when in spain..

Travelling, sometimes you can’t help but notice something and think.. hmm, well that wouldn’t fly back home.

In Peru, for example, it seems to still be a ‘thing’ to use pay phones. In the states, we would be like “Girrrrrrl, where yo’ cell phone at?” Ain’t nobody got time to call collect.

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Kidding, we would probably be like, “Ma’am, can you please keep your alpaca off the sidewalk?”

*I am not an idiot, nor completely insensitive to the economic differences between Peru and the United States that are probably why this woman isn’t using a personal mobile device, so if for some reason you’re offended, stop it.

We might also bat an eye or twelve if we saw this back in good old California.

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Just kidding, thats a really cool outfit Dad.

Seriously though, in California this would be met with all kinds of police intervention. (Unless you’re in SF Mission district after a Giants win, in which case they would make an attempt to control it and then probably give up after being hit in the head with a beer bottle. Or they might just decide to ghost ride the police whip <– way better idea)

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Bonfires and fireworks in the streets, not a regulation or fire extinguisher to be found. Just another New Year’s celebration in Quito, Ecuador. This was a residential neighborhood, for the record.

Over the last few months in Spain, I’ve definitely noticed some differences in what is culturally acceptable here versus back in California, and have gathered my well- researched data here for you to peruse. (by well researched I mean not researched and by data I mean I saw it and went, “huh!” and then typed it into the notes section on my phone… I am very scientific)

  • Want to eat breakfast in a bar on a Tuesday morning? Go for it. You will not be considered an alcoholic and shunned by your family (I was going to say peers, but if they’re your peers they might be alcoholics too). Many bars in Spain open for breakfast an serve coffee, pastries, sandwiches and juice without a side of judgment. It is completely normal to suggest breakfast at the same bar you had 12 Estrellas at the night before.
  • Sidewalks are not just for walking, people. They are also great places to park your motorcycle. I distinctly remember a friend of mine in San Francisco either having his moped towed or ticketed because it was found on the sidewalk. In Spain, the sidewalk basically exists as a parking lot for mopeds, scooters and motorcycles. Sure, we have some signposted spaces on the street, but it is SO much more convenient (and fun!) to chase people out of the way in order to park, reminiscent of Schwarzenegger in Eraser, gunning it on a crotchrocket down the middle of a crowded sidewalk.
  • Apartment buildings are pretty misleading. When I moved here, I was technically living on what was called the “3rd floor”… which was actually 5 floors up. Now, I am living in what is called the “altell” apartment, and I literally have no clue what that means. It should be the first floor, but in between me and the actual first floor we have “Principal” (main)  and “Entresuelo” (literally, between floors). I tried to walk up to the roof the other day, under the misconception that my whole building has 5 floors (as indicated by the mailboxes AND the buzzers at the front door)… FALSE MY FRIENDS. Eight floors up, I finally found the door to heaven. It’s populated by a Shit-Tzu that really likes to let you know he’s here to stay and is not shutting up about it.
  • Spanish culture is very much a culture of the night. Dinner is eaten anywhere between 9pm and 11 pm, and if you want a cup of coffee in this city at 7 am, that literally might not be a possibility. Even grocery stores don’t open until 9 am. On weekends, you might head to the clubs at 3 am, and I attended a concert the other night at which the doors didn’t even open until after 1. I shared the Californian bar/club opening hours and alcohol restrictions with someone from Spain the other day and they almost didn’t believe me…. I mean, how are we supposed to be drinking at the bars at 10 pm if thats still right in the middle of dinner time?
  • One of my personal favorite differences between California and Spain is that its very common here to refer to people as “guapo” (boys) or “guapa” (girls), a word that means either pretty or handsome, depending on who it’s directed at. Especially on days when I’m not feeling so hot, it feels really good when the olive lady tells me I’m pretty, even if she probably doesn’t mean it like that. It does get a little confusing though when people that are theoretically within the realms of sexual possibility use it though.. DO YOU ACTUALLY THINK I’M PRETTY OR ARE YOU JUST BEING POLITE? (and this is why girls get crazy).
  • Personal space is also a little less well-defined in Spain. Literally, the first thing you do when you meet a new person is kiss them, and the ‘casual touch’ is actually just a casual touch (sometimes a touch is just a touch guys). This is not a complaint in any way, for the record, but for us expats its a little strange to be sitting on a bench with plenty of space around you and have someone you’ve never seen before come up and literally sit right next to you or walk so close that they actually touch your body. Honestly, though, its actually super weird when someone tries to shake my hand these days.. like, ew, I could get Ebola from touching that. Now kiss me, goddammit!

