Friday, July 29, 2016

South America (Peru) - Day 135 - 138: Huaraz

Huaraz - the city of beeps. Cars beep at everything here, whether it's taxis spotting that you're clearly a tourist and therefore must want ferrying everywhere, or normal drivers honking in place of indicating, or even stopping. You'll be hard-pressed to go a full minute at night without hearing a horn, and that drops to fifteen seconds in the day. You'd think it would fade into background noise after a doesn't. We left David, Eugenia and Nuna at 11 and spent almost a full day on the bus. Huaraz is about 3000m above sea level so it's advisable to stay there for a day or two before hiking to avoid altitude sickness; on the bus a Peruvian lady told us she always felt the effects but didn't have any sorochi tablets, so we gave her some ibuprofen.  We arrived characteristically late in the city and decided to hike it up to our hostel, ignoring the persistent cabs trying to get our attention. Ezama hostel was the top pick on TripAdvisor and came at a bargain price to boot. We ran into problems immediately though when the owner Emilio claimed not to have our booking. After trying to shunt us into a room with two bunk beds I stood my ground, and after five minutes of explaining that we'd booked two days earlier, a double room magically became available. It was 10pm and we were a little peckish so took a walk a few blocks down to Mi Comedia Pizzería where we had pasta and fantastic Argentinean red wine along with some of the best service I've ever experienced at a restaurant. The owner was lovely and even featured on a painting, clearly having worked in the kitchen in her earlier days.


We decided to spend the next day acclimatising and exploring the city, as well as trying to find travel agencies that would offer us day tours. We hadn't banked on the fact that Easter was one of the main times of the year for Peruvians to take holidays, so two of the agencies I'd looked into were closed (well, one was, the other was nowhere to be found so was presumably locked behind shutters in a nondescript location we'd wandered past). After watching a random parade, we did some research over beers and lemon pie and found another recommended place which was actually open. Once again, the holiday period took effect and meant that prices were hiked up (thanks, Jesus) but we booked onto a trip to Pastoruri glacier for the following day. There really wasn't much else to see in the city - it's dirty, full of fumes, and has its fair share of unfriendly dogs - so the afternoon was spent wandering the local markets, buying lunch for the next day. Back at the hostel we booked flights in and out of the Galapagos, no thanks to the LAN airlines website, which is possibly the most unfriendly user experience one could wish for. They refused to accept our debit or credit cards, and even the usually reliable PayPal gave up, so we followed suit and eventually managed to get tickets through BudgetAir. It also seems that the more times you search for the same flights on Skyscanner, the more the prices increase. It's a pretty shady operation.



Still, an important part of our trip was now booked in, which was a relief. We celebrated by having a curry at Chilli Heaven - imagine our surprise to find that one of the waitresses working there was Nelly, the lady we'd given ibuprofen to on the bus the previous day! I was feeling brave and given that South America had been notoriously lacking in spice to date, I decided to order a vindaloo. I'd never ordered one in a restaurant before, especially not England; madras is normally what I'm most comfortable with, but given the tameness of the heat I'd experienced to date I didn't think it'd be a problem. I wouldn't necessarily call it a mistake as it was perfectly cooked, but it had the same level of heat as a UK vindaloo. Gilly spent the evening laughing at me over her rogan josh whilst I wiped away eyelid sweat. Thank goodness we'd ordered a litre of pisco sour to help my mouth. Whoever orders a phal from there is clearly insane.        


