Daisy and Ian on top of Colca

Arequipa y Colca: monjas y rutas de senderismo

Arequipa, Peru’s second most populous city, oozed with historical importance while also being an obvious hub for thrillseekers; look out of a window in any tall-ish building and you will be greeted by one of three surrounding mountains.  

Misti Mountain towering over Arequipa

The city had a bustling, verging on hectic feel. As we soaked in the atmosphere, it slowly began to remind both of us of Trujillo, only bigger and prettier. Spoiler alert, but outside of Cusco, the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa was the most beautiful that we’d experienced in Peru up to that point. The central grass, flowers and fountain were strafed by bars, restaurants and a convenient el Super – the freshly-baked bread reminded us of home and was available from 10:30am – which we visited most mornings to stock up on essentials, and never ice cream for 2 soles. 

Of the many cultural experiences available to visit in the city, and after a lot of discussion, we opted for two; the Santa Catalina Monastery for a window into a working nunnery, and the Alpaca Museum for a window into, arguably, the most cute of South America’s camelids.

Despite being 40 soles each, the Monastery offered an interesting look into how the Catholic Church maintains what can only be described as a patriarchal hold over the women that dedicate their lives to their God. From tiny rooms to underwear made of barbed wire, the beautiful architecture of the centuries old building retains a difficult past.

Fortunately, the residents in the Alpaca Museum did not have to suffer such abuses. While we were unsure of what to expect, on arrival, we were ushered away from the shop, which based on prior experience was odd, and sent towards our furry friends. There were six alpacas lounging in the sun, sadly not close enough for a cuddle. The museum told the history of alpaca farming in South America. Nevertheless, we saw how the shorn alpaca wool is graded by hand, and then walked through a collection of machines that cleaned and sorted the wool, then turned bunches into yarn. Personally, I never thought yarn would be so interesting. 

Post-museums we headed up to a rooftop bar that some friends had told us about; it was one of those “head to this corner, then go up some stairs into a restaurant and a woman will take you through a dilapidated bar onto the roof” type recommendations. Not only did this hidden gem serve amazing chocolate caliente, but the Andean sunsets were out of this world. 

Daisy looking at a sunset on a rooftop bar
Rooftop sunsets galore

Colca Canyon

Our bags at the top of Colca Canyon

Outside of the cultural significance, one of the mains draws to Arequipa is to use the city as a base while joining hundreds of other gringos in Colca Canyon. However, what we didn’t know before we got to Arequipa was that we would opt to self-guide the canyon; living by our own recommendations at last! Hours of research took us from a starting point of 3D/2N guided tour to 2D/1N self-guided hike; our chosen route was –

  • Day 0: Arequipa (6hr bus) > Cabanaconde (sleep)
  • Day 1: Colca 1200m decent (10.5km / 5hrs) > Llahuar (sleep)
  • Day 2: Colca 1200m accent (10.5km / 6hrs 15mins) > Cabanaconde (6hr bus) > Arequipa

Self-Guided Return Hike to Llahuar

We left Arequipa on the 11:25 Reyna bus scheduled to stop in Chivay before arriving in Cabanaconde. The Terminal Terrestre (travel tip: 7 soles taxi from Plaza de Armas, make sure to negotiate) was busy and we were delayed, which didn’t dampen spirits. 

On the journey, Daisy got through the majority of season one of Serial, and I some of season one of Quickly Kevin, will he score? The 90s Football Podcast, which passed the time before we arrived in Cabanaconde. The town is used as the main hub for hikers and adventurers of Colca Canyon; there isn’t much there, and expect to pay increased prices for snacks and water. Leg stretches, carb-loading at dinner and an early night.

Alarm at 6:15am: no snooze!

Before we left, we bought a Colca map from Pachamama Hostel (10 soles), which told us that the return hike to Llahuar was not recommended due to the accent – it’s much further than Sangalle, the oasis town also at the canyon’s bottom. Of course, we took the advice as a challenge and left for Llahuar at 8:15am.

