El Amazón místico, mágico y monstruoso.

We considered an adventure into the deepest, darkest Peruvian Amazon as the “tent-pole” event of our 6 months in South America. As older millennials, we grew up with school plays about the Amazon, BBC nature documentaries – bless you, David Attenborough -, and news of increased deforestation centred on the rainforest. Our unwritten Bucket List had a trip to the Amazon placed firmly in the top three.

With all that said, no amount of plays, documentaries or news bulletins can prepare you for the impact that the Amazon Rainforest has on you. Until you have experienced everything that the Forest offers, you’ll have only seen a fraction. And once you’ve witnessed Rain that can only be described as “biblical”, you’ll understand the sheer power that exists above and below the canopy.

However, before the excitement began, we had to get there and our journey, or course, started in Cusco.


The Forest

After a few days hopping between The North Face, Patagonia and Rockford, as well as myriad knock-off travel shops, we were packed and ready for 5 nights in the Refugio Amazonas and Tambopata Research Center (TRC) in the Tambopata Reserve. Our early flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado began with an in depth explanation from the girl behind us regarding her anxiety of flying- this should have been a clue! Before we knew it we were traversing the Andes and soaring over the rainforest and muddy waters of rivers and oxbow lakes below. The views were interrupted by a call for medical assistance, Daisy disappeared off to see what was happening along with several other doctors, wisely she retreated leaving many doctors discussing the anxious girl and the need for oxygen!

Departing Cusco and arriving in the rainforest was a tale of two humidities; one crisp and dry, the other sweltering and damp. We gave each other knowing looks at baggage reclaim, which is to imply that we knew it was going to be a warm wet week. Of course, we were correct, but we couldn’t have been more wrong.

To reach the TRC we took a plane, a 1-hour minibus between Puerto Maldonado and Comunidad del Fuego, then a 4-hour boat ride up the Tambopata River, which sits in the Madres de Dios region of Peru, to Refugios Amazonas for our first two nights. Technically, it is the Amazon Rainforest, but it’s not on the titular river. The reason that we chose TRC (via Refugio Amazonas) is that the center is a working research center, specifically for Macaws and jaguars, so while you get to visit the deep jungle, you get to do so surrounded by scientists and volunteers. It was a nature nerd’s dream.

Our final destination was the TRC, which sits a total of 8-hours upstream, however, as divulged, our first two nights were at Refugio Amazonas. Undertaking the entire journey to TRC would be impossible to finish in daylight from the city of Puerto Maldonado. No captain in their right mind would sail up the river at night as there are logs everywhere! Nevertheless, this mandatory stop was welcomed by the whole group.

Safety briefing complete and rooms assigned.

It was time to get into the green stuff.

While walking through the forest, every angle – up, down, close-up, wide – offered something different. On hikes we often had to stop –

Oh, look at this mushroom! … Wait, is that a huge ant? … Did you hear that bird? … Was that a monkey above!?

Couple of Voyagers, Amazon, repeatedly.

5km hikes took far longer than they should have, because, with every forward step, we had something new to look at, smell, touch (although only when our guide said we could) and to listen to. It was a sensory overload. At one point, before the rain had started, our guide was teaching us the difference between the Reserve and National Park when, not 100 metres away, a tree collapsed. The accompanying sound was like nothing we had ever heard: perhaps a giant had uprooted and snapped a 40 metre tree and slammed it against the jungle floor? No, it was just the immense power of nature that surrounded us. Like the best roller coasters, we were not in control and it was thrilling.

Obviously, while not in the …relative… safety of the research center, we were dressed the part. There was something comforting about our head-nets, especially when the others in our group were swatting away mosquitoes throughout our excursions. Under the canopy only 5% of daylight reaches the jungle floor, so insects are active during the day, but at night is when even nets cannot reliably protect you. Everything was bigger in the Amazon; bigger mosquitoes, bigger crickets, bigger locusts and bigger spiders decided to invade every corner of our room, or posted up on walkways and staircases. In fact, even the baby tarantulas, despite their cute pink feet, occupied handrail space and caused momentary lapses of muscle movement.

Is that a t-t-t-tarantula?

