Guide to Peru

Ok so firstly, I’ve written a few posts about Peru already: Cusco, Peru: The Navel of the WorldThe Orphanage (not the movie)Machu Picchu and final days in CuscoMachu Picchu: Part 2Final days in Cusco, and Lake Titicaca, although I wrote them more as blogs to update people on my progress rather than guides. I thought that because I’d spent quite a bit of time in Peru (just over 2 months) I am qualified to provide a bit of information on it, even if I haven’t travelled everywhere.   When people make the decision to ‘do’ South America, Peru, mainly because of that big town on the mountain, is generally top of their list. For this reason most places are pretty crowded with tourists young and old, long term and short term, which is fine. I’m not going to get all travel hipster on this, as you want to meet other tourists while travelling, although when we were volunteering in Cusco, living in a beat up area far away from all the tourist places, we did get a little snooty over them. Come to think of it however, most volunteers didn’t do anything touristy in there time there, and a few didn’t even do Machu Picchu! They took being a local a little too far. Anyway, every country in South America is diverse, but Peru is super diverse. From the amazon jungle surrounding northern Iquitos to the white beaches of Mancora through the vast, wealthy city of Lima down south to the desert oasis of Huacachina, Nazca lines, Colca Canyon, Incan Jewell of Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca. It has everything, but can be taken slowly or quickly, depending on your time frame and what you want to do… So lets start with

The North:

Image   Now northern Peru is vast and seems overwhelming, but isn’t, it all depends on how long you want to take going down. Now I don’t actually know this area, so what I’m going to recommend is based on what friends have told me:

Mancora Mancora has made its name in Peru for specializing in three things, sun, surfing and soirées (just wanted an excuse to keep the alliteration going. I meant parties). Located right at the tip of Peru, 85 miles from the Ecuadorian border, it’s a tourist hub and is very aware of that. Expect some great nights out, time chilling on beaches and if you’re into surfing, some great waves. Stay at Loki.  

Stock beach photo that could be anywhere in the world. Trust me, google images said it was Mancora.

Los Organos Pretty similar to Mancora but a little less well known, it will doubtlessly provide the same experiences, although apparently is a better place for first time surfers to learn, as the water’s a bit more forgiving. It is also home to Pacifico Adventures Ecoturismo, a company that allows you to head out into the ocean and view humpback whales, dolphins and other marine life in their natural habitat. Trips last about three and a half hours and tickets cost S/. 120 for adults and S/. 100 for children.

Poser

Chicama I’m merely including this for surfers. Chicama is a tiny town that also happens to have a stretch of coast line that has created the longest wave in the world, at 1.6 miles. Pretty narly.

I’m sure someone has come up with some cool Chicama pick-up lines (“That wave’s actually not even the longest thing in town ;D”)

Huanchaco A little north of the city of Trujilo, this beach town is a bit more low key than Mancora, but still has some nice beaches.

You can get photos like this too if you come to Huanchaco

Trujilo- While I’m sure this is a really charming, nice city on its own, it is also close to Northern Peru’s best Pre-Colombian (pre-European influence) archaeological monuments, Chan Chan, the largest adobe (mud-brick) city in the world and Las Huacas del sol y de la Luna (temples of the sun and moon).

Chan Chan (no influence on the can can)

Huarez- Huarez is home to the less expensive and alternative (hipster) trek to the Machu Picchu Inca trail, the Santa Cruz trek. The pictures I’ve seen of it look really awesome, and I think I’d like to do it when I come back to Peru, but here’s an article by someone who did it without a guide. I’d recommend doing an organised trek though, and through this agency http://www.huascaran-peru.com/, it seems 3 days is the minimum. If you have the time and money it looks stunning. Iquitos The best way to visit the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, Iquitos is actually the largest city in the road inaccessible by road, although to be honest, getting there from other parts of Peru or Colombia would be a week long bus ride anyway. So you either have to fly in, or get a boat (fly, it’s relatively cheap). The attraction of the city is obvious, go there to take an Amazon tour, but while there, expect certain things. First, it’ll be hot and humid all year round, with humidity averaging at 90% (that’s very humid). Second, as there are no roads, the city is dominated by motorcycles and motorcarros/rickshaw, so watch out for that. Third, as there are no roads, it’s amenities are also very basic, so don’t expect luxury here. Apart from an Amazon tour, which you can book from your hostel (although this- http://www.dawnontheamazon.com/ looks the best), maybe also check out the Amazonian Manatee (sea cow) Orphanage, and the Monkey island (included in a Dawn on the Amazon tour), but Wikitravel has some useful info on ithttp://wikitravel.org/en/Iquitos, as will lonely planet.

The South:

Image  The South is more my area of Peru. The only bit I didn’t do was the Colca Canyon, but obviously do that if you get down here (I didn’t because I was being good and working so hard at my orphanage).

Lima If you want a bit more of an in depth review of Lima, I have one here. Effectively, while it is a vast, sprawling city, its best bits, and where most tourists go, is Miraflores. An upmarket neighborhood situated on the coastal cliffs that overlook the Pacific, most of the hostels surround Kennedy Park, a large and pleasant park that usually has local music and dancing going on in the evenings, and a large wild (but not feral) cat population. Stay at Flying Dog Hostel if you want to be beside the best sandwich place in Miraflores, or Parawana for a large, well-run party hostel. There’s also some decent paragliding off one of the cliffs, and surfing below on the beaches. Try out ceviche at La Mar on Avenida La Mar. Don’t stay more than a few days though, as there’s not a huge amount to do and it was cloudy all the time I was there. Pisco/Paracas Urgh, Pisco. This complete dive of a town is where I had my passport and camera stolen, so try to spend as little time as possible there. From the bus stop it’s a 15 minute taxi to Paracas, the coastal town which offers boat tours to what Peruvians call the ‘Little Galapagos’, some rock formations that have wildlife and similar geography to the Galapagos. I did the tour and it was pretty cool, but nothing to write home about. I got a cool picture of a sea lion doing an awesome pose, but then my camera got stolen, denying the world some great photography. Go if you’ve got some spare time, and stay at Kokopelli. Ica/Huacachina Ica is similar to Pisco in that it’s effectively a gateway to something more interesting, and what a place Huacachina is. It’s really the closest thing I’ve seen to an oasis, although upon closer inspection it’s a little… artificial. However it’s not the town that makes Huacachina interesting, it’s the desert. You can book a sandboarding/dune buggy tour from your hostel (I stayed at Bananas Hostel, pretty sweet), for about 35 soles, which is about 8 pounds, and it is pure awesomeness from start to finish. The buggies are driven by local guys who evidently get a little bored of what they do, so to spice things up generally seem to drive in a way that the ride feels like a rollercoaster- slowly ascending the dunes before dropping suddenly and careering downwards. Eventually he’ll stop and give you an opportunity to attempt some sandboarding. I’ve never snowboarded so was pretty terrible, but our group quickly worked out that belly-boarding was a lot more fun, although a little painful at times. Advice: Go for the later one, I think it was 4pm, as then you get a sunset at the end. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152261352773052&set=vb.710168051&type=3&theater Link to a video of it.

