Straight back into overland life, we left Cusco the following morning after the Inka Trail. Curled up on my seat, I happily munched on Skittles as the wonderful world flew by. Unlike the usual stiff days after exercise, I felt no pain; only contentedness. The day was cloudy as we rumbled into the small village of Raqchi, greeted by smiling locals dressed traditionally. Short women, weighed down by heavy, layered skirts, squared-shoulder jackets and broad, flat hats waved happily. These would be our host families for the night. The main square held some stalls, dwarfed by the gorgeous stone church and towering, ancient mud brick ruins. It was a fair walk to our home, the uneven dirt road quickly turning to mud with the oncoming rain. The four of us staying in the household of Maximiliana were pleasantly surprised to realise the basic, mud brick house from the street opened into a beautiful courtyard and tidy guest quarters. Homestay? More like B&B! Chattering happily, our hostess served us traditional Peruvian food which was delicious. (Except for the coriander! 😜) Full stomachs and many muchas gracias‘s later, we were hustled out the door back to the square for a tour of the ruins. After the ruins it was time for a ceramic demonstration. The lovely, old potter had been taught as a kid and had never given up on the trade. He makes sure to always be happy when creating, and thankful to the Pachamama whom provides the clay for his works. Happiness and gratitude is so important for the lives of many here, a lesson I wish to see in my world at home.
Veronica, my host sister, took great care of me. Leaving my bag in the truck, she insisted on walking me all the way back to the square, through the dark and the mud, to retrieve it. Holding her hand, trying to communicate in broken Spanish, I was glad to have the opportunity not to just see the people but interact. Cooking us a meal we could barely finish after lunch, we were promptly dressed as Peruvian women ourselves. As Veronica wrapped the skirt around my waist, I cried out, not only was it heavy but it added multiple sizes to my hips. The jackets were tight and constricting, as was the bright fabric for carrying objects that was knotted on my shoulders. To top it off, my neck shortened slightly by the weight of the large, flat hats tied to my head under my chin. Feeling incredibly ridiculous and very much out of place, all we could do was laugh. Despite the family’s best attempts to Peruvanise me, the blonde hair sticking out under the hat, and thongs on my feet unravelled the traditional facade.
As the cool night set in, we all sat in a circle to begin an Andean ceremony. Handed three coca leaves for each hand, the shaman gave his gratitude and wishes to two ceramics of water. The left ceramic represented el cielo – the transcendent, the right was Pachamama, the world around us. Offering a hand of coca leaves to each pot, we blew our wishes into the air before giving up the leaves. Kneeling on the alpaca wool, holding my coca leaves towards the dark sky, I motioned three times before placing my offerings, my hopes, into the sacred ceramics. Laughter filled the air after the ceremony finished, a mix of cultures dancing around a fire under the night sky.
The Inka held three as an incredibly significant number, represented in much of their architecture and beliefs. Despite the Spanish eradication of the Inkas, the ‘collective consciousness’ of the Andean peoples continues to exist. Just as the Inkas did things in threes, so do the Andean people. The condor, puma and snake represent the three levels of existence; above, ground and below. Born on the third day of the month, I admire the significance of this number.
Crossing over the Peruvian altiplano on our way to Chivay, it was amusing to see snow. Barely any snow appeared to us in Patagonia, but here, heading North, it dusted the tall, grassy mountain tops. A heard of woolly alpacas appeared from the cloak of white, grazing despite the buried grass. Country of rolling hills, the clouds clutched the mountains as the snow faded into the tufts of long grass. The cool grey sky reflected over the landscape.
Chivay was a pleasant place, the traces of a large market in the centre of town. Quiet by nightfall, there wasn’t much to do but linger at the hotel and await tomorrows exciting day trip. Dawn came too early as I was happily snuggled in the soft bed. Anticipation quickly emerged as sleep faded and condors soared in my mind. Luis, our guide, added to the mood, the Peruvian having an inappropriate sense of humour, interest in blondes and amusing single haa! as he squeaked the trucks mascot rubber chicken.
