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Peru to Ecuador: An easy and safe border crossing

First of all, I really have to mention the drive along the coast from Mancora to the border-it is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth driving during the day (preferably when the sun is out) so you can see across the bay. We passed through many a town including Zorritos or ‘Little Foxes’, how amazing is that name for a town? If you’re not stretched for time and come out of Mancora looking for a place to stay, I would recommend Zorritos because it is quiet and gorgeous.

Florida Beach in Zorritos. I was tempted to jump out of the van and run to sea and hide from Rulo so we would have to stay the night.

Florida Beach in Zorritos. I was tempted to jump out of the van and run to sea and hide from Rulo so we would have to stay the night.

 

Back to the border. We had heard mixed opinions about the border crossing at Aguas Verdes which is after Tumbes, Peru’s last coastal city. Some people said it was fine whereas a Colombian couple told us that their immigrations forms were stolen by officials who then charged for new papers, as well as Tumbes not being a great place to be with a foreign number plate. If we had been travelling by bus, we probably would have gone for the Tumbes crossing and hoped for the best but because of the van we wanted to be sure and not run into any problems.

We asked Luis, the owner of the hostel in Mancora if he knew of anywhere other than Aguas Verdes to cross and he did, which was great because he didn’t have anything good to say about Tumbes or the border crossing nearby and instead suggested Santa Rosa, which is in Ecuador.

After a spontaneous exit from Mancora, we quickly popped over to the nearest Western Union which is south in Organos, a sleepy town woth few tourists and then hit the road back north.

We crossed the border into Ecuador and headed straight to Santa Rosa which is where you do all the paperwork. Before hand there was a little checkpoint and when we told them where we were heading, they waved us on. Once we got to Santa Rosa it was really simple and everything is done in one building- we were stamped out of Peru and into Ecuador within a few steps of each other. No unloading all of our bags or vehicle revising or queues, perfect! Note: I have dual nationality and was travelling as a Chilean in South America, but further down the line I left Colombia as a British citizen. If you are planning to do the same and will enter Colombia at Rumicacha, it’s better to enter Ecuador as a British citizen because everything is done at once on the Ecuadorian-Colombia further north, and this may complicate your exit from Colombia.

Anyway, we didn’t have to take any luggage out at all at the border but we did have to go to Huaquillas and buy insurance and present papers before we could continue our journey. The insurance is called SOAT, just like in Peru, and is sold everywhere. The papers were presented at Chacras and you will need a photocopy your vehicle’s papers as well the insurance papers which earn you official entry into the country for your vehicle. That part took a while because there were a few pusher inners (the technical term) and we were there for about an hour.

Chacras, where you need to get all of your vehicle paperwork done so you can enjoy the glorious motorways that await you in Ecuador

Chacras, where you need to get all of your vehicle paperwork done so you can enjoy the glorious motorways that await you in Ecuador

So after we got all the bureaucracy done, we were off on the incredibly built motorways to Guayaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador with a few little surprises in store.

(Photos courtesy of http://www.andes.info.ec and http://www.rundomundo.com)


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Our round up of gorgeous Peru

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.

Drinks

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.

Places

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

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.

A deserted beach in Mancora. Love it.

A deserted beach in Mancora. Love it.


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Sun and sun in Mancora featuring how to make friends in a hostel