Not Shaggy or Scooby Do

Our room, a loose term for the 3-wall, ceiling-less space that we slept in, was an adventure in itself. Much like the best Brechtian theatre, the fourth-wall didn’t exist; there was a vast space that looked out into the dense jungle, which gave us a fantastic view and the insects a fantastic point of entrance. We frequently showered with gigantic beetles, avoided hand-sized crickets and hoped that no tarantula would join us. Every evening we dashed from the shower, crept under the mosquito net and spent the next 20 minutes tucking in the net and inspecting the corners, all in preparation for a bug free night! One morning we realised we had not been alone that night. A monkey or possibly a possum had been roaming around and pooped on our clothes. Another moment of realisation, this was their rainforest and we were mere guests.

Night time!

If we weren’t walking around in awe of nature during the day, we were running around being literally bombarded by nature at night. Nevertheless, the Night Walk around the TRC was fun. In a moment reminiscent of the movie Arachnophobia, we were being taught about species of spiders that spin webs together. Our guide shone the torch at a lone spider at chest-height, explaining that these are often found in large groups. As he was talking, he moved the light up, above head-height, revealing a huge web system with hundreds of spiders busying themselves within the 1m cubed white mass. A few of our group recoiled in horror, and encouraged a swift departure from that particular tree. Later on during the nocturnal jaunt we saw the Two Stripe Poison Dart Frog, the second-most deadly frog in the world, which was extremely small but incredibly cute. I mean, it could have killed every human inside the TRC but it looked really cool.

One of our most treasured sightings was the juvenile Harpy Eagle. Despite being less than a year old, this male bird of prey had a wingspan of just shy of 2 metres and was calling loader than anything in the vicinity. It was such an amazing experience to witness, and he was by far the most badass character we saw during our time in the jungle.

Though perhaps this Yellow Caiman comes in a close second, especially considering there was a possum in his jaws

The greatest aspect of the TRC was being able to choose different activities to do in the jungle. We were spoilt for choice during our time there, with our days filled with trips to mammal and parrot Claylicks; a trip up a 30m tower to the jungle canopy, from which it was possible to see the sunrise, parrots, other birds and wasps; a hike to the Oxbow lake followed by a boat ride; daylight and sunset walks, boat rides to find jaguar and the aforementioned Night Walk.

The non-exhaustive list of animals that we saw over our 5 days in the Amazon is below. There was a whole load more insects and reptiles, but we didn’t reliably identify them via our guide.

Mammals

Possum 
Red Howler monkey
Dusky Titi monkey
Black Spider monkey
Tiny monkey
Agouti
Bats

Birds

Scarlet Macaws
Red and Green Macaws
Blue and Yellow Macaws
Harpy Eagle (yeeeeeeees!)
Hoatzin (double yeeeeeeees!)
Osprey
Great Potoo
Roadside Hawk
Classic Toucan
Chestnut throated Toucan
Jabiru
Black Vulture
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Snowy Egret
Great White Egret
Blue-throated Piping Guan
Red capped Manakin
Undulated Tinamou
Red Curusow
Grey-winged Trumpeter
Pale-winged Trumpeter 

Reptiles and Amphibians

Two-Stripe Poison Dart Frog
Yellow Caiman
Gecko 
Giant Toad
Leaf Toad

Fish

Yellow Bellied Piranha 

Insects

Pink Footed Tarantula 
Hunting Spiders
Wandering Spider
Leaf-Cutter Ants
Bullet Ants

The Rain

Have you ever seen rain so hard, and so strong, that it collapsed trees mere metres from your bed? Until our third night in the Amazon, we were in the group of individuals that could answer “no” to that question.

The night prior to the rains we were given a heads up by mother nature; while having a beer at the bar a sudden infestation of insects descended on the white sofas in the communal area. Quite a shocking site to see the white cushions turn black. The barmen hastily attempted to brush them off with little success exclaiming ‘the rains are coming’. You’re telling us!

For 22-hours, we were surrounded by torrents of rain. “It’s rained off” took on a whole new meaning that day. The pathways on which we walked not a day before were flooded; the banks of the river burst and 2.5 metres of water had crept closer to us. The day we arrived we had surmised the reason, but after the rain we saw why the walkways existed and our room was held up by 6m stilts. It became impossible to do any trips outside of the lodge.