The decent took us over agricultural land occupied by American Kestrels and Andean Condors; winding down rocky switchbacks; over rickety, old wooden bridges and along stretches of cliff edge that had unparalleled views of the canyon. The most difficult stretch of the hike was before the Geyser and bridge at the bottom of the canyon; 90 minutes of steep, blister-inducing gradient that got tiresome by the time we reached the bottom.

Daisy and Ian on top of Colca

An hour beyond the bridge, and post snack break, we arrived at Llahuar, a tiny place famous for hot springs. There were two places to sleep there – the bigger Llahuar Lodge and Casa de Virginia, which was smaller and our home for the night. Owned by a small family, Casa de Virginia was a little bit of escapism after a tiring day. We were made to feel incredibly welcome, with lunch and dinner made at our request; pasta, rice and more carbs please! We even got to pick fruit from their orange grove to eat fresh. Delicious!

Our room was a 7x7ft stone shack with no electricity, which needed candles to light at night. It was very rustic, and despite the barking dogs and crawling insects, we both slept well!

Breakfast at 5am
Banana pancakes, coffee and tea. A breakfast of champions!

After a 6:00 am departure, on our 1200m accent we were fueled for at least 3 hours by our banana pancakes, and until hour 5, it was “fairly easy going”. We powered up the sections that we thought would be tough, which allowed for strategic photo and water breaks. Clearly our memories of the previous day were hazy because after hour 5 we began to struggle; perhaps we should have listened to the map…

As we stopped for our final snack break, we bumped into some new friends – Huacachina Wild Rover buddies – who were heading down the canyon; they looked far more spritely than us, the pain fairly obvious on our faces. It took some mental strength, but the final hour was hiked and we arrived back at Cabanaconde after 6 hours and 15 minutes.

Selfie after the hike
Did it! Now, where is the bus…

With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps we would have stayed an extra night in the Canyon because it was so beautiful. Nevertheless, Cusco wasn’t going to see itself, and after a night in a complete dive hostel – Flying Dog Arequipa 1/5 – we hopped on our 5:15 am bus and headed to the Sacred Valley.

Cloudy Machu Picchu

Next up, Cusco, and that fairly unknown cultural site in the Sacred Valley. What’s it called? Machu something.

Until next time.

I/

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Lima, dunas de arena y cerveza

It feels like an age since we immortalised a few days of our Peru experience. The last time we spoke we had just settled into Lima, which was a welcome change to the mountainous Huaraz.

Majestic Miraflores, Bohemian Barranco & Culinary Central

Staying in Miraflores and having the Pacific coast to traverse every morning was a pleasure. The walk south to Barrio Barranco was lined with parks, quirky architecture – for an unknown reason evoking feelings of GTA Vice City – and a surprising number of different birds; red ones, blue-eyed ones and ones of the humming variety. And pigeons. Further south, Barranco itself was far more arty, with coffee shops, artisanal restaurants and much older architecture, much of it in desperate need of repair. Although the dilapidation does add to the huge amount of charm Barranco possesses.

When we weren’t walking around museums, looking at art or learning about the many pre-Incan communities, we were eating. As an early Christmas treat, and as a counterbalance to the regular dinners of tomato, onion & pasta, we managed to snag a lunch service at Restaurant Central, featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table.

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Altitude food was on the menu; from sea bed to mountain top. For us, every dish had new fruit, vegetables and fish to eat, and it was not always entirely pleasant. There was also something quite theatrical about the food; without trying to sound pretentious, it was culinary storytelling, highlighted by Course 8 – High Valley: 2800m. Raw prawns, lukewarm brown broth and cool mushy avocado. It literally felt like we were consuming a river bank. Fascinating.

 

If you know us and our travel history, you will know that we often find ourselves in odd situations. At Central, this historical trend was not bucked. As Course 7 arrived – Coastal Foothills: 450m – an American woman on the table adjacent to us screamed

“Is anybody here a doctor?”

“She is.”

As I pointed at Daisy, I thought “sorry, it’s not my fault I am a proud husband.”