Bananas Hostel

Nazca– This depends on if you enjoy seeing far off shapes in the ground. I didn’t have the money to shelve out $80 for a plane ticket to see the lines, but a friend did and gave me the pictures, which is the equivalent of actually doing it.

Cusco At last we’re on to Cusco, the place I lived and worked in for 7 weeks and where the Incans started their vast civilization (no coincidence those two are connected). As well as being the place to visit Machu Picchu from, Cusco is also full of culture and fun. During my stay there for example, there was a festival held every Sunday for 4 weeks based on water fights. As in the entire city would have one massive water fight. Like it was urban warfare with water balloons. So. Much. Fun. Plus there’s some great museums located just off the Plaza de Armas. Check out the Inka Museum, which is in need of renovation but interesting nonetheless, but probably the two best are the Museo de Arte Pre-Colombino and the Centro de Textiles Traditionales del Cusco. The Chocolate and Pisco museums are a decent way to spend some time too. In terms of archaeology, something you’d hope to see when visiting the Incan capital, Cusco is a little weak. The Spanish managed to destroy pretty much everything when they sacked the city, meaning only a walled complex remains on one of the hills above the city named Saksaywaman, part of the attraction being the fact you’ve just been to see sexy woman. HA! Eating in Cusco: If you’re in the plaza and fancy a smoothie and quick sandwich, head to Yajuu! which is pretty cheap and very tasty, with loads of interesting combinations. Two great places for hungover (or otherwise) breakfasts are Jack’s Cafe, which is great but generally has a long queue outside, and Cicciolina, which is a block away. Both aren’t too pricey and serve up top quality food. Others- Chicha, MAP Cafe, Limo, Inka Grill, Greens Vegetarian Food. If you can try out some Cuy, or Guinea Pig. Loveable animals are so much tastier.   Anyway… Drinking: Cusco is a great, great place for nightlife. Did I mention it was great? It is. Pubs- Paddy’s and Norton’s. One’s Irish, one’s English, both were great places for the volunteers to start a night out, or just play some pool and shoot some darts. Bars- Ukuku’s. Wow, we discovered this off Tripadvisor and it immediately became our favorite bar. Decorated with some interesting murals and cool lighting, it begins by playing alternative and pop music in the early evening, before eventually hosting a local band or salsa night. The quality of these varied, but we definitely had some good times in there. There’s also the Muse, a good chill out bar and salsa club on fridays and saturdays, Km 0, El Pisquerito and London Town. If you’re English just go into London town for a laugh. In terms of clubbing, there’s Inka Team and Mama Africa for some Latin infused-pop (Inka Team also does free salsa lessons from 9-11pm) and Mushroom’s (below Mama Africa’s) for electronic. In terms of a rave, The Temple is the place to be. If you’re at Wild Rover, Loki or Milhouse, you should be taken here as part of a night out. If you’re a guy, watch out for over-zealous gringo-hunters. You’ll know when you see them. Booking Machu Picchu and other activities: For the best prices and loads of travel agents, head to Calle Plateros, just off the Plaza. If you’re going to do the Jungle Trek (the one I did, unreally awesome), don’t pay more than $250, for rafting included. I had a friend get everything- rafting, ziplining, biking etc for $170, and he said it was the same experience, so try to shop around a bit. Salkantay will probably be a bit more. From Cusco you can also visit other parts of the nearby Sacred Valley. From that same street you can probably book a general tour that covers most of the sites, but if you want to pick a couple, Ollantaytambo and Pisac are the best.   Cusco will always have a place in my heart for the times I spent at the orphanage there, it’s brilliant weather and the friends I met. If you are thinking of doing some volunteering in Cusco, you can’t go far wrong with Elim, sponsored by Original Volunteers, and run by Jeremy Cuba Escobar (his name on facebook). The work they do there is simply incredibly considering some of the stories of these kids.

Final photo from Cusco on Facebook had this caption: “My final day in Cusco with the boys of Elim, an organisation that takes in children from the street, broken homes, and orphans. It is hard to put into words the job that Jeremy and Nilda are doing, with the help of people like Yeicob, but the effect is evident as soon as you step through the door. These are some of the most happy, thoughtful, and inspiring children you can find, and it´s safe to say the effect they´ve had on me has been far greater than any material gift or entertainment I could bring to them in my 6 weeks. I would recommend anyone visiting Cusco to spend some time there if possible.”

Lake Titicaca The lake is actually split 60/40 with Bolivia, and although both sides are listed by Lonely Planet as essentials to do in South America, if you were to choose one, I’d recommend Isla Del Sol on the Bolivian side. Nevertheless, I had a great experience on my 2 day tour from Puno after a nightbus from Cusco. I think I paid about 180 soles, although you can probably get it for less. Lake Titicaca is a magical place, so serene and calming, and the different cultures on each island are really interesting. Don’t miss it.

So this was my guide to Peru. I know I’ve missed out Arequipa and the Colca Canyon, but I never went there and know everyone else has raved about it, so thought it would be a little excessive to say more. Peru can be a little bit of a shock to the system if you’ve come from the West, but its variation, beauty and people will not disappoint. Enjoy.