We had to be at the Quechuandes agency for 9am the following morning for no practical reason, since we then spent forty five minutes sat on a bus before returning back to our start point. Still, we eventually got going and just after eleven we arrived in the Pastoruri national park. There were a few stops before we got to the glacier. The first was to see Laguna Patococha, a lake with some ducks on it. Next up was a slightly more interesting mineral pool with naturally gassy water bubbling up to the surface. From there we went on to see Puya Raimondi, huge bromeliads which grow up to fifteen metres tall. Our guide only spoke Spanish which was a significant test of our schooling, but the general gist was that the Pastoruri glacier used to be huge, but has been devastated over the years by climate change and global warming. This was evident when we actually reached it after a forty minute walk from our final drop off point. The dramatic surroundings of the ice-covered Cordilleras Blancos overlooked the Pastoruri glacier, but even they have suffered from the planet's heating: a sign mentioned that in the last 33 years the mountains have lost over 27% of their snow cover. The glacier has fared even worse, since the path we took to reach its edge went through a rock bed that used to be underneath it forty years ago. At current estimates, Pastoruri glacier may not exist by the end of the decade. When we reached across to run our fingers over its surface, we were touching a piece of history; a poignant reminder of the damage we do to our environment.





For some reason, the park also includes a small dinosaur exhibit near a tiny lake. I had no idea why, but I love that the Spanish for them is "dinosaurios". While the walk to the glacier was a little tough due to the altitude (over 5000 metres!) and thin air, the walk back was (for me) not particularly pleasant since the vindaloo I'd eaten the previous night had decided that the ideal time to make its presence known was when we were 2km from the nearest baño. Thankfully I was able to control the situation enough for me to hotfoot it back to the entrance. I've never before felt like I've got so much value out of 20p.    








I'd like to say I was more sensible at dinner that evening, but we went back to Mi Comedia Pizzería to try their pizza this time, and I ordered the picante which came with rocoto peppers. These were far spicier than the tame ones we'd had in Lima, and it was my turn to laugh at Gilly as she struggled to cope with the heat. Still, a bottle of Sprite and Inka Cola (a poor man's Irn Bru, but oddly addictive) took the edge off.          

I had booked us onto a trip to Laguna 69 for the following morning. We left at 6:15 (half an hour after we were due to, natch) for a three hour bus ride to the park. En route we stopped at Recreo Campestre "El Granero", where we tried and failed for thirty minutes to get breakfast before eventually making do with a juice and a crap cup of coca mate. We had another couple of stops at other lakes before reaching our destination. Laguna 69 isn't the actual name of the lake. There are around 435 lakes in the area, and this one just happened to be given that number; others have been given Quechuan names, but since 69 wasn't discovered by Quechuan people when the survey of the lakes was carried out, the name stuck. It's 4400 metres above sea level, not as high as the previous day's trek, but significantly harder work. The journey up to the lake started off easily enough, along some fields with very curious cows, over a few streams and up a gentle incline alongside a mountain. Things soon got a lot tougher though, as the path got much steeper. The altitude took its toll on Gilly who found it much harder than both Colca Canyon and Machu Picchu. For me, I think the previous day's walking had helped me acclimatise a lot and I was happy to march on. That said, eating lunch near the top of the mountain was a good move for all concerned and when we finally created the ridge to see the lake, it all felt worthwhile. The difference between the stark icy landscape of the previous day's glacial valley and the lush, waterfall-filled greenery of the park couldn't have been clearer.        












Hiking back down was much easier, although we were a little behind on time having been told to get back to the bus for 4pm. After hurtling along at a significant pace we got there at 4:15, only to find we were the fourth people in the bus. We then had to wait a full two hours more for everyone else to get their arses back so we could actually leave. Pissed off does not begin to cover it. Thankfully we hadn't booked a bus for that evening, instead deciding to get one the following morning; if we had, it'd have been long gone by the time we returned to Huaraz at 9:15pm. Tired, damp and with the onset of colds kicking in, we were lucky enough to find Café Andino still open for Thai curry and a salad. Back at the hostel we got packed up and collapsed into sleep ahead of an eight-hour journey up north.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

South America (Peru) - Day 131 - 134: Lima

After breakfast we caught a tuk-tuk to Ica and then a bus from the terminal which took the best part of the day. Rather than try to navigate Lima's crazy public transport system, we bit the bullet and took a taxi to our AirBnB accommodation. We had a private room and bathroom with David and Eugenia in Miraflores, the upmarket area of the city. They owned an adorable German shorthaired pointer named Nuna who we immediately fell in love with, and David took us out to the park to exercise her.