Breakfast and lunch were not rained off, and we ended up chatting with the rest of our stranded group for the majority of the day. Many topics of conversation were navigated, until we were interrupted by Tabasco, one of the Macaws, or “chicos”, that the old conservation programmed helped rescue. That original programme no longer exists because the birds became too fearless of humans, which harmed their numbers. Fearless birds are much easier to catch and smuggle, with Macaws fetching $2500 each in the US. The older birds had also taught their partners and offspring to visit the TRC for a free meal which although lovely for us was damaging to them. It’s very much a “hands-off” programme now, which is to say that there is minimal human interaction to help protect the birds and keep them as wild as possible.

That said, for Tabasco, old habits certainly die hard, and he was the start of the lunchtime show for an hour. We snapped at the chance to get a selfie with him before he pestered the chefs for bread.

It rained so much that talk of delayed boats, minibuses and flights was a real possibility. We didn’t have the luxury of spending extra nights in the rainforest due to our plans, but it looked at one point like our hand would be forced.

Then, just like that, the rain stopped. And 12 hours later, the river retreated, leaving a brown, muddy mess that required gumboots to traverse. Thankfully, by the time we left the TRC the water was back down to the same level as when we had arrived. In fact, the only evidence that we had witnessed such a biblical rise in water were the felled trees and stained foliage by the riverbank.


Since our Amazon experience, any slight sniffle or sneeze has been followed up with “do you think I have Dengue?”. And the mosquito bites have only just subsided. Nevertheless, our memories remain, and our time in the rainforest will be long in our thoughts.

The end of Peru began with an extended week in Chucuito, a terrible birthday and a proper illness, and ended with a border crossing, but more on that when we return.

Until next time.

I & D/

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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/

 

Alta altitud: vida in los Andes

Dog sitting by a house

Since last time, we’ve experienced the highs and lows of Peru; Chachapoyas, 2335 metres above sea level; to Trujillo, 34m; to Huaraz, 3052m; finally, Lima, 154m, which is where we find ourselves ahora.


Prior to our arrival in Peru, we’d fretted about the impact that high altitude has on humans; it’s common knowledge that the higher you are, the lower the partial pressure of oxygen, so simple things like walking up a slight incline can feel like a HIIT class.

With that front of mind, we felt that the best-and-only way to fight the altitude was to pack our schedule with brutally early cultural trips; night buses that cut across indecisive roads; and “very high” altitude, multi-kilometre hikes up-and-over mountains. Frankly, we only kept up high spirits through a blend of fatigued laughs, regretful beers and “sandwiches con queso y palta”. Vamos hard or vamos home.

Warriors of the Clouds

City centre at night
Chachapoyas en la noche

Chachapoyas – named after the Andean cloud forests near which it is situated – despite being home to approximately 4500 “Warriors of the Clouds”, was a city that never slept. The main centre – all four blocks squared of it – was in a perpetual state of motion! Nevertheless, it was also unbelievably safe, and we felt very welcomed by the local people, a few times with handshakes and tapped hats.

We developed an instant familiarity with the city, and our hostel, Chachapoyas Backpackers, became our home-from-home. The only small issue was the shared bathroom; the closest one to our room was in the reception area, and our increased water consumption – a means to combat altitude sickness – meant more frequent trips to visit Armitage Shanks. The hostel owners must maintain the belief that all gringos have weak bladders. Or diabetes.

In the city, we sampled a few Peruvian delights – lomo saltado (stir-fried beef with vegetables); tacu tacus (fried rice and beans); and lasagne (…); though one will stay front of mind: Amazonas 632. The restaurant had a Peruvian-combined-International menu. However, what made this place special, like the best Harvester or Toby Carvery in the UK, were the crayons and illustrations on the tables; buho (owl) drawings doubled-up as our placemats. One lunch and two dinners came with extra-large portions of mindfulness, which is why we don’t regret going back for the third time.

While we were in the region, we took two tours. Both of these trips – Kuelap ruins and Gocta Waterfall – involved bumpy bus journeys, and in hindsight, the overwhelming nausea that we felt was likely another manifestation of the altitude.

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Kuelap was a cultural wonder. The 700 metre-long, abandoned village, constructed over millenia (500AD-1500AD), was perched precariously atop a mountain. The location; the views from the village; the history; and how nature had taken over the ruins, were jaw-dropping, and a photographer’s dream. It’s an absolute must-visit, and we can see why people call it the “Machu Picchu of the North”.