Some solo travel truth

I’m back here at the place I started, my uncle’s house a couple of hours outside of Miami, Florida. I’ve started thinking back to those couple of days I had here before I left, 5 months ago, uncertain about whether I’d made the right choice of volunteering, scared yet excited for my coming travels, but mostly not wanting to leave the safety of somewhere familiar, known, easy.
 
This is understandable. Change is scary. The outside world is scary. It’s one thing to make a decision in a comfortable place, say at home among family, or while warm in bed, to go for a run the next day, or travel the world, but it’s another thing to follow it through. It means you have to be vulnerable. Put yourself out there. Show people the real you. And that’s scary, really scary.
 
Travelling like this tests you. The volunteering bits are relatively easy. You’re somewhere with a group of like minded people, often doing something constructive and amazing, but it’s relatively easy. When you get out there, that’s when you’re really tested. That’s when you find out what you’re made of. When you have to make friends at short notice, keep your wits about you when things seem dangerous, keep yourself company when you’re lonely. I’m not going to pretend it was all plain sailing. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes you wish it was easier. That you’d gone with your best friends and it was a party all the time. But the reality is that these tests build you up. You’re forced into closer quarters with yourself more than you ever would be in your ‘safe zone’, and you come out the other side with a greater knowledge of who you are.
 
One piece of advice often given to small business and startup owners is fail quickly and fail hard, and it applies here too. If you’re always comfortably cruising, never meet adversity, you never learn about yourself. Your faults, your insecurities. Stuff that, once you know it, can help you move onwards and upwards. Tyrion Lannister, a character in Game of Thrones, has a great quote about this: “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”
Once you find these things, these ‘weaknesses’, they no longer have as much meaning. They can no longer hurt you, unless you let them. The brain is so powerful because it controls all of this. It can help or hinder us, and when you are completely vulnerable and honest with yourself, by doing something like travelling, the nagging doubts at the back of your mind, the things that used to be deep insecurities, lose their power as the brain works them out and ousts them.
 
My time in South America was absolutely amazing. I experienced some ridiculously cool stuff too long to list, made life long friends, ate, drank, and partied, learned a language, was thrown into and adapted to new cultures, and volunteered with some children that taught me life lessons no adult could. But sometimes it sucked. You don’t get that in the facebook album, or the compilation movie, or even when you tell people about it back home, but sometimes travelling isn’t fun. Sometimes travelling solo is lonely, tiring and depressing. It can cut you to your core and make you question what you’re doing. But for all the hardships, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. This trip is part of who I am now, and always will be. Thanks for sharing it with me.
 

Cartagena

The city of Cartagena, where I flew to celebrate both my 22nd birthday and start of the Brazil World Cup, is in the Northern tip of Colombia, and is everything you’d imagine of a city that is both Caribbean and South American in flavor. White beaches, mostly Afro-Caribbean populated, and with year round temperatures that average 31 degrees and 75% humidity, the city was the perfect place to end my stay in South America.

A bit of Carta-techture. Get it? 😀

The whole reason I went to Colombia, elongating my trip by a month, was based on the recommendations of other travellers, and the reason I went to Carta was because a volunteer I had met in Cusco, an Aussie called Jade, was working there. I figured there was going to be sun, friends and it’d be a good place to party it up on my birthday, so I booked a ticket from Medellin (plane- darling I gave up using buses in Peru. So primitive) a couple of days before my birthday and set off for my final stop.

The days preceding it, and the start of the World Cup, were spent mostly finding the best bar to watch it and various items in preparation, such as an England shirt for me and 2 other English people I was with (vital importance) and some face paints. Those two English people were a couple, Nick and Eve from London (if you’re from London and travelling together that’s enough), and every morning Nick would wake up to ‘Football’s Coming Home’ by Frank Skinner and David Baddiel (Euro 96′ version). We’re talking serious supporter here. Eve secretly informed me that she was relieved she didn’t have to keep discussing football with him 24/7.

After much searching and asking around, we found a pretty good bar with air-con, lots of people (and a few Brazilians) and a big screen to watch the opening match of the World Cup in. The search for an England shirt was a lot harder however. We met one guy, who happened to speak perfect English as he used to be a dope dealer in New Orleans, called Josephus, who took us around pretty much every shirt seller in Cartagena Old Town, each one promising so much but delivering so little. Eventually Nick settled for a red one from 2013 for about 10 quid. He wasn’t happy, but as the Rolling Stones said, you can’t always get what you wa-unt.

The next day was my 22nd birthday. Hooray. In the morning we beached it up. I thought putting on factor 30 sunscreen on my arms and face would be enough, but I ended up looking like a bit of a lobster. A sexy lobster mind. I have a picture that I sent my brother that’s far too compromising to put on here, but shows much of the extent of the burn. We then had a huuuge sandwich of avocado, tuna, mayo, salad, and tomato and watched the epic Spain Netherlands game, where the Netherlands put 5 past the World Champions. After this was the Australia Chile game, and as Jade was on shift, we decided to stay at the hostel, and felt her paid as the Aussies fought bravely but fell to the impressive Chilean organisation and lost 3-1. Then came some prinking (pre-drinking) of some tasty rum and coke (o cola) while we waited for another friend from Cusco, a Belgian named Pierre (top guy) and some of his friends to arrive from Medellin. Out in the outdoors seating area of the hostel I was then given a birthday cupcake, completely unexpected, and sung happy birthday to. Maybe you don’t care about this but it’s the little things that make stuff like this, and even now, a week later, I’m still smiling while I remember it.

Great sandwich. This is the stuff you come to this blog for.

The night out consisted of a trip to a salsa bar, where I was offered coke (caine) by a dwarf, we saw some pretty unconvincing transvestites and split off. Most of the Belgians went off with another group, so we went into town to look for a club. After passing some dodgy looking places, we went into a completely empty place on the promise of some cheap drinks. There epicness ensued, as the lack of people meant we could control the playlist, meaning not only did a lot of old favourites get played, but so did Football’s Coming Home!!! 5 of us were English, and we belted it out at the top of our voices, while the others just sat back and laughed. As this was happening, various other drunk English people came in and joined in, so the club filled up for the 3 minute duration of the song. But what a 3 minutes.

The three Cusqueñan amigos, reunited.

