Peru – I arrived in Lima having spent the best part of two days in Airports and on planes, and I was just coming from the states? Amusingly enough and a tad worrying I managed to get on the plane without showing my passport once?!!!? A stark contrast to the three mental detectors and explosive residue tests done on my bags to get into the states! read into that what you want?

So I was a little on the absolutely and completely knackered side as I walked through the arrivals gate to be greeted by an endless about of taxi drivers and hotel touts. So shoulder straps tightened and head down I marched out of the building to allow the suitcase carrying middle aged tourists to be consumed by the mob.

I was just about to head for the main road to grab a local taxi, But I jumped on a local bus heading for the city centre instead. The roads in and around Lima are chaotic to say the least with thousands of buses clogging up the roads, and even more of these tiny yellow taxis jostling with one another for position in the narrow lanes of the city center.

All houses on the outskirts of the city are in disrepair all seemingly unfinished, But apparently tax’s on houses only have to be paid on completed buildings so they leave them unfinished to avoid the tax’s, very clever. Going to try that one back home.

I stayed in a nice hostel close to everything which was more like an abandoned museum, walking up the spiral staircase with a statue copy of Michelangelo’s David nearly going flying from a nudge from my backpack. Up to the rooftop jungle to get to my cubical single room I had afforded myself to get some much needed sleep.

Next day I spent wandering the cobble streets of the city centre visiting a couple of Religious buildings which are the must sees of Lima, Monasterio de San Francisco was easily my favorite, fantastic artwork covering the walls, A Library which looks like its from the Harry Potter movies with thousands of antique books, some of which dating back to the spanish conquest. And the eerie underground tombs, The grave yard of thousands, are a little spooky, mostly because of conservationists decision to arrange all the bones into pretty patterns?

Back at the Hostel, I moved into the dorm. Its a strange thing you spend so long in dorm rooms on your travels, that you kind of miss the snoring, bed squeaking, constant light flicking and the packing of bags at 3am, which is dorm life. call me weird.

Its here that I met the guys that would be my travel companions for the next few weeks. Martin the Macedonian/German guy 22, Sophie the french girl 24 and Lena the German girl 20, all of us solo travelers. But as everyone knows who has traveled solo, you are like never on you own, as you just meet so many people, maybe too many. So anybody whos thinking of bottleing out of going traveling, as they can not find travel companions or have had there mates drop out. Dont!! go grap yor backpack and head to the airport. You will have the time of your life, make more friends than you can possible keep up with, and I promise within a week all nerves will be gone, and you will laugh at yourself for having been worried in the first place.

So we saw a bit of city, shared a few meals, swapped a few stories, partied a bit. And decided to hit the road together. First stop Pisco and the Paracas national park, south of Lima.(5 hours)

There a lots of advantages of traveling with a few people, The costs of pretty much everything are kept really low, sharing taxis, bed rooms and meals. And of course there is safety in numbers, extra sets of friendly eyes on your bags on the night buses etc. I love to bargan for everything, South East Asia, turns it into a near obsession, infact when I arrived in Oz, I was tempted to barter for my milk and bread with the checkout girl at the local supermaket. And it seemed my new friends enjoyed it as much as me. So we gave the guides offering trips into Paracas park, living hell and got a great price for getting to and around the park.

The park is pretty big, right on the coast, one big desert in truth, almost middle eastern, but then lots of people do not realise that Peru is 5 times the size of the whole of the UK and that the whole of its coastal region about a third of the country is desert. So we walked along some massive ocean beaches exploring some caves, admiring the bleakness and vastness of the area. Saw some sea lions, and drove along some very bumpy desert roads. having lunch at a little village in a restaurant were the tables were placed on the rocks on the sea front with the local fishing boats making a great picture in the background.

Next stop Ica only a few hours further south. We stayed were most travelers stay, the chilled out little town of Huacachina only a a couple of kms out of town. It is dominated by massive sand dunes on all sides with the houses built around the oasis which was an okay place for a dip, the water was alittle dirty, but no big deal. And after you climbed up and down one of the surrounding dunes you welcome the cooling off.

