Our first swim in the ocean on our South American trip so far – FINALLY! Another overnight bus trip had left us slightly weary but unlike on other occasions, we didn’t have any colonial cities to explore, museums to visit or lookouts to climb to – this time all we had to do was relax on the beach!We arrived in Mancora and more specifically Loki del Mar, our hostel for the next few days. Loki hostels have a reputation in South America as the “party hostels” and their hostel in Mancora certainly lived up to its name. We were shown to our room upon check-in only to find smashed beer bottles everywhere, beds unmade and a horrific mound of toilet paper in the bathroom. This was followed by a quick “woops, sorry perhaps your room isn’t actually ready yet”! We kicked back on the beach as well as Loki’s fabulous pool and bar area. Come night, we drank at the hostel as well as the local beach bars which are far from classy establishments but a bit of fun all the same. After a couple sleepless nights at Loki though we were ready for something a little more relaxed and headed further down the beach where we had our own beach bungalow. This place was fantastic and for what you were getting – fantastically cheap as well! We swam, walked along the beach and enjoyed some more incredibly fresh ceviche – if you are a lover of seafood, the Peruvian coast has you sorted!A few more days relaxing and it was time to say goodbye to Mancora as well as Peru. We lied in the hammocks outside our bungalow and watched the sun go down one last time.
We didn’t really know what to expect from Lima – many of the backpackers that we encountered in Southern Peru had not seemed overly enthused. For us however, it was a refreshing change from the various colonial cities we had been visiting as the touristic Miraflores district was quite modern and westernised in comparison. Not only that, it was the first time in 4 months that we had seen the ocean which was very exciting after being inland since almost the start of our trip!We walked down to the cliff face where we were surrounded by views of the ocean while enjoying the park areas and sculptures along the esplanade. We passed the Parque de Amor, or Love Park where a large sculpture of a couple making out certainly gets your attention!Our time in Lima was also made a lot more enjoyable by our Peruvian sisters Grace and Paz who we had met in Chile where they were also traveling. On our first night they picked us up and took us to dinner at Panchita, ran by one of Peru’s most celebrated chefs. With no real idea of what dishes to order we left it in their hands as they ordered a selection of Peruvian delicacies for us to try. The first of these delicacies was cow heart which I can’t say sounded overly appetising but we both really enjoyed. Prominent other features of their cuisine include potatoes (Peru has close to 4000 different types of potatoes!!!!) and of course ceviche, yet this was to be saved for another day! After dinner the girls drove us along the waterfront and down to the Barranco District, a very modern and buzzing area of Lima full of restaurants and bars. We went to Ayahuasca, a huge mansion-turned-bar, well, multiple bars in fact with each room almost feeling like a different venue – definitely worth a look if you are ever in Lima.With our second day we caught the bus to downtown Lima where we set off to explore the historical centre. We hopped off the bus a little too early which then saw us walk in about four different directions on the advice of various locals before we eventually arrived at the Plaza de Armas, Lima’s main square. Waiting patiently for our arrival were Andy & Laura, a couple from the UK who we had last seen in Argentina. It was fantastic having the opportunity to catch up with them once again and we chatted about we had been up to over breakfast before continuing to explore.The large, old buildings surrounding the square were still in great condition and we walked around admiring each of them before stopping for some lunch. On recommendation from the girls we sat at Tanta where we enjoyed Pisco Sours (Peru is famous for Pisco) and I finally had some ceviche which was wonderfully fresh!We continued on, visiting the Convento de San Francisco, a 17th century church with catacombs below containing up to an estimated 70,000 burials. There is something exceptionally creepy about walking underground through rooms containing actual human skulls and other bones. The bones line the hallways, placed in various piles and in some instances arranged in different circular patterns – super creepy. I didn’t take any photos as you weren’t allowed to inside the church (plus it would have felt a little weird anyway) but I have included one just so you can understand what I am talking about!Finishing our time in Lima, we met up with Grace and Paz once more and they took us to Embarcadero41, a restaurant down on the water for one last gastronomic treat before our bus departure. We once again left it with the girls to order some food and once again, we were not disappointed! It was so refreshing to be trying new local food but also food of such a high quality after many substandard meals throughout our South American adventure. Ceviche, grilled seafood, more Pisco Sours, desserts – perhaps the people that hadn’t enjoyed Lima didn’t really like to eat! The girls drove us to the bus station and we said our goodbyes – until next time Peruvian sisters, thanks again for the good times!