“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming!!!”

The next day, exhausted and hungover, we all dragged ourselves out of bed to be ready for the Colombia game that would begin at 11am. In the course of the evening I had been informed that there would be public televisions, so Nick and I did a reccie to go and find them. After being misdirected by 10 different people, including policemen (this is common in South America), we eventually found the perfect place, so ran back to get the others. At 11am, in front of a 40″ plasma, Colombia’s World Cup kicked off for about 300 people and 10 gringos. They won their first match against Greece 3-0, with each goal being celebrated wildly by all the supporters. Our group had newscasters and cameramen filming us, and at one point I was told to repeat the phrase ‘Viva Colombia’ about 5 times into a microphone. The atmosphere there was something else.

Vamos Colombia! Selfie had to be done.

For Nick, however, it was all build up to the big event, the England game at 5pm. After an afternoon’s rest, we and around 50 other England fans, and 1 Italian woman, crowded into a nearby bar with the best television in Cartagena, and an ITV feed! We were completely pumped, and when Raheem Sterling hit the side netting 3 minutes in the whole place erupted, beer in the air, chairs flying backwards, hugging and screaming, until someone pointed out that he’d missed, when everyone calmly sat back down pretending they hadn’t just kissed the person next to them. We did get an opportunity to celebrate, when Daniel Sturridge struck an equalizer, but the delirium couldn’t last, and we left completely deflated.

The disappointment in my eyes still cuts me to my core

Regardless, despite England’s defeat, I had an amazing time in Cartagena with some amazing people, and I will never forget it. The next day I was up early to board a plane to Miami, prepared for whatever cavity search they had in store for me for coming from Colombia.

 

Goodbye South America, Gracias por todo. it’s been fun. Pura Vida x

Medellín

The reason I never took my flight on the 23rd May from Buenos Aires was because I wanted to go to Colombia. It was a place so many travelers had recommended, yet one very few sites or guides when I was researching for the trip and advised going to. I had wanted to spend about 2 weeks there, travelling up from Cali to Cartagena with a friend from the volunteering in Cusco, yet when my passport was stolen, I missed the Cali flight, and found I would have to spend some time sorting out a Visa for the United States. When I researched this, I found that to get finger and eye scans, I would have to be in Medellin, and to have the actual (3 minute) ‘interview’ I would have to be in Bogota. I could have done the whole process in Lima, and at points when travelling between Medellin and Bogota and back again I wondered why I hadn’t done this, but I was so desperate to leave Peru and get to Colombia that I thought it would be worth it. I therefore booked a flight to Medellin, said my goodbyes to my friends in Lima, and headed for the most dangerous city in the world (circa 1990s).

I won’t go into the details of getting my visa, but it was a hassle to say the least, costing money in flights, fees and hostels. By the time I finished it all up in Bogota I was pretty mentally exhausted, so felt I needed a break back in Medellin. Bogota is a great city, and is really interesting (I recommend the bike tour), but was endlessly grey and cloudy when I was there, so I thought I would head to the warmth and sun of Medellin.

Murals in Bogota. I like to think it represents the ways you can confront dark times. Either you can wallow in the misery, or accept and embrace it for what it is.

Mural for Jaime Garzón, comedian, satirist, lawyer and peace activist murdered by paramilitaries in 1999. It shocked the country.

Medellin used to be known to the outside world as the stronghold of the infamous druglord Pablo Escobar, where murders would happen daily, and corruption was rife. Today however, modern, vibrant, youthful and most importantly safe.

It is also known as the city of the eternal spring, due its endless pleasant warm weather, hot but not humid. It is one of two places in South America I could consider living in (Buenos Aires being the second). The first hostel I stayed in was actually a meditation hostel (Hostel Secret Buddha- 100% on Tripadvisor for a reason) high in the hills above the city, something I didn’t realize when I booked it. It turned out this was exactly what I needed, as it got my head right after all the previous stress and anguish, and the previous months of travelling, and got me ready for my final week.

After this I went down to a bit more of a party hostel in the El Poblado district of the city, effectively where around 10 hostels are situated, full of gringos, as well as some fancy restaurants, bars and clubs. I’d really recommend staying here. I went to Happy Buddha hostel, but there’s also a place called Casa Kiwi, and I’m sure many others. I had a great dorm in this hostel, with people I really hit it off with who had arrived at the same time as me, and so my positive experience at the hostel was probably due to this. Indeed that night, when we were messing about with other people in the common area, one girl asked me and the German guy from my room how many months we’d been travelling together. Sometimes you just completely click with another person to the extent you could have known them for 20 years and wouldn’t get on better.

But yeah, back to Medellin. The first day I was at this hostel, I went paragliding, which was a really awesome flight over some of the city from a one of the mountains that overlooks it (ask in your hostel. It cost about 35 pounds), and a lot more fun than the one in Lima. Before my afternoon activities, I managed to fit in a professional salsa lesson at Santo Baile Poblado, an excellent school that did an hour lesson for about $30. I did some basic steps and hip movements with a gorgeous Colombian woman, although I couldn’t look up as I was continually having to check my feet to keep time. So yeah, I did Colombia style salsa in Colombia! In the afternoon I took the city free walking tour, which was phenomenal. If there is one thing, just one, that you do in Medellin, do this. Pablo, the guy who takes each one (they’re about 4 hours, and there’s 2 a day) every day, is so passionate and knowledgeable about his city’s riveting and turmoil filled past that it’s impossible not to leave without the same passion for the city and it’s people. You see it with completely new eyes, and get an understanding about what its residents have been through over the past 20 years.

One of the best things about Medellin is its metro. Quite easily the best in South America (although doesn’t have much competition), it was built at the height of the violence in the city in 1995, and has therefore become a symbol of its past and future. Ultra modern, it rivals that of the best in the world, with both Spanish and English announcements, spacious carriages and regular service, and even little messages like ‘Smiling is good for the soul. We encourage you to smile. A smile is good for the metropolitan’, although that was a bit weird. It also never gets vandalized, because of its reverence among the paisas, or people of Medellin. You will never get mugged, will never see graffiti or broken windows, and won’t hear ‘youths’ playing loud music or shouting. There is a silent respect of the progress the city has taken since the metro was opened. It is almost like a reverse of the same symbolism as in the film Batman Begins, where the film starts with a young Bruce Wayne’s father explaining how the opening of the Gotham’s metro has made it a better place, and with his death, it, and the city, descend into darkness. A more recent addition to it are the cable cars, which run up the north of the city, and are treated the same by the residents. While we tourists all have our cameras out and are checking out the birds eye view you have over the people below, the paisas are listening to music, reading books or newspapers, and thinking about the day ahead.

