I look back at the last month and have no idea where the time went! Seems like just yesterday we were arriving in Peru, and now we only have a couple days left in this beautiful country. Sad as we are to go (especially since it means saying goodbye to the ocean for now), we are always excited to enter a new country. Ecuador is up next, and we are excited to once again discover new customs, foods, mountains, beaches, and towns. After leaving Cusco we spent a fun week as city slickers in the Peruvian capital of Lima, followed by a couple weeks backpacking through the mountains around Huaraz, and then finally surrendering to the beach-bum lifestyle for a week in Huanchaco. Being mountain people, it was inevitable that we would love our time in the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Huayhuash, but what we didn´t expect was to experience such a sense of comfort and community among the surfers and sun-seekers on the beaches outside of Trujillo. Our last week has been spent in a state of relaxation and ease that we have seldom experienced, even when we had a home in the states. That being said, it is with the feel of waves crashing over my body, the slight intoxication of warm sunshine on my skin, and the words of Patrick Swayze from Point Break echoing in my ears that I finally sit to write this blog.
For whatever reason, Lima does not have the best reputation. We arrived in the early afternoon after a long 20 hour bus ride and, with open minds, began exploring downtown Lima and the various plazas that the city centers on. After that first day we were ready to argue with any tourist that claimed the city was anything but beautiful and fun. We spent our first night in a sort of boarding house on the 15th floor of a skyrise right in the middle of town, and watched as thousands of locals gathered in the streets to celebrate Good Friday. After settling in, we ventured back out into the crowds and seemed to be swept along with the energy of Virgin Mary floats, street hawkers, and prayers on loop over huge loud speakers. We walked all evening, taking in all the plazas once again, and even making our way to Chinatown for a peek at some restuarants we would need to try in the days to come. We bought a few pastries from a local bakery and ate them the next morning from our balcony overlooking the whole western half of the city. The next few days were mostly spent in the charming, upper-class neighborhood of Miraflores, close to the ocean and about 20 minutes southwest of downtown Lima. We found ourselves a reasonably priced room, bought some groceries, and then explored our surroundings all day, every day. On our first night in Miraflores we treated ourselves to a long-awaited fancy dinner that we had been dreaming about for a couple months. Lima is internationally renowned for their cuisine, and we had (mostly) put off any seafood until we got there. We knew we wanted to go out for a romantic dinner, and Don found us the perfect spot. We spent the evening at La Rosa Nautica, a beautiful restaurant built on a pier right over the ocean, where we started with drinks in their seaside bar, continued with incredible seafood and a shared bottle of wine, and ended with such indulgent dessert that I could barely make my way home when the time finally came. It was a memorable evening and worth every penny (even though it cost about the same as a we usually spend on a week´s worth of food). While walking along the beach on another afternoon, we went to see about an outdoor pool that we had seen from above, and were invited into a private country club by a very rich and kind Peruvian woman. We spent the afternoon sunbathing among the rich and famous and got back to our hostel later that night with a good understanding of how easy the rich city lifestyle could be to get used to. One of the highlights of our time in the city was the impressive Parque de la Reserva, which holds the title of greatest number of fountains in a public space. With 10 beautiful fountains, a fountain tunnel of love, and a nighttime fountain show (Bellagio-style), it is a wonderful way to spend an evening. Despite our enjoyment of Lima, after a few nights, we began to feel the wear and tear of the city and eventually made plans to take an overnight bus to Huaraz in the mountains.
Huaraz would have been twice as amazing (which is saying a lot because it was quite incredible) if it hadn´t rained the entire time we were there. That said, it was still one of the most incredible places either of us had ever seen and the mountains and lakes gave us perma-grin even when we hiked in soggy boots or sat in our humid tent and listened to the rain pound down all night long. We ended up staying two weeks, and getting in over 9 nights of backpacking, with a good number of days spent recovering in the somewhat touristy mountain town of Huaraz. Our first trek was the popular 3-night Santa Cruz trek and the crazy-rugged drive to the trailhead was honestly as impressive as the hike itself. Situated right in the Cordillera Blanca, we were surrounded by massive snow-covered peaks (many over 6,000m high) and many teal colored glaciar-melt lakes. The hike was simple enough, with a long hike up one quebrada (gorge), a steep pass where you come face to face with a mountain and its glacial lake, and then a hike down through another quebrada to the finish. It was a beautiful hike, but Don was under the weather most of the time and the rain came down relentlessly, so we gave ourselves a couple days off when we got back to town.
