Bee Says: One thing that Peru has pegged over the rest of South America… is long-haul buses. As we slummed it on junkyard rust buckets in Venezuela and Bolivia we heard travel-talk of a wonderous glimmer of hope in our future: Cruz Del Sur. Peru´s luxury bus company where apparently there were aeroplane-style TVs on every seat, blankets, PILLOWS, food, snacks and seats that reclined into beds. After enviously hearing about them for so long, it was finally our moment to experience the joy for ourselves as we boarded the 20 hour bus from Cusco to Lima. Whilst the bus lived up to all expectations (and the movies on offer were a) in English and b) really modern releases!) unfortunately we didnt know in advance that this journey was at least half spent negotiating hairpin switchbacks on the peaks of the Andes. All I can describe it as, is being on the waltzers and never being able to get off! Safe to say the bathroom was perma-occupied and we both groaned along in our luxury seats, not even being able to manage a mouthful of our fancy dinner! In Lima there are two main districts that tourists stay: Miraflores and Barranco. We opted for Barranco as we had heard it was the “arts” area and a bit less backpacked out that Miraflores.
Any weather-homesickness was waylaid by Lima’s grey fuzzy climate. We were pleasantly suprised by Lima in alot of ways. It felt reasonably safe (although our hostel had electric fences and a 24 hour paid security guide watching it from a little hut over the road. I couldn’t decide if this was scary or reassuring. Maybe both in equal measures?), it was walkable, easy to navigate and very VERY cool. In fact, if you love Williamsburg and Berlin, you need to visit Lima soon, as Barranco particularly is the next big Hipster haven. All the usual East London trappings could be found here: coffee culture, mega music scene, red skinny jeans, Edward Scissorhands-esque hair, Liberty print nikes and generally achingly hip youths roaming about the place. We weren´t expecting it at all, and whilst it was nice to have a few home comforts (eg I didnt have to miss out on a festive Red Cup at Starbucks!) and I tried to first Pinkberry fro-yo, it was strange to be somewhere that felt so well.. like the UK or US.
Lima felt like somewhere more that you would go on holiday to, than somewhere that has much to offer from a cultural perspective. Although we did hunt out an amazing local restaruant to sample a heaving plate of Ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice & spiced with chilli). I would highly recommend the walk from Barranco to Miraflores too; it took about an hour each way but takes you along a quaint costal path and is a great way to explore the city. Our walk had an aim, and that was to go to the cinema to see Thor 2! After trekking all the way there, sadly we received the news that it was in Spanish, so although entertaining it wouldn’t have been quite as enjoyable. Nick, aka mr Marvel, took the news very hard. As a booby prize they were showing Gravity in English (with Spanish subtitles) so we hit the popcorn stand and saw that instead. It was novel to go the cinema in Peru and Gravity was showing from a proper film reel, the whirring and ticking of which you could hear over the space noises throughout! We spent a lovely last evening in a converted train carriage (that was British like us) and playing scrabble, which has a whole host of new letters in the Spanish version.
Nick Says: I didn’t expect to spend the day of our two month travel anniversary sat on the toilet with a bad bout of traveller’s diarrhoea, alternating turns on it with the similarly affected Bee. I hadn’t even had time to enjoy recovering from being ill in Cusco, so this felt particularly cruel.
We had left Lima in good spirits, getting another Cruz del Sur to the town of Trujillo, in the north of Peru. From there we strolled 5 minutes into town and hopped on a collectivo (mini-bus) to the beach town of Huanchaco, about 20 minutes away. While still grey, the weather felt a bit warmer, our hostel had a very relaxed vibe, and we were gearing up to make it to Ecuador. Due to the bus time tables we had a few days to kill, but where better to do that than on the beach? I even rewarded myself with a big beer the first night we were there, savouring the taste. Huanchaco seemed laid back, and we enjoyed taking a walk around, visiting the pier where all the locals spent Sunday fishing from it, and planned a trip to visit some pre-Inca ancient ruins nearby.