The people of Medellin are known to be rather full of themselves, shall we say (there is a similar, if less incendiary, divide between Bogota and Medellin as Madrid to Barcelona). This sculpture shows the rise of the city’s wealth through gold mining.

A view over the city while paragliding

The Secret Buddha meditation hostel

Colombia is still mourning the death of Gabriel Garcia Marques, or ‘Gabo’, one of the great authors of the Spanish language.

Another thing Pablo explained to us on the Tour was why the paisas are so friendly to tourists. It is because they remember what the country was 10 years ago. How people used to live in fear, how 30 people used to die a day in Medellin, how there were 3 battling factions plus the drug trade all competing for power. Tourists aren’t merely gringos with cameras, they are symbols that things are starting to change, that the country is beginning to get back on its feet again after so much misery. That stamp on our passports is the most important one you can have, for Colombians, because it means you are contributing to this change, and are spreading the word that Colombia is safe to visit again. Pablo explained that if Colombians are happy, after all that, then we who haven’t had all this trauma can be too. It is so strange walking around Medellin, seeing laughing, happy people going about their day-to-day lives and knowing that many of these people have lost family and friends in the struggles over power and drugs, through bombs and bullets, and have seen their country and city at their lowest points.

This is why I am supporting the Colombian national team at the World Cup. The players in this team have never been to a World Cup before, and all of them grew up among the country’s dark times, but they play with such attacking verve, team spirit and passion that it’s hard not to get caught up in their optimism. They play with the same hope that their country is riding on at the moment, in the knowledge that while this is only the beginning, they’re in the right road to success.

The Colombian team do a traditional jig after star player James Rodriguez (centre) headed them into the lead against Ivory Coast. They won that match 2-1 in front of a stadium packed with Colombianos.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11108004 – US

http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/27930177 – UK

Colombia’s next match is June 24th against Japan. Now England have been knocked out, please give your support to them.

Lima

Because I came to the Peruvian capital off getting my passport stolen, I wasn’t a particularly good tourist there. It’s an absolutely huge city, something you don’t realize when you just stay in the tourist area, Miraflores. The actual city stretches out 300 square miles out from the Pacific coast, and it holds nearly 8 million people. Historically, its growth was down to its status as the port the Spanish used to hold then transport the gold and silver they took from Southern Peru and Bolivia, meaning it became a hub of trade and activity.

The area you will most probably be in while visiting is Miraflores, which hugs the cliffs beside the sea, and to many locals and citizens of Peru’s other areas is representative of what is worst about Peru. There you’ll find the most tourists, hundreds of restaurants pandering to them, plenty of flash department stores and all of Lima’s young professionals. As I was told when talking to a man selling maps from Cusco, these people are too rich and pampered to understand the real Peru, and its real problems. They have their wealth and are happy maintaining it. Miraflores really doesn’t conform to other parts of Peru. The cars don’t honk, there are outdoor tennis clubs, outdoor gyms, huge apartment blocks overlooking the sea, and even a shopping centre built into one of the cliffs (Larcomar). There I actually saw Peru’s own Simon Cowell, the ‘harsh’ judge on Peru’s Yo Soy (I am), an X-Factor like competition, standing in a queue to go to a movie.

While it’s in this area where you can eat some amazing ceviche, go paragliding etc, a little inland is where many of the hostels are. There’s a Loki party hostel, which apparently isn’t as good as any of the others, but I stayed at Dragonfly, Parawana, and Flying Dog. Dragonfly wasn’t great, Parawana was a really well run party hostel, and Flying Dog was well situated (as it was by my favourite sandwich place), but a bit more chilled than Parawana. To be honest though, I wasn’t in much of a mood to party while there, and I stayed there with friends, so enjoyed it. These hostels all surround Parque Kennedy (JFK park), which is a great place to get some street food, watch some dancing or live music, and stroke some of the many cats that inhabit it. There’s a church next to the park, and apparently the nuns take care of them, in case you were wondering if they’re diseased or dying or whatever. There’s a tonne of them and they’re kind of cute.

A cat that and a friend and I played a kind of cat-jenga with, using leaves. My cat, nicknamed Zencat, won, and is rumored to still be sitting there with leaves all over its head to this day.

Once I’d sorted my passport out at the embassy, I booked a ticket to Medellin to get to the American embassy, and also booked a place at the paragliding they do off one of the cliffs in Miraflores.

I headed there a couple of hours after I was due, as a friend hadn’t been able to make it, and met the guy who was going to be taking me up.

All the prep was done very quickly, and I paid the 18 or so pounds just before gearing up and being swept off the cliff by the sea winds.

I had people tell me they were really scared about going paragliding, and someone in Medellin in Colombia even said they’d heard of people throwing up during it. I don’t quite understand this, as it’s effectively similar to being a bird. Tranquilo, serene, quiet. You get an awesome view of Miraflores, the sea, the beach, people playing tennis etc. The dude who brought me up (with a go pro attached), was trying to make it into some other extreme sport by shouting WOOOO in my ear, which I thought was a bit exaggerated, as by the end you do get a little bored. Overall though, paragliding is an awesome experience, and can be taken to the next level, as I would find out in Medellin.

 That night I went out with my American friend Rick and various other people from ours and other hostels, and although it was only dinner and pub afterwards, we had a great time. I hadn’t met many Scots in South America up to that point, so took it upon myself to discuss the independence movement with the three that were in attendance, which ended up with me writing something very inappropriate on their flag in the pub. Let’s just say it would confirm any suspicions Alex Salmond has about the English opinion of the movement.

Anyway, Lima’s a nice place, you just can’t stay there more than 3 days or so.