Obviously overcome by the thought of eating piranha skin, the American’s compatriat had collapsed. As thirty minutes passed by, and Course 7 was removed from our place settings in hushed tones, the restaurant continued to serve meals while a gringo lay on the floor, being comforted by another gringo. Long story short, the volunteer fire officers turned up to treat the stricken American, Daisy returned and Course 7 was re-served to us. Thankfully, the rest of lunch had us eat our courses as soon as they were served. And no one else collapsed.

A few days in Lima ended up being quite eventful, all things considered.

Deserts, dunes and dancing to Oasis in an oasis

We had already decided to book the second half in Peru with Peru Hop; one ticket, a number of key destinations on the Gringo Trail, and the flexibility to change travel plans last minute seemed like an attractive prospect, especially after spending hours stressing about buses for the first 3 weeks. After a short stop in the Peru Hop office, and a few hundred dollars later, we had our wristbands as well as tickets to Paracas, Huacachina and Nazca!

Our first “hop on” was an early start from Miraflores, destination: Paracas. Before we arrived we hopped off at the Chincha Tunnels for a sombre tour through a small section of 17km of slave tunnels outside Lima. The 18th Century San Jose Hacienda was home to a family who owned thousands of slaves forced to work in the cotton and sugar fields. The evidence of this horrific time in human history were uncomfortably screwed to the walls. According to our guide, the owner of this Hacienda was brutal; when the government passed legislation to give freedom to the slaves of Peru, the owner hid the truth for over a decade. He met his end on the front steps of the Hacienda when the slaves found out the truth, removing his head in the process. As we made our way back to the bus we were both quiet. Walking around San Jose was a thought-provoking experience.

Hop on, hop off; Paracas.

Paracas, a tiny, walled beach town, is located just outside a massive, desert nature reserve, the boundaries of which extend into the ocean; Isla Ballestas, off the coast, is nicknamed the “poor man’s Galapagos“, and is home to a lot of bird and marine life. As you know, we spent 3 weeks in the real Galapagos, so decided to save our soles (we took the free Peru Hop Reserve tour) and spent our extra time playing Rummy and organising our backpacks in the hostel; Kokopelli Paracas had a decent vibe, and the mixed dorm rooms had “pods” rather than bunk beds. Privacy maintained.

Hop on, hop off; Huacachina.

We’d heard mixed reviews of Huacachina; located 10 minutes outside Ica, this tiny town surrounds a desert oasis, which itself is surrounded by enormous sand dunes. It’s a one-road-in-and-out location, which, as alumni of UEA and University of Portsmouth respectively, is a geographical scenario that causes people to go a little loco.

The desert oasis has the reputation of being a party town, and the weekend on which we arrived was Peru Hop‘s 5th birthday; the Irish owners of the transport company threw 3 days of festivities at the newly-opened Wild Rover Hostel. After a night of “celebrating Peru Hop‘s birthday”, Daisy rolling back the years with a rendition of “Wannabe” while dancing on the bar, a club beckoned; for a town that has 97 inhabitants, the 1000+ attendees of this club was a surprising sight. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then this one is a novel –

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Accidental Renaissance

Scrambled eggs, chicken sandwiches and sandboarding filled the itinerary for Saturday. Our hostel provided the sandboards and a dune buggy driver, who drove like an absolute maniac. Hanxiety was usurped by the overwhelming fear that our lives were to end that afternoon; the ride was bone-rattling, fast and uncontrolled. Ignorantly, we asked our driver if he needed a license or special training to drive a buggy in the dunes. Or if he’d ever rolled it. You can guess the answers.

During our adrenal downtime, we relaxed at our hostel – Banana’s Adventure – and spent it with new friends; three Mancunians, a fellow Hertfordshirian (? that doesn’t look correct…) and a lad from Florida/Texas. We navigated many conversational topics, yet only hovered around Brexit and Trump twice. Result.

Hop on, hop off; Nazca.