It could have been a trip highlight on a different day. Unfortunately, we had the Peruvian Lee Evans as a guide, which is to say a high-energy, somewhat irritating comedian (a term used loosely here) who didn’t engage our group. The day was meandering, and it felt like the ruins played second fiddle to our guide’s repeatedly bad jokes. We also got back to our backpackers very late; the road out of Chachapoyas was closed daily between 2-6pm for roadworks and we just missed the access. In total, we spent 8 hours on the bus that day, which was less than ideal.

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Lunch near the waterfall

Luckily, we had booked to go on the Gocta Waterfall tour 48 hours later, which, while gruelling, was an amazing experience. These cataratas fall in the “biggest 20 on Earth” list, and despite some questionable time and distance estimations from everyone involved with this hike, plodding up-and-down mountain ridges, through the high jungle and around small Andean villages, and seeing the famous Cock of the Rock, turned out to be one of the most fun treks we’ve done in Peru. So far.

After four nights, it was time to leave our mountain home behind, and we felt like our Peru highlight reel was getting longer.

Humbled on Sunday

Trujillo for us will always be remembered as the Sunday that we met Luis, a 21 year old Venezuelan, who had fled his home country to find work in Peru.

Upon advice from our surly hotel manager, we found ourselves hailing “colectivos” – publicly-owned 16-seater minibuses – without any luck. After nearly an hour, Luis, who was also heading to the nearby beach town of Huanchaco, asked if we wanted to travel together. A seatbelt-less taxi (this is common) and twenty minutes later, we were in the sun on the beach learning more about our new friend.

It’s amazing how much you can learn about one person, a whole country, and even an entire continent, through a conversation about football. Luis, a Liverpool fan, talked through the nuances of the Venezuelan national team (it’s rubbish); supporting an English team in a country that is fanatical about Real Madrid or Barcelona; and the epic rivalries between Colombia-Venezuela, Brazil-Argentina and Chile-Perú. Over lunch, we told him about life in London and the UK, bonded over travel experiences, and found out more about his family back home. Our light-hearted banter about football was interspersed with darker stories of the situation in Venezuela, which both saddened and humbled both of us.

After lunch, we took a local bus to Chan-Chan to visit more ruins, located on the outskirts of Huanchaco. Luis had only been in Peru for three months, and this was the first time he’d been anywhere other than Lima or Trujillo, so it was nice to experience these new places for the first time as a group. After a quick beer back in the city, we followed each other on IG and said our goodbyes.

As for the city of Trujillo, it felt busy and dirty, but it had its own custom version of “charm”. The central district, close to the Plaza de Armas, was colourful, bustling, and possessed a one-way system that made it safe to take photos of the interesting architecture that strafed the pavements.

Departure day saw an early morning photoshoot of the city before we had a very lazy afternoon; we paid for a late checkout and caught up on Bake Off, The Apprentice (don’t judge) and Taskmaster because we knew that Huaraz was going to be very busy.

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More mindfulness at Trujillo Terminal

At seven hours, the night bus to Huaraz was the shortest overnight journey that we’d taken, but they still managed to show two extremely loud movies, much to our annoyance. 3 hours sleep and an increase of 3000 metres: what a great start to the week.

Old faces in new places

Apart from the Laguna 69 hike, another big reason that we visited the Cordillera Blanca was meet up with family from home, who also happened to be in Peru at the same time as us.

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View from El Pinar

As mentioned, Huaraz sits at an oxygen-sapping 3052 metres above sea level, so while we went to the region to hike, we couldn’t start straight away. In the four nights/five days, we all walked over 100,000 steps across three different hikes, increasing in difficulty, that finished with the epic Laguna 69 (4604m, 11.4% oxygen). Breaking the hike down into anything worth reading is difficult, so rather than labouring the point, here are some favoured shots from our day. We did see an avalanche though, which was bucket list stuff.

Unless you are a seasoned hiker, we do not recommend landing in Huaraz and heading up to Laguna 69, Churup or Shallap. These all sit around 4400m, which was savage for us even after a few days in the region.

