10. Plenty more fish. Peru 2: Nazca, Huaccachina, Pisco, Paracas, Lima, Amazon

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…

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8. Olivia in Bolivia: Sucre, La Paz, Death Road, Copacabana

After 2 months of rapid roaming and excessive Google Translate, we decided to hunker down and “estudiar espanol”. Once the capital of Bolivia (and still the constitutional capital), Sucre is a pleasant, mild climate, mid-altitude (although we still struggled up the hills) city located in the south-central part of the country. We settled in to the genuinely delightful (although a little fascist re rules) Casa Verde hostel and with writing implements in hand, we summoned our inner students and signed up to classes at the Sucre Spanish school. 

Whilst initially confused at paying to spend our evenings doing homework, it was made worth it by the vast improvements in our Spanish and the delicious 3-course £3 lunches at vege restaurant Cafe Condor. We even found time between shopping for weirdly shaped fruits at the markets, and moaning about man-flu, to make our own gluten free bread. 

 The key tourist attraction of Sucre is the Parque Cretacico aka Dinosaur Park which is home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world (over 5,000), as well as some impressive life size models of the dinosaurs themselves. It was fun stepping back in time (pun always intended!) however as the tours only run at lunchtime we could only view the actual footprints from afar. 

Armed with a new ability to almost communicate with locals, we took a nerve shattering flight from Sucre to La Paz which, unbeknown to an asleep Liv, eventually arrived at the 4,100m high airport after multiple attempts to land. La Paz, the highest administrative capital in the world, is a hectic, bustling, noisy, dirty, sprawling mishmash of a city which, like marmite, divides people into love it or hate it categories. For us it was more of the latter although Friday night at chabad filled with travellers, chicken shnitzels and an incredibly drunk Rabbi was great fun. The vege food at Namas Te was also amazing and they even sold jars of tahini. I think we must be the only travellers in history to travel with two bottles of olive oil and a jar of tahini!

 One of the stand out moments of the whole trip for me was Camino de la muerte aka…Death Road! The world’s most dangerous road gains it’s name from the ~300 people killed yearly from car accidents along this narrow winding mountain road with blind corners, overhanging rocks, waterfalls and of course a 1000m sheer drop. Thankfully, a new road was built in 2006 and since then, the old one is primarily used by crazy, thrill-seeking tourists (and us) on bikes looking to descend the 64km rocky dirt road from 4,700m high to 1,200m. Whilst we were frequently reminded that several cyclists still die each year, even I (the nervy-wobbly cyclist) felt safe in the hands of our Gravity (highly recommend this company) guide Scott from Scotland. The scenery was spectacular and my nerves quickly faded away as my confidence grew. Starting to believe that I may in fact survive the day, I even started enjoying myself and, whilst there were a couple of hairy moments, we both arrived back injury free and elated. We thought it best to wait until this point to let our parents know what we had just done!

After an exhilarating adrenaline pumping day, we thought we’d take it easy and unwind with… a series of 50mph zip wires several hundred meters above the jungle floor. The views were incredible and, after reaching terminal velocity, the ride was strangely serine. Vast coca plantations swept across the mountainous terrain and the cool air refreshed our tired faces.   

 With our feet firmly back on the ground, we joined a walking tour of La Paz from San Pedro prison which operates like an enclosed community where convicts pay rent for cells, live with their families and run businesses. The most notable of these were the prison tours (historically one of the top attractions on lonely planet) and the finest cocaine production in South America…hmm, I wonder if they could be related?!

From inmates to insanes, the Witches Market was seriously weird. Dried llama foetuses for use in rituals, sweets made with poisonous glues and “love potions”. The stories that accompanied them were even creepier, with tales of homeless people being buried alive as offerings to Pachamama (Mother Nature) to protect their buildings.

Weird did eventually turn to wonderful when hearing about traditional Bolivian courting practices (the age old tale of men throwing stones and women revealing their calves if they’re interested) and explanations for the unique female dress code; an over order of bowler hats that were accidentally too small for the men’s heads. My personal favourite story was that one of the many protests in La Paz was actually due to The Simpsons being taken off air, and resulted in it being shown 3 times a day. 

To celebrate the independence of La Paz, the whole city was having a party and the streets were crammed full with marching bands, parades and a lot of drinking. Thankfully being about a foot taller than all the locals meant getting a good view wasn’t much of a challenge.

 After a hectic few days, we opted for simplicity and boarded a Bolivia/Peru Hop bus tour headed to Copacabana (the beach in Brazil is named after this town) which lies on the banks of Lake Titicaca; the worlds highest navigable lake. Las Olas hotel was truly spectacular, from a gigantic round bed to a wood burning fire, not to mention the incredible sunset views over the lake. 

Feeling refreshed, we said goodbye to B-Olivia and crossed into Peru only to discover that chaos awaited us. More on that next time…