In my last post, I took the uncomfortable step of pledging to be more direct in reviews of certain hostels, tours etc. There’s no point in writing a review if you’re not honest! It shouldn’t have to make me feel uncomfortable if I’m being unbiased. The reason why I wrote that last post is because I need to come clean about my feelings for Rio Muchacho Farm near Canoa and would be really happy to get feedback on this because I felt like it’s not living up to it’s ethos as well as the sparkling comments it received in Lonely Planet- I also have to say that it was the last time I really took a recommendation from LP because I just feel like it’s not for me; a bit commercial, outdated and sometimes it delivers a big misrepresentation of a place which is ultimately misleading. Ok, here goes.
Ok, first off…here I am saying sorry for having fallen off the radar again which makes me cringe a little bit because I was determined not to leave my blog neglected and feel a tiny bit like a cliché, but during the trip I realised that it’s environment-permitting whether I get to post or not. The good news is that our travels took an adventurous turn which meant we either didn’t have electricity, didn’t have time to sit down and write the posts because we were spending a night in a small town and then moving on, or the internet was just too slow where we were to keep up with the blog. Although I am behind, we’re back in a fixed place now so I have all the time I need to get back into it and get those tips down and I have quite a few after travelling over 15’000 miles last year.
Another thing: at the start of the trip I had the dilemma of staying in a hostel where the owner was lovely to us but the room just wasn’t up to scratch. I think it’s common to be in that predicament- she was a sweetheart but the bed sheets were dirty and when I asked for a clean set, those were dirty as well. I decided not to say anything and I didn’t mention anything on this but I thought to myself, it kind of defeats the purpose of passing on information if I’m not being completely honest so starting from now I will be 100% fair when I’m writing about certain experiences. Starting with the next post.
Happy new year, I hope everyone has travel plans this year and that you manage to have a little escape be it for a few days, weeks or months. Even if you’re a tourist in your own city, it’s still great to get out and see and learn. Although my parents are in a little bit of a pickle over my lifestyle, I hope to be heading to Asia and Australia with my babe later on in the year so will be working solidly for the next few months to make sure we are prepared. I’m excited and I hope we can pull it off so all tips on Asia (and I mean anywhere, we still don’t have any concrete decisions on what countries we shall be visiting) are extremely welcome.
Ok, let’s do this.
Before I begin on the wonder that is the Humpback Whale tour in Puerto Lopez, I have to tell you something. From a young age I have been in love with whales and sea life. I grew up with the dream of seeing any type of whale in the wild; Blue, Humpback, Sperm…maybe not Orcas after seeing how cunning they are with their prey, anyway, you get it- I really hoped one day I’d get the chance. And then we were on our way to Puerto Lopez and I realised my dream was about to become reality and I couldn’t wait, I secretly had visions of me diving spectacularly off the side of the boat and being taken to the depths of the sea to witness what it is they do down there. I actually did think that, it looks like my childhood imagination remains with me.
The whale season in Puerto Lopez officially begins on the 22nd of June and ends in September-October and while it’s mainly Humpbacks, Orcas have also been spotted (I only just found that out now!). Depending on the time of the season, the Humpies might be travelling through the area or coming to give birth in the bay- the shape and current means that it is harder for sharks or other predators to attack the newborn calfs.
Here is a little post on our personal tips on things not to miss in the beautiful country of Peru, which is mainly food. I can’t help it, I like to eat.
Food and Drink
In recent years, Peruvian food has experienced a big boom over here as well as in the USA, or so I have read. I have never tried it over here but if you know of a decent Peruvian restaurant, try it out. The food is amazing.
The absolutely not to be missed no way can you go to Peru and not eat it is: ceviche. Be it seafood or just fish, everyone must try a good ceviche when they’re in the country mainly because it’s Peru’s national dish and you will not find better/cheaper anywhere else. Obviously, the closer to the coast, the fresher the plate. From the market to the swishest restaurant in town, you’ll find it being ordered by locals who know their stuff which is always a good sign. Ceviche is raw fish cubed and served in a mixture of fresh lemon and lime juice, very thinly sliced red onion, sometimes cream of yellow chilli and the juice that runs off of the fish when it is being sliced.
Leche de tigre is the marinade of ceviche (as described above) which is also served alone and sworn to be a great hangover cure as well as an aphrodisiac. Some people order it with a shot of vodka for an added kick.
Tamales or Humitas are a great and cheap option for a cheap snack on the go. Both are made of corn and the former is steamed whereas the latter is boiled sometimes with pieces of cheese or meat or else sweetened with sugar and served wrapped in corn leaf. They are amazing and different to anything we have in England so definitely worth a try- if you’re in Cusco apparently there’s a little lady in the main square that sells them and I heard that they are de-lish.