We actually changed our plans for Nazca. Originally, we wanted to spend the night in the town and take a flight over the lines the following morning, but after speaking to fellow travellers and reading up on the aviation experience, we decided thirty, vomit-inducing minutes didn’t sound as good as climbing the tower and then continuing overnight to Arequipa.

Travel tip: the Nazca Lines themselves cover such a huge expanse of desert that it is possible to see just a few. Before committing, we recommend reading up on the flight safety record, the Lines and the town of Nazca, as they all have hugely varying reviews. We are glad it was just a short stopover for us.


Thankfully, Gonzalo, our Airbnb host, let us check-in to our apartment at 6am, so after an overnight bus we decided that the first order of the day was a long nap. Exploring the second-largest city in Peru, Arequipa, could wait until later.

Until next time.

I/

 

Crucero en la Eden

If you ever visit the Galapagos, it’s important to know that the best time to use the internet is between 02:00-to-07:00 am, because, unlike the local roosters, everybody and everything is asleep. Outside of these hours, getting online is like being transported to 1997, as shown here:

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Absolutely not fast dot com.

Nevertheless, being up with the larks roosters today was semi-planned. We’ve been disembarked from our Galapagos cruise since Sunday, and we thought it time to talk about our experience on the Eden. And this post really needs pictures, which therefore requires “good” internet!

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Much like the rest of our stay on the Galapagos, eight, oft bumpy, days cruising around the archipelago was phenomenal.

We were a little trepidatious when we left Puerto Ayora for Balta Airport, where we were meeting the rest of our shipmates and our guide, because many hours of research had resulted in us choosing the Eden. This particular route included Genovesa & Espanola islands, which are both great for birdwatching, however we had no idea who our naturalist was going to be. Why is that important? We had read accounts on various review sites that noted to have a good experience in the Galapagos relies a lot on how passionate and knowledgeable your guide is that shows you around the national park. Luckily, the Eden cruise, which sleeps sixteen passengers – eight up; eight down – works with a naturalist called Wilo, who is somewhat of a local superstar guide. Lucky us!

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Our route saw us visit the north-east, centre, and south of the archipelago, which looked like this;

  • Sunday – Baltra & Santa Cruz (North)
  • Monday – Genovesa
  • Tuesday – Bartolome & Santiago
  • Wednesday – Santa Cruz (North and West)
  • Thursday – Santa Cruz (Highlands)
  • Friday – Floreana
  • Saturday – Espanola
  • Sunday – San Cristobal

On each day, we were surprised by the different experiences that we had. This post would be a dissertation for us to do the trip justice, which unfortunately means we have to note only our highlights, which are in temporal order;

…meeting our shipmates for the first time outside Baltra Airport and Jeffery pointing out Wilo’s percentage calculations with some quick maths…the group was off to a cracking start…

 …being, quite literally, thrown around in bed during the 7-hour overnight boat ride to Genovesa…

…Monday morning snorkelling with hammerhead sharks and walking with Red-footed Boobies; Monday afternoon snorkelling with Galapagos Fur Seels and walking with Nazca Boobies…

…the sounds and smells from thousands of birds on Genovesa Island at dusk…

…being told the week before the cruise that we wouldn’t see Galapagos Penguins because there are only about 500 and they are hiding in the cold waters around Fernandina, only to wake up on Tuesday morning and see Galapagos Penguins. And then snorkel with them…

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Riding the panga around Black Turtle Cove, Santa Cruz

…hiking up Bartolome to capture the picturesque views of Pinnacle Rock and Santiago…

…walking on miles of solid lava and feeling inspired by the infinite shapes and forms of what was once liquid inside our planet…

…hearing the Galapagos Hawk for the first time…

…Walter the Kitchen Wizard’s cooking everyday. What that guy did in his 5ftx7ft kitchen was unbelievable. Did anyone say pineapple?…

…snorkelling with a Galapagos Penguin (again!) then in the same breath witnessing a Blue-footed Booby dive underwater to the ocean bed and catch a fish, after which it surfaced and nearly took Daisy’s head off…

…being mesmerised by Giant Tortoises. They may move slower than the Earth’s crust, but they are breathtaking animals…

…walking inside a lava tunnel and building up further interest in geology…

…reading postcards in Post Office Bay on Floreana. Paul from Bradford, your postcard from Sasha is going with us around South America. We will take photos and will send it once we get back…

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A pair of Albatross and us!

