Chloe Hayes: Seeing South America Chapter 3
If there are two things I have learnt whilst travelling they would be that WiFi has replaced bibles in the bedside table and that an iPhone almost never lies, (not a profound travelling revelation but definately a personal development on the technological front. To a backpacker, especially on their own, that simple black and white, well-branded WiFi logo is like Mecca. This is of course, truly awful and many know that I am not a fan of people sitting, staring at their phones or purposefully making a detour to another restaurant just so they can check Facebook or catch up on the football results. However, when travelling solo and the only true connection you have to ‘normal life’ is the internet, it makes a world of difference. Being able to upload my images to my Instagram every evening or replying to emails makes me feel like I have purpose. I have always worked and as most people would take this opportunity to be as far away from it as possible, when exploring the globe, I relish the fact that I have a job to do everyday, at the same time and the people who I care about expect it. It’s the same with writing articles like this and doing Instagram takeovers. I don’t have to do it, I have purposefully made it happen so that I can have those downtimes inbetween all the amazing cities and rain forests and cañons to reflect upon them and share it with the world, I think I’d go mad if I didn’t try to use my brain for 3 months.
Where were we, Day 16. We had said goodbye to a few of our group the day before and as a final activity Martin took us out to see the Basilica Catedral de Lima and the Catacombes which were really interesting, especially for the macbre individuals due to the rows and rows of skulls, piles of assorted bones and mass graves. Now came the really sad bit as we said goodbye to people getting straight on planes and Martin also left us as well. Shit. We were actually all officially on our own now, 9 of us so I became Martin and marched us all off to a tiny Little restaurant that I had heard so much about, Le Rincon de Bigote. The food was actually phenominal. We paid the bill and all sort of hesitated about what to do next, I got the feeling that none of us wanted to leave each other but some had to vere off so 9 became 7 and we all went for coffee and cake that none of us really needed as we had just eaten a huge lunch. We stayed there, looking out at the sea for ages and as it got dark decided to go back to the hotel. 7 became 4 and we sat in the hotel lobby using the internet and finally bringing ourselves to say goodbye about an hour later. Dad and I went to our B and B, which was incredibly posh for some reason in an apartment, then went out for cocktails.
Day 17 was Dad’s last day as he was only coming for the tour. We spent the day walking around the city and getting sunburned and we said goodbye at around 5pm as he got on the bus to the airport. I walked confidently to the hostel that I had planned to stay in, excited to properly begin my travels on my own. On arrival I found that I was literally the only guest and that I was in a 10 person dorm on my own. Considering this was the first night of the rest of my travels and I’d never done this before, it really worried me and made me wonder what the rest of my trip was going to be like. In the morning, Sandra the owner talked to me at breakfast and literally saved my life! She told me where to go and how to get there, what my route should be and how long to stay in each place- utterly fabulous woman who made me feel so much better! I spent the day running errands such as laundry and finding an internet café so I could do some writing. In Peru internet cafes do not exist. There are these bizarre shops that sell Passport photos, copy things and have a couple of computers out the back, but at 2 soles an hour (25p) you can’t go wrong!
I took the next few days in Lima to settle in to Peruvian life and totally explore including going to museums, on bike tours and eating incredible 7 soles set menus. This is the time where I was really able to focus on my photography. Previously I had been taking your average tourist shots with a few visually interesting observations alongside but had mainly been too busy being wowed by what I was experiencing. Now I was in the city with no easy way of getting around other than walking for miles. The perfect situation for ‘seeing’. I started to come across brightly coloured buildings, hilarious posters, shops selling bizarre products and random geometric or plain patterns either accidentally or on purpose on walls and houses. I became a true Flaneur, developing into the urban explorer, noticing, viewing and studying. I truly loved idly strolling about the streets occupated by this activity and then I felt I had absorbed as much of Lima as possible and headed to Paracas on the bus.
