Thursday, 22 March 2012

Nazca - "Is this a joke?"

The next morning after an early night, we were feeling refreshed and got up relatively early to enjoy the sun.

I had had so much fun with the girls and as we were heading in roughly the same direction, we decided to travel together until Cusco, where they would be doing the Inca trail. So after a couple of hours soaking up the sun, we thought it was time to move onto our next stop, which was Nazca.

A few people I had met along the way mentioned to me that Nazca was only worth visiting if you are going to do the air flights over the famous lines. I wasn't going to do the flight, but I did want to see the lines with my own eyes and make up me own decision about it all, so we headed to the bus station and were on our way.

Nazca was pretty busy that day (no idea why) and it took us ages to find a hostel that had space for us. It gave us a little tour of the town though and let us see that it really wasn't very nice. It was quite grimy, everything seemed dirty, the people were not friendly at all, the men were really forward, and it was in the middle of the desert with nothing surrounding it - not ideal!

Nevertheless, we stayed the night and in the morning got up earlyish to go the the 'viewing platform' and see the lines from as high as possible without taking the flight.

So we took a local bus for about 20 mins down the road which was even more into the middle of the dessert. When we arrived we were a little in shock as the 'viewing platform' was literally just a rickety, thin metal staircase with a flat bit at the top. It seemed like it was only the height of a 2 storey building and even from the top your couldn't see anything. Oh and of course you had to pay for the privalidge of climbing up there. And to top it all off, the site is classed as a Unesco natural heritage site?!

From my past experience in South America, I am not sure why I thought it would be any different, we were in Peru after all.

From the top you just about see a couple of the figures in the lines, but it did at least show they were there and pretty deep into the desert sandy ground. The whole thing was pretty funny and we found ourselves asking more than once if the whole of the Nazca experience (including the town) was a joke!

After only about 30 mins at the platform, we headed back into town and decided it was time to get away from Nazca and booked to get on an overnight bus to Arequipa that night.




The next day, I got up early and headed back to the bus station to catch the bus to Ica.

Once in Ica, I had a short taxi ride to Huacachina which is a tiny little town in the middle of the desert. It is surrounded by huge sand dunes which are like mountains that roll into a lagoon. This picturesque lake also acts as the centre of 'the town' (you can hardly call it a town with only 1 shop, a few restaurants and a handful of hotels). The whole setting is amazing and is actually featured on the back of Peru's 50 Sole note!

The whole place feels a little bit like a holiday resort, which it was originally, as the hotels etc were built as holiday town for the Peruvian elite. It is described as a 'tranquil oasis with graceful palm trees, exotic flowers and attractive antique buildings.' It definitely fit the bill and was beautiful.

Lots of people (mostly backpackers) visit there to go sandboarding in the dunes, which I wanted to book for the next day. It all added up to be a perfect first stop after leaving the girls, as I wanted to meet some new people and make some new friends!

Apart from being known for sandboarding, the area of Ica is famous for chocolate covered caramel with nuts and raisins, which were delicious - it was a good job I was only staying a few days otherwise I would have eaten my body weight in them!

The rest of my first day I spent enjoying the sun, wandering around the lake and watching people struggle to climb the boiling hot, giant dunes with their boards...Love a good bit of people watching!


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Pisco Tour

During my day of strolling in Huacachina, I met a local who decided that I would be his 'sister' for the weekend. I was friendly enough to him, but kind of skeptical as to what he wanted.

But he was friends with the locals who ran the tour agencies and wangled me a huge discount on a tour of a Pisco winery (or more correctly little distilling factory) for the evening which was delightfully nicknamed 'the shit faced tour'.

I was just heading out for the tour, from my hostel when 2 new ladies arrived in my room - Charlie & Soph. I invited them to come with me super last minute and it turned out to be hilarious!

When we arrived at the winery, we squashed the grapes with our feet in a giant vat, which was soooo disgusting, especially when it got mushed between my toes. Eurgh, just thinking about it makes me feel weird!

We then got the opportunity to taste the Pisco and sure enough it tasted like feet, and that wasn't just my imagination!

The rest of the night consisted of going to the nearby 'bar', which was just some guys garage next to the winery that had a few plastic chairs and some reggaetone playing ridiculously loudly over the sound system. Kinda weird but ended up having a hilarious night getting drunk with Charlie & Soph.