Our next hike was in the Cordillera Huayhuash (about 4 hours south of Huaraz) and ended up being 7 days and 6 nights. In the running for ¨best backpacking trip ever¨ and in direct competition with Salkantay, this trek challenged our fitness like never before, and also resulted in hundreds of gorgeous photos. The rain (which was in fact hail on two separate occasions) was relentless and discouraging, but in the end we both agreed that we would have done it again in an instant, even if we knew exactly what to expect. The most common route through Huayhuash is a 8-12 day circuit, typically done with pack animals and guides. After some map-reading and compromising, Don and I decided to do a modified 7-day circuit which would only have us exploring the northern area of the mountain range, would allow us to do it alone while carrying all our own food and gear, and would include a few days of off-trail bushwhacking. On our first day we met a few nice friends on the bus down, and had the privilege of hiking with Josh from Australia for the whole first 2 days. Josh became a quick friend and we even got to meet up with him and his wife Summer once we all got to Huanchaco a week later. On the first day of the hike we also had a wonderful dog, christened ¨Dread dog¨ because of all his long brown dreads, follow us to our first camp. Happy as ever to have another canine hiking partner, we certainly didn´t think it´d last long, since our second day began with a 5,800 m (19,000 ft) pass. However, Dread dog cleared the pass with ease and had energy to spare. Our second day was incredibly long and unfortunately included a slight 2-hour detour (my fault since I read the map wrong) in addition to a second pass in the middle of a snowstorm. We made it to our destination (the beautiful Laguna Carhuacocha) before nightfall and promptly curled up in our tents to eat dinner and get warm. Days 3, 4, and 5 were completely off-trail as Don, Dread dog, and I scaled up and over mountains on our way to desolate lakes and expansive ridges and passes. We found incredible campsites and never saw another tourist. Day 6 brought us back toward town, but we stopped just short early in the day and spent one more night camping since we had the rations and knew we couldn´t get a bus back to Huaraz until the following morning. When we hiked into the tiny town at the end of the trek, we were prepared for a sad, melodramatic goodbye to Dread dog, one of the most impressive and loving dogs we had ever met, but within moments he had run off, supposedly to go join up with the next tourists taking off into the mountains. All the locals in town knew him and claimed that he was always hiking the circuit with people. Most incredibly, Dread dog wouldn´t even eat human food! His sole motivation was to be hiking in the mountains with companions…now that´s a lifestyle we can respect.
When we finally got back into Huaraz, we treated ourselves to a tasty dinner and then went about the business of post-trip errands. We spent the next couple days sitting in coffee shops and internet cafes, doing laundry, buying a few groceries, and planning our dearture. Don became very clear with his intentions: as soon as possible, he wanted to be on a beach, drinking a beer in a hammock. We had made plans to meet up with our friend Naomi (our roommate in La Paz, Bolivia) at the beach outside of Trujillo, so things seemed to be falling into place. Unfortunately, when we got into Huanchaco a couple days later, to everyone´s surprise, it rained! It wasn´t a lot of rain, but it certainly wasn´t the sunny, beachy welcome we had in mind. As the weather worked on improving, we spent an excellent weekend with Naomi and a surprise meetup with our mutual friends Paula and Jeremy (also from la Paz, Bolivia). We had fun getting to know the little town of Huanchaco, eating perilously cheap ceviche, drinking pisco sours and beer, and then taking a surf lesson where we all stood up on our rented longboards. At the end of the weekend Naomi had to return to her job with a non-profit in Chimbote so we spent the day in the town of Trujillo and then at a big mall, complete with a food court and movie theatre (a truly cultural experience since this is where all the locals go to hang out).
On our first day in Huanchaco, Don and I had walked past the entrance of a colorful, beach-front hostel where a nice American named Julie struck up a conversation and filled our early morning with all sorts of laughter and entertainment. We had already made plans to stay in another place with Naomi, but after some thought, Don and I decided to ask Julie if she might need help at her hostel in exchange for a week of free accomodation. Don was especially keen on staying on the beach for a week and I couldn´t argue with his plea for more sun, beer, and surfing. To our wonderful delight, Julie said that she could in fact use us for one week because she would be in between volunteers and before we knew it, we had found ourselves a job! As I mentioned earlier, the week has panned out to be a wonderful, sunny, relaxing experience. Julie is a hoot, and she creates a wonderful community everywhere she goes. We´ve made some new friends from all over the world, and Don is quickly mastering the sport of surfing. Our days consist of a little early-morning housekeeping, cooking, swimming or surfing in the ocean, sun-bathing, reading, and hammock-napping, and then going out with new friends. We sleep every night on top of the hostel´s roof where there is a consistent cool breeze, we can see the stars and recently the full moon, and there is not a bug in sight. Every day we hear the words, ¨I´ve stayed a lot longer here than I originally planned¨, and we are well aware of how addicting this sort of lifestyle can be. It would be easy to kill a year here, barely aware of the change of seasons, but we have places to see and people to meet. On Tuesday we will be off to Ecuador and a whole new set of adventures. In the meantime, we plan on soaking up as much Vitamin D as possible and watching every surf movie ever made.