…visiting Espanola island! So many highlights here, like watching a Sea Lion with a fresh baby, surrounded by placenta that was being eaten by Hood Mockingbirds; seeing Waved Albatross greet each other; photographing the Galapagos Hawk in flight…

…building up friendships with people from Britain, China, Indonesia, Denmark, Canada, Israel, Hong Kong and Bognor Regis…

Anyone who is familiar with the major islands will see that the glaring omission is Fernandina, and some smaller islands like Rabida and South Plaza. A lot of cruises will do the Northern Route – Genovesa & Espanola; or the Western Route – Isabela, Fernandina & Espanola. Very few boats do all four islands because the distances are so far, unless you want to spend a lot of money, which we do not have the luxury of doing.


All these words and pictures may tell a story. Whether that story is a good one remains to be seen. If you take one thing away though, let it be this; if you are planning a year away, or have children who are curious about nature, or want a 2 week holiday, put Galapagos on your list of considered destinations.

As Wilo said to us on our final day on the Eden:

You know, my friends, I visit these islands every month, but every time I come back I see something different, something unique.

Based on our time here, we both wholeheartedly agree.


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It’s been 72 hours since we reached dry land, and are both feeling adequately rested after our cruise. Today (Wednesday?) will probably see us hike to a bay on San Cristobal that is famous for nesting birds. Daisy is also wrestling with the choice of whether or not to do one last dive, while I am enjoying reading classic novels; War of the Worlds in the latest on deck. It’s a hard life.

What is our next stop? Our flight to mainland Ecuador is on Friday, with an overnight stay in Guayaquil – which is pronounced “Whyakeel” – then Peru on Saturday. 8 hours on a bus will be alleviated by having 21st Century internet. It’s time to get on the IG Stories.

Until next time.

I & D/

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¡Estamos aqui!

Indeed, we are here and there is no turning back.

Our journey to Colombia was a game of emotional hop-scotch. At points, I had one foot in anxiety, followed by Daisy with two feet firmly in restlessness, then we had all four feet in nerves and sadness. This lasted the entire 10 hours at home before we left and the whole 36 minute journey down the M25. I finished on what can only be described as “oh my goodness, we are actually going away for 6 months.” My comfort zone was a mere flicker of light that was dimming over St Albans.

We pulled into Terminal 2, and it all changed. Everything was more relaxed, we had a really pleasant check-in experience and we were beginning to feel the travel vibes.

Cue a montage of plastic ziplock bags; an accidental luggage security check; burgers at Heston’s Perfectionist Cafe; some terrible chocolate ice cream; and a marital race down an escalator, and before we knew it we were playing Who Wants to Be A Millionaire on Avianca flight 212.


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The power of wearing the same shoes cannot be understated…


Touchdown, 02.42am.

As we stood at the baggage carousel in Eldorado Airport, all of the negative emotions that had been felt throughout our last day at home were just distant threads of cortisol. It was aggressively early, and we may have been up for two hours already, but we were actually aqui.

The first 12 hours in this vibrant South American metropolis have been immensely entertaining. We’ve experienced an eclectic mix of modern art; Colombian history; magical pigs; rainy walks; cable cars in the fog; breathlessness at 3120m; table staff who really, really don’t want us to try and speak Spanish, and some really fantastic coffee.

Right now our trip is embryonic. Based on our previous travel experiences, we both know everyday won’t be like today, so we are going to absorb the sights, sounds and smells of Bogota to the fullest.


It goes without saying that our excitement for the next part of the trip is monumental. In 32 hours we are leaving for the Tortoise Islands, which are more commonly known as the Galapagos.

Until the next time.

I/