Perched upon a rock with a decent view of the Colca Canyon, we awaited the star attraction. Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in South America, four kilometres deep at some points. Although, the deepest part is a fifteen hour drive and nine hour hike. We were here for the birds this time. Some gasps of excitement, arms pointed in different directions. Could they be here? Is that a shadow or a bird? The great Andean condors started small, soaring lazily half way up the canyon. As with any air show, the display crescendoed, condors soaring higher, faster, closer. Cries of amazement sounded as the adults came to play, wingspans of over three metres whistling over our heads. Watching the wide arcs of flight in the sky, I nearly fell from my rock and into the dizzying canyon below. Not the most attractive bird, their grace and monstrous size make their significance in Andean beliefs understandable. Just to experience these incredible birds in flight has been a sure highlight of my journey.
The rest of the day consisted of Luis’ ‘first white ass’ story, a drive to Arequipa and a happy reunion. The acclaimed ‘white city of Peru’ held much in promise, even if I had only stayed in the hotel. La Casa de mi Abuela (My Grandma’s House) offered us a gorgeous four bed room, complete with a loft, sitting area and bathroom ‘house’ as well as gorgeous green space and a pool outside That night I went wild on my food exploration and dared to order a salad (what?!) for dinner. Enjoyable but not sold, the Peruvian Sexy Salad (prawns, mango, avocado, asparagus, goats cheese and artichoke) sent me happily off to sleep.
My first hot shower in a few days, after a fulfilling and healthy breakfast, was heaven. No schedule, no obligation, I could scarcely remember the last time having such a cruisey morning. Setting off when we felt like it, a friend and I wandered Arequipa. Visiting Juanita, the mummy of the young girl, had me both frightened and morbidly interested. Needing some comfort after both the impressive Inka Trail and frozen girl, we decided to treat ourselves. Manicure! Walking into the first salon we saw, we spent a couple of hours getting our nails treated and painted. I absolutely love my sunset colours under black design, savouring the colour and protection before having to return to food safety anti-nail polish. It was one more museum (my friend’s an archaeologist) before retiring for the afternoon. The desiccated guinea pigs, human heads and wrapped up bodies was enough for me. Dropping by one of the multiple alfajore shops dotted around the main plaza, we decided to try the blackberry and the mint, apple flavoured treats. Absolutely divine, the flavoursome melting moment like alfajores had me promising to return tomorrow.
Resting in bed, chatting to home with Spanish Top Gun in the back ground, we waited for the night life to emerge. It had been a long while since I’d dolled up for a night out. My first time wearing a dress in a few months felt so liberating. Time to party! Taking it very cautious after Santiago, it was a great night. The Latin guys and girls know how to dance. Being on of the only blondes at the club was an experience…
My last day in the lovely Arequipa was a much needed rest. Washing the previous nights smoke from my hair and putting on another dress, I wandered out into the city. Spending the day with friends is enjoyable, but having only my feet to follow was just what I needed. Sitting in the main plaza, I happily absorbed the sun and dried my hair while writing postcards to family. I did some souvenir shopping, my favourite, before guiltlessly buying more mini alfajores. The sun faded into the afternoon as I sat by the pool, catching up on some writing and relaxing.
Another drive day began, and I decided to play my music. Always very reserved in terms of my music, it shows how comfortable I have become with those I travel with. There were the sour old people that wanted to turn my speaker off, but that just encouraged my friends to sing along or comment on how they liked my music. The support had me grinning, and even when the grumps won out to terminate my music, Duncan turned his on just as loud. Group travel is learning about each other, music a simple way to do that. It may have taken a while, but I was glad to finally share that part of myself, and even gladder to not be so offended by the blatant rudeness of some others.
The child in me tore to the surface as Ambers door opened up onto the surf of the Pacific. I barely looked back as I rocketed down the sand and splashed into the water. My home lies just across the water, my feet standing in the same waters they stand every Summer. Full of happiness (and oxygen, our first sea level stop in at least a month), I danced around the waves, playing tag with the water and consequently getting my pants soaked. Puerto Inka was a nice, ancient port; ruins barely visible on the bay sides. Setting up my tent to open towards the ocean, I bounced off to play volleyball while dinner was being made. My soul hummed with the perfection of a campfire set up on the beach, meat roasting on the grill over it and the sun setting behind the horizon. The crashing and thundering of the waves that night woke me up multiple times, but each time I fell asleep it was with a smile.