A return to Peru

After flying back from Argentina, I spent three days back in La Paz, Bolivia, not doing a whole lot, before getting a night bus back to Cusco, Peru. There I again stayed at the orphanage (or casa de mi padre) that I had been volunteering at for a little less than 2 months before I left to go travelling.

Cusco, and that place, will always have a special place in my heart. I had some amazing times there, and the work that is done on kids who were drug addicts, lived on the streets, were members of gangs and often were abused, is amazing. When I arrived back I was given a really warm welcome, and immediately asked where my tablet was. I didn’t see it for the next two days. Apart from going out to watch the Champions League Final at our old favorite hang-out, Paddy’s Pub, I mostly spent my two days in Cusco at the orphanage hanging out with the kids. It was strange because when I had left there were about 20 volunteers, a large tight-knit group of friends. When I arrived I was the only volunteer at the boys’ house, and there were just three (English) girls working at the girls’ house.

On the Saturday evening, it was a girl’s birthday, so everyone came to the boys’ house to have a party. I’d attended plenty of these in my previous stint, but this was nice because I was given an official ‘thank you’ by Jeremy, the founder, and a round of applause. We had cake, the kids did some (choreographed) dances and then I led a Macarena, not particularly well, but I still did it.

The next day, we did a World Cup sweepstake, where each boy took a piece of paper out of a hat that had the name of a team on it, and that would be their team for the World Cup. The one that had the winner would get a prize. Watching the most cocky of them, Steven, getting Japan (Japan won’t win it), and the quietest, Lucio, get Brazil, was pretty sweet.

In the evening we continued a Sunday tradition of going to a local pitch to play football, which was a great way to say goodbye. In La Paz, I had got them a sticker book and each boy a pack of Panini World Cup stickers each, so I gave them this, said my goodbyes, and headed for a bus to Ica.

My final post on Facebook about the orphanage: “My final day in Cusco with the boys of Elim, an organisation that takes in children from the street, broken homes, and orphans. It is hard to put into words the job that Jeremy and Nilda are doing, with the help of people like Yeicob, but the effect is evident as soon as you step through the door. These are some of the most happy, thoughtful, and inspiring children you can find, and it´s safe to say the effect they’ve had on me has been far greater than any material gift or entertainment I could bring to them in my 6 weeks. I would recommend anyone visiting Cusco to spend some time there if possible.”

While the bus from La Paz to Cusco wasn’t so bad for a Bolivian bus, it was a welcome return to be back with a good bus company in Cruz Del Sur, which effectively had the ‘cama’ treatment. Pretty much business class.

Map for reference. Ica is south of Lima

When I arrived in Ica I met my American friend Rick, who’d I’d actually met the last time I was in Cusco through two guys I met on my trek to Machu Picchu, and then had met again in La Paz. We took a 15 minute taxi to the town of Huacachina, effectively an ‘oasis’ build in some sand dunes just outside of Ica that has become a tourist trap. It’s a pretty cool place, but don’t stay there more than a day or two. Huacachina, being in a desert, has become the prime location for trying out sandboarding and dune-buggying in Peru. For about 35 soles, or around 15 pounds, you can have a 4 hour experience doing both these activities, although my hostel, Banana hostel (very nice), gave me a room and included activities for 55.

The dune buggy ride is seriously awesome. The buggy can do pretty much anything without flipping over, so the driver tests this principle to the limit, taking you up and down pretty tall and steep dunes at speed. Really fun.

You get about 6 or 7 tries at sandboarding, but after my first, shocking attempt, I decided to do what pretty much everyone else in my group was doing: stomach boarding. As the name suggests, this is where you lay on your stomach and rocket down the dunes until you fall off or come to a halt. Definitely do this if you can, although if you see other people bumping up and down near the bottom, you’re probably going to wake up with some bruises the next day, but it’s so worth it.

While I was in Huacachina I actually managed to meet up with one of my best friends from Utila, Honduras, the first place I did volunteering on this trip, which was cool.

That evening Rick (the American) and I boarded a bus to Nazca, the location of mysterious line patterns carved into the earth by ancient Peruvian people. I opted not to take a flight over the lines, as it was about $75, and gave my camera to Rick instead.

The day after this (don’t spend more than a day there if you wish to do it), we headed back up north to the town of Pisco, where you can get a taxi to nearby Paracas. Here is a national park and also, just off the coast, the islands that are named the ‘Little Galapagos’, due to similar geography, flora and fauna. I took the boat ride and saw a variety of sea birds, penguins, and sea lions, which was cool, although if you’re short on time you can skip this stop off.

While the hostel I stayed in was really cool (Kokopelli), I booked a flight for Cali in Colombia for two days from then, and decided to head back to Pisco and on to Lima to catch the flight. I said goodbye to Rick, and set off for Pisco.

There I decided to take a cheaper bus (National Peru or something), as it was only a 4 hour journey. This would be my downfall. I’d been on cheap buses before, but usually with friends, or at least other gringos on board. This bus had neither. About 15 minutes into the journey, with my bag next to me, I was beginning to drift off, listening to music, when a guy sat next to me, putting my bag in the overhead storage. I stood up and took it from him and put it between my legs, thinking that would quell his attempts to take it. It didn’t. While I was again looking out the window, he must have got his water bottle, uncapped it and soaked the bottom of my bag with it, as he suddenly tapped me, exclaiming “mojado!!!“, ‘wet’. Bewildered, I allowed him to pick it up and dry it off with a towel he’d produced. Watching him the whole time to prevent him from running off with it, he managed to remove both my passport bag and camera from inside and place them in his bag. About 5 minutes later he got off the bus, and that was the last I saw of him. I checked my bag, tried to run after him, and was blocked off by people trying to get on. Not knowing what to do, or if I could trust anyone (no one apart from the ticket inspector was making any kind of attempt to help, especially not the driver), I got him to take me to the nearest station, where I got off with my remaining things, left them at the ticket office (a risk in itself) and headed to the police station.