But oh dear. The next few days were not pleasant. We’ve no idea what struck us down, but it was agony. Knowing this was a bad bout, Bee heroically set off to the pharmacy to get us antibiotics (ciprofloxacin in this case, which acted quickly). All thoughts of the delicious looking chocolate cake in the hostel’s restaurant were forgotten as the absolute misery of being unwell took hold again. It was desperate stuff, and we needed to make sure we kept hydrated. Ever since I ended up in hospital in Australia not knowing my name or where I lived I’ve always had a healthy respect for the need to keep hydrated when sick abroad. Anyone travelling themselves ignores this at their peril.
A few days later, and seemingly on the mend we boarded what we hoped would be one of our last long bus journeys. This one would be an 20 hour beast to Guayaquil in Ecuador, from where we would set off to the fabled Galapagos Islands. After much toing and froing, we had decided to make the trip there. When else in our lives would we be this close to the islands? A very welcome tax return (yes, they do exist) also eased the financial concerns we had (the islands were unaffordable on our original budget) as did talking to several backpackers who had travelled the Galapagos independently, and told us you definitely didn’t need to spend thousands on the trip – you could visit very reasonably. So now we were set fair to get to the islands, and we couldn’t wait.
We also couldn’t wait to be shot of Peru. It obviously didn’t help that we’d been sick there, but Peru was definitely both mine and Bee’s least favourite place we’d been to. It’s difficult to explain, but it didn’t quite spark to life the way every other country. Travelling is very much an emotional trip as well as a sensory one, and it was hard to make the connection with Peru. Perhaps its due to the fact that its currently racing towards embracing a western way of life, and therefore felt too much like home? But then I’ve been places that are just like the UK and loved them. For me Peru felt a bit flat, and that’s to take nothing away from all the amazing things I saw there, and I absolutely adored the few days we spent in Ollantaytambo especially. I just wasn’t that sorry to leave, and I probably wouldn’t hurry to come back…
Bee Says: Finally it was time to leave our Huanchaco “prison”, but not before I had locked our keys in the room meaning I had to then break back in through the window. We caught the bus from Trujillo, right up to Guayaquil in Ecuador. If you are crossing from Peru to Ecuador, it is worth either flying or taking a decent international bus like we did, because it is a notoriously bad border crossing and it helps to be travelling with Spanish speaking locals. Whilst the stamping in and our process was easy enough, our bus was stopped four times and had its contents spilled out onto roads/car parks as suitcases and bags were searched. On our final stop, we had to get out and the bus drove through a giant x-ray machine! One nice addition to a long journey, was that spookily the couple sat in the seats in front of us happened to be the Swiss couple we had been for a meal with on the Isla Del Sol, the night we got caught in a hail storm! They are heading up to Central America next, so I’m hoping we bump into them again in Mexico.
Arriving in Guayquil we both mentioned that we felt a burst of having our travel mojo back! Nick’s already touched on our thoughts, and I felt almost relieved to leave Peru behind. Although Guayaquil is rough around the edges and a hustling bustling city, it felt exciting and welcoming and we couldn´t wait to explore. We had one day to do this, as we planned to fly out to Galapagos ASAP, but sadly… one day turned into, well, seven! Our Ecuador optimism was short lived, as at 6am the next day I woke up and my insides were on FIRE! I had surgery last year so am currently quite pain-aware. I know the pains that can be grumbled and slept off, and I know the pains that mean get-me-to-A&E, and sadly this was the latter. We had a really helpful hotel receptionist who recommended a hospital with an English speaking doctor. Within ten minutes I was in hospital, on a drip and being treated by the Ecuadorian version of Zach Braff in Scrubs, a dashing chap with perfect English who all the nurses were openly swooning over (and me, a little bit, but he was called Nick too so thats allowed… right?). The diagnosis was that the nasty infection in Peru, followed by 20 hours on a bus (where I confess, I didnt drink enough water) had left me dehydrated with intenstine cramps… as painful as they sound! I spent a day on a drip getting pumped with various different potions, and was discharged that night, with a bundle of drugs to take for the next week and instructions to REST and stick to a liquid diet for a day or so. Needing Emergency Hospital treatment in a foreign country is up there with the scariest things that can happen. I was very fortunate to be in a big city (imagine if this had happened on the Amazon boat?!) and a country with great medical care available. But, hopefully this is reassuring that it doesnt need to be the end of the world (or your trip). If you find yourself needing medical attention whilst travelling, its a good idea to get yourself to the nearest major town or city, and then to Google for the list of hospitals with English speaking staff, as this will help reduce the trauma and any mis-translation, which I suffered from briefly when the doctor doing my ultrasound got yes and no muddled and told me I had appendicitis…. then no, no I didnt. Agh. I have a whole new respect for hydration too. Travelling puts your body under a fair amount of stress, and the main thing you can do to support it is keeping drinking. And then drink some more. Rehydration sachets are also my new best friend, even if its like drinking the ocean. In general make sure you are never far from a bottle of water and that you pack a wogde of electrolytes for your trip.