The main attraction of course you might have guessed is sandboarding. I did a tiny bit in Oz on the westcoast, but these dunes were about 5 times the size. So we signed up for a Dune buggy tour, all four of us getting a real kick with the fact we were paying less than everyone else by some way. Think of the best rollercoaster you’ve ever been on, this was a hell of lot better zooming around desert and up and then over near verticle dunes. bouncing all over the place. sitting at the back having know clue what was going to happen next, yeah lots of fun. And getting driven to the top of dunes saved loads of time and effort. First time we all went down head first on our bellys, of course no body wanting to go down first. Then we all tried our hands at boarding, all but one guy with snowboarding expeience falling over within half a meter. But gradually everyone started to be able to go for a couple of metres or more. So we did this for an hour or so at differant dunes, all pretty big, but then we got taken to the monster dune.

Having seen everyone plod there way down a metre or so at a time. And finally make it to the bottom, I set off, very strange I was thinking to myself 5 metres after setting off and I’m still standing, 10m, 15m okay this is very cool and very fast, oh and shit scary. Still standing up right after 30 metres, I was not thinking too much about how the hell i was going stop, but more about how painful its going to be, and like clockwork over i went, tumbleing again and again and again. Each time banging my head and getting another mouthful of sand ( note to self, close mouth) By all accounts it looked pretty spectacular from the bottom, an explosion of sand. And then I came to a stop, sand everywhere, I nice sandy paste in my mouth and a very painful neck. It took a while for my head to clear well enough to respond tro the calls of ‘ you alright neil’. a painfully fun day, I still have sand in my ears now!

After Ica we headed to Nazca, famous for its massive lines draw across the desert, only able to be appriciated from the air, etched into the ground thousands of years before man first flew? many interesting ideas, as to why bother with all the hard work over many years, for something nobody can see? my fave theory is that the lines and animal symbols are for contacting extra terrestrials and a landing sight for them to land. We Also visited some ancient gravesites, ransacked by grave robbers through the ages.

Next stop Arequipa famed for its smoldering volcanoes that surround the city, The city is packed with colonial architecture and pleasant cobble streets. We spent carnival here, which was fun, big parade around the plaza, the centre of every Pervian town. Huge water fights going on, and as a group of gringos we made great targets. especially if one of the girls has, stand out blond hair. stupidity on our parts told us after are soaking, to seek revenge, So off we went to buy water baloons and to fill are buckets, returning, as even bigger targets, now armed. ive never seen anything like it, we were set on by hundreds, if not a thousand. This time with water, flour, paint powder. The girls had it worse, with young local guys using the massive crowds to ´cop a feel´ but have to give credit to the girls. although dazed from the onslaught they took it with good crace, when many would have been kicking and screaming at these dirty little hooligans. who went a little too far.

We headed to Colca canyon, depatable the deepest canyon in the world at nearly 3200metres deep. stopping off at some nice little towns, taking in a touristy culture show, and posing for photos with old Quechua woman with there lama´s dressed in ribbons, I always think what it must been like, to be the first travelers through these places, before the tourist dollor came to rule. But in the same breath the very touristy Hot springs were a blessing after some of the hard bus journeys, in Peru, it is possible to bus in more comfort, but you pay a bit more.

