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Humpback whales and Isla de la Plata: A Very Organised Tour and Seasickness.

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.

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Skipping Touristy Montañita for Beautiful Puerto Lopez and it’s Whales

We set off from Guayaquil at about 1pm for the two and a half hour drive to Montañita. From what we had been told by a few surfer friends from Arica, Montañita was the place to go- beaches and waves all in a chilled out town providing the opportunity to rest for a few days and explore the area. The reality, or at least how I perceived it was actually quite different and the sleepy surfer town that I was hoping for was actually really commercial and completely overrun with tourists. Yes, I understand that I am a tourist but when I see a huge sign for Texan Ribs and a restaurant serving both pizza and Thai food, it doesn’t really make me want to stay and sample the ‘local dishes’. I know there are lots of people who love Montañita but we decided to skip it and keep going to nearby Puerto Lopez, a small town famous for being a great location to go Humpback Whale spotting. Now that is my idea of a good time.

Puerto Lopez whales

Puerto Lopez whales

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The Surprises Begin in Guayaquil inc. Naughty Police Officers Making Us Pay For Lunch

On our drive from the not so charming border town of Huanquillas to Guayaquil, we were treated with some beautiful views. One of the zones that we drove through, Naranjal, is home to lots of fruit plantations, an Ecological Mangrove Reserve and landscapes of beautiful beautiful green which carries on for most of the country. It also features some rather wide motorways to support farmers and distributors deliver as soon as they can. I didn’t realise that Guayaquil was such a large city (for Ecuador’s standards) and it was Rulo who suggested we stay there. Although it’s not an action packed definite tourist destination, it’s a nice place to stop off if you’re in the area, although I can imagine it feels more exotic in the sunshine


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Just before we get stuck in to Ecuador…

So, let’s get our little tour of Ecuador started but just before I begin, may I once again stress how amazing the motorways and connections between cities are in Ecuador. If you’re thinking of touring a country in South America in your own vehicle or motorbike, Ecuador would be one of my recommendations not only for the quality of the roads but also the seriously cheap petrol prices- we were paying $1.03 per gallon of diesel.

Heading to the forest after a few days in Quito

Heading to the forest after a few days in Quito

 I ask myself why I had never been tempted to go to Ecuador before, and I still haven’t come up with a decent reason. I think since the first time that I visited Brazil I became very partial to going back, which bode well with the fact that I studied Brazilian Portuguese. In more recent years (before visiting Arica) I thought of going to Peru, possibly tempted by the recent food boom in London amongst other cities. Then came Colombia when friends began to go and came back declaring their love for it which led to me googling images of ‘Colombia beach’, yes I google beaches I am not ashamed to say, it has led to me creating many dream destinations lists. But Ecuador…it had just never occurred to me. We travelled very nearly the entire coast of the country and I absolutely fell in love with it. In certain areas there were a lot of North American tourists because of the dollar, in others there were also Europeans and in other places I didn’t see many foreigners at all. If you are thinking of or have thought of going to Ecuador, now is the time. It is cheap, a lot of attention is being paid to Colombia and Peru these days so it isn’t over run with tourists and last but certainly not least, the locals are being well educated on recycling and the environment. I was a little sad to leave but I know I shall be back.
PS One very important thing! If you go to Ecuador in dry season, be prepared to very nearly not see the sun along the coast. I didn’t know that until we got there!


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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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Oopsie, it’s been a while (back in London)

Oh wow, I am fully aware of the extent to which I have been slacking for the last few weeks. Well, I have and I haven’t, I can explain.

In the last few weeks we left Mancora to move in to Ecuador (which we loved, there is a lot to tell about our time there) and then we moved in to Colombia where we spent two days before getting our flight to London. Colombia was very eventful! I also need to pass on the details of border crossings, bureaucracy, a bit of bad luck and an incredible hostel in Bogota with equally as incredible owners. But, all in good time.

I guess I could give quite a few excuses for not being up to date and some of them include; the internet not being too great, there wasn’t enough time to go exploring and be on the internet so I chose the former and then lastly, getting back to London for some serious R&R at my parent’s house with weather that we could not have even imagined that we would be blessed with, selling the majority of my belongings on ebay (due to a mishap in Madrid airport that left us with a lot less cash). And this little one:

There he is, Bo the Brave.

There he is, Bo the Brave. I love his paws. 

who is the best company ever and has formed some sort of bromance with Rulo.

And now we’re currently in Belfast, Ireland where my Dad is from so we’ve been seeing family and exploring up to Giant’s Causeway and the Bushmills Distillery (the oldest whisky distillery in the world) and today we shall head down south and over to Wales tomorrow.

So here is a bit of what is to come:

  • Driving up to the border crossing in our vehicle to Ecuador with a hassle free cross
  • The amazing motorways all over Ecuador/ environmental awareness all over the country which we were very impressed with
  • Humpback whales and blue footed boobies in Puerto Lopez
  • Mompiche, a surfer town which sounded amazing but turned out to have a bit of a weird story
  • Altitude sickness and a great hostel in Quito
  • Mindo, our favourite place in our entire trip. Sorry Mancora, but it really was amazing
  • Our crossing into Colombia featuring pretty bad road standards (especially in comparison to Ecuador)
  • Momentous times in Colombia featuring breaking down 3000 metres up and being shafted by a 15 year old mechanic
  • A bit of Bogota
  • London, the sunniest place ever and that is not at all an exaggeration. Ok maybe a bit.
  • Ireland

I haven’t mentioned previously but I will also start to put up info on a trip we were lucky enough to do last year which involved buses, planes and boats from Chile up to and across Bolivia, across and down through Brazil (including the Amazon river and rainforest) and up through Argentina back to Chile. Now that was a trip! Amazing.