There are a few one-day acclimatisation hikes that can be done from Huaraz though, such as the 2 hour hike to Laguna Wilcacocha (south; 15 minutes in Colectivo 10 from central Huaraz; 2 soles), or the 6km Wilcahuain ruins (north-east; 10 minutes in a taxi to El Pinar; 10 soles). If you visit in October, expect daily early afternoon rain deluges, so pack for all weathers; sun cream and waterproofs!

Travel tip: from our limited experience so far, if you have safe weather, a grasp of conversational Spanish (directions; common verbs and grammar) and don’t mind missing out on the deeper history of some of the places, we recommend doing some of these trips privately or self-directed. Gocta in particular can be done separate from a planned excursion. We are certainly going to be exploring on our own parts of the country that can be done so safely.


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We are now back on the Pacific coast in the Peruvian capital, Lima. In the 12 hours that we’ve been here we have ventured into Miraflores, and aside from the fascinating coast line and interesting buildings, it looks like the first decent place for a street 10km run, which is very exciting.

Also, tomorrow we are having an early Christmas treat and visiting Central, the restaurant from Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Belts and budgets are sure to be stretched.

After Lima it is Per Hop and southern Peru. The gringos are making headway.

Until the next time.

I/

Mil doscientos noventa kilometros (y el resto)

And then we came crashing back down to Earth.

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Goodbye, Galapagos!

After the unrivalled high that was three weeks in the Galapagos, at the end of last week we embarked on the next stage of our travels. The plan was a four-day trip from San Cristobal Island, Galapagos, to Chachapoyas, Peru; that’s approximately 2200 km in planes, taxis and buses spread viscously over 96 hours.

We always knew it would be a challenge.

Back to the mainland

When you leave the Galapagos, the conventional wisdom of getting to the airport with ample time before your flight is excessive. Arriving with 90 minutes to spare had us sitting outside catching up on podcasts and books after checking in our backpacks. San Cristóbal Airport is only down the road from the town center, which would be been a much more pleasant area to spend our final hours on the Galapagos. Nevertheless, hours were killed and we departed without hassle.

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Criminal barnet on the way to Guayaquil

We’d heard fairly interesting reviews of Guayaquil, both online and on our cruise, and upon arrival we really felt the contrasting atmospheres between 3 weeks in Galapagos and 3 minutes in Guayquil.

Thankfully, we had an overnight stay at the Courtyard by Marriott booked, which is about four miles from the runway. The hotel had a gym on the 16th floor – my goodness did it feel good to get on the treadmill – a pricey but well-serviced restaurant and our room had two double beds. We joked about it being the last decent night’s sleep for a while.

Absolutely jinxed it.

Crossing the Ecuador & Peru border

After a morning of packing and planning, we checked out, fixed the hotel printer, had our last proper meal for 24 hours and ordered our taxi to Guayaquil Terrestrial Terminal, which is the international bus station that is situated inside a shopping mall next to the airport (!?).

The hotel cab driver confirmed the location with his dispatcher and we were off! …to the wrong place. The driver confirmed the destination with a guy on the street and we are off! …shit, it’s not there either. One final confirmation from a second helpful Guayaquileno and we are actually on the right street. Evidently, Marriott guests don’t slum it on buses from the Terminal.

Acting out our best “we know exactly what we are doing” impressions, we arrived at the Terminal with plenty of time to spare yet still managed to flap around trying to decipher the gate system. “Tú hablas inglés?” Of course not. The bus terminal was 3-storeys tall, each with 20 gates, surrounded by shops and Ecuadorians enjoying their Sunday afternoon. Our bus was on the top floor, our bags went in the hold and we decamped. Easy enough.

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Leg room, air conditioning, entertainment. Peru buses are great!

Five hours, and one absolutely stunning sunset later, we were pulling into a car park that looked suspiciously like a land border. Our Cruz del Sur representative ushered us all to the front of the very long queue – much to our British embarrassment – and the chaos ensued.

One queue desk was for exiting Ecuador; done. The next queue and desk was for entering Peru, but we were told to wait outside. For more than five minutes we existed in no country. We’d exited Ecuador – we had the stamp and everything! Before the cortisol got too active, were taken to another building back towards the entrance of the border, which turned out to be the Peru customs for tourists. Odd. Forty-five minutes passed and we were still waiting in the customs building, wafting hats and books in an effort to deter the mosquitos.

