08.03.2012 - 18.03.2012
Peru is one of those countries that a traveller can return to over and over and never get bored. It just offers so much diversity in terms of activities, terrains, history and cuisine that there is always something new to discover. It’s like someone compiled a smorgasbord of backpacker lures and put them all in one relatively small box of a country. You will undoubtedly be hooked no matter what type of backpacker you are.
We first travelled to Peru 2008 and it was truly an adventure of a lifetime. Among many other things we went sand boarding down giant sand dunes, flew over ancient desert lines, stayed at the home of a traditional Lake Titikaka family and of course trekked to the ancient city of Machu Picchu. We loved every minute and Peru quickly became the standard that we would compare all other trips to. However when we left we knew that there was still much more to see and we promised ourselves one day we would come back. This trip finally provided the opportunity to keep this promise and this time we decided to concentrate on northern Peru as we made our way down from the Ecuador border to Lima.
We started at the small beach town of Mancora near the border with Ecuador. Immediately we went for sea food and of course the world famous Peruvian Ceviche. If you don’t know what Ceviche is then don’t even try to find out unless you are going to Peru. You will be almost certainly disappointed anywhere else. We loved the food in Mancora but unfortunately very little else. The beach is dusty and full of garbage and the vibe in the town is decidedly on the seedy side. We left after a couple nights towards the city of Trujillo.
We really didn’t know what to expect of Trujillo but we knew there were some really interesting ancient desert adobe cities and pyramids in the area so we thought we’d spend at least a couple of nights. As it turned out we actually ended up staying much longer because we enjoyed the area so much!
Trujillo is a very charming, safe and clean midsized town and nearby Huanchaco has a far better beach vibe then Mancora. We loved the fact that it seemed every block had at least 2 or 3 stores or restaurants with display carousels full of yummy deserts. The public transportation actually has route numbers (Gasp!) which makes it really easy and cheap to get to anywhere you need to go. There is even a bus route that goes right by the ancient city of Chan Chan and continues on to Hunachaco for a day at the beach. There is really no need to bother with taxis but if you like even the collectivo taxis have route numbers posted on their windshields so that it’s easy to tell whether they are going in your direction. Huanchaco is a true beach town with a great beach front promenade and some really interesting reef fishing boats. You can occasionally see one of the fishermen grab a boat and run out into the water or another one bring a boat back. That’s some impressive core muscle strength!
After Trujillo we headed for our last taste of the Andean mountains in the famous Cordilleras near Huarez. The town itself is set in an almost surreal setting in a valley surrounded by no less than 6 snow caps over 5000 meters high. The $30 per night (splurge!) hotel we got offered a panoramic view of all of them from the rooftop where they serve their breakfasts. It was a wonderful way to start each day.
There are tons of options for trekking in the area but we were a bit limited on time and health. The time had to do with our upcoming flight from Lima and the health had to do with Kristines poor beat up knees. We decided we didn’t want to push too hard because we wanted to save her joints for the Himalayas so as far as hiking we just chose to do a single day trip. The day trip we chose to do was to a Lake called simply “Lake 69”. Sounds boring right? Well it is anything but that! We needed to hire a taxi to the start of the trail in the actual national park but luckily we were able to arrange the ride with a wonderful French couple so that we were able to split the cost 4 ways. The hike to the lake offered some of the most awe inspiring larger-than-life nature views I have ever seen in my life.
The hike also offered a couple of brand new personal experiences for me. The first one was actually chewing coca leaves. We’ve both drank tea made out of Coca leaves before and enjoyed it but we’ve never tried chewing. The guys we rented the taxi with happened to have all the necessary ingredients for the process, so we decided to try it. The chewing is supposed to prevent altitude sickness and fatigue, which is why the locals do it, so because we had just recently arrived at altitude and were already doing a strenuous hike we thought we would try it. I have to say that I didn’t feel any fatigue or altitude effects while I was chewing the leaves for the first couple of hours. The problems began when I spit them out and proceeded up the last incline up to the lake. I have never felt altitude sickness before, but I’ve seen Kristine suffer from it many times and it did not look fun! Well, this time I got to experience it firsthand. It’s a horrible feeling of complete exhaustion but yet not exhaustion. You walk 2 or 3 steps and your heart starts racing as if you just sprinted full out for 100 meters. You have a pounding headache to go along with the racing heart. Yet you are fully aware that it’s not your muscles or your conditioning that is causing this. Your muscles feel fine and you don’t feel tired but yet your body refuses to obey you. I started getting angry thinking that I’ve climbed higher and tougher places than this and I was not going to let this hike defeat me. Finally we made it to the top and I simply just collapsed at the side of the lake. As you can see it was worth every little bit of effort.