There is a silver lining to everything in my world, and although I wouldnt want to repeat being poorly, it was interesting to spend a day in my own medical telenovella! I also have really enjoyed recovering in Guayaquil and spending some quality time in this wonderful city. We are staying Downtown, where the “Malecon 2000” is a renovated riverfront that London would be jealous of. Beautiful views, modern architecture and lucious gardens have been a lovely place to sit and recover (and eat ice cream under the giant Christmas tree… totally a liquid!) Our pre-sick-plan meant the only bit of Ecuador we would have seen would be the Galapagos. It will be nice to wrap up South America having really experienced mainland Ecuador too.
Nick Says: One of the unexpected benefits of having a LOT more time in Guayaquil is taking our time to explore the city, and uncover some of the little secrets that you may miss if you’re dashing through. In this case, it was Parque Simon Bolivar. A really nicely maintained city centre park, it’s elevated into greatness by the fact it’s home to a large population of giant iguanas! They’re absolutely incredible, and absolutely massive too. They roam around the place dinosaur-like, clambering over all the lawns and benches (and us as well when we got in their way). They also scale up the trees to a great height, and then seem to delight in weeing off the top. So watch out for iguana wee falling on your head. Not pleasant! I’ve also now had the privilege of seeing a pigeon sat on an iguana’s head. Beautiful.
Iguanas aside, we’ve also become devotees of Guayaquil’s favourite coffee chain, the mighty Sweet & Coffee. While the coffee’s could probably be a little better, they make up for this with a dizzying array of cakes. Whatever you fancy, they’ve got it. In fact, we’re going to celebrate writing this blog post and feeling healthy again by going to the nearest branch and ordering a mocha-frappelatte and a caramel apple cheesecake. I’ve, umm, got weight to put back on after all the sicking and pooing…
And that´s about all for now. Guayaquil has been brilliant, even if I don’t suggest you spend 7 days here. But well worth at least a few, if you’re ever in this part of the world. It even has an amazing IMAX cinema on the Malecon, which me and Bee visited last night to watch Thor 2 (finally! and in 3D!). Being as it was the original English version (not dubbed) and on at 10.15pm on a Tuesday, we were unsurprisingly the only patrons. Sat alone with our popcorn in a giant auditorium. Anyway, tomorrow we fly to the Galapagos and we are buzzing with excitement. November may have been a bit tough, but we are ready for more adventure.
Bee Says: November has been a lesson in when things go wrong! Up until this point we spent our first two months completley in control of our itinerary. We stuck to plans, we had time on our side and we probably got a little too comfortable. The reality of travelling is that things happen that you can’t control, and these seven days eating cake have thrown our budget massively off (Guayaquil accomodation, even budget stuff, is super pricey, as its basically the gateway to Galapagos) and we are now running out of time to spend in Colombia – where we had once allowed for spending a month there, we have now shrunken that down to about 10 days. But, what else can we do except suck it up and roll with the punches. We will now have to opt for flights, over our beloved epic bus journies, and slice off non-priority plans from the rest of South America. Whatever happens… I think the next two weeks in Galapagos will make the tough-stuff worthwhile.