Opening up my tent, I sat in my sleeping bag watching the waves crumple onto the sand in the morning light. Soft pink and blue hung in the cloudy sky, reflecting in the deep blue of the sea. Crawling from my tent, I was served a warm, butter pancake which got coated in a form of Nutella for breakfast. Leaving the Pacific was not as hard when I realised I have only a few weeks before home. I already know it will be South America I will have trouble saying good bye to when mid June finally arrives.
Sitting around the table at the back of the bus, we played competitive cards to our next stop. One valuable skill is knowing a card game or two besides Uno, a skill I have almost solidified. Although I always end up the asshole in President and Asshole, I do somewhat understand the game.
The Chauchilla Cemetery is the place that would’ve saved me a bluff in one Ancient History exam last year had I known about it. This eerie, barren place is littered with human bones and unearthed tombs. The dozen tombs that have been excavated contain scarily, intact mummies. Protected by the deserts’ desiccation and intentional mummification, these ancient humans still have skin on their bones and thick locks of hair on their heads. Some mummies had hair up to two metres long, arranged thoughtfully around their fetus-like positions. Awed by preserved human remains as well as highly disgusted, I’d peak over the edge of the tombs before scurrying away and building a stone pillar offering to the spirits.
Continuing our Nazca exploration, we visited a large, mostly unexcavated temple complex and some aqueducts. We camped in the grounds of a local hotel, the famed Nazca lines set for the next morning. Fast asleep in my tent, savouring a rare sleep in, the planes flew overhead. Easily nauseated, I opted out of this option of twisting from side to side to get a view of these vexing, ancient images. I did not miss out though, a viewing tower allowing me to observe the hands, tree and flamingo from solid ground.
Huachachina was our next stop, an oasis town that held fun and adventure in the enormous sand dunes surrounding. Sitting by the pool in a chilled international hostel, the massive dunes surrounded us. Metal framed dune buggies revved up to the hostel, my friends and I electing a lime green buggy. Squished in and thankfully clicked in, we shot off, tearing through the dunes at alarming speeds and on frightening slopes. Adrenalin pulsed when we stopped at the edge of an enormous dune, and were handed boards?! Many expletives later I flew down the dunes, screaming from the pit of my soul but having the time of my life. We did these for two more dunes, all of which managed to be larger and scarier than the previous. Driving up more dunes, we paused at the peak of one to watch the sun set. The hot day cooling fast, soft pinks hovered in a hazy sky as the ever changing dunes greeted the night. Arabian nights playing in my minds jukebox, it was a short ride to our camp for the night. Nestled between dunes, a fire was built in the centre to cook our food and warm our bodies. Provided with kebabs, barbecue dinner and an endless supply of Pisco it was an enjoyable night lying in the sand by the fire, admiring the clear sky above. I was pleasantly surprised to not freeze, my sleeping bag warm and covered in condensation by morning. Sand was everywhere but I didn’t care. I’d just slept under the stars in a desert.
Stopping by the poor mans Galapagos, the Ballestes Islands I was able to see some seals, boobies and other birds. The awful smell from the islands didn’t seem to make it worth it, the fishy guano having me begging to return to shore. It was a while before my appetite returned. By nightfall we were in South America’s second largest city, Peru’s capital, Lima. We went out for Chinese to farewell this section of the trip, filling our bellies with ridiculous amounts of fried rice.