Now, I am sure that someone might read this and take offense, but I’m totally cool with that. I actually hope someone trolls me. If I am offensive enough to have haters, that must mean I’m doing something right. The fact is, I am not sharing any of these observations because I have any issue with them… although it would be awesome to be able to have a killer night out AND be in bed by 3 am. In the meantime, I’ll just be here basking in the afterglow of my latest interaction with the olive lady… she’s started to use superlatives (today I was guapisima!)

where i stayed- Peru

i left Peru for last and longest on this trip for a couple reasons- one, it was the farthest south (so, ya know, geographically speaking it just ‘worked’). two, it was the largest. three, Peru is arguably the ‘touristy-est’ of the three countries visited on this trip, and thus everyone has a strong opinion about what I ‘had’ to do while I was there (the list got long). I couldn’t pick between the recommendations, so I just took them all. And 5.5 weeks, 10 hostels, way too many bus rides and a whole lot of listening to other people’s snoring later, I am ready to provide you with a (somewhat) reliable idea of where you should stay in Peru.

you could always stay here… i didnt. seemed risky.

you could always stay here… i didnt. seemed risky.

It was super hard to leave Cuenca (the last city I visited in Ecuador)- I met some amazing people, hung out with my adventure buddy Val, made some great new friends, and ate more pan de yuca con yogur than I could have ever thought possible. So one sad Friday night, against strongly worded arguments that I should stay, I hopped on a bus to Mancora, Peru.

***side note: if you do this trip, DO NOT LOSE the tiny piece of paper that is your immigration card- they will give it to you at the border, and you may assume that since it isn’t stapled into your passport -like I assume all important documents should be- that you can just forget about it. yeah.. don’t.***

  • Mancora: some of you may have read my post on Montanita vs. Mancora  a while back- the hostel I stayed in definitely played a part in my deciding that Montañita won that debate. Kokopelli Mancora had nice enough amenities- the shower was hot (though about as forceful as a teeny tiny dehydrated baby peeing ever so softly on your head), the beds were comfortable, the internet kind of almost worked, and there was coffee and eggs for breakfast. All sounds good on paper, right? Well, in reality, the staff were mostly volunteers who were only interested in what kind of drink was being offered at happy hour, and the eggs had been cooked into a grayish, blobby mess of dry play doh. All jokes and mean jabs aside though, the hostel itself is in a great location (pretty much across the street from the beach), they have a pool, fun bar area (albeit totally disinterested bartenders), and cheap drinks, and if you stay in more than one Kokopelli location across Peru (there are 4), they’ll give you a little discount. (approx. $11/night with breakfast)
the beach at Mancora

the beach at Mancora, just as crowded as Montañita, but WAY tinier

  • Huanchaco: after escaping Mancora, I was ready for something a little mellower. I had heard rave reviews of the mellow beach town of Huanchaco, about 12 km outside of Trujillo (Peru’s 3rd largest city) and was ready to relax a little after the overstimulation of Mancora. We stayed at Surf Hostal Meri, a bright, sunny space with probably the best breakfast I ate during the whole trip (unfortunately not included in the price of the room, but totally worth it) just across the street from the ocean. Huanchaco is a great place to go hang out for a few days- the beach isn’t as clean as Mancora, but the mellow atmosphere totally makes up for it. After a traumatizing surf experience in Montañita, I wasn’t up for it again, but Huanchaco has some great surf if you can handle the strong current, and the hostel offers pretty much any type of board you can offer as well as cheap-as-hell lessons. In fact, I would have stayed here for longer, but I was rushing to get to and through treks in Huaraz before meeting my Dad in Lima for his birthday! (approx. $9/night)
I actually took a photo of the hostel!! go me!

