Part 5 – Lima, conquering fears in Mancora and Ecuadorian Swings!
Even though I absolutely loved Cusco and central Peru, I was more than happy to get to the sunshine, heat, ocean and most importantly, back to sea level!
In Lima, I stayed in Miraflores, which is a newer, more well-off area of the capital city, with beautiful views of the coast, and police stationed on every corner to keep the tourists safe. My first morning I went for a super long walk along the coast to take in the coastline and salty air, and it was exactly what I needed before heading in to a walking tour of the older, downtown area.
As usual, I made friends with fellow solo/couple travellers and we arranged to meet up that night for a water light show. We met at a bus stop at what happened to be peak hour, on a boiling hot day… it was definitely not the most comfortable bus trip, with sweaty, smelly crowds of people crammed together with limited oxygen! We were definitely happy to get out of there at our stop!
The light show was incredible – it was at a big park with lots of different water features, with colourful lasers shining through some of them. The main attraction is a huge light and water show with moving holograms displaying the history and culture of Peru (including a puma running from one end to the other), and everything was timed to music. It was absolutely fantastic, and I felt like I was in Disneyworld! And what better way to end the light show than to have a pisco party!? There were about 20 stalls of free pisco tasting (all tasting the same flavours and basically the exact same drinks, but of course we had to try them all! … You can’t use the word ‘free’ and ‘alcohol’ around backpackers and not expect it!) After a few (dozen) pisco tastings, we were dancing salsa with the pisco stall holders and the locals, and ended up going back to Miraflores to continue dancing salsa until the early hours of the morning!
The rest of my time in Lima was spent further exploring the coast, relaxing and visiting the local markets, where I completely ‘splurged’ (ie. added more weight to my already too heavy backpacks!) But how could I not, when there were huge bags of chia seeds for less than a dollar, similar priced bags of nuts, bananas for 10 cents, avocados for 50cents – the list goes on!
So, now that I was snack-ready, I jumped on an overnight bus inland to Huarez, where in the early hours, I was greeted by the hostel owner and my new English friend and travel buddy, Jess, who was on the same route. We settled into the hostel and decided not to waste the day, so we jumped straight onto a day tour/hike to a glacier. The little bus trip to Pastoruri Glacier was probably the most bumpy and uncomfortable ride I have ever been on. I found myself getting thrown around and getting air off the seat for the entire ride. Thankfully, we reached our destination and began our short hike.
Yup, I was in altitude again and had seemingly lost all physical fitness! Feeling lazy, and because it was cheap, half way up I took advantage of the horses on offer and used them to gallop to the top! Once there, we saw the beautiful view of the glacier. Not quite as stunning and awesome as the glacier in Argentina, but still a nice vista.
The next day brought the real reason why we went to Huarez in the first place; to conquer Laguna 69. We set out in the early hours, on a big bus full of gringos and headed towards the National Park, which stopped at a magnificent view of Chinancocha Laguna. I was already impressed, but it had nothing on Laguna 69!
The trek took about 3 hours and was very physically demanding due to the altitude, but once we were there, it was absolutely breathtaking. I sat on a rock and just took it all in (after the obligatory photos of course!) Because the water from the laguna runs straight from a glacier, the water consistently remains at about 2 degrees Celsius, so while a few others (crazy Brasilians!) decided to go for a quick dip, I put my feet in and enjoyed the numbingly “refreshing” feel of it… for about 30 seconds.
With nothing else to do in Huarez, we took an overnight bus to check out Trujillo; a small ‘surf town’ (although the water is not swim-worthy, the coast is covered with fine, sticky, grey sand and the views certainly not appealing). So, with not much for us to do there, we headed on another overnight bus to Mancora.
Mancora is basically known as a party beach town in the north of Peru. Like in Cusco, we stayed at another Loki Hostel, except this one was like a resort! It had a pool, palm trees and the dorm buildings looked like we were in Santorini; all for about $10/night! Jess had her scuba license so she booked in for a dive and I booked to just go on the boat, with the intention of just relaxing in the sun. They had said that I could go for a snorkel, but I have always had an unreasonable fear (almost phobia) of snorkelling, so I thought it was pretty unlikely I would be leaving the boat. Well, the snorkel and dive masters were not going to let that happen! After travelling to a platform about 15 minutes out to sea, and seeing a huge sea lion jump off the platform in to the water, they made me jump in to that same water! But they were fantastic; they calmed me down and talked me through everything, and by the end of it I was snorkelling alone, diving in to caves to check out the massive puffer fish and swimming with turtles! I was on a high for the rest of the day and still feel super proud of myself just thinking about it!