Our pick of where to eat (but not necessarily the healthiest or most traditional option) is Campeón in Lima for the atmosphere and the simple fact that we would never have stumbled upon it by chance. I can imagine the sandwiches served there would be a perfect hangover cure.
Pisco Sour: Chileans and Peruvians will forever disagree on who invented Pisco (and in the airport in Tacna, Peru which is about forty minutes from Chile it is prohibited to take an international flight with Chilean Pisco which I find hilarious, sorry, I digress) which is potentially a good conversation starter between you and a local barman whilst you enjoy the mix of lemon, sugar, egg whites and Pisco all whizzed with ice to make an incredible cocktail with a serious punch. If like me and your stomach just can’t take raw egg, just ask for it without. It’ll be less frothy but equally as delicious.
Chicha morada is a juice made from purple maize with a sweet berry like taste which is native to Peru. Apparently it used to be produced by the natives chewing on the kernel and spitting it out, but now it’s mixed with water.
Our pick of places in Peru was Mancora. Perhaps this would not be the case if we had gone to Peru in the summer time, or if I wasn’t so fickle and so easily pleased by a nice beach and good cheap food…but I am so I loved Mancora. It is also for the fact that we had great company in the lovely hostel that we stayed in and we asked locals what beach and food they recommended, so all worked out in our favour.
Among the many activities that Peru’s varied climate allows for, surfing is very popular amongst locals and tourists. We didn’t stop off along the entire coast but we did drive it and the most popular spots were Lobitos, Máncora and Lima from what I could see, although we were not there in surf season so others may disagree.
Driving in Peru was great and we didn’t have any issues with police or feeling unsafe but that was partly to do with us always putting our van into a car park and not taking any risks at all. Drivers, on the other hand are not always very safe and we had a few episodes on mountain roads of shouting ‘woaaaah’ whilst we watched other drivers overtaking each other around corners and the like. Petrol isn’t cheap and neither are the tolls but food and accommodation make up for it.
So there you go, Peru. Definitely worth a trip- as soon as you’re over the border from Chile you feel like you’re in a different world and there is so much to eat, see, listen to…we love Peru.
If anyone else has been, please feel free to chip in with your own comments or opinions on what to see and do.
An unfortunate over heard conversation
Rulo had to head over to Organos, the town before Mancora to find the nearest Western Union. I decided to stay and soak up some rays on the main beach, there were locals, other South Americans and lots of Europeans and Aussies, but it wasn’t overcrowded and most people were sunbathing and watching the surfers, both learners and the more experienced crew. The sun was delicious, it wasn’t too hot and there was a lovely breeze to cool me off once and again. I had decided to head down to the beach without my music but with my book so I could relax and listen to the sound of the sea. However, my sunbathing neighbours did not let that happen.
There were three young English travellers, one girl and two boys, and I am not over exaggerating when I say that one of the boys was so obnoxious and rude that I found myself staring open mouthed at him. Not only was he shouting at every vendor walking past to come over and then on hearing the price of what they were selling, telling them to f*** off (all in English), he couldn’t stop shouting about how much cocaine he’d taken, how much drugs he had bought or when he was going to do another line. What a loser. I always say that travelling is always good for you, but in this case my compatriot had his priorities all mixed up. Being obnoxious and rude to the locals is one thing (lucky for him they didn’t understand his insults) but blagging about much drugs he had bought was just idiotic. He should have just stayed in his bedroom in the UK. I picked up my things and found a much more peaceful spot about fifteen metres away- same view, but I could hear the sea a lot better.
When we weren’t being offered food from our hostel-mates, we were as usual on the hunt for places to eat alongside the locals. If you’re after home style food, there are plenty of places to eat. If you’re after local cuisine at great prices, you are also in luck. Here’s where we ate;
Jasusi: recommended to us by a friend of Rulo’s who lived in Mancora for a few years and what a fabulous recommendation, it’s about ten blocks from the centre. We walked there and got a motor taxi on the way back for 1.50 soles/ 0.35 GBP because we were well and truly satisfied. Note: there wasn’t a ‘menu’ lunch deal and Jasusi’s brother-sister team have a rest on Thursdays when it is closed. If you’re ever in Mancora, check it out, the food was yummy yum and we went back the day after for more. Piglets.
The other places that we ate/bought food from were:
One of the seafront restaurants on our first day. I wouldn’t recommend the places over looking the beach, I think their main selling point is the view rather than the quality of the food. The menu was 3 soles/ for a small salad starter and fish chicharron (pieces of fish fried in batter) but I suspected it to be bought from the frozen section in a food shop.
