I left the Cusco area far faster than most backpackers, choosing instead to visit the hiking capital of Peru, Huaraz. I’d make a pit stop in the nation’s capital on the way and spend a couple of nights in the oasis hamlet of Huacachina before leaving Peru.
Lima – 9 May
With limited time until my flight to Ecuador, we chose to take the lazy (and fast) option of flying to Lima from Cusco; it cost us about $80 but saved us a day of travel. Exiting the airport was a bit of a shock, we’d not really researched how to get into the city from the airport and so settled on ‘a bus’. We got directed outside the airport gates next to the three lane highway and quickly realised we were going to struggle to find a public bus. After a traffic policeman popped over to see if we were ok, we settled on the classic taxi approach- the policemen photographed his credentials before we got in.
Its a good thing we got the taxi as we were struggling to be punctual for our lunch date with Luisianna, a Lima Lady tom met in Rio. We arrived a cool 25 minutes late (we’re really getting to grips with local customs) – god knows what time we’d have arrived if we’d stuck with the bus idea, it takes AGES to move barely anywhere on the map. Lima is famous for food, with some of the best gourmet restaurants in the world and fantastic local fare dotted everywhere; and the dish that drives that reputation more than any other is ceviche. So, with only one day in Lima, we duly turned up as the best rated ceviche restaurant in Lima, a classy place call ‘La Mar Cebicheria’ in the affluent area of Miraflores.
Once we dumped our bags at the front door – we even looked like we belonged in this classy place, with it’s valet service and smartly dressed Peruvian clientele. The food didn’t disappoint! We had a mixed ceviche platter of tuna, seabass and octopus to start and the flavours were simply incredible: strong but light, acidic but moorish and tender as you like! We wrapped it up with some creamy prawn pasta / rice dishes, another traditional dish, which were no less tasty and got us properly stuffed!
We spent the rest of the afternoon being chauffeured / shown around Lima by Luisianna in her swanky black jeep. Now Lima isn’t an easy city to drive it at the best of time, it’s especially not when you’ve only just passed your test and you have two knob ends ‘helping’ you from the passenger seats, but she got us around safely! We didn’t hit any sights – just strolled around the seaside shopping area of Larcomar and the historic city centre between coffees, ice creams and beers- perfect! Ten hours after we touched down in Lima we were boarding our latest night bus – perfectly happy with our experience in a city not highly praised on the backpacker trail!
Huaraz – 10 May
A thorn amongst roses. A turd on the perfectly manicured lawn. A big nose ruining an otherwise stunning face. Huaraz is an ugly, dull and annoying city surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in the world. The game here is to get in and get out – in this we royally failed and had a pretty crap couple of days as a result.
I was intent on climbing another sizeable mountain, namely Pisco (5670m), rather than join Tom on the famous Santa Cruz trek but despite countless emails and visits to seemingly permanently closed tour agencies I couldn’t find anyone else to do it with – and $400 for a private guide was just too much. So sadly after 2 days of futility, I accepted it wasn’t going to happen and booked on two day tours instead – both great but with the same flaw.
The first was a trip to Pastoruri Glacier – by all means an incredibly beautiful chunk of ice with obligatory lake – but sadly it pales into comparison to the glaciers in Patagonia, and they didn’t need a three hour ride on a cramped, hot, bumpy mini coach at the crack of dawn to see them!
The second was the ‘Laguna 69’ trek. This also sadly involved a bad ratio of coach time to time in the wild – but the rewards were far greater and easily justified it. If you only have time for a day trip (which i don’t recommend) this is the one. The final chunk of the drive is incredible – winding your way along a cliffy ledge between two huge vertial slabs of rock, forest below you and fluffy clouds visible far behind and below you. It felt like yet another planet (how many times have I said that to date i wonder?), especially when we stopped at the side of the Llangunco Lakes for an opportunity to take photos and drool.
The hike itself was beautiful too – but genuinely these lakes and the view back down the valley were worth the admission alone! But I couldn’t just sit there and wait for the others to get back, so I climbed up through the usual mountain terrains from pasture to scrub to rock for 90 minutes until arriving at Lake 69. The thing I most enjoyed about it wasn’t the scenery however, it was the chance to stretch my legs again and push myself, I was starting to feel a bit fat and lazy! Having completed the ‘three hour’ ascent in half the time, I had ages to relax and listen to the glacial sounds before racing back down to the bus.
The only good thing about Huaraz was a British owned restaurant called Chilli Heaven- and heaven it was for a chilli junkie like me. They serve fantastic spicy food from India (British Indian), Thailand and Mexico – all tasting as they should. I’d been here the previous two nights and made time for it again before my night bus that evening.
Huacacchina- 14 May
Arrived in the desert city of Ica after a comefortable journey from Huaraz, via Lima, on the plush Cruz De Sur coaches. Ica looks pretty grotty so it’s just as well I had no intention of staying there. A 15 minute cab took me outside the city to the tiny oasis hamlet of Huacachina. Closely surrounded by dauntingly steep sand dunes, this ‘town’ consists of a central oasis maybe 30m across with 2 rows of buildings circling it.
It’s a very touristy place naturally, but it’s also very peaceful, people stroll around / chat at the pleasant cafes without a care in the world. It’s ironic then that the reason I came here is adrenaline based. The huge rolling sand dunes are perfect for some fast paced dune buddy rides up and down the golden slopes. The next day I woke with a sore groin from the impact of the through leg harness.
After we were well and truly scrambled- we also slide down the dunes on busted up snowboards. Not the time to give standing up a first try, I settled for bodyboarding and fun it was too!
After a good night out with my fellow body boarders (and a day spent paying the price of that)- I shot back to Lima the way I came and got a short, late night flight to Ecuador’s capital Quito.