A Travellerspoint blog

Down and Up - Lima and Huacachina

There's a strange thing I've noticed while travelling that means I don't seem to like big cities; you are suddenly anonymous again. In smaller places like Mancora where I'd just come from, you are recognisably a gringo and you either get treated very well (if they want your business) or somewhat badly (if they'd rather not). You also see hundreds of other fellow travellers who you nod and smile at, possibly even converse with, being the likeminded free-spirited individuals as yourself. However when you hit a place like Lima you feel like just another number, something I now realise I haven't missed since leaving London. Who would've thought it?

None the less, I arrived determined to 'do' Lima after somewhat failing with Quito.
As mentioned previously it was the last day I was going to spend with Steve and Bec and there was no rugby to entertain us due to my miscalculations but there was beer, pool and card games aplenty. We stayed at Pariwana Hostel in Miraflores, which is in a great location on Park Kennedy and had a nice atmosphere with top facilities. I have to admit feeling a little bereft after Bec and Steve left, but I got out the trusty guide book and headed off on the metro bus to the centre of Lima, another UNESCO World Heritage site due to it's historic colonial architecture. I visited the Monastery of San Francisco, famous for it's Sevillian glazed tiles and underground catacombs (spooky), then went to the Plaza Mayor to watch the changing of the guard at the Government Palace (rather dull I'm afraid).

Lima didn't really do it for me though so off to my next stop, the desert oasis resort of Huacachina, a small natural lagoon surrounded by sand dunes that stretch several hundred feet high. It was odd travelling on my own again, it's strange how much easier everything seems when you have someone else to muddle through with. And more interesting - it seemed a long 5 hour bus journey with no one to talk to! (2pm bus with Flores from Lima to Ica, taxi to Huacachina). But I checked into Hospejade del Barco and had a beer overlooking the lagoon and soon got chatting to some French guys... Well beggars can't be choosers!

The next day was one of the best days I've had so far on my trip however. Breakfast in the beautiful sunshine, in a tropical paradise, followed by a dune buggy ride and sand boarding. This basically involves being strapped into a buggy with 7 other people while some madman driver tears up and down the dunes surrounding the lagoon, doing everything he can to scare the bejesus out of you. It was awesome! And then there was the sand boarding... Staring down from the top of one of these ENORMOUS dunes I honestly wondered what the hell I was doing and why I decide to put myself through these things, but once on the board (on my stomach) and with a little push from the driver I was off and it too was frickin' amazing. The dunes just kept getting bigger and bigger, and my screams louder and louder! By the end we were all covered in sand and exhausted from the adrenalin rush so went to a local restaurant, which happened to be showing the Peruvian national football team attempt to make history by qualifying for the world cup for the first time by defeating Chile. Unfortunately it was not to be but it was terrific to experience the atmosphere with all the locals screaming at the TV - a fantastic end to a fantastic day.

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Posted by christinahicks 09:21 Comments (1)

Vilcabamba and on to Peru... Mancora and the land of the sun

Everyone I'd met in Cuenca had raved about the mountain spa resort of Vilcabamba so it seemed churlish not to pay it a visit on route to Peru, and so delay my border crossing a couple of days. The area has been referred to as the Valley of Longevity as it is claimed it has the oldest inhabitants in the world, some living to 135. Now I'm not sure about that but it was uncommonly beautiful. Even the journey there was spectacular - Hostel Cigale in Cuenca have a daily shuttle bus at 2pm that runs door to door to the Hosteria Izhcayluma in Vilcabamba, a breathtaking route along winding roads through the mountains - at times it seemed as though you were higher than the clouds! I travelled with Bec and Steve again, and we basically just chilled out at the resort for a couple of days, enjoying the views and lounging by the pool - it's a hard life huh?! Perhaps that's why Vilcabambians live so long...

But I couldn't delay it any further, Peru was calling! So on Tuesday evening we set off to Loja to catch an overnight bus to Mancora, my first stop in Peru. We left at 11pm and travelled with Loja Internacional as I had read they take you through the border crossing with minimal fuss, and indeed they did. At around 4 in the morning the bus pulled up at the border town of Macara and we all got off the bus, went to the Ecuadorian immigration office at one end of a bridge, got our passports stamped, walked over the bridge to the Peruvian immigration office and got another stamp, then got back onto the bus - simples! There was no working toilet on our bus and so when nature called I am afraid I relieved myself behind the immigration hut - a small claim to fame to say you've peed on the ecuadorian/Peruvian border no?! The bus continued onto Sullana where we changed to a bus for Mancora with a company called Flores who just happened to be leaving the terminal as we arrived - although we had a few problems paying our passage as we hadn't had a chance to change our dollars into Peruvian soles yet!

The scenery changed dramatically on entering Peru - after crossing the border we appeared to just plummet downhill forever with big black mountains on either side looming against the starry night sky. We were now in desert country! We travelled along a seemingly endless stretch of desert coast as dawn was breaking until we reached the beach resort of Mancora at about 10am, and guess what - the sun was shining! After being away for 2 and a half months I was finally going to get a tan! Or more accurately, a fetching shade of lobster red...