The park we went to is normally lit up with miniature versions of the Nazca Lines, but sadly not on that occasion. Afterwards we took a stroll laong the promenade to El Parque del Amor and saw a statue of El Beso (The Kiss) before dropping Nuna off and heading to the main strip into Miraflores. There are umpteen restaurants in town, and David directed us to La Lucha which had fantastic burgers and home-made chips. It was pushing 11pm, but David was still game for a night out. He works as a translator from home, and has a lot of free time in the evenings where he often DJs at various clubs and bars in town. We ended up getting a taxi to Jabberwocky, but it was still a little early; like Argentineans, it seems that Peruvians prefer to start the evening as late as possible. We managed about an hour and a half in the club, playing table football(!) and taking in the electronica on the dance floor when other people finally showed up, but I was absolutely exhausted. I fell asleep in the taxi on the way home, and was very happy to crawl into bed when we arrived.


We had a bit of a lie-in, but then had to make our way over to a nearby hotel where I'd booked us in for a cooking class with six other people. The chef, Gonzalo, was fantastic. He spoke near-perfect English, and took the eight of us to a market where we spent a good hour exploring the different stalls. We'd obviously seen our share of markets on the trip, but having a professional chef explain everything we were looking at was brilliant. We got to try a bunch of different fruit, from grenadilla which looks like frogspawn, to guaba - also known as the ice cream fruit - which looks like a massive runner bean until you open it up and it looks like cotton wool wrapped around seeds. You eat the cotton wool - which tastes sweet and a bit like candy floss - and leave everything else. It was very moreish! We also got taken to the offal counter where we were informed about the different organs the locals buy for soups and stews. Not my cup of tea, but after being raised by parents who loved eating lambs' hearts it wasn't too disgusting.






Back at the hotel, we started the cooking course. Well, I think that's what happened, because to start with we had a pisco tasting. There were four different premium brand piscos, and they all tasted far better than the ones we'd had in Pisco Elqui in Chile (probably because they were about ten times the price). If that wasn't enough to get us lubricated, he then showed us how to make a pisco sour. I'm not sure if I prefer this or caipirinha more in terms of South American cocktails, but there's definitely more art in a pisco sour and Gonzalo whipped up a massive glass of the stuff. Suffice to say that when we actually got around to cooking, the entire room was half-cut. This was my kind of cooking class. The first dish was ceviche, which I fell in love with after that first experience with Fran and Ant in Chipo Libre in Santiago. We mixed fresh fish, onion, lime juice, yellow chilli sauce and corn together, and my output looked surprisingly professional given my state of mind.






Next up was causa, which is essentially cold mashed potato formed into a cube and mixed with whatever you feel like. In this case it was tomato (hmm), avocado (blurgh) and olives (ugh). Still, I'm pretty sure the outcome could sit on the front cover of BBC Good Food Magazine, or at least at the time I thought it could have. The last dish was lomo saltado which Gonzalo showed us how to make but did it for us, since it involved sliced steak, soy, garlic, cumin, onion, tomatoes and a lot of fire. I think if I tried it at home the roof might not survive, but it was damn tasty. The whole class took about 6.5 hours, and whilst not cheap, it still felt like great value and we got to make at least three things that I'd love to repeat at home. OK, so one of them is pisco sour, but it's still a craft.






We went for a beer with the two French guys on the class, Yoann and Jérémie, shortly before they departed up north, and then went back to the house to clean up before a night on the town. First up was El Vietnamita, a surprisingly excellent Vietnamese restaurant attached to a hostel in town. Getting there was a pain in the arse. We had decided to write off trying to understand the bus system in Lima and instead stuck to getting taxis everywhere. It wasn't cheap, but it helped us make the most of our time in the city, and we had a couple of apps (Cabify / Easy Taxi) that came with a free initial ride courtesy of David, so it wasn't all bad. After some spring rolls and beef with sesame seeds, beans and lemongrass, we were ready to dance. Valetodo wasn't too far away, and proved to be a fun night with a mixture of western music and local stuff mixed between a couple of rooms. We met a group of local guys who were happy to look after us and practice their English, and before we knew it 2am had rolled around. We somehow managed to walk the 3km home without any incident, and crashed out.