I actually took a photo of the hostel!! go me!

sunset in Huanchaco- across the street from Surf Hostel Meri

sunset in Huanchaco- across the street from Surf Hostel Meri

 

  • Huaraz: Huaraz was one out of only 2 places in all of Peru where I didn’t stay in a hostel recommended to me by someone else- I found Hostal Alpes Huaraz on Hostelworld, and I figured that I could always find a new one if it didn’t work out! Luckily, my powers of online hostel review analysis prevailed, and it was great. I arrived at 6 am on an overnight bus from Trujillo, and the hostel owner (its family run- the owner will check you in in the middle of the night, his wife will get you breakfast, and their son will sell you a tour) immediately let me into my dorm room (a lot of hostels make you wait until ‘check in time’ to enter your room- SUCKS when you get off a 10 hour bus ride only to be told, yeah, you can hang out on the couch for the next 6 hours). Since it was low season when I was in Huaraz (most travelers head there as a jumping off point for trekking, and there are usually heavy rains through the end of February), the hostel was only about half-full, and I ended up having my own room for 3 out of the 4 nights I stayed there. The spot is located a bit outside of the city center, but at $7 a night, you can suck it up and walk a few extra blocks. I would definitely recommend this place-it is quiet, but not TOO quiet (always someone to talk to) and you can book tours through them too, although I would recommend going straight through the tour operator to avoid any mis-communication. ($7/night for a dorm and breakfast)
view from Alpes Huaraz's rooftop

view from Alpes Huaraz’s rooftop

i had to.. another beautiful photo from the Santa Cruz trek

i had to.. another beautiful photo from the Santa Cruz trek

 

  • Lima: instead of heading towards the ever-trendy Miraflores, I opted to stay in Barranco, Miraflores’s mellower, more bohemian neighbor. I got a great recommendation from one of the girls on my Santa Cruz trek to go stay at Kaminu, a converted family home right in the middle of Barranco’s happening Bajada de Baños. The hostel itself is pretty small- the first time I stayed there (they have since added another room for 4) there were 18 beds. For backpackers accustomed to giant party hostels with people coming out of the walls, this might seem a little too cozy, but I loved it. So much so, in fact, that I stayed there again (and brought 5 people with me)  when I headed back to Lima to wrap up my trip. Definitely not a party hostel, but the beds are great, the morning juice is ice-cold, and the employees are all super colorful characters, not to mention super helpful with things like booking bus tickets and giving recommendations of places to eat and hang out in Lima. Not to mention, they offered me a job the second time I stayed there- which I totally would have taken had my flight not been leaving in less than 24 hours! (approx $10/night for 10 bed dorm with breakfast)

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main square in Barranco, Lima

  • Paracas: Paracas was my little taste of  “what traveling is like when you aren’t trying to live as cheaply as possible.” Thanks Dad, for making it possible for me to have a pisco sour every night and stuff my face with ceviche. We stayed at Hotel Mar Azul, a mid-range hotel in the middle of the tiny tourist oasis that is Paracas. The highlight of this place was the rooftop where we ate our meager breakfast- other than that, this place had zero redeeming qualities. No ambiance, internet didn’t work, and the shower temperatures were spotty at best. After hanging out at the Kokopelli Paracas bar our second night, we agreed that we should have stayed there! Long story short, eff hotels, viva la hostel! (approx. $40/night for breakfast and private double room)
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view from the hotel rooftop balcony- its only redeeming feature

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islas ballestas- one of the main (and only) reasons people head to Paracas

  • Ica: Another unremarkable hostel stay. We spent a night in Ica Wasi Hospedaje, a decent enough, yet pretty much uneventful spot about 8 blocks from the Plaza Mayor of Ica. Ica isn’t really a travel destination in itself, and although I did enjoy the city-unpretentious and very much just a big city- the only sign that tourism is a big part of the economy is a few travel agencies in the main Plaza. Honestly, I was pretty neutral about this place in general, but it was pretty funny explaining to the hostel owners why my dad and I were not going to share a bed. (not actually sure how much it was- I think $18/night for a private room?)
Ica- Plaza de Armas