After a few days of chilling by the beach and successfully conquering my snorkelling fear, it was time to cross the border (on yet another overnight bus!) to Ecuador. We travelled through the night for about 9 hours, jumped straight on a morning bus for another 6 hours, and then a local bus for 1 hour to get to a little town called Baños (Translation: Toilets!)
Similar to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, it’s basically a little tourist agency hub with a lot of adventures and day tours available from the town. While we were there, we hired a 4-wheeler buggy to visit the local waterfalls, went on a jungle day trek, visited an animal refuge, a local tribe, went rafting down a river (in a canoe that could have fallen apart at any moment!) and ate at some cheap, delicious and healthy restaurants!
My highlights were definitely the canyoning and our adventure to the ‘swing at the end of the world.’ Canyoning is basically abseiling down waterfalls. They started off small and got bigger as we went. We ended with a 40m complete drop off a cliff/waterfall, where we jumped backwards from the cliff overhang and basically just trusted that the harness and the guide would stop what would otherwise be a plummet to our deaths!!! It was epic and adrenaline-pumping! I absolutely loved it!
La Casa del Arbor is now famously known as the ‘swing at the end of the world.’ Just getting there was a gamble in itself, after receiving all different information from tour agencies, other gringos, Google and some local tips, we were left with a variety of opening times and ways of how to get there.
The next morning, we walked to a local bus stop and jumped on it. We were the only gringos amongst all the locals heading to work on the mountain. After a half hour journey of confusion and anxiety, but good views of the sunrise, we arrived at a spot where we hoped the swing could be found. We jumped out and followed some signs (all mysteriously pointing different ways!) and eventually hiked up a little hill to find the entrance. Once there, a man who was on our bus opened up the park and let us in. We ran over to the swings at the treehouse, overlooking Baños and with a view of the Tungurahua Volcano and started having an absolute ball on them! We had the entire place to ourselves for an hour and a half, with endless time for photo opportunities, breakfast in the treehouse and time to take in and enjoy the rest of the park and the views. We had definitely made the right decision by listening to the locals!
That night we spoke with others from our hostel who went where the travel agencies had suggested and paid 10 times as much to get there! They also had to wait half an hour each to get on a swing and then could only swing a couple of times, without an opportunity to really enjoy the experience. Success!!!
Quito was our next and final stop in Ecuador before heading to Colombia, and the highest capital city in the World. Jess was sick, so I met up with a German friend for breakfast (who I had met earlier in my travels) and then I went on a tour of the city. Elections were coming up that weekend, so I was lucky enough to watch an extravagant changing of the guards in the presence of the Ecuadorian President! I explored museums, saw some beautiful architecture and visited a church, the Basilica del Voto Nacional, with a magnificent view of the city.
The next morning, we wanted to go on the cable car for an even better view of the city, only to wake to a completely foggy sky. Due to time limitations, we decided to still try it in hope that it would clear up… unfortunately it ended up just being a waste of time and money.
Luckily it was all up from there, as we next visited the ‘middle of the Earth’; the equator line. The guide through the museum was really interesting, as we learnt more about the culture and ancient natives, and we did some cool experiments, such as testing the direction of water in the southern vs the northern hemispheres as it drains down a sink. I also managed to stand both upright and upside down (handstand) on both hemispheres at one time!
The museum that we visited was not the home of the original equator line; an equator line had been created, but placed in the incorrect position, so while it was still a museum called the middle of the Earth and the line remains in the incorrect place, we decided that seeing the real deal was a better option!
Our last day in Quito consisted of an early morning trip to the Cotopaxi National Park; home of the Cotopaxi Volcano; just another opportunity to prove to myself how much I dislike altitude! The hike up was great, but the top of the Volcano was closed due to poor weather, so we got up to 4,864m above sea level and enjoyed a coca tea at a refuge there. The view was not as exciting as we had anticipated, mostly due to the weather. After our tea, we walked outside to start our descent, when suddenly we could not see the volcano at all!
It started hailing like crazy on us and a storm was definitely brewing! It quickly became freezing and we struggled to get down the volcano as thunder clapped on top of us (and completely scared the crap out of me!) Once it had cleared a little bit, we finished the descent down the rocky road on mountain bikes (with absolutely no suspension!) We went to a lagoon, enjoyed some delicious food and returned to Quito, where Jess and I packed our bags and said a final goodbye to Ecuador.
Next on Alicia’s Adventures:
Cheese and Hot chocolate (together!), Coffee, Beaches and Carnaval in Colombia!