In every region of the world (SE Asia, Central America, South America, etc.) there is a trail that most travelers follow. You’re either heading one direction or the other, along with the other long-termers, and this is great for two reasons:
- If you’re on the same trail and similar timeline you continue to cross paths with the same people, forming friendships and sometimes deciding to stick together.
- If you’re crossing paths going in opposite directions, you share valuable information and recommendations for upcoming moves. For example which bus company to take, the best hostel to stay in, how much things should cost, what food you have to try and what day trip is worth taking or skipping, among other things.
In addition to the “long-term trail” there is also the “vacationer or short-term trail”. No judgment. I admire anyone who travels for any length of time, but there are certain annoyances that occur when the long-term and short-term trails converge.
For starters the prices of everything from accommodation to food to bus tickets skyrockets because vacationers have a substantial budget and short amount of time. Thus, they are willing to pay because, “Hey! the prices are cheap in comparison to home.”
Locals in touristy areas end up looking at everyone as dollar signs rather than people because they’ve been treated poorly enough times due to bus delays, room quality, food not tasting like it does at home, etc. by travelers who aren’t accustomed to being in a second or third world country. Understandable, but frustrating.
I don’t want to go into a diatribe so this is the last thing I’m going to say on annoyances: CROWDS. Whether it’s a boat ride out to an island or visiting ruins, the experience goes from feeling authentic to feeling like you’re at Disneyland pretty quickly. To leave this paragraph on a positive note, when traveling in touristy areas any level of foreign language skills are appreciated and commented on, even our Spanglish!
In Peru, the two paths converge in Lima and continue southwest which was the direction we went. We left Lima on a high and went to Paracas, the jumping off point for day trips out to Isla Ballestas, which are said to be the poor man’s Gallapagos. We saw dolphins, warm water penguins, blue-footed boobies along with various other bird species, seals and crowds! The animals and islands were cool to see, but the stop in general was extremely touristy.
Huacachina is the next stop heading south and we made it a one night adventure. Upon arrival we ran into our friends Emer and Alex from Ireland who we originally met in Mancora and traveled to Huanchaco with. We all signed up for the dune buggy and sandboarding trip the same day we arrived along with the all you can eat/drink BBQ at their hostel.
I mentioned in my last blog that Peru has landscapes I’ve never seen before, well Huacachina is one of those places. The sand dunes are giant and stretch as far as the eye can see. The dune buggy drivers give you a ride worth your money and the sandboarding was good fun. Our driver definitely didn’t take us to any bunny hills.
The next night we all took a 17 hour bus to Cusco where everyone starts their Machu Picchu excursions. On the bus we met back up with another fantastic Aussie couple, Jessie and Kieran, who we first met in Huaraz and hung out with in Lima. See what I mean about crossing paths with the same people? It’s great!
Cusco rubbed me the wrong way at first- probably because we arrived fresh off the night bus which usually turns me into a zombie. It felt like everywhere we went we were being yelled at about different tour options, massages, restaurants, etc. Thankfully my initial impression changed quickly to fondness due mostly to staying at a cool hostel and having great company.
Jessie and Kieran were also staying at Intro Hostel and Sam, a fellow Seattleite we met in Ecuador, was volunteering there. We spent a few nights on both ends of our Machu Picchu trip at the hostel and had a lot of fun in a college frat sort of way. On the first night Jordan and Kieran teamed up and won the beer pong tournament and on Halloween I joined Jordan, the defending champion, and we were the reigning champs. Both nights resulted in free drinks all night – score! We also streamed the live Seahawks games with multiple other Seattle fans two Sundays in a row… like I said, frat-ish and fun!
In between the good times at Intro, we went on a four day jungle trek to Machu Picchu with a group of 13 other people. What an amazing experience! The first day we drove through the Sacred Valley and up to a point approximately 4,000 meters high where we then descended for three hours via mountain bike. The only off-roading we did was over the remnants of a recent landslide which I was thankful for as a non-experienced mountain biker, but Jordan was a little disappointed about. The afternoon provided a bit more of a thrill for him when we river rafted through class III rapids before hiking up to our hostel for the night high in the Andean jungle.
The second and third day we hiked on parts of the Inca trail, along rivers and train tracks to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. Along the way the views were stunning, cliffs were steep, weather was perfect and sand fleas tore most of our legs apart. The bug bites are actually how you can tell in Cusco who has been on the jungle trek, or not.
On the trail, our Guide also provided a lot of information about the Incas and current Peruvian beliefs. For example, we learned about the importance of the coca leaf crop in the past and present. The coca leaves when steeped as tea or chewed on (similar to chewing tobacco) provides relief from altitude sickness as well as energy and acts as a digestive aid, and it’s a major export.
Our day at M.P. was as you might imagine it to be: a bit mystical, a lot of climbing, breathtaking views and Disneyland-like crowds. Our Guide for the trek, Ricardo, spent about an hour with our group in the morning providing some history and a base for us to then explore for ourselves. After checking out the ruins, we hiked up to Machu Picchu Mountain 3,082 meters high where we had the postcard perfect views of M.P. with Huayna Picchu, Hydroelectric and Aguas Calientes as the backdrop.
Despite being more touristic, the south was the more adventurous part of our Peru experience and a great way to close out our month long stint in the country. As a whole, Peru has so much to offer for both long-term and short-term travelers and I think it’s important for all to have realistic expectations for the experience or better yet, no expectations at all. We entered Peru with high hopes and left the country richer in friendship, knowledge and spirit.