The market where we bought veggies to cook in the hostel (be careful, a few of the vendors tried to short change me. They were unsuccessful) because we were too late to eat lunch their. I heard that a somewhat little but nevertheless delicious portion of fresh fish ceviche is 3 soles/0.70 GBP. You could just get two for that price. Seriously, what a bargain! I tried to find the address of the market to post a link but had no luck, if you ask anyone for the ‘mercado’ or ‘comedores’ they will point you in the right direction.
A little restaurant next to the Osaka shop on the way to the market (where you can change dollars to soles at a really good rate) which served us a chicken soup (the chicken was given to a little dog waiting outside as a present) and fried fish, beans, rice, salad and a drink for 3 soles/0.70 GBP each.
Beach time. My favourite time (as well as eating time)
After witnessing/listening to a psychotic child in a young mans body the day before, we decided not to go back to the main beach in Mancora. Instead, when we passed under the bridge to get to the beach, we turned left. What a good decision that was.
We placed ourselves outside a hotel whose bar was playing swing music, lay down and relaxed. Luis had told us about a few rock pools to check out but the tide was too high, so we spent a few hours soaking up some rays and then headed back to Jasusi for day two of a yummy lunch.
Unfortunately, our time was cut short in Mancora because of building work a few metres from our hostel. Early on Friday morning, we heard bull dozers arriving (I don’t know why, I thought I could sleep through the noise) and being the clever person he is, Rulo jumped out of bed and went outside to see if we would be able to get our van out with all the building work. Unfortunately, part of the digging was taking place right outside the hostel door so we had to bundle everything up and hit the road. After some incredible days, we waved chao to our hostel, Luis and our hostel-mates and hit the road.
Casa Mancora can be found on Facebook and Couchsurfing. The hostel offers private double rooms with bathroom for 10-15 soles/ per person or bunkbed dorms for 10 soles pp with bathroom. Internet, a full kitchen (including a blender to make juices for breakfast) and a television are available. There aren’t many mosquitoes in Mancora because the entire city has been fumigated. It is a safe and relaxed haven for anyone looking for sun, beach and surf.
Mancora had been a dream, and we were soon on the road to Ecuador.
When I mentioned to Rulo today that I would be writing my post about Lima, he gave me an inquisitive look. How was I going to describe it? Was I going to mention everything that we had said about the city? I will definitely do my best to represent all of our experiences…
If there’s one thing I learned about Lima, it’s that driving is not a good way to get around the city. That’s an understatement, it’s awful! Unless you enjoy two hour traffic jams and cars bibbing non stop. At one point we thought someone was trying to warn us about something because of the bibbing, they weren’t. It’s just how they drive.
There are nearly nine million people in Lima, and at times it felt like nine million cars! As the capital of such a huge country, I think it’s in need of a bit of organisation and education on driving safer and more logically to reduce the amount of time spent in traffic jams because I can only imagine that the population there will continue to grow. We did see that in the upmarket Miraflores district there are fines of 185 soles/43 gbp for people caught bibbing, but as I was looking at the sign, a police officer was pushing his way through traffic bibbing away. Hmm…I guess I can hope…
We stayed in Surco with a friend of Rulo’s who runs a DJ school. Rulo gave two talks on being an analogue DJ and playing vinyl which were very well received. While he gave the talks, I stayed in our room surfing the internet and kept hearing a loud whistle outside. When I asked what it was, I was told that people are employed to stay in the street 24 hours per day to keep watch and blow a whistle as warning that they are there. There was also a lot of barbed wire and CCTV cameras on a residential road as well as special patrol cars to drive around the neighbourhood. Is that normal? Or was I being naive in how shocking I found it all? Surely if there is such a big problem with crime, the answer would be to attempt to nip it in the bud and educate people better. (I know, I know, it’s much easier said than done).
When I spoke to some travellers last night about what Rulo and I had experienced, they were quite surprised and told me they hadn’t noticed too much noise and hadn’t come in to contact with the 24 hour watch men. I suggested that it was because they weren’t driving in Lima and that they had stayed in the safer Miraflores district which is where I spent a night last year as a stop off. I love travelling in our van because I feel like I’m having a different experience to past journeys, and getting to know certain aspects of cultures better than if I were travelling by bus.
On our first night, we were taken to what is known in Chile as a ‘picada’, if anyone has any suggestions for a word in English I will be grateful because I can’t translate it in one word. Basically it’s a little spot that is known by locals with great food.
Campeón is definitely a picada. Sandwicherias are big in Chile and Peru, a place to go and have a sandwich and a cup of tea or a juice in the evening instead of having it at home (which is called ‘once’ and I believe is a tradition which was started off by the English in Santiago). We were absolutely starving and as soon as we stepped in and saw the amount of character this place had, I knew we were on to a goodie.