Ica- Plaza de Armas

  • Huacachina: Although a bunch of people recommended Desert Nights hostel, they didn’t have private rooms available, and I didn’t want to submit my aged (but still in great shape, no walker needed yet!) father to sharing a room with a bunch of degenerates for his birthday, so we booked beds at Bananas Hostel. Huacachina in general is a bit expensive- it is literally a desert oasis and tourist destination for both locals and international travelers, so budget a bit more for this destination than others. There are limited eating and sleeping locales, but it is close enough to Ica for a day trip if you’re on a tight budget. Don’t expect too much luxury though- when we arrived there was no water, and we weren’t able to shower or flush the toilet for 2 days. I can’t say I slept too well here either- the revolving fan in the 4 bed dorm emitted a high pitched squeaking noise every time it turned and one of my roommates snored like he was about to die, so in the middle of the night I took my blanket and pillow and made a bed on one of the couches in the courtyard. Bananas wasn’t bad though- the staff are nice, the food is great (and not too expensive) and they offer great dune buggy tours in the evenings (seriously SO MUCH FUN). (approx. $12/night for a 4 bed dorm)
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Huacachina, from the top of the tallest dune

  • Arequipa: When I first arrived in Huaraz, I met an Australian guy who had spent the last 6 months working as a bar manager at Wild Rover Hostel in Arequipa. Although my natural tendency is to steer clear of any hostel with the reputation of a ‘party hostel’ (and Wild Rover has one of the worst reputations of them all) I took his recommendation and booked a bed there. Yes, Wild Rover is pretty much party-party all the time- you will see the first beers cracked around 9 am, and any night of the week you can expect people dancing on the bar and returning to their beds towards dawn, but the beds are SO comfy, the hostel itself is super safe, the people I met were amazing, and its in a central location only 2 blocks from the main Plaza. I definitely think – as mentioned in previous posts- that the people you meet have a great impact on how you feel about a place, and this was no exception. There was no air of clique-y-ness at all here; everyone had a smile for everyone else, and I got to hang out with some great existing travel buddies as well as meet some new favorites!
the pool at Wild Rover

the pool at Wild Rover

  • Chivay: this only gets an honorable mention, because not a single one of us can remember the name of the hostel we stayed in!
  • Oasis de Sangalle, Colca Canyon: again, can’t remember the name of where we stayed, but it had a pool, little cabanas, and delicious meals- check out my post on the Colca Canyon for more info.
our room in Oasis

our room in Oasis- one of the best sleeps of my life

  • Cusco: the day I got to Arequipa, someone planted this idea in my head that I was going to go to Cusco, rent a car, and drive into the jungle. The second two things didn’t exactly happen. The first one did. I arrived in Cusco with two Argentinian friends, no hostel booking, and the goal of finding the cheapest place possible. We didn’t end up staying in the cheapest option, but we did find a decent place (Sumayaq) for about $6 a night. While basic, it was clean, the beds were comfortable, and they had a kitchen (that for some odd reason you were only allowed to use once a day), but it was lacking feeling- whether it was the fact that there just weren’t a lot of people staying there, or that the guy running the place was kind of a dick, I’m not sure, but either way I packed my stuff up after one night and headed for somewhere a little livelier. Although I wasn’t exactly smitten with Kokopelli Mancora, I decided to give the chain another try and moved into Kokopelli Cusco. This Kokopelli seemed to be what you would call a bit of a tighter ship- the people at the front desk were super friendly and organized, the breakfast was delicious (fluffy scrambled eggs), and the bar was the best kind of shitshow. And of course, it helped that I met some amazing new friends (as well as got to spend more time with friends from Arequipa!). I would highly recommend Kokopelli Cusco- yes, you can find cheaper and quieter places to rest your head, but I bet you can’t find hotter showers with better water pressure, super friendly volunteers and staff, and more beanbags that kindergarten.
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Kokopelli bar

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the hostel is plastered with cool art like this

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courtyard- view from the second floor

  • Back to Lima: if it ain’t broke, why fix it. My second time in Lima, I went right back to Kaminu without even thinking twice about it.
Bajada de Baños (where Kaminu is located) at night

Bajada de Baños (where Kaminu is located) at night

The next place I slept was on my Jetblue flight home, but I didn’t take a picture of that, and wouldn’t recommend it if you’re over 5 feet tall. I gotta say though, kudos to Jetblue for figuring out how to maximize the hell out of your floor plan- anyone larger than me must be absolutely effing miserable on these flights. My tiny legs were a-ok though.