After a recovery morning we walked to La Mar for lunch, a famous ceviche restaurant handily located nearby. It had been recommended to us by a couple of people, and was a little on the pricey side, but the ceviche was fresh and tender. Unfortunately the waitress got our spice levels mixed up so I was given a slightly tingly plate whilst Gilly's almost blew her head off. A shame, but the sweetness of the cocktails took the edge off.


Soon after, we took a taxi to Huaca Pucllana, a huge clay and adobe pyramid dating back almost 2000 years. Its position in the centre of what is essentially the business district of the city made it one of the more unique urban sights we'd visited, and the painfully excavated bricks have retained their individuality, making them look like a huge fossilised bookcase. The guided tour was tough going, since there's zero shade around the site, but if you haven't seen many ruins - especially in the middle of a city - it's worth a look. We also went to the MAC to see what the latest modern art exhibition was like, but it was a little sparse and we got around it in about twenty minutes.





David had recommended we visit the Parque de la Reserva - this is a light and water park which has a number of scheduled shows each evening, ranging from typical colourful fountains to full-on water and laser combinations. We grabbed some chicken from a nearby anticucheria (the speciality is offal, normally heart, but I fancied something a little more palatable). It was run by a genial lady who was one of a dozen genial ladies on a strip outside the park, desperate to snag tourists in with their menus. Ours was great, she even charged my phone for me while we ate. After paying a nominal fee and heading into the park, it wasn't long before a full half hour of light shows kicked off at various places. The laser show in particular was spectacular. Wandering further into the park, we found a water tunnel, and then a labyrinth fountain, where the idea was to get to the centre, dodge the jets and make it back out again without getting wet. It looked a lot easier than it actually was, as I found out when I got soaked five seconds after entering, much to the amusement of two little old ladies who were stood by Gilly, absolutely wetting themselves with laughter. Not water, though. Apparently it's a good venue for weddings too, as we saw a bride - or perhaps someone in costume as a bride? - getting some make-up applied. I hope it was waterproof.











For our final day in Lima, we went to El Rocoto for an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, and I finally got to try rocoto rellena. I don't think it was as good as it would have been in Arequipa, as it didn't have the level of heat I was expecting, but the food was enjoyable and there was a ton of it. We stuffed ourselves silly, and then waddled to a taxi and took a trip to the Larco museum. In all honesty, I wasn't expecting much from it, since it just struck me as another set of pots. I was wrong. Aside from the beautiful grounds, the museum was excellent - well laid out, fully bilingual exhibits, and some really interesting pieces. It's amazing to think that some of these jars were crafted over a thousand years ago, when you look at the intricacy involved in their sculpture.





Afterwards we walked to Barranco, after stopping at a park halfway to have a nap in the sun. Barranco is the "indie" district of the city, and certainly has a rougher feel to it, but it also feels a lot more interesting than Miraflores, and there's a definite buzz to the nightlife. We sampled some of the wares (namely, pizza and beer) at the Barranco Beer Company over a few hands of cards, and wandered around the plaza and various side streets. If we ever come back to Lima, I would definitely like to stay here for a few nights. Walking back to David's, we stopped at Parque Kennedy, a park which is infamous for being home to literally dozens of stray cats. They turned up about 20 years ago - no-one is quite sure how many, or from where - and now they are everywhere. Some locals come a few times a week to feed and look after them, and take them to the vets where needed to try and limit the population growth. Some residents aren't happy about them, but so far the kitties have been well treated and they're something of a tourist draw now, so I can't expect they'll be going anywhere soon.





Our time in Lima was over, and we had another long 9 hour bus journey to take the following day. We said goodbye to David, Eugenia and Nuna, and got some obligatory Milt photos before hitting the road to Huaraz.