On my journey I was sat next to two french girls, Helene and Celine who had just got to Peru starting a month long tour. We got talking and once in Paracas we decided to get a hostel together. By chance we came to 360 Ecohostel. It was beautiful and felt really beachy with hammocks and bean bags outside and the accommodation was little cute caravans. We got up early the next day to catch the boat to the Islas Ballestas, a small cluster off of the coast. We saw sea lions fighting and sleeping, thousands of birds, penguins and little red fish. Paracas itself was a bit too touristy for me, it felt more like a Spanish coastal town than Peruvian. We sat up drinking beer and discussing the difference between France and England in the hammocks and prepared for the next day.
The coach was super hot as we got further into the desert and we stopped at Ica to change for Huacuchina. Outside the bus station we were collared by a tour guide called Randy and he whisked us straight off to Huacuchina in his Taxi, along the way proudly showing us his folder of comments from other guests and his collection of currency from around the world. He dropped us off at a hotel and we made a deal for a room and a dune buggy ride. The girls I was with did the buggy trip straight away as they were not staying the night, meanwhile I had a walk around the lagoon. It was utterly beautiful and a place that I never really ever thought existed. It honestly looked like a place out of some Paradise Island film, a gorgeous lagoon surrounded by palm trees literally in the middle of the desert with huge sand dunes towering over you. When the girls came back I was paddling my feet in the pool as the sand was ridiculously hot to walk on and they presented me with a postcard with a message and contact details on, a lighter staying ‘Huacuchina, Ica’ on and a beautiful bracelet with a turquoise coloured stone giving good luck on travels. I felt so touched and it was really lovely knowing that they didn’t mind me crashing their travels for a few days and realising that they had actually had a good time with me! I felt so lucky to have met them and they really made me feel like this travelling malarchy was all alright in the end!
At around 4pm I hopped on to my dune buggy and said goodbye and good luck to the girls. Initially I got into the first seat of the buggy as that is where the girls said was the best spot in the vehicle which was essentially a 4 x 4 chassis with a welded metal cage over the top, then I got moved next to, that’s right, a british couple! I hadn’t spoken to another british person since the end of the trek and although it hadn’t been ages, the accent still sounded so strange, almost like when you hear an English accent in an American film, almost fake, I had been so used to jumping from Spanish to French that it was actually really nice. The couple, Kate and Dav were from Wales I learnt and were on a sort of belated honeymoon, working a similar route to me. The dune buggys were insane, like being on a real life roller coaster, accelerating up and down mega steep dunes at ridiculous speeds. We purposefully booked this time so we could watch the sunset over the dunes and the light had just started to change into that familiar warm but not harsh light.
Once we had stopped darting around, we were ready to start the sand boarding. Not something I ever considered doing, I’m all for a good hike and exercising, but action sports have never really been my thing. But, like everything else whilst travelling, I thought bugger it and cracked on. I let the Welsh couple go first so I could see what was what and then climbed on, laying on my belly and pushing off with my feet, the first dune was steep but still a baby and it felt amazing! So free just gliding down the sand face first , like being on a sledge on a snow day but with a pocket full of sand at the end of it. Once we had done one we were unstoppable, wanting to do the next one and the next one, gradually getting longer and steeper, each taking it in turns to take photos of the other coming down when finally we hit the final, huge one. For this one we had to go one at a time and the guide had to push us down so we were at the correct angle, for this I was so glad as afterwards, watching others coming down that went off course got a face and a lot more full of sand after bumping over other tracks. It was so epic bombing down that dune and when I got up and looked back at the dune, was amazed at the sheer height and gradient of it, looking at the people in silhouette over the top. It was time to head over to watch the sunset. The colours were beautiful and watching the light change over the dunes was magnificent. That evening Kate, Dav and I got a Little tipsy on Maracuya Pisco Sours at the bar and I got eaten alive by one single mosquito trapped in my room.