Although I’m back and losing my tan more rapidly than I gained it, I am going to milk this trip for as many blog posts as I possibly can- keep an eye out for my take on llama treatment in the Andes, why I bought a fake alpaca sweater, and how to make people from other countries stop talking to you. Kidding, I won’t write about any of those things. Back to the drawing board for some better ideas.

A week in Cusco. Or, the time I didn’t go to Macchu Picchu.

my favorite little park in the San Blas neighborhood

my favorite little park in the San Blas neighborhood in Cusco

After my adventures in the Colca Canyon, I was sort of at a loss for what to do next.  My ‘plan’ was to stay the hell away from, arguably, Peru’s most touristy destination (apart from Macchu Picchu itself). However, after very little convincing, I ended up there anyways. I figured, if I’m on the backpacker trail, I might as well gringo the hell up.

A little bit of background on why I didn’t even really consider going to Macchu Picchu. In 2008 my dad booked a whirlwind 2 week tour of northern Bolivia and southern Peru, which included all of the ‘typical’ sights you would expect from any responsible tourist’s visit of these areas- La Paz, Lake Titicaca, and of course, Macchu Picchu. I figured there really wasn’t any point in double checking anything off my bucket list, so I headed to Cusco with no plan at all.

see! i was there! (photo taken Sept 2008)

see! i was there! (photo taken Sept 2008)

So if I didn’t go there to do the one thing that everyone goes there for, what the hell did I do for almost a week?

A lot of this,

visit # 4 or 5 to Green Point vegan restaurant, home of the $3.50 4-course lunch

visit # 4 or 5 to Green Point vegan restaurant, home of the $3.50 4-course lunch

this,

waaayyyy too much time spent in the Kokopelli Cusco bar

waaayyyy too much time spent in the Kokopelli Cusco bar

this

sneak reading/internetting photo. for evidence.

sneak reading/internetting photo. for evidence.

and a little bit of this

getting our mise-en-place ready (yeah, i watch top chef)

getting our mise-en-place ready (yeah, i watch top chef)

action shot, mid pisco-sour mixing

action shot, mid pisco-sour mixing

Yup, Cusco is full of backpackers, tourists, and more souvenir shops than you can wrap your head around, but all of this makes it pretty conducive to a bunch of 20 somethings looking to do a lot of nothing in particular. On any given day, you can take your pick of day trips, tours, classes and all types of sightseeing (dying to take a photo of an adorable little girl and her pet llama? If you’ve got soles to spare, you can make it happen.)

i thought i was SO sneaky taking this picture, but she immediately hung up the phone and demanded money.

i thought i was SO sneaky taking this picture, but she immediately hung up the phone and demanded money.

One of the highlights of Cusco was definitely my cooking class, at a new location conveniently and quite literally named “Peruvian Cooking Class.” (I guess they really didn’t want to confuse anyone about the type of service offered.) For just 80 soles (a little under $30) I set off on a 4 hour culinary adventure culminating in way more food than I could stuff in my face.

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apparently, in peru, if you cannot hand-whip an egg white into peaks, you are not ready to get married. if thats what it takes, i may never be ready

first course, quinoa soup and pisco sour

first course, crema de quinua con pisco sour

second course, stuffed peppers, potatoes, yucca

second course, rocoto relleno con papa y yuca

third course, arroz con leche

third course, arroz con leche

Want some of this deliciousness? Buy me ingredients and I may just show you my mad skills. Hopefully next time I will remember that touching peppers then my face is a bad call. You live and you learn, right?

