20.05.2013 - 20.05.2013
From Lima, we set of for Huaraz on a night bus with our new travel buddies Jade, Paul, Nicola and Harry. It was nice to be travelling with a group now so we could all moan about the night busses together. This one was a real stinker and we had to put up with the directors commentry of Glee or something similar on high volume while we were all desperate to get some sleep. Soon after we finally did get to sleep we awoke to find the bus had become a furnace as they had the heating on full blast. We got into our hostel at 6am and luckily we were all about to check in straight away and get some more sleep in our rooms. We spent that first day exploring the town of Huaraz. While the guide books are quick to talk up the stunning countryside surrounding Huaraz, they neglect to mention that the city itself is basically a dump. Probably the dirtiest and least appealing city we have seen in South America.
We had done lots of hiking in Peru up until this point and didn't really fancy another multi-day camping adventure so we decided to do a few unguided one day hikes. First up we tackled the most recommended day hike in the region, Laguna 69 and the six of us set off early the next morning. Half of the 'fun' was getting to the trail head. It took almost 3 hours after catching a taxi followed by 2 crammed collectivos (mini van) and another taxi. The hike itself was spectacular, making our way up a mainly rocky path for 2.5 hours through the second highest mountain range in the world, the Cordilleras Blancas. It was more taxing than we expected but the payoff was reaching the beautiful turquoise laguna 69 at the base of one of the mountains. The route back down was far less strenuous but the collectivo back from Yungay to Huaraz was terrible with about 5 too many people packed in.
Our next two days were spoilt by a nasty bug which we are sure we caught in the back of the collectivo which Paul later dubbed 'the Huaraz Horrors' after they caught it too. We were violently ill for a day but luckily we were staying in a comfortable private room as opposed to a dorm and we recovered pretty quickly. We were glad to get out of Huaraz and took another night bus with Nicola and Harry to Trujillo while Jade and Paul stayed back to take on a 4 day hike. On arrival we caught a short taxi to the nearby coastal town of Huanchaco which is considered a nicer place to spend a few nights than Trujillo and checked into our cheapest private room thus far, $6 each a night. We lazed around for the first day (as we tend to do after a night bus) and wandered around the sleepy surfing town. The beach wasn't particularly nice and it wasn't as hot as we had hoped but it was good to be back on the coast nonetheless. The seafood here was the highlight - unbelievable cheap and fresh and the restaurant ocean views weren't too shabby.
We had two more days in Huanchaco to check out two important archeological sites in Trujillo, the first being the largest pre-columbian city in South America, Chan Chan. It is also the largest adobe city in the world and was constructed around 850AD. It was used up until the 1400's when the Incas conquered and excavation of the site began in 1969. They have still not finished excavating it. Only one citidel of nine is currently open to the public and the sheer size of the site was astounding. We were surprised to receive a tour in English and the lady explained the intricate details on the walls and told us what different sections were used for like ceremonial rooms and burial chambers. We also checked out the museum and went to two temples, Huaca del Dragon and Huaca del Esmerelda.
The next day just the 2 of us set off for Huaca del Sol y Luna adobe temple built by the Moche civilization. It was less impressive than Chan Chan and the tour seemed very rushed but it was still interesting. This site still has a lot of excavation work to be done. Each temple we visited in Trujillo seemed to home some Peruvian hairless dogs which would be up there for contenders in a world's most ugliest dog competition. They have no hair apart from a small tuft on their heads resembling a mohawk. After some quick research we found they are sacred dogs in Peru and all archeological sites are required to have at least two of them. Apartently they are worth a fair bit of money.
Next stop was somewhere we all had been looking forward to and talking about for some time, Mancora, Peru's most popular beach town. Our fifth overnight bus in about 2 weeks was probably the worst yet with no leg room and a witch sounding old lady next to us who spent the entire night gurgling and spitting into a plastic bag.
We checked into Kimbas Bungalows with Harry and Nicola for 5 nights, a step up in luxury from our normal hostels with our own private hammocks outside our small bungalow with palm trees, shaded grassy areas, a great sunny deck and a pool. It had a very Balinese feel to it. Needless to say, most of our five days here were spent rotating between pool time and beach time with a cold beverage never too far away. The beach wasn't naturally as nice as the beaches in Brasil or Uruguay but Mancora made up for it with fresh seafood, cheap beers, constant sun, balmy evenings and a chilled vibe. Being out of peak season meant that Mancora didn't live up to its reputation of a pumping nightlife but as we were travelling in a group this wasn't really missed and meant everything was dirt cheap, ie. longnecks of beer at a beach bar for $1 and two-course seafood lunches with the obligatory ceviche entre for $3. We realised Mancora must be particularly popular with Aussies as the locals on the streets would always pick us and give us the ol' 'oi mate' and 'bloody hell mate' in their best bogan Aussie accents, which were actually pretty accurate. Ellen and Harman were also in Mancora while we were there and they were staying just around the corner from us so it was great catching up with them a few more times before they head off in a different path to us on an epic journey east through the Amazon to Brasil.
The next bus trip into Ecuador was hopefully our last overnight bus for a month (yay for Ecuador being a small country). We had ideally wanted to head straight to Ecuador's premier beach resort, Montañita, but we had to sort out our flights to the Galapagos (which inconveniently cannot be purchased online without an Ecuadorian credit card) and we figured we should stop off at a bigger city with airline offices. We ended up following Nicola and Harry to Cuenca after reading some good things about it. Cuenca turned out to be a nice little two day stop with a very nice colonial centre and probably the best museum we have seen in South America. The highlight of the museum was an assortment of shrunken human heads from tribes in the Amazon which were used as trophies and later for trade purposes. We had one last night out with Harry and Nicola and bid a temporary farewell as we have plans to meet up again on the Colombian coast at the end of our trips.
Unfortunately the next morning we woke up feeling far more hungover than we should have done. We suspect that the rum that was supposed to go in our mojitos had been substituted with some homemade moonshine. Our planned 8am departure from Cuenca was self delayed until noon and then we were off again to the coast. Montañita turned out to be more like what we were expecting of Mancora. The town was buzzing, the beach was packed and the water was warm. Again we were lucky as Jade and Paul had made up some time after their trek and arrived in Montañita the same day as us so we spent much of our time on the beach with them. We had a night out with them and never even made it into a bar. Instead we stuck to what is known as 'cocktail alley', a narrow street adjacent to the beach which is lined by about 30 to 40 street vendors each with a table, 4 chairs and a vast selection of surprising delicious fresh fruit cocktails for $2.50. We were a bit sad to leave Montañita after only two full days but the knowledge that the Galapagos Island were next on the agenda made us feel a bit better about things. We are now in the port city of Guayaquil just for the night as this is where we fly out from in the morning bound for Santa Cruz island.
Keep an eye out for the next entry - it should be a good one!