Overnight buses can lead to real confusion – waking up in a different location, wondering what day it is and sometimes whether you have slept through your stop altogether! On this occasion we were being asked to get off the bus at 6am and told we had arrived in Arequipa which had us slightly confused as we had anticipated arriving quite a few hours later. We stumbled off the bus, a little lost only to arrive at our hostel and be told that I’d actually booked for the night prior and therefore they had cancelled our booking!We worked it out eventually and went to get some much-needed coffee in downtown Arequipa. We walked to the main square, Plaza de Armas which is surrounded by grand, large buildings made of sillar, a white volcanic stone. Arequipa is Peru’s second most important city after Lima and also the second most popular tourist destination after Cuzco due to its proximity to many Southern Peru attractions including Colca Canyon, which we were to explore the next day.We were awake early for the 160km journey to Colca Canyon, winding around the Colca Valley as we drove to our first stop. The Colca Canyon is one of Peru’s most-visited tourist destinations and is reportedly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon at 4,160m at its deepest point. The canyon is also home to the Andean Condor, the 4th largest bird in the world with a wing span of up to 3.4 metres! Our first stop was at Cruz del Condor where you can watch at close range as the condors fly past the canyon walls and high in the sky above. CONDORS. ARE. HUGE. Like, really, really big and that is when viewing them from a distance! They are certainly not the prettiest of birds but they are most definitely impressive. We watched as they soared around, simultaneously accumulating way too many blurry condor photos but even our good photos do not really do their size justice! Just for the fun of it, here are some more condor photos: We continued on, arriving at the point where we were to begin our hike further down into the canyon. The view from the top was fantastic although I must admit it was completely different to what I was expecting. As far as canyons go, I am really only familiar with the Grand Canyon in the United States and Kings Canyon in Australia which are completely different to Colca Canyon which to me more so seemed like a large valley. Yes, now would be an appropriate time to look up what constitutes a canyon but I’ll leave that for you who are playing at home. We walked down slowly and I was very quickly missing the hiking sticks I’d learned to use and love. At times our trail down into the canyon was quite steep and I could feel my knees beginning to hate me as we zig-zagged our way down. Eventually we had made our way to a bridge at the bottom where we stopped for a quick break before a short walk up-hill on the other side to our accommodation for the evening. Looking back across the canyon at the path we had walked down it looked so small in comparison to the canyon as a whole. See if you can spot it in the second picture below!Our second day had us walking along one side of the canyon but climbing up and over before heading down once more. On the way our guide explained about the different types of plants in the canyon including edible fruits of different cacti and other trees. We also learned about different animal noises thanks to the group of English boys doing their best impressions along the way which while incredibly irritating, momentarily took the focus off the amount of hiking we were undertaking.We walked through a small village, which is now almost uninhabited outside of an annual festival that is held in the town. One “lucky” family is given the honour of having to pay for the festival – food, drinks, entertainers etc I feel like the cost would outweigh the honour but nevertheless it is about the most populated the town ever gets with Peruvians from near and far arriving in time to enjoy the hospitality.Continuing through the town and passing over one side we once again looked down into the canyon and with time we could see the “oasis”, an area full of palm trees and pools of blue water, also our campsite for the evening. We zig-zagged down and around, over bridges and back up hills before making our final descent into the oasis. This is what it is all about – pools surrounded by palm trees overlooking rivers and mountainsides. We enjoyed the water and the chance to relax before some cards and dinner and yes, in the picture below, that is the track out to follow the next day!!!!The following day arrived and if I had to describe it in one word, that word would be: HELL. So physics comes in to play here – what comes up must go down… or vice versa. We were up at the crack of dawn to hike out of the canyon and yes, that was necessary because the moment that sun hits the wall of the canyon you are going to wish you were already at the top! Hands down, the one disadvantage of hiking into one of the deepest canyons in the world is the fact that you also have to hike out and I can honestly say I did not enjoy this one bit. Nevertheless, I did make it… even if it was after every single group had made it and the rest of my hiking group was waiting hungry and patiently at the top! Here I must give credit to Will because he put up with my s#!t the whole way up and still managed to have time to encourage me.With us (as in me) FINALLY at the top we continued walking on to the nearest town where we had breakfast awaiting us. Feeling invigorated once more we continued on, driving along the Colca Valley where the local people maintain the ancestral traditions of the land and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces. Looking down into the valley is quite impressive, with the different terrace levels and sizes creating patterns in the valley wall. We took our last views in of the Canyon before we continued on to a nearby town. In this town I held probably one of my favourite birds of all time and by that I mean “I have no idea what your actual bird type name is but you look super cool and that’s all that matters” sort of bird. The guy who owned this bird was all about having it land on my head wearing his hat and then my arm, digging its super sharp talons into my bicep but hey that’s cool I have a crazy bird on my arm so whatever. Also noteworthy was the small church and incredibly cute donkeys nearby.Finishing off our adventure we stopped at some hot springs which really were the perfect antidote to hiking out of ridiculously steep canyon all morning. On the bus back to Arequipa we stopped at a viewpoint where you could see volcanoes out of every direction which was pretty impressive, along with fields full of llamas doing their thing out in the wilderness. Another 3 day trek down exploring more beautiful landscapes and staring down more crazy switchbacks. It was another fantastic adventure although maybe not the best option after just finishing a 4 day trek to Machu Picchu. Nethetherless our bodies once again taught us we were capable of a lot more than initially anticipated and we returned to Arequipa, ready for the next adventure.