The next and only day we had in Lima was… interesting. A small group of us checked out the main city, witnessing the changing of the guard, before decided to journey to the acclaimed suburb of Miraflores. Despite the uncleanliness of most of the city, the metro buses were reasonably clean and efficient. It would’ve have been a relaxing ride, had the doors not slammed shut with half inside and half outside. Smacking my hands on the glass, I cried out in shock as my friends disappeared out the window, left behind. The three of us on the bus looked at each other and laughed nervously. The navigator with the map and bus tickets was back at the last stop. Armed with maps on my phone and a little help from locals, we made our way to Miraflores. It was a pleasant suburb, much cleaner than inner city. The seafront mall packed with big brands only for the wealthy was disappointing to see, after I had seen a man picking bread from a bin just hours before. The ocean outside was polluted, a pungent smell of salt and fish overwhelming as we walked towards Barranco. This suburb was not impressive despite being considered the artsy neighbourhood. Sick of walking passed the sea front apartments with BMW’s parked out the front, we retired to a cozy pizza and pasta restaurant for lunch before making our way back to the hotel.
To compensate for the disappointing day, we ventured to the water park that evening. A farewell for old friends, and welcome to new as the next part of our trip started, it was a good way to spend the night. Multiple glorious fountains lit up in an array of colours, mesmerising us. The main fountain was lit by projectors and lasers, creating a brilliant show of light, shapes and sound. Dazzled by the fantasy of it all, Hannah and I became overwhelmed by our inner children and took on a jumping castle. Squealing as I slid down the steep, air filled slide, I missed being small enough to play all the time. Minutes after our jumping craze, we found a fountain challenge. Get to the middle without getting wet. Cautiously diving from section to section before jets of water drenched our clothes, I arrived in the centre soaking wet and dreading the escape. A unusually long and anxious break in the water gave me a short, suspiciously easy escape.
It was heartbreaking to leave my dear friend Autumn behind in Lima the next morning. The spunky archaeologist that called me her leggy blonde, one whom explored museums and nightclubs with me. Promising a visit to Canada when I can, Amber rubbled away into the early morning on a new section of adventure.
A reasonably long drive took us to the town of Huaraz. Surrounded by beautiful country and snow capped mountains, you’d assume it would be a lovely town. Wrong. Walking the streets alone, I’m beginning to grow tired of the car horns and cat calling. The supermarkets were empty or sparing with fruit and veg. The people are not so welcoming. Hoping to escape, four of us decided to try horse riding. Piled into a public van, we drove half an hour to a random village. Pushed onto horses, I was barely able to apply sunscreen or have my stirrups adjusted before we were walking off. The smallest of the four people, I somehow ended up on the largest horse. This horse was stubborn, but fairly easy to ride. He was also covered in scars. My knees ached throughout the ride, bent awkwardly from the unfitted stirrups. Our guide spoke no english and gave no instructions, causing me to feel uneasy. The countryside was gorgeous, hooves clopping passed people tilling the earth under a beating sun, dogs relaxing in the shade and towering mountains wisely observing. All was going okay until I heard, and another saw some men torturing a cat to death. The tormented cries will haunt my ears. An awful aspect I will always remember about this town is the disgraceful treatment of animals. A friend was chased and nipped by dogs on her walk the same day, the animals so abused they felt the need to attack whom they could. I believe a person is defined how the treat the world around them, especial people and animals. In more places than one through out my travels I have seen animal abuse, and it disgusts me. Anyone who hurts animals is a weak monster, yet that attitude seems far from reasonable in this town. Offended by our comments on the horse riding, our guide purposely dropped us a few blocks from the hostel and crammed four in the back of a taxi. South America is so beautiful, many places I would consider returning to. This is the first place I would recommend to avoid, anticipating my departure soon after arriving.
