Before I even begin this post it is worth noting that northern Peru, other than Mancora, is much less visited than places south of Lima. In Chiclayo I was one of very few western tourists, which made it pretty tough to meet other travellers since there simply are very few and meant that the men of Chiclayo found me of great interest. Chiclayo is not a pretty place and I suspect it is a much better reflection of what the ‘real’ Peru looks like. In a country where over half the population sits below the poverty line there is some expectation of cities which do not have any polish to them.
Having said that Chiclayo is not without it’s assets. Located nearby are some beautiful and incredibly important sites of early civilisations, pre dating the Incas. I visited the beautifully curated Labayaque museum which is based in a pyramid shaped building. The whole museum is in darkness except for spotlights on each exhibit. Much of the exhibits on display are jewellry from the excavated king of Sipan’s tomb. I don’t think I have ever seen so much gold in my life! The pyramids of Tucame also handily located nearby were a phenomenal site, nearly 200 hectares of pyramids dotted around the area with the furthest ones away now surrounded by green farmland.
After a couple of days in Chiclayo I took a bus a few hours south to a city called Trujillo. This could not have been more different to Chiclayo. The city is beautiful with brighly coloured and well maintained old colonial buildings and churches. As soon as I arrived I saw other tourists and realised I was back into the different side of Peru. Trujillo is also surrounded by a number of different archaeological sites which I also visited. My assessment of these is that most of them look like incredibly large, and very intricately decorated, sandcastles. I certainly don’t mean this in a diminutive way, I have spent time building sandcastles so I can imagine the work that went into ones that have lasted hundreds of years.
I found people in Trujillo to be incredibly welcoming and friendly. I went on a tour of one of the sites and one family as soon as they realised I was on my own basically adopted me, to the point of the Mum insisting she pay for my entrance ticket! The other great breakthrough I have had is realising that Peru is a place to have deserts. Everything is covered in condensed milk and lemon meringue pie is very big here. Luckily I won’t be hitting the beach any time soon so I’m happily indulging! However, my absolute highlight so far was walking along the street today to be met on the pavement by 2 grown men ‘herding’ a number of ducks and ducklings along the street. I have no idea why, however I did have the foresight to get a photo.
Onto country number 3, Peru. My arrival into Peru wasn’t quite as I had hoped, but the sunshine here has more than made up for it now. I arrived here on a bus from Ecuador which was due to arrive at 7am. The bus arrived here at 4am. I was the only person getting off and was soon stood in the dark on a street in a town I didn’t know, in a country I didn’t know with no local currency. Not an ideal situation. As it turned out the worst thing that happened was being heavily over charged from a taxi driver to my hostel, which luckily had lovely hammocks I could nap in until morning!
I stayed in a bamboo hut, which surrounded a swimming pool and garden with hammocks, with the sea about 20m away. As near to perfect as it gets! I had originally planned on staying in Mancora for 3 days before heading further into Peru. However, this quickly changed to 5 days as the beach and glorious sunshine kept me there.
I spent a lot of time sunbathing, i had hoped to have a surf lesson or 2 but this was not to be as the sea resembled a mill pond for the whole time i was there. The other amazing thing about Mancora is the sea food. I had fish everyday, in fact for most meals. It was fresh and delicious and incredibly cheap! I met some lovely people in Mancora, not especially difficult since the place is overrun by travellers, in particular a lovely Austrian girl called Eva.
Following my time in Mancora i took a bus south to a city called Chiclayo. A day bus this time. The drive to Chiclayo was really interesting. We drove through the Sechura desert, which is an incredibly barren place except for oockets of intense farming in particular paddy fields. This looks bizarre against the back drop of the desert!
The other entertainment for the bus journey was my realisation that Peruvian men are very different to Ecuadorian men. Since i have blonde hair and blue eyes i had expected unwanted attention in South America. In Columbia and Ecuador I got a fair bit of attention but nothing significant. In Peru it is very different. I have taken to wearing sunglasses even when its not sunny so that i dont have men harassing me about my eye colour! The other issue is the hissing. Peruvian men seem to think this is an acceptable way to show a girl they think she is pretty. I do not. However, it does seem that hissing and unwanted comments are as far as things go. My response of Ignoring said men seems to be sufficient in deterring them, thank god as my spanish is not up to giving quick put downs just yet!
Onto my final destination in Ecuador, the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca. I arrived very bright and early on Friday following an overnight bus journey from Quito. The city is quite compact so it is a very easy place for a walking tour and you can’t help but notice there is a church on every corner, clearly Cuenca is a very religious place!
I had a lovely morning exploring the city and was quite surprised by the sunshine as I had been warned about quite how cold Cuenca was. Back in the hostel I met a french girl called Rachel, we decided to visit a Panama hat museum which obviously resulted in hats being bought. Rachel had got to know a couple of ecuadorian guys who we met up with. They insisted that there was a very important football match on, between Cuenca and Quito which we had to go to. So that is what we did. This actually turned out to be a lot of fun!