Using a bit of Google translate, I managed to explain what had happened and describe the guy who did it, but I was informed there was no hope. I was staying calm, but when I remembered that I hadn’t backed up all my recent stuff as my back-up USB had become corrupted, I began to grow more and more despondent. At last I got on a bus up to Lima, in which another man attempted to take my ticket for my larger bag in the bus’s lower hold, and arrived late at night. Much to my chagrin, the idiotic hostel worker who greeted me asked me for my passport after I had just told him it had been stolen, then claimed he couldn’t check me in without it, or my immigration proof. I gave him the photocopy and managed to convince him it would be enough.

A trip to the Embassy the next day revealed the fact that I would be missing my flight on that Saturday as my passport wouldn’t be ready, so I would be staying in Lima at least until the following Monday.

Argentine quirks

Obviously each country in Spanish South America is different to the next, but none is as different as Argentina and its people. Whether in language, personality, reputation, there are a many quirks to Argentina that you’ll experience when you visit. Here are a few:

Language- It’s a little confusing, but the people of South America effectively speak Castilian Spanish (castellano) rather than regular Spanish (some people will ask if you hablas castallano so watch out with that one). This is Spanish from central and northern Spain, but bastardized a little. The people of Rosario, Buenos Aires and Montevideo speak Rioplatense Spanish, a dialect from the Rio de la Plata basin of Argentina and Uruguay. Each area has its own dialect within the dialect, but they’re all similar. This developed primarily from more recent immigration from Italy and Spain so if you meet a few Argentinians from this region you’ll see a lot of Italian surnames. Indeed the Italian National Football Team actually has a well known history of calling up Argentine players, linked through parents or grandparents. The most famous of these was World Cup Winner Mauro Camoronesi, who claimed “I feel Argentine but I have defended the colors of Italy, which is in my blood, with dignity. That is something nobody can take away.

Anyway, the Spanish of these region is as immediately recognizable as a Scottish or Irish accent is to an English speaker, and just as difficult to understand for foreigners.

– Voseo- (informal you singular) is replaced with vos, and usted (formal you singular) isn’t used. A few verb forms also change, but the most important is ser (one of the to be verbs), where the you singular form becomes sos, making you are, vos sos.

– Rehilamiento or sheísmo- This one is just pronunciation, and is the one most characteristic of this dialect. Effectively the ‘y’ and ‘ll’ in words becomes a sh sound (like in mission or measure). So Pollo (Chicken) is pronounced po-sh-o and playa (beach) becomes pla-sh-a. This one is a little confusing at first, but you quickly get used to listening out for it, and saying it. Bear in mind that if you ever go to Colombia, the Paisas, or people from Medellin, call their city Mede-sh-een, using this same principle.

– Speed- This is something that is immediately obvious when coming from somewhere like Bolivia. Argentinians all over the country speak fast, but working class people in this area, such as taxi drivers, are the worst at it, merging words they speak so fast. It’s really hard to get used to.

– There are a few others, and I found this site to be helpful. The ones above are the one’s I noticed most, but with a greater grip on the language I’m sure someone could notice even more intricate differences, and incur my jealousy. Something I didn’t actually notice that I thought I would was the use of ‘che‘, the nickname of Ernesto Guevara, that is used as ‘man’, ‘hey’, or ‘dude’.

Prices– The three most expensive countries in South America (outside of a World Cup) are Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. In Argentina I was paying twice as much for accommodation, food, and drink than in Bolivia. Obviously those two countries have vastly different HDI rankings, but still, expect to pay from a bit to a lot more -especially in eating out- in Argentina.

Development- Having just mentioned the HDI, it’s worth adding that Argentina is the second highest ranked South American country on the index at 45 in the world (Chile is at 40), and this is immediately evident entering the country. While it obviously still has many problems in dealing with it’s poor (all the big cities have their own Villa miseria, or shanty town, nearby), the infrastructure, transport, and feel of Buenos Aires impressed me (I can’t talk for much of the rest of the country). It feels very like a large European capitol, and has a subway, good buses, and is safer and a less chaotic than other South American cities- I’m looking at you La Paz. 

Reputation– Argentinians do carry a certain reputation among other South Americans. “Arrogant” and “Rude” were both words I heard before I came, especially directed at
Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) and to be honest I think both carry a bit of truth. Because it’s a big city, taxi drivers a little more curt, people are a little less friendly, and there’s less of a community feel, but this is true of my hometown London too. I also experienced real moments of kindess of people, so I think it really depends on the person and what kind of day they’re having, as living in a big city can be stressful. Saying that, there is a bit of a swagger, maybe arrogance, that people carry. They know they have a recent European history, and they flaunt it. Fashion is really big, as is looking good, and those that do know it. They’re also very very passionate about certain things. They like to talk, and talk at length. I once made the mistake of bringing up the Falklands to a Porteña friend who then gave me the riot act on why I was wrong (last time I’ll be doing that). I also witnessed an altercation in the street between a bus driver and motorcylist, which led to the bus driver stopping, getting out, pulling the guy off his bike and kicking him in the chest before calmly getting back on his bus and driving off.

 

So these are some things I picked up while I was there. After saying all this, I still maintain that Buenos Aires was my favorite city (partly due to the people I met there, some Argentine), and a place I will always have a soft spot for.

 

Something I can’t fit into another post: stupid stuff I did there…

– Spraying aftershave at pharmacies. Pharmacity, a big chain there, has stores large enough that you can wonder in, pretend to be checking out the aftershave section, and spray a bit on for a night out and leave. I find carrying aftershave around while travelling a bit of a hassle so this helped!

– Call Taxi drivers muchaho. They love it, will give you discounts and offer to pick you up when you need to go to the airport.*

– When you have to give your name at a restaurant, choose something stupid but easy for the waitress to understand. Maybe the name of the local football hero (Messi, Ronaldo, Radamel etc) or famous figures (Ernesto, Evita, Fransisco). Get creative, it’s fun seeing people in the restaurant look around when they hear the waitress call out “Messi!”

 

Random pics from BA:

Lovers in Recoleta

Long Exposure shot

Runners in Bosques de Palermo

Long exposure of a Tango show.

Area of Palermo near MALBA art gallery.

*This is a joke, do not do this.

Uruguay

I will never not remember Uruguay for this Simpson’s scene, but when a friend at a hostel said he was going for the day and asked me to come along, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.U R GAY. I love the simpsons. I guess we know where justine beiber was born.. Still fascinated with the Beeb, right?