After having a look at Mancora’s weather forecast, I was more than ready to be heading north and finding a little spot on the beach- 26 degrees Celsius in winter is my idea of a good time. I’m not an avid Lonely Planet reader (although I have no problem in having a little flick through from time to time) but I think that Mancora gets a mention because it was bustling with European tourists, as well as many South Americans and is full of hostels and accommodation to meet all budgets.
Just as you’re arriving in the sunny town, you cross a bridge with a bumpy track running underneath from the beach towards a labyrinth of narrow paths which offer a great choice of low key relaxed hostels in a very quiet area about ten minutes walk from the beach, perfect. We were on our way to Casa Máncora (which you can find on Facebook or couchsurfing) where Rulo stayed a few years ago when he was playing a few dates in the north of Peru. He had been I’m contact with Luis, the owner, and we’d been told we could arrive any time and park our van inside the hostel’s gates.
As we drove to Casa Máncora, I was already pleased to see that it was in a peaceful little area- I absolutely love the beach but I’m not a fan of being kept up into the early hours with music blaring from bars. What a little old lady I am turning out to be. So anyway, we arrived at the hostel and asked some of the guests where Luis was, oh ok, he’s in Lima. So who’s in charge? Oh right, no one!? Luis had gone popped down to Lima for a few days and left his hostel with guests, saying that he’d be back in a few days. I hadn’t met him but I liked him already.
As we were trying to contact Luis, one of the guests came over to offer us some soup that she had just made. After having a light breakfast in Lobitos we were seriously hungry so we accepted the offer straightaway. I always like free food and I’m always extremely grateful when I am offered, but being offered free hot food from someone you have just met when you are travelling and in need of a meal was incredible. It’s so simple but so obvious! The amount of times that I have stayed in a hostel and seen people throwing away leftovers is ridiculous. It was such a good foot to get off on and the mood stayed the same over the following the days: when we cooked, we offered anything that was left, and when we made juices in the morning we asked if our hostel friends wanted to try them. (They hadn’t tried avocado, sugar and milk before and seemed to like it, honestly, give it a go before you knock it!). I also have to say, these guys were incredible cooks and would make our food look extremely basic, one evening they gave us so much, we didn’t have to make food ourselves. Can you tell I’m  a food lover?!
So anyway, back to our arrival. Tracey, a local girl was popping over in the mornings and afternoons to make sure everyone was ok and came over when Luis called her to warn us of our arrival, we had called him via Skype but he couldn’t hear us that well so she arrived to show us our room and make sure we had everything we needed. We had been fed by our hostel-mates, it was sunny and warm and we were ten minutes from the beach, so yeah, we were all good. The room was simple and exactly what I had been picturing: a double bed, two windows with mosquito net covers and a bathroom. We put our bags down and ran to the beach.
The mozzies had no chance of getting in due to the mosquito netted windows.

The mozzies had no chance of getting in due to the mosquito netted windows. Suckers…but actually, not really.

The living area in the hostel, comfy comfy

The living area in the hostel, comfy comfy

Past those thatched roofs= the beach. Yeah

Past those thatched roofs= the beach. Yeah

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, yummy yummy.

Jasusi, yummy yummy.

A delicious fresh fish ceviche for 10 soles/ 2.33 GBP. It was as good as it looks.

A delicious fresh fish ceviche for 10 soles/ 2.33 GBP. It was as good as it looks.

Seafood rice, also 10 soles, also as good as it looks.

Seafood rice, also 10 soles, also as good as it looks.

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.

Owing to my inability to give good directions, here is a photo of how to get to Jasusi.

Owing to my inability to give good directions, here is a photo of how to get to Jasusi.

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.

About fifteen minutes walk from the main beach in Mancora.

What a delight, a beach to ourselves with the sun up high and music to keep us company.

And more peaceful beach.

About fifteen minutes walk from the main beach, with a few hotels along the way.

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.

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Two little cats enjoying a present from the fishermen.

Two little cats enjoying a present from the fishermen.

Little balls of sand made by crabs building their little crab houses.

Little balls of sand made by crabs building their little crab houses.

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.

Even our 4x4 wouldn't be able to compete with all of the digging.

Even our 4×4 wouldn’t be able to compete with all of the digging.

Tobi waving us off with his tail. If he had a CV, it would say 'flip flop thief extraordinaire'.

Tobi waving us off with his tail. If he had a CV, it would say ‘flip flop thief extraordinaire’.

Mancora had been a dream, and we were soon on the road to Ecuador.


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A little trip to the lost city of Lobitos

One of Rulo’s surfer friends had recommended Lobitos (which translates to little wolves in English, why don’t we have places with names like that in England?) as a stop off before the gorgeous Máncora. Being a retired surfer, Rulo always likes to go and check out the waves (and compare them to Arica’s, which are always bigger) and have a little chat with the surfers. It sounded like a plan to me, so I just hoped we would be graced with some sunshine and we set off.  The drive was beautiful, we passed through several towns with plenty of children playing together outside their homes, lots of animals and few other vehicles on the roads. The only downside were apart the punishing motorway tolls at an average of 10 soles combined with the petrol prices similar to Chile which were beginning to eat into our budget. Note: Peruvian petrol prices aren’t that cheap and if you’re further up the altitude will get through your petrol much quicker than lower down.