All-in-all, our crossing into Peru was chaotic but we expected nothing less; in total, the experience was about two hours, but it never felt sketchy. The final slog to Mancora saw us arrive in the “Peruvian Magaluf” at 23:40. Bedtime was the day after we had left, and we only had 32 hours of downtime until we had to endure the second part of the journey.

A travel tip for Mancora: unless you are staying there to do day trips into the desert, or planning on surfing, just book the Guayaquil > Chiclayo direct service on Cruz del Sur. It didn’t help that there was a local election, which prohibits the sale of alcohol, but it’s a very quiet, very small town not particularly worthy of a stopover.

“That was the worst bus experience I have ever had.”

Oof, a major claim.

From touching down on mainland Ecuador to Mancora we had travelled 376 km by Cruz del Sur bus in the VIP section.

As is evident here, we had a lot further to go to get to Chachapoyas from Mancora, via Chiclayo. We had researched the main bus companies, with Oltursa seemingly the only one that had a direct bus between Mancora and Chiclayo; a 3:30 am arrival did not sit nicely with us so we opted for a day trip on three different companies that looked like this

  • Morning – 3hrs – Mancora > Piura on EPPO
  • Afternoon – 3hrs – Piura > Sullana > Chiclayo on Linea
  • Overnight – 8hrs – Chiclayo > Bagua Grande > Pedro Ruiz Gallo > Chachapoyas on Movil Tours

We were led to believe that the bus agencies were in order of least good to best. What’s the worst that could happen?

That ended up being a total lie, and the worst happened.

A lot of nothingness

To our surprise, the first two buses, while rough around the edges, were okay. We didn’t have the luxury of air conditioning, but we paid £20 between us for both journeys and the windows opened enough to circulate air in the coach.

Our stopovers – Piura and Chiclayo – both had their charming parts, too. We were decanted on the street in Piura, so crammed our backpacks into a 4 soles tuk-tuk to grab lunch at a place called Piqa, which was fantastic; spiced rice fried with beans, stuffed red peppers with cheese and some delicious, spiced, grilled beef. Fast-forward a few hours, we jumped off the bus in Chiclayo and walked with purpose to Cuatro Once, a craft beer bar. After indulging in more cheese, fried carbs and delicious, hoppy goodness we made our way to the Móvil terminal.

The issues started when we were led to believe our coach was going to Trujillo before Chachapoyas, which if you look on a map would have added 8 hours to our journey. Wires were crossed: the bus was delayed coming from Trujillo, which wasn’t too bad. Then our luggage looked like it was put on the wrong bus, which was too bad. A few Google Translates later we were told tranquiló, our bags were safe. Both buses were going to Chachapoyas anyway, so even if they had messed up we wouldn’t be far from resolving the issue. “They do this everyday” we kept telling ourselves.

Then we got on the bus; seats 41 and 42 upstairs.

What we didn’t know is that seats 41 and 42 are above the engine, and that our bus didn’t possess air conditioning that worked or windows that opened. Have you ever had sweaty eyes? We tried to sleep, but for 11 hours (we made an additional 3 hours worth of stops) we sweated, and sweated some more, and breathed air that felt like treacle. It was such an unpleasant experience, and one we will not be repeating; VIP for overnight trips is the plan now.

The cool Andean air in Chachapoyas felt like a crispy, autumnal hug when we arrived. Our luck had changed: it was 07:30 and our hostel room was almost ready.

24 hours here in the Andes and we feel very welcomed by the local community; handshakes, “hola”s and helpful advice from many different people. It’s a shame that the local square is under reconstruction (as per the title image!)

Finally, we aren’t in transit; this is the Peru experience about which we were so excited.

Until the 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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Una semana en Galápagos

It feels impossible to put into words the uniqueness of Galápagos, but to not try will do this place a disservice. Also, we wanted to add more images to this post, but WordPress is being weird, so it’s just text! Apologies there.

Arriving in Baltra Airport was inconsequential – the airport was small, with only one other plane at the terminal. However, our unique Galápagos experience started at baggage reclaim. We got ushered towards the corner of the only terminal and were told to wait; our bags were visible but we weren’t allowed to collect them until three dogs (a drug-sniffer dog; a food-sniffer dog; and an animal-sniffer dog) clambered over every bag that was taken out of the baggage hold. Two of the three dogs did their job well, however it seemed like they were training a new food-sniffer dog, which was misbehaving, much to our enjoyment and the polices’ annoyance.