So Mancora is pretty much like Montanita but with sun, and for some reason hundreds of tuk-tuks, so yes the first thing we managed to do was party! We checked in to Loki which has a reputation as being a party place and it didn't disappoint - by the end of the first evening we were dancing on the bar wearing sheet togas! (I imagine photos of these shenanigans will no doubt appear on Facebook at some point in the near future). That pretty much finished us off for the rest of our time there however, but luckily there is not a lot else to do other than chill by the pool or on the beach so we didn't feel too guilty nursing our hangovers in Peru's surfers paradise.

But it was only to be a short lived stay as I've got lots to fit in before hitting Cuzco, so off on another overnight bus to the capital of Peru, Lima. We took the 5pm bus with Flores again which had reclining bed-seats! Well it is an 18 hour journey so a little luxury was required. Not much to report on the bus journey, except that we had our finger prints taken before boarding (?!), and got dinner and breakfast! Made it to Lima, going to explore and spend final night with Steve and Bec which I promised would involve watching the rugby but got my dates wrong, gutted! But apparently I didn't want to see it anyway...

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Posted by christinahicks 14:46 Comments (2)

...and Quaint Cuenca

After Banos I headed south to Cuenca on Wednesday. To get there you need to catch a bus to Riobambo (2 hours) then swap onto another one for Cuenca. I was travelling with a Swiss girl from the hostel, and on reaching Riobamba we were told we had just missed the bus and there wasn't another one for 2 hours but the man in the ticket office was willing to drive us in his car to catch the bus up! So we chased after it for about ten minutes and managed to board the bus. That was the only excitement of the 6 hour journey however, very scenic but incredibly dull. After travelling for the entire day I was ready for a quiet evening, but I arrived at a hideous hostel that I'd booked online but just couldn't face staying in, felt like you could die there and no one would notice! So after arguing with the owner about not wanting to stay there (hostel Turista del Mundo - do not stay there, eurgh) I left and found another one I'd been recommended (El Cafecito - do stay here, much nicer and the guy who works there has the strangest cockney accent when he speaks English!)

So the next day, as usual, I had a little walk around Cuenca to get my bearings. Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador, in the southern sierra of the Andes and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by the Spanish on Inca ruins and is made up of narrow cobbled streets with lots of picturesque churches (22 in a 5 mile radius!) and colonial buildings. It is also famous for Panama hats. Now I know what you're thinking, I'm still in Ecuador right? Well, the hat was called a panama because they were always exported out of Panama City, even though you can only grow the material they are made of solely in Ecuador. So I visited the Barranco Panama Hat Factory, one of the four factories in Cuenca that together apparently produce 99% of all panama hats for worldwide consumption. They have a cool little museum and I got to watch them make my very own hat! I had planned a quiet night in at the hostel but bizarrely ran into the owner of the hostel I stayed in in Latacunga so we had a few drinks then met up with the Swiss girl I had travelled with the day before for a couple more!

Up early on Friday for a day trip to Incapirca, the largest known Incan ruins in Ecuador. Caught a bus at 9am that went direct to the site in a little over 2 hours with Transportes Cañar. The most significant building is the temple of the sun, constructed in the Incan way without mortar and positioned so that on the solstices, at exactly the right time of day, sunlight would fall through the center of the doorway at the top of the temple. And then they'd kill some virgins or something. Some other people called the Cañari were actually the first inhabitants on this site but I don't know anything about them, except that one of the sons of the King of the Incas left Peru and ended up here, so they probably killed them (along with some more virgins presumably). We then walked around the site to a nearby rock which looks like an Incan face - see what you think, I will probably have no idea why I took this photo in a year or so! (As usual, more photos on Facebook...) Then had dinner at a neighbouring hostel (La Cigale) with some people I met at the ruins plus some others I had met in Montanita and were randomly staying there. Ended up going to a strange Ecuadorian rock bar afterwards with what I think was a german lesbian!

Had a quiet day on Saturday just mooching around as I had planned to leave for Peru on Sunday. However the Welsh couple I met in Latacunga and then Banos were coming to Cuenca so I enticed them to my hostel and they then enticed me to take a different route. They have requested a special mention so Steve and Bec this is for you! You are one and two now! So we are headed to Vilcabamba today, which will definitely be my last stop in Ecuador before we travel onto Peru together. Ecuador has been amazing but I'm really excited to be moving on, and especially looking forward to meeting up with Pa Hicks in a couple of weeks! Chao Ecuador, me gusta mucho!

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Posted by christinahicks 11:21 Comments (0)

Bonkers Baños...

I last left you after the craziness of the Mama Negra fiesta in Latacunga in search of some relaxation in the spa town of Banos, famous for it's thermal springs (Banos actually means 'bath'). However, because of the fiesta I wasn't able to find a taxi to take me to the alternative bus stop for direct buses to Banos so instead ended up catching a bus to Ambato where I was told it would be a simple change of buses. Oh no, there are two bus terminals, and I was at the wrong one! So had to take a taxi to the other one and wait in the rain for an hour for another bus. What should have been a simple 2 hour journey ended up being closer to 5 and I arrived at Banos in the dark and pissing rain! So tip for other travellers, definitely take a cab to the alternative bus stop in Latacunga, do not go to terminal terreste!