A long drive led us to Peru’s northern coast, the crisp sea air a fresh breath from our last stop. Doing well with my spending, I was able to upgrade to a dorm room to enjoy the ocean sounds from a bed rather than a semi-reliable sleeping mat. To unwind, the group crossed the road, with cold drinks in hand, to witness that days end. Waves crashed onto dark pebbly sand, the salty scent adding flavour to every breath. The cool breeze danced off the ocean, rippling people’s clothes and playing in their hair. A soft orange glow broke through the ocean haze, reflecting peacefully off the constant and soothing waves. Thick grey cloaked the horizon, concealing the divine ball of emanating, molten rose. Sea birds soared on the salt air, swooping around the lonely wooden pier. Surfers caught the last light of day, bobbing or riding naturally through the waves. Upon a small bank of sand sat a group of people from all around the world. They held beers, facing towards the setting sun. This is living they all breathe wordlessly, enjoying these finite moments of peace and purity amongst a spirited crowd. The great orb made a final break through a slit in the clouds, the colour of pink magma smouldering. It’s impressive size growing smaller and smaller as it faded behind the clouds. The curtain drawing on a fantastic show, the light shrunk into a pinhead before continuing onto tomorrow’s dawn.
At home the sun rises over the sea, but here it sets. I know that transcendent star is travelling over the boundless water to spread its gorgeous glow on the beach I have spent hours on throughout my life. Home. The place I have craved desperately the last few months. Its sound tastes sweet, although as it approaches a sour shocks my senses. The glory of returning is stunted by the idea of leaving this life. A life that threw me in the deep end, drawing out the worst before the best was able to surface. A life that has offered me wondrous places and challenging feats.
The next day, we visited the local mudbrick ruins of ancient cultures. The incredible Moche culture has been preserved in paintings, the giant temple of the moon dwarfing us as we explored.
A shocking reminder of our worlds funny ways, I was speechless to bump into a complete stranger here, for the second time! Once upon a time, long ago with a different girl, this stranger was teaching her how to cook noodles properly. The first few days in Brasil, overwhelmed by the thought of fending for myself and without easy access to pre-cooked meals, this friendly backpacker taught me the secret. How to add the best flavour to the noodles – don’t tip out all the water. Months later, a new mindset and range of self catering methods, I was gobsmacked to hear him ask how my noodles were in Paraty. So close to the end of my journey, it was unbelievable to meet him again after meeting him so soon from the beginning. Thanks for the noodle skills Darren, I’ve learnt a little more than that since then and I’m grateful for it all. Good luck in the rest of your travels.
Leaving the sand and sea momentarily to move further up the coast, it was dark by the time we arrived at our little beach escape outside the town of Mancora. Splurging in my last days of Peru, I upgraded to a room instead of camping in the sand. The best upgrade I could’ve wished for. A round hut beckoned me, sliding glass doors behind billowing, white, cotton curtains. The double bed faced the sea just outside, a mini bathroom nestled behind a brick bench. It was perfect. The constant and soothing crash of the waves barely ten metres away induced me to sleep, the full moon creating a cool glow in the warm night. After the right amount of rest, the same waves drew me back from sleep, sun illuminating me in the new days happy, warm light through the cotton drapes dancing in the sea breeze. From the spacious double bed I could see the ocean and soft sand beckoning me. Peace and comfort.
The sand changed on my path to the water. Soft and cream at my door, darkening and hardening towards the water. The beautiful salty liquid was cool, the small waves lapping constantly onto the sand. Specks of sediment were like glitter, sparkling in the swirling brown clouds caused by the waves. Crabs scattered into on coming waves or to small crevices in rocks on my approach. The sun beat down strongly, the waters refreshing temperature essential for the day. Below is my little friend, Tuto!
Our final Peruvian night had the romance of strangers from all around the world crowding by the campfire on a foreign beach. A guitar strumming blissfully, the soft accompaniment of different voices to the background of nighttime ocean waves. A tambourine spiced up the tune, the tune of peace and happiness on a South American beach, free of time and money.
Leaving Peru today felt eerie, knowing I’d be crossing into my last South American country before returning home. The end of this journey is rocketing towards me and I’m lost with how to react. The thought of seeing my family, my friends and my home after so long away fills me with unimaginable joy and excitement. I have mixed feeling about returning to a normal life though, knowing there are both pros and cons with stability after constant movement. Letting go of an experience that has shaped me, that has become my life for the past four months is frightening. Attempting to be blissfully ignorant of the inevitable, I’m trying to focus on the thrills awaiting in Ecuador. Just over a week left, I’m both ready and not ready to go home!