One night in Lima

Before the delayed bus, I had planned on skipping Lima altogether and getting straight onto another bus to Ica which was 4 hours away.

But because of the extended journey, I arrived in Lima around 7pm and didn't think it was wise to travel and arrive at a new place at 11 o'clock at night.

So I headed for a hostel in Lima to spend one night there before moving on. I didn't mind too much as was desperate for a shower and I wanted to sleep in a bed rather than on a bus!

The hostel was pretty quiet with only a hot Argentinian surfer staying there (!), but it was nice and gave me a few hours to explore a tiny bit of Lima, even if it was dark!


22 hours turns into over 30!

After my one night staying in dodgy Guayaquil, (where is rained solidly all night and I was too scared to leave the hotel in as it was sketchy), I was excited to get on the bus to Peru, but wasn't looking forward to the stupidly long journey as it was due to take 22 hours.

The journey went pretty quickly and I crossed the border without any hitches... Or so I thought until the bus got just past immigration to the Peruvian border town of Tumbes, a little fishing and beach town.

The bus pulled over and instructed everyone to get off and get onto another bus, with no more explanation. So we all picked up our things, collected our backpacks from the storage and began to walk to the other bus (although there wasn't one in sight).

It quickly became clear that this did not normally happen in the journey and there was something very wrong happening in Tumbes. The locals had completely ruined the roads in order to stop traffic passing through. They had drilled and dug up from pavement to pavement in most places or in others they had chopped down trees to cover the width of the roads. At the road sides, local men, who were mostly drunk, lined the streets in some kind of protest watching people struggle with their bags and occasionally shouting at everyone walking past, and each other.

The roads were full of confused travellers and abandoned buses where people had had to get out and walk. And the whole place was a mess with rubbish all over the place. At one point there was a HUGE tree which had been hacked down and used as a road block, which was 'decorated' with a dead and slaughtered turtle carcass. So sad and gross!

I later found out that the fishermen were protesting and over the next few days things turned really violent and unsafe. A group of guys who had to do the same thing a couple of days after me said they were scared for their lives. So seems like I was there just at the right time to avoid things kicking off!

Anyway, after walking for 10 minutes, I wasn't any closer to even seeing a bus to get on, but had no choice but to keep on walking through the mayhem! Eventually, after walking for about 3km with all of my stuff, I got back onto the safety of a new bus to take us the rest of our journey to Lima.

This whole ordeal had taken about 2 & 1/2 hours in total and had been a bit of a nightmare!

When I woke up the next day, I spent most of the morning looking out of the window at the AMAZING views of the desert, beach and cliff sides. As the photos show, they were pretty epic!

After the views, I was getting to the end of my patience for sitting on the bus and was more than ready to arrive in Lima, which we did just over 30 hours after leaving Guayaquil!


4 Day Hangover and Another Emotional Goodbye

When we woke up on Tuesday, post Carnaval blues had truly kicked in and so did our built up 4-5 day hangovers. It felt like the aftermath of a festival!

We all knew today was the day to part ways and we didn't want to talk about our last few hours together, especially in our fragile states.

We began packing our backpacks and it felt like a break up when we realised we had to start splitting all of the stuff we had bought together! Once this was all sorted, we left Ayampe with heavy hearts on our last bus journey together...

In Puerto Lopez (where we had to change buses), we all hung around at the bus stop trying to fight our way through locals to figure out the bank holiday buses. With lots of people telling us different things, we eventually sorted our separate routes. I was headed to Guayaquil to stay for 1 night before catching a bus across the border into Peru.

My bus was leaving pretty imminently, so it was a rushed goodbye on my part as I had to run to make sure I made it. It was probably a good thing as we didn't have time to get too sad... Well until I was on the bus anyway!

When I spoke to the girls later, it seemed we were all in the same boat and sobbed on our separate bus journeys!

This was also the day I had to say goodbye to my red boyfriend cardigan (sorry mum!) as the launderette ruined it to the point of no return.

A sad day all round!


Monday, 19 March 2012

Recovery Pit Stop

As I said, on Monday we were up to our limit with drinking, partying and no sleep from the noisy main road (which had a constant traffic jam with horns beeping all weekend!)... And we just wanted out of Montañita ASAP!

