many colonial buildings and a bohemian vibe to it. The early evening was spent enjoying the view with a beer or two before we sampled more Peruvian food. On the menu was anticucho, or cow’s heart and picarones which is kind of like a fried donut. The cow heart was absolutely delicious and we owe a big thanks to Lori for taking us to lots of the interesting places in Lima.
The following day Ed and I went to one of the cathedrals, we chose this particular one as it has the infamous catacombs underneath. We made the bold decision not to wait for the English speaking tour but just to take the Spanish one. Although interesting neither of us were blown away by it and unfortunately they don´t let you take photos in there so I haven´t got any skulls or bones to show you. We had a walk around the centre of Lima, explored the main Plaza and then met up with Alfredo once he had finished work. We enjoyed some more fine foods before going to Plaza de las Aguas. It was a light/water show and was really impressive with images being projected on to the walls of water. Just before we called it a night we were taken up to the top of one of the best viewpoints over the city. It was more residential and not a normal tourist sight. It was our final night in Lima and a great way to finish an amazing time with good friends. I can’t thank Alfredo enough for his generosity but if you happen to read this Alfredo, THANK YOU!
After leaving Lima, we continued south with our first stop in Paracas. Paracas is the closest town to Islas Ballestas and is home to millions of birds, as well as thousands of sea lions and some penguins. It was essentially our second attempt at seeing the poor man’s Galapagos and it was time to make amends after our failed attempt in Ecuador. We took a boat tour out to the islands, unfortunately you aren’t allowed to access the islands by foot but we understood why once we arrived. The rocks were covered with birds and the inlet beaches full with sea lions. The noises were interesting and humorous with hundreds, if not thousands of sea lions chatting away. We made our way through the islands and managed to spot one group of penguins. I realised I’d never seen them before and was a little like a kid in a sweet shop but I also know that I’m going to have to get closer in the future!
After returning from the islands we didn’t waste too much time before we made our way to Ica, we had our first couchsurfing experience here although Luis, our host, was a tour guide so for a small price he took us round some wineries, fed us and took us to his family´s fruit plantation. The winery tour involved lots of wine tasting and also Pisco, the infamous Peruvian drink. By the time we finished we were ready for a night out and it had all been provided free of charge. After witnessing a couple of other unique Peruvian experiences we called it a night. The following morning, breakfast was grapes, mangoes, tuna (a fruit from a cactus, not the fish kind) and an array of other fruit freshly picked from the trees. Luis explained several times that ‘It’s only good if it’s fresh’ and ‘If it’s not fresh, it’s not good.’ This became the phrase of the next week or two.
Our short time in Ica came to an end but we only had a short trip down the road. The sand dunes and the desert in Huacachina awaited us, following that we would be hiking in a canyon over twice the size of the Grand Canyon before making our way to Cusco to mountain bike, hike and zip line our way to Machu Picchu. Excited would be an understatement…