I had no idea that Lobitos and surrounding areas are petrol fields which means it is a gated community with what seemed like an assault course-come-maze to arrive at the beach with hundred of pipes twisting their way over the terrain and up and over the hills. We arrived at the guarded barrier to enter the area and I thought we would be turned away, but instead we were given (what seemed like) straight forward directions. After driving through the assault course after dusk and luckily catching glimpses of sign posts to Lobitos, we arrived about half an hour later (Rulo just said to me it was five, it wasn’t) to the little town and drove directly to the beach to look for a little spot to park up and sleep, which I was more than happy to do. When we arrived next to the little pier, Rulo decided to pop into the nearest hostel, Los Muelles Surf Camp which is a previous British military base in a huge wooden derelict looking building. When he came back out, he told me that he’d agreed on 10 soles to use the bathroom and park our van inside the gates. Even though it seemed like a tranquil place, you can never be too sure. The bathroom and toilets were very basic and quite smelly as the hostel serves more as a campsite with a roof. There is also a communal kitchen, a breakfast menu and non stop music accompanying the surfers relaxing in their hammocks. It’s a very basic hostel which does the job; a roof over your head, a shower and a view of the waves.

I was so happy to be spending our first night in the van, at last we were truly roughing it and we were nice and tired so ready for some shut eye. Unfortunately, our positivity couldn’t make the mattress comfier and we ended up having quite a bad sleep, not only was it cold from us leaving the front windows down ever so slightly to let in some fresh air, they also served as an invitation to an open bar for any mosquitoes passing through the area. I managed to sleep for two hours straight in the morning after my partner in crime had given up all the tossing and turning and gone to have breakfast with the hostel cat. When I finally got up, we walked the eighty or so metres to the beach, had a little lazy picnic and watched the surfers riding the waves whilst soaking up some vitamin D. At times like that, I really don’t mind if I’ve slept well or not, I was just happy to be lying on a sunny beach.

Chill factor on the beach: máximo

Chill factor on the beach: máximo

Rulo spying on the waves

Rulo spying on the waves

The surfers ranged from a boy of about 8 years to a more mature gentleman of about 60

The surfers ranged from a boy of about 8 years to a more mature gentleman of about 60

Los Muelles Surf Camp

Los Muelles Surf Camp

Inside the surf camp, lots of space for down time.

Inside the surf camp, lots of space for down time.

 

One of the old houses which now serves as a surf hostel

One of the old houses which now serves as a surf hostel

 

Driving out of Lobitos was an interesting experience for two reasons; first of all we were able to take in the beautiful old wooden houses which now serve as very basic spacious hostels for the many surfers and body boarders. I can only imagine what they looked like in their hey day and while it is a shame they were abandoned at one point, at least they are being used for something nowadays. Also, whilst the signposts to arrive to Lobitos were nice and helpful, there wasn’t a single one to exit the complex and get back on to the Panamericana. We ended up driving around for about an hour trying to find a way out. After many experiences over my trips on this side of the world, one of the things that I have realised is that many South Americans like to be helpful with directions and tell you which way to go, even of they don’t know. Brazilians for example, can just stick to being vague and wave their hand in a general direction. Chileans and Peruvians will tell you in a very informative tone where you need to go, even if they have absolutely no idea. So we went every which way until a security guard rode over on his motorbike and offered to escort us out…he led us for about three minutes and we still ended up getting lost. About half an hour later, we were back on the Panamericana and heading for some beautiful sunshine in Máncora.

After about ten minutes, the pipes begin to look the same.

After about ten minutes, the pipes begin to look the same.

If you’re not a surfer, Lobitos isn’t a must see but if you like adventure and need a stop off, it is a nice little quiet spot. I’ve called it a lost city because I can imagine that years back there was a lot more going on there because of the petrol, now it is much more chilled although you can see the functioning petrol platforms in the distance.

Next stop: Sunny sunny Mancora.


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Chilling in chilly Huanchaco

After our unexpectedly fast paced trip to Lima, we were ready to be back in a beachy town and relaxing after a long drive. So we headed northwest to Huanchaco, a town known for it’s surf and waves to breathe in some pure fresh air and wander about the beach.

We arrived at night time and drove through Trujillo after seeing a campsite called Naylamp based there on the Internet, with the map showing its location in the centre of the city. When we began to ask directions people looked at me as if I were a crazy lady and I realised that just perhaps the map was incorrect- the campsite turned out to be in Huanchaco, the town after Trujillo.

The streets in Trujillo were more or less deserted because Peru were playing a friendly against Ecuador, so we cruised on to Huanchaco to find our campsite. We arrived at Naylamp which appeared in fact to be a hostel with the camping unavailable during the low season. Rooms were 40 soles with a private bathroom and no kitchen access. Not convinced, we decided to try somewhere else so drove around the corner and found Huanchaco Gardens which was advertising itself as a campsite and hostel. Again, when we asked about camping, the owner hastily told us (he was watching the end of the game) that he preferred that we didn’t camp because we would mess up the grass with our van, but could offer us a room for 50 soles. I asked about a kitchen and he said it was 60, but being the crafty traveller that I am, I knew he wanted to go back upstairs as soon as possible so pleaded with him for 50 soles for the room with the kitchen. He said yes and flew back up the stairs to watch the final minutes of the game (Peru won 1-0).