So we packed our bags and decided to head out of the town with a few people we had met over Carnaval weekend.

The Druncles had recommended a little town about 25 mins away called Ayampe which they described to be just like Gigante - perfect, relaxing and quiet, just what the doctor ordered after the days we had had!

As we were on the bus out of Montañita, we had an overwhelming sense of freedom come over us. We had survived and escaped Carnaval!

When we arrived in Ayampe, we spent a while looking around for a place which had space for 5 people (Chanelle, Alice and I with Kevin and Emerson) as it was an Ecuadorian bank holiday! In the boiling heat we found a nice little hostel with a restaurant attached where we could eat, talk and relax in peace without being covered in foam, a bucket of water or having to shout over each other. Heaven after our few days...

We spent a brief afternoon on the beach enjoying the more relaxed environment and preparing ourselves for the 2nd emotional group split that was to come the next day...


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

And Then It Was Carnaval...

We took some beach time for the first couple of days to settle into the town and get a feeling for what it was all about before the real celebrations began. We were all determined to make the most of our last few days together as we knew it was coming to the time to split up again. I needed to head to Peru as I was running out of time in South America. This made me even more determine to make the most of the hot weather since I knew I had to leave the coast soon and head for the cold high altitude weather in most of Peru. Although, we actually were all thinking the same as Chanelle was headed home soon and wanted a nice tan. Alice was spending another week or so in Ecuador before heading to Peru a little behind me. And we were not looking forward to saying goodbye, again!

Despite our want to relax and tan, the town was even hectic these few days before with people everywhere and it just got busier and busier with the roads packed with a constant crush of people. Camping was also allowed on the beach, so tents began to pop up in every square inch available. I really wonder what Montañita is like on a normal day to day basis as this was crazy!

Originally I had planned to be in Rio for this time, but everything triples in price over Carnaval and I could have easily spent $1500 in 1 week there, which I could not afford to do! We had thought that Montañita would be a similar vibe with people in costume, decorations and feathers and glitters everywhere. But really it was just like being in Kavos for a summer holiday with an excuse to party.

The whole atmosphere was really fun at first and we had lots of laughs! But it did get tiring quite quickly, as everyday we were bombarded by men drowning us (fully clothed) in the street with buckets of water! Failing attacking us with water, we were sprayed head to toe with foam spray cans - 3 white ladies being the prime target of course!

After our warm up beach days, CARNAVAL weekend really began (Friday - Monday) and it was a hectic blur of funny days running into each other. We spent our time moving between the beach and cocktail alley - a tiny street filled with cocktail bars all playing the loudest different music and competing with each other!

Throughout the day we made brief pit stops at the hostel then out to party with the masses until the sun came up - amazing. There were quite a few clubs to choose from which we did go to but mostly we danced and drank at the beach parties.

Our hangovers led us to a daily quest for bloody marys with cocktail alley having a distinct lack on the menu! It became an important mission to help continue to party and get ready for re-smash! Our hunt was semi successful with us finding somewhere selling them, but they were the worst ever and not even worth it!

To overcome the lack of tomato juice on sale to make our own, we struggled through the days by making fresh fruity cocktails in the blender spiced with a bottle (or 2) of rum. The lady who owned the hostel even joined in and started drinking with us at 2pm - ledge!

This pattern continued until we physically couldn't handle anymore drinking and partying. By the third day, we were kind of over the party, fiesta atmosphere. Also at this point the town was an absolute mess, the entire place stank of sewage with rubbish filling the sea and the beaches. It seems Ecuadorians aren't too bothered about littering!

It was time and we knew we HAD to get out and flee Carnaval before we got sucked into the 4th day....!


Monday, 12 March 2012

A Rush to Montañita

The next morning we got chatting to some locals about the weekend that was to come - CARNAVAL! We had already decided that we wanted to be in a party town to celebrate in style and had heard that the beach town of Montañita was 'the place' to be in Ecuador.

We had planned to stay in Puerto Lopez at least another day to explore properly but had been told that if we left it any longer to get to Montañita, we would really struggle to find a hostel, and in true backpacker style we hadn't wanted to book ahead and commit to anything.