After sharing a taxi with some pretty quiet German girls, our first stop was Puerto Ayora, the main town in the archipelago; only four of sixteen islands are inhabited, with Santa Cruz island being the most populated at 25000, and Puerto Ayora being its hub. The vibe in the town was awesome – which was something we appreciated throughout our stay there. We dumped our bags, headed out for a cerveza and ended up at a bar watching Barcelona SC play Delfins; apparently Guayaquil, Ecuador also has an almost identical-looking team to FC Barcelona called Barcelona SC. The local supporters’ group were banging drums, singing songs and involving the entire bar in their celebrations for 90 minutes, which was fun, especially as their talisman scored an absolute screamer on 83 minutes. Game over: 2-2.

The next few days involved a few different naturalist experiences. Hiking to Tortuga Bay, seeing marine iguanas for the first time, and getting a bit pink – thanks, English Rose skin. Although, in our ignorance we didn’t bring any water, so by the end of our walk it was a case of “water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink”.

On Monday we went with Academy Bay Diving (highly-recommended) on a boat to Floreana for a dive and snorkel with a really good group of people from US, Australia, Holland and Brazil. Daisy did her first of few scuba dives, and with her ridiculous vision, managed to point out two Red-lipped Batfish, the prehistoric frog-bat-fish that was aptly named Angelina Jolie by the dive team! The find was so rare, and so good, that she even got a fist-bump from the dive master at 22 metres. I stayed closer to the surface and snorkelled with sea turtles, sharks and a fleet of Storm Petrels, which was a highlight of the trip so far; being so remote in the open Pacific ocean, surrounded by sea birds feeding was a breathtaking moment where I vocalised my enjoyment with a “holy shit”, although with a snorkel in my mouth it sounded more like “hurrrgly chheettsh”. On the boat we met a really nice couple from San Francisco, who we may hopefully bump into while we travel Peru. Cocktails were drank and contact details were shared.

Our Instagram has a few different photos from the rest of our stay on Puerto Ayora. We went to Las Greitas and swam between volcanic rocks, spotted Parrot Fish in the cracks and sat by the beach on the way back to the town, getting flanked by endemic ducks, Frigate birds and these little sea waders. And finches. Finches everywhere. These little dudes are ballsy, to the point of taking pecks out of our sandwiches while they were in our hands. Perhaps they are the sparrow-shaped seagulls of the Galapagos.


The journey to Puerto Villamil, the third-biggest town in Galapagos at 2800 population, on the biggest island, Isabela, was fairly uneventful. We were sat at the back of a full boat, which crossed westwards on really choppy waters for 2 hours; one of our fellow passengers suffered with sea sickness for the entire ride. She went through 8 bags.

The town of Puerto Villamil has a seaside vibe, where everyone knows everyone. We did three tours on the island – Volcan Sierra Negra; Las Tintoreras; and Los Tuneles. Our first two guides were absolutely amazing; Nuria taught us about the history of the flora and fauna of Volcan Sierra Negra, and even more enjoyably we got a geology lesson about volcanoes: a win! And Sebastian, what a character. He took his “beautiful travellers” around Las Tintoreras, where we were treated to some wonderful sights, including sea lions playing with sharks, countless sea turtles bobbing up for air, and marine iguana nurseries: watch your step! We also attempted snorkelling, or should I say Daisy did – I shivered my way out of the bay because I was turning blue; I need “mas grasa” on me. Lost Tuneles was a stunning, geological marvel, where we saw Blue-footed Boobies courting and swam with White-tipped Reef sharks, a fleet of Golden Rays and, again, countless turles. Our guide though, the less said about Javier the better. If “a person who has fallen out of love with their job” was in the dictionary, it would come with a picture of that miserable man.

Today is Sunday and we are going on an island-hopping cruise – Lancha Eden. We may see Waved Albatross – which we have already seen hunting fish on the open ocean the boat back to Puerto Ayora yesterday afternoon – and Galapagos Penguins, which would be a dream but very unlikely because 1. there are only about 500 of them left and 2. yesterday we left the island on which the penguins are, supposedly, hiding.

We are only on week 1 of 3, but being here has already had a lasting impact.

Until next time.

I & D/