The room was lovely with a little camping stove, a table and chairs and a few cooking utensils. The shower was ok with lukewarm water, but the bed was an absolute dream (seriously, no pun intended), it was huge and comfy and had lots of blankets. The pillows were really nice and after making ourselves something to eat, we had a good night’s sleep.

The two beds in our room, a large double and a single

The two beds in our room, a large double and a single

The next day we explored a bit and went to the market to find some food. It’s quite small and there are fewer options than in other places we had been to, but coming from the corner we could hear a little lady’s voice telling some locals about the menu she was offering. Bingo, we went over to meet Tia Juanita.

The little market in Huanchaco which shuts around 4pm

The little market in Huanchaco which shuts around 4pm

The little lady was offering a yummy soup with vegetables and pasta and the standard veggie option of fried fish with rice, salad and beans with a glass of juice for a bargain 4 soles per person/94 pence. She was an absolute sweetheart and spoke to everyone that walked past whether they were local or not. She told us proudly that she’d moved Huanchaco with her seven children thirty five years ago, when she began to work in her little kitchen and that she likes Chileans because a few of her children had moved there and were enjoying being there. We also bought some veggies and fruit including spinach, tomatoes, passion fruit and lemons to take home with us.

Getting a candid shot of the little lady standing still was not easy

Getting a candid shot of the little lady standing still was not easy

Rulo and I well fed and Tia Juanita. What a little star.

Rulo and I well fed and Tia Juanita. What a little star.

Unless you’re a surfer, there isn’t much to do in Huanchaco during the low season (although we did see quite a few foreigners) and the temperatures are far too low to sunbathe. I met a lovely couple a few days ago from Washington D.C who said that Chan Chan, the ruins of a Pre-Columbian city 5 km from Trujillo are an absolute must see because they have been so well preserved due to recent excavations i.e. that will soon change now they have been opened up.

Services included in the Huanchaco Gardens hostel and ‘campsite’;

The hug double bed with comfy pillows

The camping stove and kitchen utensils

Wifi that reached as far as the kitchen

Warmish water in the shower

Parking

And this little guy

Jonny! When he heard that I was writing a blog, he asked to be featured so he could have more luck with the ladies. You're welcome Jonny.

Jonny! When he heard that I was writing a blog, he asked to be featured so he could have more luck with the ladies. You’re welcome Jonny.

Next stop: Lobitos, a surfing ghost town


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I can’t make up my mind about Lima…

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.

Traffic, traffic, traffic.

Traffic, traffic, traffic.

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.

How others choose to get around Lima's city centre (!).

One of the alternative methods to get around Lima’s city centre (!).

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.

Football memorabilia all over the shop

Football memorabilia all over the shop, and of course, very interesting conversation

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.

Sandwich number 1, grilled chicken breast with homemade extra skinny teeny wheeny fries and about 6 sauces thrown in for good measure. Amazing.

Sandwich number 1, grilled chicken breast with homemade extra skinny teeny wheeny fries and about 6 sauces thrown in for good measure. Amazing and off the top of my head about 6-7 soles/1.60 gbp

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.

Us with the man himself! He looks solemn but I think that's just his camera face.

Us with the man himself! He looks solemn but I think that’s just his camera face. When we asked for a photo, he rummaged around to find something from Chile.

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.

6 soles/1.40 gbp. In your face Tesco lunch deal!

6 soles/1.40 gbp. In your face Tesco lunch deal!

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.

The latest addition to our travelling kit: a mini cooler picked up in China Town.

The latest addition to our travelling kit: a mini cooler picked up in China Town.

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.

"Esta no es una jaula vacia, es un pajaro libre" This is not an empty cage but a free bird.

“Esta no es una jaula vacia, es un pajaro libre” This is not an empty cage but a free bird.


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Paracas and it’s penguins

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.

Our little cabin, with Rulo being organised (as usual).

Our little cabin, with Rulo being organised (as usual).

The living area and entrance to Hostal Backpackers

The living area and entrance to Hostal Backpackers

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.

El Candelabro

El Candelabro

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.

This little lady posed up a storm for us.

This little lady posed up a storm for us.

The little Humboldt penguins having a meeting

The little Humboldt penguins having a meeting

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).