The next morning I couldn’t sleep as I was worried about sorting the Nasca lines, I really feel like these malaria tablets are starting to affect me! I was up at 6am frantically emailing companies and asking people questions as I wouldn’t have internet for the next 4 and a half hours whilst I was on my coach and thenwould be there. The only reason why I was particularly fussy about this trip was because the flights over Nasca are slightly controversial and dangerous things have happened there. I was told to pay a bit more money and ensure my safety rather than going with some dodgy random company. I got on my coach anyway and slept the whole way there and as soon as I arrived there were a crowd of people shouting and selling tickets for flights, taxis etc. I left my bag in the bus station as I wasn’t going to be staying and therefore wouldn’t have a hostel and got slightly kidnapped by a lady selling AirParacas flights over the lines. I got in her car and she drove me to her family restaurant where she explained the difference in flights and prices. I settled on the cheapest (obviously) going with the knowledge that AirParacas was a well known Company and she drove me straight to the airport. After waiting about half an hour and getting weighed I was told that a smaller plane with 6 seats, one of the more expensive flights was desperate for a 6th person so they could fly, so I got bumped up and escorted to the runway.
The flight was the most stomach churning thing I have ever experienced. I don’t do roller coasters at the best of times, and this was a real life one. Trying to concentrate on what the co-pilot was telling us through the headphones we swung around right and left of each of the Nasca lines. They were actually super-cool, some of my favourites being the hummingbird, lizard and tree. So much so that I am actually considering getting a tattoo of one of them- soooo not like me at all! After about half an hour of flying we came down smoothly and although it was an amazing experience I was sort of glad to wipe the sweat from my brow and breath a sigh of relief.
Once I had got back into town I had 7 hours to kill before I got on my night bus to Arequipa. I went and had some lunch because I hadn’t actually eaten anything all day and it was baking hot and as I left the restaurant, walking past were Kate and Dav! What are the chances, I tagged along and we did a little bit of picnic shopping for the bus, watched a little school procession and waited in a piano bar with no piano until we had to leave. The bus left about an hour late but I was glad to get into my seat and settle in next to a man with severe halitosis for the next 10 hours of my journey.
I woke up to a lady shaking my arm to tidy the blankets away and we were about 45 minutes from Arequipa. Not a bad bus ride at all, waking up every now and again but sleeping mostly through. I got a taxi straight to a hostel, where I met another french girl, who actually lives there and then went out to book myself onto a Cañon del Colca tour. The rest of the day was spent running errands, seeing the city, visiting the Santa Catalina Monastery (which was really cool) and eating, going to bed at around 8pm ready for the 2am wake up I had. Once I was up again I waited anxiously for the minibus wondering if it would ever come, finally getting on it at 3.30am and attempting to sleep in the ridiculously bumpy back seat to the Cañon.
We got to our breakfast stop at 6am after no sleep whatsoever and we finally got a chance to meet each other in the light of day. 4 french girls, a polish couple, a couple from the Netherlands, me and a German guy named Martin. Our next stop was at the Cruz del Condor, the condor viewing point that I was told I would be lucky if I saw one. There were literally about 15 all flying around, gliding, perching and the crowd was loving it. You couldn’t see the faces for cameras and every time one of the birds swooped over they would ooh and ahh as if there was a firework display over the mountains. They were huge and beautiful and it did feel really special to see them after almost a month of people talking about them. Next stop, the beginning of the hike. I left my bag at the shop at the top of the hill in the knowledge that it would come down to the oasis and we set off. The walk today would be around 7 hours and mostly downhill as we were walking into the Cañon.