So just when I thought I had had enough and was ready to head back to Lima for some beach time before my departure back to (my) reality, someone else’s reality threw a wrench in my plans. The city of Cusco (well, the people) decided I (and everyone else, I’m not that special) was not getting out that easy. Transportation strikes shut down most of the city for the greater part of two days. Background: Due to some false promises made by the president during his campaign (surprise, politicians lie everywhere!) the people struck back by shutting down all transport and most business in the region.

the beginning- strikers heading to Plaze de Armas

the beginning- strikers heading to Plaze de Armas

Plaza de Armas, day 1 of the strike

Plaza de Armas, day 1 of the strike

I wouldn’t lie to you, for us gringos it was a lovely two days in which we spent as much time as possible walking in the middle of the street and enjoying the lack of constantly beeping car horns, although the many hardworking locals that lost 2 days of wages and spent valuable time participating in the strike would probably not agree. For some information that is a bit more well informed than what I can offer, check this out: Cusco news  (Note: These pieces are clearly written with a heavy bias towards the government- speaking to taxi drivers and local hostel employees in Cusco, it definitely seems like a grassroots movement that was well-intentioned albeit not very fruitful- also keep in mind my knowledge of Peruvian politics is limited at best)

Politics aside (I am way too under qualified and under informed to report on them), we managed to escape Cusco on Thursday (3 days later than planned) and enjoyed a lovely 21 hour bus ride to the great city of Lima.

all fun and games until hour 5 or so

all fun and games until hour 5 or so

Fast-forward three days, and I am on a plane hunched over my computer in the middle of the night, typing this post and wondering why I can’t sleep, am addicted to free snacks, and if my personal strike against reality will have changed anything in my world.

last Peruvian sunset

last Peruvian sunset

Don’t worry! Just because I’m back in the states doesn’t mean that this is the last travel post you’ll read in the near future.. I have some fun ones up my sleeve 🙂

desert, dune buggies and a visit from dad

in real life (ie. not what I’m living right now), we all have our slumps and grooves- days or weeks on end in which you feel like you’re totally killing it or just can’t seem to get your shoes on the right feet. traveling, as different as it is, offers the same ups and downs.

Paracas from the balcony of a REAL hotel. which was way less awesome than i expected it to be

Paracas from the balcony of a REAL hotel. which was way less awesome than i expected it to be

I’m not the type to post Facebook statuses or write a blog entry every time I have a sleepless night on a bus, get woken up at 5 am by rowdy teenagers coming back in from the bars, or feel a little lonely, because thats just not my style. The reality is, though, that funks still happen in my travel-dream-world, just as they would back at home. luckily, these funks have been few and far between- one night in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, another couple hours in Huaraz, so exhausted from my trek that I couldn’t even muster the energy to find food for dinner, a day in Baños when it seemed like every traveling group i came across was a couple. over the last two months, I’ve been lucky enough to have very few bad days, and in the last few weeks it seems like I’ve really hit my stride.

up the dunes in Huacachina

up the dunes in Huacachina

so where have I been since my Huaraz/Santa Cruz adventure?

for one, dad came to visit! those of you that are not familiar with this guy, he’s probably the one to blame for my wandering spirit. So when he jokingly asked if he could come join me a few weeks ago, I didn’t doubt for a second that he would actually make it, and was pretty excited about the prospect of living a non-dirtbag backpacker lifestyle for a few days. Dad got here a couple days before his birthday, and after a couple of pisco sours to celebrate his arrival, we headed south to Paracas, then to Huacachina, a destination that was on my list from day one- you’re about to see why!

drinks with dad

drinks with dad

ill let the pictures do the talking here, because i really can’t explain how much fun sand boarding and dune bugging is. you know how roller coasters are awesome? this is better.

the oasis in all its glory

the oasis in all its glory

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dad, sitting pretty before screaming his way down the dunes on a sand board

dad, sitting pretty before screaming his way down the dunes on a sand board

 

thats a whole lot of grains of sand...

thats a whole lot of grains of sand…

Huacachina was really where I really started to feel like I was hitting my stride- I met some awesome people, Dad had a great time, and I headed off to Arequipa (where I am writing this from) with a giant smile on my face.

fun with these guys...