Anyway, I started the next day with a walk around the town - a very pleasant, if a little touristy, place located on the northern foothills of the active Tungurahua volcano. I then went for lunch with a girl from my dorm and some people she had met at the hostel and that it was it for the next few days - I had found a new posse! There were 12 of us from varying nationalities; 2 from England, 3 from the US, 2 from Australia, 2 from Holland, 2 from Wales and one from Israel! We spent that afternoon in the hot tub at the hostel (Hostel Chimenea- v good by the way) playing silly games, and then all went out for dinner. The next day we had planned to go on a bike ride but we didn't get up early enough so decided to go for a walk to a nearby waterfall instead. However, we went past a bridge jumping spot first and who could miss such an opportunity? Me of course- just watching some of the others merrily walking off a bridge over a raging river attached to nothing but a bit of string was thrill seeking enough for me thank you very much! When we'd all recovered we continued on our walk into the local hills but it started raining again and we couldn't find the blessed waterfall so gave up and drank our provisions instead. Back to the hostel where we cooked dinner altogether and played more games, before heading to the one street in town where the bars are situated and had a good old boogie, with some karaoke thrown in!

I had planned to move on the following day but everyone else was leaving on Wednesday and it was one of the guys birthdays so I decided to stay for an extra day and I'm glad I did, we had so much fun. There was a game of ultimate frisbee in the afternoon followed by another big dinner with cake and balloons for the birthday boy, plus truth and dare (I had to wear a mascara moustache for the entire evening!) then off to the bars again where there was much silliness to be had, including dancing on each others shoulders and planking and amusing Spanish conversations with the locals - " ¡no preguntas el bigote!"

So it was with some relief that I headed south to the quiet town of Cuenca on Wednesday, still in search of some tranquility! I'm afraid I didn't do any of the many things Banos has to offer (bike riding, rafting, horseriding, bathing!) but had a great time none the less, can see why so many people get stuck there - I do recommend a visit. But time to move on - next stop Cuenca!

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Posted by christinahicks 17:16 Comments (2)

Latacunga - craters and carnivals

Well only one crater but it was pretty immense! So I left Quito on Thursday and headed south to the town of Latacunga, a pretty quiet place sitting in the shadow of the active volcano Cotopaxi. One of the reasons I stopped here was that it is the starting point for the Quilotoa Loop- a popular 4 day trek around small Andean villages dotted amongst the volcanoes. Not being much of a walker (unless there is a pub involved) I decided I'd like to visit Laguna Quilotoa, a volcanic crater formed the last time Cotopaxi erupted. Luckily I met some people at my hostel (Hostal Tiana, highly recommended) who were in the same mind so on Friday morning we got up bright and early to catch the bus to the nearest town of Zumbagua from where we were told we could get a pick up truck to take us the rest of the way to the crater. We actually managed to barter with a local truck driver and get him to take us all the way from Latacunga but I rather wished we hadn't as his driving along the winding narrow roads, crossing the mountainous terrain was somewhat harrowing ( I am going to have to get used to these roads!).

But it was worth it, as I hope you can see by the pictures (more on Facebook, won't let me upload that many on here for some reason). It was totally breathtaking and I think I got rather swept away with the moment as for some reason I was persuaded to hike down the 4000m to the bottom. Since breaking my ankle I'm a bit hesitant on my feet so I approached this with trepidation rather than the gusto with which the others flung themselves down (I appear to be scared of everything these days!) but what I hadn't really prepared myself for was the walk, or should I say climb, back up. What a doughnut. I really didn't think this through! I am no spring chicken or mountain goat for that matter so as you can imagine is was pretty tough going for me (Ruth and Sarah, I only made it thanks to singing in my head!) but I felt an enormous sense of achievement, and relief, on reaching the top.

The other reason I decided to visit Latacunga was that there happened to be a festival on this weekend, called "La Fiesta de la Mama Negra". It's apparently something to do with a virgin and a slave (or a virgin slave?) who stopped the volcano erupting, but any excuse for a party I say, especially after the days efforts! So we headed to the town square to see the festivities and we weren't disappointed. There was live music, jugglers, massive sculptures, fireworks and a lot, a lot of very drunk ecuadorians! What the heck, we joined in and had to dance with most of said drunk ecuadorians before the sculptures were set on fire and the whole place looked like a scene from a war zone!

Next morning, to my surprise considering the carnage of the previous night, all the towns people were up for the festival proper, which is basically a massive carnival of various cultural characters, the highlight of which is the Mama Negra - a completely un PC man wearing a black mask and dressed as a woman, riding through the streets squirting milk at the crowds (I have no idea what the significance of this is!) Pigs also seem to feature heavily in this fiesta, with several people carrying whole carcasses on their backs with bottles of booze and cigarettes attached (again, I don't know why!) The parade winds all the way through the town to the top of the hill and it was brilliant fun following the procession of dancers and musicians, sharing beer with the locals along the way.

As you can imagine, an intense couple of days so off to spa town of Baños next for some R and R hopefully...

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Posted by christinahicks 20:41 Comments (5)

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