To get to Uruguay from Buenos Aires requires a ferry either to Colonia or Montevideo (the capital), and costs about 40 pounds. We got ours at 12 midday and arrived there at 1, giving us about 6 hours before the return at 7pm. As we began to check out the town, we found that while I’m sure it would be beautiful in warmer weather, it was not only a little miserable in May, but also devoid of most of it’s citizens (I assume many people have summer houses there). The Old Town has a few decent restaurants, a church, bike and buggy rentals, some old colonial walls and a viewpoint from a lighthouse, but the lack of sun and people was rather depressing.

But anyway, we were hungry , so we decided to get some local Uruguan food. The Chivito (“little goat”) is a meaty sandwich filled with churrasco (grilled, thinly sliced beef), ham, bacon, lettuce and tomato, mozzarella cheese and a fried egg. Try beating that for protein. There are a few extra options, such as piccles, onions, fries and others, although the “fungi” type stuff we had with ours tasted like feces. You can also get it without bread, loaded onto a plate, as ours was. Although stuff is a bit more pricey in Uruguay than Argentina, which is pricey already, the Chivito is a relatively quick and cheap way to fill yourself up, plus it’s really tasty.

 

 

After this we still had about 4 hours left in the city, so decided to hire bikes for about $10 each for a few hours. We left the old town and cycled along the coast to the nearby town(ship) of Real de San Carlos, whose main attraction is a decrepit bull-fighting stadium named the Plaza de Toros. Although it’s forbidden to go in, we left a dog that had run the whole way with us (for no reason) to guard the bikes, and sneaked in through the unguarded fence to view the inside. You can really feel the history when you enter. Designed in Moorish style, it would once have been a vast, grand structure capable of containing 10,000 spectators. Opened in 1910, it hosted a mere 8 fights before bullfighting was banned in Uruguay in 1912, and since then has been abandoned. Parts of it are crumbling, and walking on the concrete seating feels a little bit dodgy. However it does seem that someone’s been keeping it from complete disrepair, as the grass is obviously mowed.

The coolest bit about being inside is that it feels very similar to a gladiator arena, so naturally we did some reenacting of scenes from Russel Crowe and Ridley Scott’s epic film Gladiator (“ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?”).

Afterwards we decided to enter the countryside a bit, and came across beautiful, vast fields of varying crops, which, with the sunset approaching, merely added to the dreamlike Gladiator quality of the place.

Long exposure of the sea and distant lights of Buenos Aires.

We arrived back to the bike rental place, and had enough time for a beer before getting on the coach and heading back to Buenos Aires for about 10pm.

Strangely, what started off as an average day had become something I’ll remember really fondly, but maybe it’s because I got on so well with the guy I went with, PJ from California (you can’t not get along with people from Northern Cali).

Iguazu Falls

After about 2 weeks in Buenos Aires, I at last made the decision to go to Iguazu Falls, realizing that I had to leave the city and do something. I booked a ticket through my hostel with Via Bariloche, probably Argentina’s best bus company, for the equivalent of about 60 pounds, pretty good considering it’s about an 18 hour journey.

The falls, which divide the Upper and Lower sections of the Iguazu river and runs along the border between Brazil and Argentina, although 80% of the water flows over the Argentine side.

For this reason, and if Visa’s are not too expensive, you can do 2 day trips, one to the Brazilian side, one to the Argentine. I timed my coach ride so that it would arrive at about 8:30am the next morning, meaning I would have a full day for the Brazilian side (despite its lack of water).

The bus I took was easily the best bus I’d had in South America. It was effectively a business class seat on a plane, with ample leg room, almost fully reclining chair, air con, blankets provided, and movies in English. After leaving Buenos Aires Retiro station at 2pm, we were given lunch, and at about 8pm given dinner, and breakfast before we got off the coach the next morning. Effectively plane food, it was still much preferred to the pringles and biscuits that made up most of my other bus journeys, plus it came with wine.

Once I arrived at my hostel in Puerto Iguazu (Timbo Posada- decent), the town nearest to the Falls in Argentina, I dropped off my things and got a bus through the Brazilian town of Foz do Iguaçu to their side of the falls. The walk they recommend takes about an hour, and takes you along a ridge beside some of the falls, but mostly looking down on the Argentine side, with people in boats having a good time. At the end of the walk you reach one of the larger waterfalls, and a wooden walkway takes you along to the edge of it. The whole experience is rather short, but has pretty amazing views and being able to walk so close to the drop off from one is special. You can really feel and hear the full force of their power as you get soaked by the spray.

I got back to my hostel at about 3pm, and caught up a bit on this, added some photos to facebook, and got an early night. The next morning I got up early and got a bus to the Argentine entrance to the falls. Due to the vastly higher percentage of the area that Argentina owns, there’s a lot more to do, with various walks, boat rides and even a train to take you round.

I’d recommend taking the Nautical Adventure ride into some Iguazu’s most ferocious falls (it’s safe), and if you have a go-pro or waterproof camera, as someone on my boat did, you’ll get some awesome footage. This is seriously one of the more awesome things I did on the whole trip in South America, as the spray reduces you’re visibility to near zero, and the boat brings to you to brink of the falling water.

Another great part of the Argentine side is the Devil’s Throat, La Garganta del Diablo in Spanish. I have to say, this is definitely in the top of 5 of things I did while away. It completely blew me away. I did a walk from the main restaurant area to the walkways which take you there instead of taking the train, so all in all it took half an hour or so to get there, but that felt like a build up to something special. The walkways are also pretty spectacular, giving you a view of the river pre-falls, and on my way back I actually saw an alligator resting on a rock. You can hear the Throat before you can see it, a cacophony the result of half of the river’s water falling in one narrow U-shaped chasm. It’s the purest expession of water’s power you can experience without being in a Tsunami, or an extra in the Film The Day After Tomorrow.

What I wrote shortly after going: “The Devil’s Throat. Quite simply one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. An expression of the pure power of water, and as if to display this, I watched a butterfly flutter calmly into the falls, attempting to help me realize man’s lack of power over nature, probably.” It was magical.

If you’re in Argentina or Southern Brazil, you have to go. It’ll blow you away.