In a coincidence calling free-will into question, we decided to leave Arequipa on the exact day that, unbeknown to us, the coastal road reopened after an earthquake had closed it for 2 weeks. The pristine beaches and rocky scenery were mesmerising and, after numerous hours of sleepy bus window gazing, we arrived at the gigantic and mysterious pre-Colombian sand geoglyphs that Nazca is famous for. With not a single alien in sight but a rapidly setting sun, we sprinted up the observation tower before continuing on to the desert oasis of Huacachina for a cheeky gluten-filled pizza.Built on a picturesque green lagoon with supposed healing properties, the palm tree lined tiny village of Huacachina is completely surrounded by enormous golden sand dunes. Thanks to the Dutch courage gained from a local vineyard’s numerous free samples of Pisco (local liquor), we jumped aboard dune buggies for an exhilarating (aka terrifying) roller coaster ride on the dunes. Feeling elated at surviving the high-speed sudden twists, turns and free-falls of the ride, we waxed our boards (not a euphemism!) and tried our hand (or rather feet) at sand-boarding. After surprising even ourselves and somehow managing to remain standing whilst sliding down the dunes, we took in the incredible view before an even more nerve shattering ride back!
Thankfully, just a short journey further north, the beautiful scenery of Paracas’s nature reserve was calming before our adrenaline levels were pumped back up by a horrendously claustrophobic tour of the Chincha slave tunnels. Whilst in 18th century Peru slavery was legal, to avoid paying import taxes, these secret tunnels were built to smuggle over a thousand slaves into the Hacienda (plantation) to work on the cotton and sugar cane fields. Whilst nervously walking the completely pitch-black windy tunnels, the horror stories of people forced to spend weeks crammed into these tiny, airless, dusty spaces were enough to get my heart racing back to dune buggy levels.Managing to escape confinement, we took our final Peru Hop bus (highly recommend) and journeyed to the capital. With confidence at a high from our recent sand-boarding success, we arrived in Lima and headed to the beach to catch some waves… aka participate in a woefully inadequate surfing lesson followed by an hour of a lot of this:a little bit of this:but mostly this:
In need of less sea water and more sea food, we tested Lima’s reputation for gastronomical excellence and were not disappointed. From the best grilled fish we’ve ever eaten courtesy of “Pescados Capitales” (so good we had to return… twice), to delicious vege pizza (and gluten-free) from the aptly named “Vege Pizza”. After eventually being too full to eat anything else, we hired bikes and toured Lima from the huge mud brick pre-Inca temple of Huacachina Pucllana to the street art of Mira Flores and Barranco. With Shabbat rapidly approaching, we headed to Chabad where, along with unexpectedly bumping into a friend from home, we were overjoyed by the meat and tahina despite several days of glutinous gorging. To misquote Mother Goose, then these little piggies went to the Amazon.Iquitos is just a 2 hour flight from Lima but is worlds apart from the temperate, urban settings we’d visited this week. Sitting on the banks of the Amazon river, our initial elations at the rainforest’s higher temperatures were quickly drowned out by the pools of sweat emanating from… everywhere! With no air-con, fans, or even electricity for most of the day, our stay at the cheap but very “rustic” Jacamar Lodge was somewhat warmer than us Brits were used to. Whilst the accommodation and food were nothing to write home about (#irony), our guide Juan and our group of Ozzies made it into the great experience that it was.After days of swinging on Tarzan style vines whilst trekking through the jungle and bakingly hot mud baths on the banks of the river, we’d fall asleep to the surprisingly loud buzzing of the forest fauna (and yes, a lot of mosquitoes). Helped of course by the powerfully strong jungle “wines” aka sickly sweet alcoholic concoctions of either:
- Highly concentrated ginger that burned all the way down to the stomach
- Tongue numbingly sour berries “packed full of vitamins”
- Tree barks akin to what I suspect would result in taking a blender to Cinnabon
- Or a mixture of all three which surprisingly was the most palatable!
Wildlife was everywhere, from the plethora of exotic colourful birds swooping and diving in search of food, to the waters teeming with fish, alligators, turtles and snakes.Monkeys cheekily jumped from tree to tree after stealing items from unaware humans, and swarms of colourful butterflies fluttered all around. Even the local pets were somewhat different from the norm. Meet Slothy McSlothface (patent pending):For me, one of the most standout moments was fishing for piranha which it turns out are kosher! The thrill of a catch quickly washed away our initial hesitation and, despite it being our first time ever fishing, we successfully landed numerous fish with the most basic of equipment. With the sun setting we contently sailed back where, thanks to being attracted to the light of our head-torches, we were amusingly pummelled by small jumping fish which we’d then scramble to throw back into the water. Eating our catches that evening was incredibly satisfying (despite being packed with tiny bones) and a nice change from the rice and jungle “spaghetti” aka shredded palm trees.All jungled out, we had one last game of spot the Roamington before the 2-hour return journey along the amazon, this time during an epic tropical storm. Whilst the boat’s tiny engine chugged along at a painfully slow pace, it did result in finally spotting dolphins, before arriving back to civilisation and much welcomed air conditioning.
Up next: The Galapagos, where the range of wildlife and proximity to it was insane. More on that next time…