After some some long journeys on bumpy roads with no suspension enableing you to feel every bum breaking bump, we reached the main part of the canyon and joined the hords to admire the majestic Giant Condors gliding only metres over head. Its here that we parted with most of the tourists who had made the wise decsion to ride all day out here, look at the birds for 5minutes and then ride all the way back to Arequipa?? And met our guide for hiking to the bottom of the canyon, (you dont really need a guide) but we were unsure and the girls felt better about having one, so we met our guide a girl of 14 years. And started the long hike to bottom, passing donkey drivers coming up the canyon with their loads. We also gave one of bottles of water to two young local guys who had decided to hike out of the canyon in the mid day heat and looked like they were at deaths door. After crossng the river at the bottom, the enviroment changed drastically from the sun scorched dryness of most of the canyon, to shaded greens of water fed vegetation. We then hiked up the other side of the canyon a for a while and across before coming town to our destination, the man made natural water fed oasis. which was really nice for dip, staying the night in tiny bamboo huts with plenty of friendly bugs, sharing our beds.

I had not been feeling too well for a few days, not eating very well, that night I was as ill as ive been for a long time. high fever, dizzyness, and bowels with a life off their own. And with no torch I managed to falll into the river on one of my many visits to the toilet. Spending rest of the night shivering, wishing for the comforts of home, which you always do when your feeling low.

And so 330am setting off up the canyon on our hike out, I was feeling so bad, If I had come across a guy with a donkey I think I would have bought it off him. oh and this was my birthday, happy 21st and the hike from hell. This was the hardest thing ive ever done, I felt faint the whole time. And just wanted to keel over. But the importent thing was to get to the top before the full heat of the sun was apon us. We made it with legs of led, but my birthday was not over yet, I still had the fun local bus to enjoy. My seat was right at the front, up against the drivers compartment. If you were 5ft tall you would have no leg room. So with legs cramping up from the hike every 5 minutes, add to this a bus with 5 times its capacity, with an old lady sitting on my legs, two kids on my lap, a old guy dripping ice cream on my head, and chicken feed falling on my head from the hole in the bag overhead. and three people leaning against me, and the woman next to me drooling on my shoulder. And feeling so ill that you should be in bed for month. driving along the bumpiest road in Peru. Okay this is up there with the Burma bus rides, I told you I was going to eat my words from the last post.

Back in Arequipa I ate for the first time in a couple of days, at a a little celebrational dinner (my birthday and getting out of that canyon) the guys gave me a t – shirt and a really nice card. which was really great. No drinking for me, just bed, a rather differant 21st.

After recovering from what ever I had, we left Lena to have lots of sex and babies with the dreamy swiss guy she met, her words not mine, okay he was a little dreamy. We all though so. And Sophie, Martin and I set off on the nightbus to the land of the tourist, Cusco, which was not too bad tourist wise, with the Inca trail being closed for the anual clean up. really attractive town, cobble streets again and realy nice streets filled with colonial buildings, good food and supprisingly good partying, big competion between the bars, so lots of free drinks and great fun on the dance floor with the local girls, Salsa is really growing on me, but I´m still useless and need to be led.

We visited a few of the inca ruins in the sacred valley, which were nice, highly amusing when the bus runs out of petrol and the driver hitchs a ride to the nearest petrol station with an empty paint can in hand, coming back like an hour later, and nobody gets off the bus or even opens a window, especially with the bus painfully overloaded. No more talk of buses now i´m sure im boring you to tears.

We caught a train to get up to Aguas Calientes the nearest town to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo which is a few hour bus ride through the sacred valley. Its a hell of lot cheaper than taking the tourist train from Cusco. Staying the night before hiking up the hill at 4am to beat the bus loads. You walk along the raging river for 20 minutes before starting the hike up. We got there at maybe 6am and where the only people there, which is incredeble, when you think of the amount of people on the train, that nobody else bothered to walk and try and beat the crowds. And so for half an hour we had Machu Picchu slowing reveiling itself from its coat of mist, all to ourselves. Absolutly incredeble. For hours we wandered around with not enogh people to be really noticed. taking way to many photos of the lamas that also wander around the ruins. By 10am you do not want to be there as the train from cusco and buses apon buses of people arrive. Time to leave and so we did, happy with the thought that for half and hour Majestic Machu Picchu was all ours.

Next Post – Bolivia and the start of the Automobile Diaries
– Road Trip !!!!!!!

Neil 8)

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