So once again we packed our backpacks and rushed to the bus stop to try and make it there at a sensible time to find somewhere to stay in daylight. And we were in luck, the bus journey was only about an hour and we didn't have any travel dramas for a change!

So we wandered around town and went into almost every hostel looking for something that was free and that wasn't $50 per night! We ended up at a really cute little house just a little bit out of town that seemed perfect. Although we soon found out that as it was on the main road, it was soooo noisy and we could barely sleep through it!

Once we got settled we headed straight for the beach to begin re-working on our tans!


Machalilla National Park - Los Frailes Beach

On our first day in Puerto Lopez, it was Valentines Day so we wanted to spend it on the beach!

As the national park was so close by, we thought it silly not to go and see at least some of it. We jumped on a local bus to the beach Los Frailes which was only about 20mins away.

The beach is actually quite a way from the main road, so Alice & I decided to go on the picturesque 2 hour nature walk to the beach through the national park, which takes you past various view points to see as much as we could.

We were walking for about 3 minutes before we realised we were getting completely eaten alive all over. We didn't have any repellent and were wearing bikinis and flip flops giving the bugs optimum coverage to bit. Not prepared for a nature walk at all!

We carried on spurred by the promises of nice views but after about 10 more minutes we came across a snake on the path! I didn't see it straight away and carried on walking making it go into its defensive position just before it goes for the bite. Luckily I saw it just in time, screamed and we both ran away in the other direction just as it was about to strike! It was only a baby but looked fierce and was obviously feeling threatened by us. Safe to say we sacked off the walk and went back to the road the hitchhike the rest of the way to the beach. Definitely wasn't our day to be at one with nature...

When we eventually arrived at the beach though, it was amazing and well worth it (well maybe not the almost snake bite!).

So we spent the day sunning ourselves, well until 3pm when a massive storm blew in and we quickly packed before heading back to Puerto Lopez so we didn't get caught in the rain.

We met back up with Chanelle (who had spent the day in Puerto Lopez) to have a couple of cartons of red wine!


The Beach Calls...

After spending about 10 days in the cold, we were ready to get back to the beach for sun, tanning and bikini time.

On Monday morning we got up really early in the hope of making the mammoth journey to the beach without any hitches.

First we had to get a collectivo back down the mountain and our driver was the happiest person ever for a Monday morning. He spent the whole journey beeping every single person and animal he saw and waving enthusiastically at them, this probably added about 1/2 an hour onto the journey! As you can imagine, our moods were not quite up to his standard, being up at 6 when you don't like the mornings...

Once we finally got the to bus terminal, we caught the bus to Guayaquil which is the largest city in Ecuador, even bigger than Quito. The bus took about 6 hours and we knew we still had quite a long way to go to get to the coast. The bus terminal was insanely busy but luckily we managed to find the right bus out of 100 booths selling tickets to different places.

We headed to Puerto Lopez which is a little beach town near the Machalilla National Park and finally arrived around 6pm, just in time to watch sunset on the beach with a cerveza!


Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sunday in Salinas

As I said, Salinas is 3550m high so it was absolutely freezing. We were layered up to the max with almost every piece of clothing in our backpacks.

We stayed in the only hostel in town and luckily it had a fire place in the 'lounge' (there was nothing else in there) to help to keep us warm.

On Sunday morning, we got up and went for some breakfast - an amazing cheese toasty giving us our first taste of the local cheese and it was delicious!

We then went for a stroll around the village which was tiny an consisted of only a few blocks. But it was so up and down hill, and because of the altitude we were out of breath walking within seconds. We broke the walk up by making the obligatory stop at the chocolate factory and sampled a few of the specialities, again delicious!

Just outside the village, there was also a natural salt and rock pool called 'A Las Minas del Sal y Yacubiana' which is apparently pretty famous. We took a walk over there and the scenery was so colourful with the rocks different kinds of yellows, oranges and reds. We spent a quite while there taking it all in and taking copious amounts of photos.

After our lovely Sunday stroll we finally gave into the real reason we had come to Salinas - to eat! So we headed to the local 'Mama Miches' which is a cute family run place selling only local foods with Mama's photo on the menus and up on the walls. We ordered a carton of red wine and a platter with samples of all of the special cheeses and meats that sounded delicious.