fun with these guys…

and these guys.. can't beat juicy alpaca steaks and 2x1 pisco

and these guys.. can’t beat juicy alpaca steaks and 2×1 pisco

Tomorrow morning I’m rolling myself out of bed at the crack of dawn and heading to the Colca Canyon with a rag-tag group- 6 of us from all corners of the world. Lets see how much trouble we can cause in 3 days in the mountains…

Trekking Santa Cruz and some tips for next time

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view from the peak

so, i didn’t exactly come on this trip fully prepared, as one might say. i don’t have a pair of those funny looking zip off pants/shorts things, i don’t have a first aid kid or a money belt, and i definitely didnt pack hiking boots or rain pants. taking into consideration the amount of disdain i have for packing and my tendency to get distracted every 15 seconds or so, we’re lucky i brought socks.

check out those sweet leg warmers

check out those sweet leg warmers

regardless of the fact that i wasn’t exactly prepared gear-wise for a 3 day trek, my heart was set on doing the Santa Cruz route in Huascaran National Park. as with most of my trip so far, it was a ‘deal with it when i get there’ sort of situation. after paying my hostel for the trip and buying a pair of gloves and a beanie, i figured i could hack any kind of weather for 3 days as long as i got some good photos out of it. <- not true. it was cold as hell and i cried. mostly because of  the pounding headache i got from the altitude, but I’m sure a little was due to my cold feet as well.

the trek itself is either a 3 or 4 day trip (41 km total), and you can approach from 2 different villages- starting in the pueblo of Cashapampa (300+ people) or from the even smaller pueblo of Vaqueria (less than 30). Most treks (in the high season, when it rains WAY less) start on the Cashapampa end. We started in Vaqueria, which to me seems like the best choice- the third (and last) day of our trek was by far the most beautiful, not to mention had we done it in the opposite direction we would have started the trip with 800+ meters of climbing! <- sounds like a recipe for altitude sickness!

our little buddy in Vaqueria

our little buddy in Vaqueria

the highest point we hit was Punta Union- 4750 meters (15,584 feet) up- high enough to have to gasp for air and give us terrible headaches! luckily, our guide packed a giant bag of coca leaves and we were able to chew on those to keep altitude sickness at bay (at least for a little while). after 5 hours of climbing in dense clouds and intermittent rain, we descended into the valley, which was almost like a different world- clear skies, blue lakes, and unbelievable scenery. our 3rd day of trekking was spent hiking along the river towards Cashapampa, and then back to Huaraz!

view from Punta Union

view from Punta Union- 4750 meters up

thats our 'we dominated this' face

thats our ‘we dominated this’ face

would i recommend this trip? hell yes. would i do it again? probably- but not during the rainy season, and definitely not with the clothing/gear i brought with me!

along the river, heading towards Cashapampa

along the river, heading towards Cashapampa

—What to bring/know/consider before doing the Santa Cruz trek—

  • alpaca everything. seriously. socks, sweater, gloves, hat.. before you head out on this trek, you should own enough alpaca to cover 90% of your body. pure wool is also a good choice.
  • waterproof everything. you know all that alpaca stuff i told you to get? cover it all up with some rain gear. if you end up going during the rainy season (Dec-April) like i did, chances are it will rain. a lot. on the plus side, it is the low season for trekking, and you may just have the entire canyon to yourself (well, and a couple hundred cows)
IMG_4134

through the rain and mist up to Punta Union!

  • hiking boots. i hiked the whole thing in a pair of Nike Free running shoes. was it a good idea? no. did i look like a badass in my neon shoes, skipping happily up the mountain? probably, but i would have spent a lot less time with soaking wet feet had i worn proper hiking shoes.
  • reusable water bottle- at night, you can fill it with hot water and tuck it into your sleeping bag to keep your feet warm (this SAVED MY LIFE the second night).
  • be prepared to not change your clothes pretty much the whole time. why bother? got a few cows to impress out there in the wilderness? might as well save the burros that will be carrying all your gear a few kilos and pack super light.. don’t you know dirt keeps you warm?
yup, i wore that the whole time.

yup, i wore that the whole time.