The guide was not wrong about the downhill bit, it was super steep, super sheer on one side and super slippery due to the bone-dry dust and loose rocks beneath our feet. Eventually Martin and I broke off to the front and neither of us liked going down that much and would rather crack on than have more breaks. We slipped a lot of times and it was pretty dangerous, especially without sticks, the fact that it was coming up to midday didn’t really help either as it was getting desert hot and the Cañon was making a huge light trap. It was still really fun and it felt so good to be doing something physical after all that sitting on buses that I had been doing over the last 4 days. Martin and I were getting on pretty well as well discussing dialects and accents in language as he was a German, studying Phycology and Spanish in Lima, speaking to me in English. We got to the bridge at the bottom of the Cañon at about noon and had a well deserved rest in the shade, there was absolutely no shelter from the sun on the rockface at this time of day. Once everyone had got to the bridge, we set off again to lunch. On this part of the bridge it got greener, with more people, villages and farmland and we climbed up to our lunch spot. A random little restaurant with the classic get what you’re given menu, which is always amazing, a vegetable quinoa soup and lomo saltado and rice. A brief catnap was also fabulous and rejuvenated me for the next part of the walk, don’t forget, we had been up since 2am with little to no sleep since! Walking back up this side of the Cañon was much more pleasant as the foliage made more shade and more streams and ditches provided cooling face washes, although the steps were getting steeper. When we were ready to go back down, we could see the oasis, it looked exactly like one, a green eden nestled between a mass of brown rock surrounding. It definitely made us move faster. Especially as the sun was fading and we wanted to dive into the pool before dark.
We crossed another bridge at the bottom then walked into the Oasis. A green lush utopia with huts and tropical flowers, swimming pools and a bar, sheer bliss. We took our boots off and felt the grass between our feet. Sadly, after this momento I found that my bag never did make it down to the oasis and so I literally had what I had on. No toothbrush, no bikini, no moisturiser from a day of baking in the sun, no clean pants for tomorrow. Ohh dear. At this moment I bumped into Kate and Dav again! They were camping in the oasis and had come down the way we were going to go back up tomorrow. We got a pisco sour and Martin and I played a game of table football, Germany won. After dinner we all sat around a campfire and drank Mojitos and chatted and then I went to bed in the clothes that I had trekked in all day.
Up at 4.30am and the girls that I was sharing with had already left, wanting to take the mammoth rockface at their own pace. We were going to have breakfast at the top and knowing me and food, I ate an emergency cereal bar to give me some sustenance. We left at 5.10am and somebody mentioned that a guide book told them it would take around 3 hours to hike back up to the top. Our guide told them that that is a very optimistic number and so we all prepared to be climbing for a good while. It was immediately steep and comparable to the Inca Trail Day 2 Challenge day. The altitude was also an issue here but we kept on going up the path, still as dusty and dangerous but this time we had gravity on our side and the views were getting even more incredible by the minute, watching the morning sun rise over the Cañon. After about an hour and 45 minutes climbing, I really needed some food, I felt quite weak and so we found some bread and cheese in Martins bag that had been there for 3 days, nice and it helped us get up the last steep stretch. You could really feel the difference on your legs without walking poles. On the inca Trail I had no stiffness or pain despite what we were doing each day, but on this walk my ankles and calves were killing me! We got to the top about 7.30am meaning that it only took us 2 hours and twenty minutes, super happy with that time. The french girls were already there and I treated myself to a banana and a cereal bar whilst waiting for the others. We had a group photo and then we trekked over the fields to Cabanaconde, the village where we were to have breakfast, 3 bread rolls to be exact when we got there and scrambled eggs, we were all so content and happy and started comparing languages again and laughing at weird words that we all say. Probably more delirium after the empty- stomach trekking that we had just done. We got the bus to a small town were we tried Colca Sours, made from the Cactus fruit, my god the fruit was sour but the drink was ice-cold and refreshing, it defiantly went down a treat.
Next stop, La Calera Hot Springs. Definitely something to tick off my bucket list as I had always wanted to experience naturally hot springs. After what felt like being completely dried out yesterday they were heaven, and I got my bag back! We just sat in the warm water chatting away and soaking up the blissful feeling. I also met a couple from Watford which was great! After about half an hour we had to leave and so I had a shower and finally brushed my teeth and we were good to go. The last two stops were for lunch and to see a smoking volcano which was another pretty exciting bucket list tick-off and then we headed back to Arequipa. For the two days we had no Wifi and despite what I said earlier, it was actually lovely knowing that there was no point in looking at my phone. As soon as I got back to the hostel however, I undertook the massive task of trying to edit down my images to share on asouthamericanadventure. I think I might be getting the hang of this Instagram malarchy.
Words and images by Chloe Hayes