After the match we headed out for dinner and a few beers. It is probably worth noting that neither of the ecuadorian guys, Alex and Mauricio, spoke any English ( or if they did they weren’t prepared to speak it), so this ended up being a Spanish speaking evening. Whilst my Spanish really has improved immeasurably keeping up with conversation was tough. However, I’m not one to allow a language barrier to stop me putting my opinion across so I used a great combination of Spanish, made up words and gesturing emphatically. This actually worked surprisingly well.
on Saturday Rachel and I went to 3 local villages where we visited women weaving Panama hats, artisan silver and goldsmiths and locally produced ceramics. It was great to see the surrounding area to Cuenca which is this beautiful mountainous region with the odd house and village perched on the mountain side.
Saturday night was more Spanish conversation practice, however this was made significantly easier by the addition of 3 English speakers to our little group. More salsa dancing and general fun, which was followed by a day of less fun on Sunday!
We had a fairly slow start on Sunday but eventually made it to some thermal spas nearby which did wonders for the hangover! Then it was time to say goodbye to cuenca and to Ecuador as I took a night bus into Peru.
I arrived at the hotel we spent Saturday night at and realised at this stage that this was not going to be the same standard of travel I was used to. On arrival at the hotel my bag was taken to my room before I even had chance to check-in. I met my room mate Jenny, who is a lovely teacher from London, she soon became my room mate, snorkelling buddy and Galapagos BFF!
We flew to the Galapagos islands very early on Sunday morning, which meant we arrived onto our boat by 11am. And what a boat it was. There were 13 of us in total on our boat with 8 staff looking after us all. The boat was amazing, on arrival to the sun deck Jenny and I looked at each other both of us said this had far out-weighed our expectation significantly. At this stage we both felt like at any moment we were going to be expected to partake in a dance video. Our biggest concern was our lack of dancing skills and more importantly our lack of owning a gold bikini.
We headed straight out to go snorkelling, where we saw a multitude of fish and even a white tipped shark. After about 15mins our guide called us back into the boat and he said he thought he had seen a dolphin. What it turned out to be was 3 killer whales feeding on a dead whale at the bottom of the sea. We were on a boat above the whales who kept surfacing around us. After about 10mins the blubber from the dead whale floated to the surface and these enormous sea birds fed on this in their hundreds, the birds are called frigates. This whole scene was truly amazing to see, even our guide said he had never seen a display this fantastic, it felt like we were part of David Attenborough program!
In total we visited 4 islands and our tours varied from hikes on the islands to snorkelling around the islands. The best thing about being based on a boat is that we travelled between islands at night so we had all day to see wildlife. The islands themselves are incredible to look at as they are all formed from volcanic rock and the younger islands are so hostile looking it is amazing to see so many species survive there.
During our various trips to the islands We were lucky enough to see Sea llions, iguanas, giant tortoises, finches, flamingos, rays, turtles, sharks, penguins, various sea birds and the wonderful blue footed boobies.
All in all the Galapagos was a phenomenal experience. My advice; go as soon as you can. It is worth every penny.
From the rainforest I travelled to a thermal spring town called Banos. Banos is a very picturesque town settled in a valley. With the lovely hot springs and virtually every outdoor activity possible available, Banos is as popular with ecuadorian holiday makers as it is with gringos.
I was lucky enough to time my trip with some friends who I had met from the rainforest. We all stayed in this amazing hostel that doubles up as an art gallery and studio, so you end up having breakfast amongst artwork of varying degrees of completion.
Friday was a very good day. Catherine and I decided to get up early and visit the thermal springs at 5:30am and sunrise whilst in the baths, which was actually a great start to the day. We then went zip lining across a canyon a short distance from Banos. This was amazing fun, the photo below is of us climbing between the 2 zip lines, which actually was scarier than the zip lining!
I then walked up to a viewpoint on one of the mountains, which gave the mostbeautiful view of the town. After this catherine and I decided that we were in need of some TLC, so we decided to have a full body massage and a facial. Absolute bliss! I did have the realisation as I was having the facial that this was the first time my face had been properly clean moisturised for 2 months.
To end the day off, a big night out obviously! The other volunteers from the rainforest arrived on Friday night and we hit the Banos night scene, which is pretty good. The night started in a fairly civilised way, but ended at around 4am in a bar that the owners had tried to close several times, but we prevented them from doing by buying more shots and insisting that we needed to be in charge of music.
I feel like this photo sums up the end of our night. With everyone a little worse for wear! A great final night with the group I met whilst in the rainforest.
I have just finished my final week at Jatun Sacha, so yet another goodbye to some friends I have made. I have now realised that most of my trip will be spent saying goodbye to various people along the way! It has been an amazing month here. I feel like I have learnt an enormous amount, however im not convinced that Jonas, our boss at work, would agree as he asked me to name a tree on Friday and I could only actually remember 2 names. Needless to say the tree was neither of these!
Whilst I won’t miss the continual dampness of everything, I will miss the noise of the rainforest and the fact that at any given time there is usually something pretty amazing to see. Outside our dining room at the centre we would often see monkeys, saddleback tamarinds for those interested. I was very pleased with the picture below of them. However I was kindly informed that everyone else had managed to get superior photos to this already.
The other very exciting animal we have had at the centre was a sloth. I totally failed to get a picture! However i can confirm that they are the cutest animal ever. I am keen to get one as a pet on my return to London.
Below is a picture from the bird observation tower of myself with the lovely Charlie. It is 30m high and has the most stunning view from the top, very much worth the terrifying climb up.
I am now spending a couple of days in a town called Banos, which has some great thermal springs. Then onto Quito and my Galapogos tour begins.