When it arrived, we realised we had been given the gringo special of stale bread, hard cheese and meat which was dry at the edges, not so delicious! An Ecuadorian couple at the table next to us had ordered the same thing and everything on theirs looked so fresh - jealous!

After trying to eat around the stale bits, we were officially underwhelmed by the food so we ordered another carton of wine to drone our sorrows. By the time we left Mama's we were pretty drunk, apparently drinking in altitude makes you get drunk ALOT faster!


More Mountains

At the bus station we got on a bus to Guaranda which was a mountain town about 2 hours away.

The bus ride took us through the snow capped mountains which was really eery and the scenery was like we were on the moon!

As we arrived in Guaranda of course it started to rain and it was torrential! We wanted to catch a collectivo (a truck where you sit on the back) to a tiny town called Salinas which higher up in the mountains (3550m high) and is famous for chocolate, cheese and salami!

We luckily found a collectivo quite quickly which was empty meaning we could sit inside and escape the rain for the journey. Apparently it was too good to be true though as after about 15 mins of driving, the truck got stuck on a hill, we think it was because it ran out of gas! Just our luck - I'm sure every journey we go on has some kind of mishap in one way or another!

After about 20 mins of waiting for the driver to try and sort the problem, we flagged down another truck which was going past. But obviously it was rammed with people and stuff, so we had to sit half in half out, getting wet with our backpacks precariously placed!

By this point we were pretty fed up (perhaps an understatement!) and just hoped to get somewhere we didn't hate when we arrived!


30 minutes in Riobamba!

On saturday we got up slightly hungover, after experiencing Baños' nightlife, and decided it was time to move on again. Moving so much seemed like never ending cycle of packing and repacking my backpack but there was so much for us to see!

We had read in the Lonely Planet about a train ride which only runs twice a week from the Andean town of Riobamba. It takes you through the mountains and past the snow covered region to the famous 'Nariz del Diablo' (Devil's Nose). It sounded exciting and we had planned to get all dressed up as if we were going on the Orient Express.

So we headed to the bus station and got on the next bus to Riobamba which the LP termed 'the Sultan of the Andes'. We arrived and it couldn't have been more wrong...The book of lies, lies again! (Not sure I have mentioned this yet but the Lonely Planet is awful and gets so much stuff wrong that we named it 'the book of lies'.)

We were there for approximately a hellish 30 minutes before we wanted to get out of there! In that time we saw a grown woman aged about 60 and dressed pretty nicely stood in the middle of a busy main road having a wee! We took it as a sign that if the 'Sultan of the Andes' was like this, god knows what the 'spectacular train ride' would be like!

So after about 30 minutes in Riobamba, we headed to a bus station on the other side of town in search of a new plan...and good job we did because a few days later we found out from someone else who had been there that the train wasn't even running, phew!


Friday, 9 March 2012

Hot springs

The next day after a nice lie in, we went to the local market and had a traditional, delicious and massive lunch for $2. Yum!

From the bus stop just outside the market, we hopped on a local bus to get to the hot springs which are just outside of town.

There were a range of pools from bloody freezing cold, to ones like a hot bath. All the water is natural and from the mountains, but they are not rustic like the ones we went to in Panama as these were in a little complex kind of like a swimming pool. And they make everyone wear shower caps to protect the water - hilarious!

I spent most of the time in the warmest one and found the patch where the water comes from the rocks. It's so hot here that it bubbles and almost burns, but it felt good especially as most places we had been staying only had cold showers.

After our relaxing afternoon, we wanted to spice things up a little and go for a colonic irrigation (!) at a really nice spa outside of town. We had heard this was the place to do it as it cost us only $8 and at home they are about £80!

So once we had checked in for our treatments, we went on a spiritual and healing bare foot walk through the gardens which was lovely as the setting was amazing.

It was then time for the clonic! Again it was slightly strange as all 3 of us were in this long room together which had 3 toilet cubicles in it. You then go into a little side room to have the actual treatment! I won't go into much detail about that, but if you wanna know about it, ask me when I'm home!

Afterwards (I think to help overcome the shock etc) we had some herbal tea and fruit and were sent on our way!