I feel terrible because I can’t remember the owner’s name! He is a collector of all things intriguing and has a good eye, he told us of finds such as a version of The Bible that he once bought which was valued at more than 20,000 usd, to original photographs of footballers dating back to the sixties which he now sells on the internet because he has too many. He was a real sweetheart and however in depth he was in conversation, he welcomed and thanked every single person that walked in (and there were a lot).
We are vegetarians but when we’re faced with someone taking us somewhere that we would otherwise have no idea about, we don’t announce that we can’t eat anything on the menu and need to leave to find a veggy option. We just eat what we’re given.
So obviously I decided to have another one, this time it was shredded chicken and the same cocktail of sauces. You can’t really tell, but the sandwiches were rather large. For the second I had to compose myself and do some deep breathing, a little glass of chicha morada helped it go down.
There is also a youtube page in case you’re interested in sharing the magic of Campeón.
My other recommendation for food is the old faithful: the market. Although we were staying with a friend, we ended up spending much more than we had planned so when we were out alone, we scoped out the market near the incredibly busy China Town and looked around for the menú. The menú is always the best option for a traveller on a budget, there’s usually two to three options for a starter and main, and a little drink if you’re lucky. It is usually available at lunch and not always advertised, so if you don’t see it you can still ask for it.
So here we have; fried fish, rice, liquidised beans, salad (which was quite possibly the spiciest salad I have ever tried), and barley water which was topped up a few times at no extra cost. It’s always so good to have a tasty meal, and even better when you can have a little chat with the locals and get away from the hustle and bustle outside.
Should you need to buy absolutely anything, the Barrio Chino and the mercado central are the places to go, although be warned- there are a lot of people packed into small spaces and it is not a peaceful stroll by any means.
Despite my comments, I have to be fair and say that we only scraped the surface of Lima and we will be back to spend more time there (and I think we will be staying in this hostel because it looks great) and have a much better explore. Because we were staying with a friend, we didn’t really get a chance to get out and have real look around the city. I will always feel uncomfortable with such an obvious rich/poor divide, and it was very palpable in Lima. There are tennis courts in the centre of the city with expensive cars being looked after by people who probably earn less in a month than what the people playing tennis pay for their members fee. We will definitely be back in Lima, but it is not a contender for places to spend time long term in the future.
After driving seeing the beautiful Nazca lines, we drove 137 miles/ 220kms northwest to Paracas after receiving recommendations from a few Chilean friends, one of who told us he stayed in his car outside the Hilton and would pop in to have showers and breakfast!! We weren’t naughty enough to try that.
We decided to stay in Hostal Backpackers with the lovely Berta as owner. I liked the look and feel of the hostel, and the rooms were very dainty, built like those little sun houses that are dotted along English coast lines (ok, effectively it is a shed but a very pretty one at that). We paid 35 soles/8gbp for the both of us with wifi, a shared kitchen and a shared bathroom with nice hot showers.
The next morning we went to visit the Islas Ballestas with guaranteed sightings of penguins, sea lions and lots of birds. Tick, tick and tick, we were lucky to see all three and it was a gorgeous trip. I can imagine in the summertime when the sun is high and bright the trip must be amazing, it was overcast and a little bit chilly when we went but it was still worth it. If you’re in the Ica area and fancy a little down time, I would recommend Paracas. I can imagine that it is much busier in the summer months so it might be a bit harder to find a deal, but it is a nice little trip.
On the way to the islands, we saw El Candelabro, a geoglyph which is believed to be an homage to the San Pedro cactus used for it anaesthetic properties by the Nazca people who performed advanced surgeries on the brain. The year that it was created is still unknown, and there are other theories that it was created by aliens or José San Martín as a symbol of masonry. It never ever rains in Paracas (even though it looked like it was going to on the day of our trip) so the Candelabro remains intact, apart from parts where silly people walked on it and left their foot prints.
The islands are still used today for Guano harvesting which is a big money maker for the Peruvian government. People spend three months collecting as much as they can with the tours going over, but without setting everyday. The male sea lions were a little bit temperamental on the day so kept biting each other, for me it was the penguins who stole the show. I love the way they walk! They were hobbling around and one looked like a school teacher being followed by his or her pupils.
We ate at the Boulevard Cancho at Cevicheria Sandra which served a menu for 15 soles (it was originally advertised at 20) and then we were off to Lima.
Coming up: Thoughts on Lima and how it surprised me.
(More photos to come of the islands, the internet is being very stubborn tonight).