  • check with your trekking agency to see what gear they provide- some agencies will set you up with everything from boots to headlamps, and others charge extra. as of Feb 2014, the cost for the trip should be ~$120, not including your entry into Huascaran National Park (65 soles and valid for 21 days)
  • you can do this trek on your own, but i would recommend paying for the trip- it includes all your meals, your guide, water, and a trusty burro to carry your stuff! call me a princess, but i will gladly pay a little extra to have someone make me coca tea and scrambled eggs at 5 am in the middle of nowhere.
3rd day- heading towards Cashapampa

3rd day- heading towards Cashapampa

i got back to my hostel last night completely exhausted- 9 hours of sleep later and i feel like a new person.. so new, in fact, that i am headed out on another 14km hike tomorrow! Laguna 69, see ya in the morning.

one last photo- 3rd day, about 14 km outside of Cashapampa

one last photo- 3rd day, about 14 km outside of Cashapampa

i made it to Peru and the Mancora vs. Montanita debate

Six weeks, countless bus rides, twelve cities, countless almuerzos, two border crossings and one slightly overpriced plane ticket change fee later, i made it to Peru!

apparently in mancora the police are your friend

apparently in mancora the police are your friend

i am writing this from the beloved backpacker/surfer haven of Mancora, pretty much as far north in Peru as you can get without falling over and hitting your head on the border. three days here and I’m ready to get the hell out. as far as i can tell, people either love this place or hate it- similar to the opinions i heard on Ecuador’s transient beach party town, Montañita (which i ended up staying in for over a week!).

both of them are well known for their surf and party culture, and both have a heavy influx of travelers from within south america as well as international backpackers. both boast a wide array of different lodging options at all different price ranges, as well as a ton of drinking/dining options (both local and international). the beach in each location is not necessarily anything to write home about- a strip of sand and surf, lined by bars and restaurants, and the nightlife is pretty standard- cheap drinks, loud music.

so why did i love Montañita so much, and am bored stiff in Mancora?

lets get one thing straight here- neither one offers much in the way of cultural events, history or architecture.

the main reason i stayed in Montañita so long is based on the fact that i LOVED where i was staying. my days in were spent on the beach, in a hammock, or awkwardly trying to surf on waves much bigger than my skill level can handle. nights were generally a combination of cooking, eating, watching movies and relaxing with my hostel buddies (kiwi hostel, i miss you guys!). we had a pretty varied group staying there- most of whom had either stayed at the hostel before, knew the owner, or somehow stumbled upon the location by a stroke of luck (like me!). for a town known for its level of partying, i did surprisingly very little drinking in my 8 days there- only one ‘real’ night out.

view over montanita

view over montanita

in mancora, the actual town and nightlife aren’t a whole lot different. the beach may be slightly nicer, the food options a little more varied, and the marijuana smoking slightly more subdued, but the part thats missing for me is the family atmosphere i found in kiwi hostel. i am staying at kokopelli beachpackers– a smaller, slightly mellow version of the infamous loki hostels . the vibe is a little bit of a forced party- activities are planned every day, and most of the other guests are there to get their drink and tan on. it was definitely fun, but i am ready to move on.

mancora beach

mancora beach, the deserted end

mancora beach, the non-deserted end

mancora beach, the non-deserted end

montanita: 1 mancora: 0

I’ve been thinking about this for a while- as travelers, what is it that makes us love one destination and feel just so-so about another? Quito, for example, had amazing historical sights, but it was just ‘eh’ for me as a whole experience. Cuenca, on the other hand, was one of my favorite cities so far on any of my travels- and although it has beautiful churches, they aren’t nearly as grandiose as some of the architecture we saw in Quito.

Quito

Plaza in front of the Presidential Palace in Quito

for me, it is the balance between sights, people, and experiences that can make or break a place. Mancora has really been so-so in all of these respects, but ask the guy who showed up here six months ago and hasn’t left yet and I’m sure he will disagree with me. this part of what makes travel so fascinating- whether you travel alone or with friends, loved ones or newfound buddies, each experience is so profoundly personal.

anyways, off to Trujillo tonight, then heading off to do some trekking in Huaraz!