Have a good day everyone and I will be back soon!


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An unexpected start to our trip i.e. someone broke into our van

As mentioned last night, our plans had to change more or less as soon as we’d crossed the border from Arica, Chile to Tacna, Peru due to a little mishap that we would never have expected due to our familiarity with our neigbouring city.

My boyfriend, Rulo is from Arica and I had been living there for the second time for the past nine months, my mama is Chilean so I have dual citizenship and am considered Chilean over here. Going to Tacna is basically part of being from Arica, it takes about an hour to get to, the crossing is simple and it’s a great day trip, you pop over, have a delicious lunch of cebiche and seafood chaufita, a Peruvian take on Chinese stir fried rice and a juice from the market, buy whatever you need (the most popular items being toilet tissue and clothes detergent due to the difference in price, it’s quite a bit) and then you hit the road and you’re home in about an hour. Tacna is now much bigger than Arica, the amount of Chileans who spend the weekend or holidays there is huge, they even go over to celebrate Chilean Independence Day!

Giant chaufita and cebiche totalling 40 soles/ 14 USD

Giant chaufita and cebiche totalling 40 soles/ 14 USD

So we crossed the border which took a little bit longer seeing as we are taking the van out of Chile for at least six months, a bit of paper work on the Peruvian side and then we were on our way. Rulo had previously been in contact with the Peruvian consul to try and make the crossing trouble free but…they weren’t much help at all, to be honest it was a waste of time considering the amount of appointments and meetings he had to attend to which amounted to nada.

We arrived in Tacna to spend the night, buy insurance and a few last minute bits with the hope of setting off at around 3am to head over to Cuzco, settling in and setting off early the next morning for the beauty that is Machu Picchu- I had already bought the train tickets for a seven am departure but not the entrance tickets to the site. So in Tacna, we stopped off to buy some plastic bottles so as not to keep buying disposable bottles during this lengthy trip and then popped over the road to buy a few more things leaving our van parked opposite. At this point it was about 7pm and had already gotten dark. As we exited the shop, an old man stopped Rulo to say someone was looking for him, which for me was an immediate red flag so I crossed the road straightaway. Then a taxi driver who was immediately next to our van said the same, I kept walking and then I saw this

Our broken window, if you look closely you can see the hole where the steel ball hit and cracked it.

Our broken window, if you look closely you can see the hole where the steel ball hit and cracked it.

We had heard of this technique from a Bolivian friend of ours, a steel ball in a sock is used to crack the window and then they can break the window properly to unlock the door. Luckily our windows are polarised which stalled them a bit and meant that the glass didn’t shatter completely but they had managed to get the door open. They must have seen us coming and made a run for it, I assume the taxi driver was there to load things into his car. Before you think that we had left a load of stuff for everyone to see, we hadn’t, everything is stored under a wooden platform which has a mattress on top for our bed, the wood has a hinge which we can lift up like a door for easy access (thanks to Rulo’s dad who is a dab hand at carpentry). Rulo was quite upset whereas I was livid, we don’t know if it was because they saw a laundry bag inside which didn’t fit beneath or because of our Chilean number plate…but it is what it is. We drove back to the closed car park courtesy of our hotel and left our van there knowing that the next morning we would have to find a window and get it polarised.

Our home before we loaded it with six months worth of supplies including our bicycles.

Our home before we loaded it with six months worth of supplies including our bicycles and a load of vinyl.

So the next day we managed to set off at about midday with a serious drive ahead of us, eleven hours of nonstop driving minus a stop off in Moquegua to buy some avocados for our lunch which I prepared as we wound our way along the numerous curves. We drove through Puno and hit 4600 metres altitude at which point we both started to feel the lack of oxygen in the air, but the landscape and llamas along the way really do make up for it. You wonder how the Tiwanaku people lived in such harsh conditions hundreds of years ago, they really were light years ahead of western civilisations in terms of survival.

4000 metres up, at which point I gave up trying to take photos and focused on not having such a severe headache.

4000 metres up, at which point I gave up trying to take photos and focused on not having such a severe headache.

At at about 11pm we finally arrived in Cuzco, got to our hostel which we had been told had free parking…it didn’t, so we had to drive around looking for a car park which proved to be rather tough- owing to the cold all of them had shut up shop for the night. And then, a little twist of fate happened, as we were driving along with our GPS sending us God knows where, someone shouted out “Rulo!” a local DJ by the name of Jon Aragon who Rulo had brought over to Arica a few months back just happened to be walking down the road at that moment. Amazing.

I was dropped off at Hostal Casa del Inka and immediately jumped into bed smothered with blankets whilst Rulo and Jon were off finding a car park. When Rulo arrived past midnight, I knew it would be cruel to ask him to wake up in a few hours to head to Machu Picchu, the drive had completely taken it out of him and he was absolutely exhausted. Furthermore, our late arrival meant that we hadn’t been able to buy our entrance tickets, so Machu Picchu has been put on hold for now which is a real shame but I know we will back to climb Wayna Picchu and marvel at the sites built so long ago by the Incas. Good things come to those who wait.

Next up: Arriving in pricey Cuzco and matching it to our budget