The waiter comes over with the coffee. I want to kiss him, I’m so happy.
"Thank god! I really just don’t handle the hangovers like I used to." I tell the 3 English gappies (gap-year travellers) who had accompanied me out the night before and again to breakfast in the café downstairs from our hostel. I am aware that I sound like a complete jackass for complaining about age at the age of 24, but when these 18 and 19 year olds nod sagely in understanding, I grunt a little in ironic appreciation of the continued farce.
That’s when I see the arsehole walking past.
"Eh you! Robert Guy Caldwell Browning!"
He swings around as if genuinely surprised to find me sitting in a café underneath the hostel we arranged to meet in the night before. Surprised my ass. Daft Cunt, I think, switching immediately into the language of Irvine Welsh, whom I had been reading in anticipation of a week with Scots.
"Macho Man!" he howls, as we take part in the appropriate homosocial bonding rituals of long lost friends, slapping each other on the shoulders gruffly after the slightly long hug, and talking in loud deep voices, disturbing the morning peace of half of the backpacker and local population of Lima.
He apologises for his absence the night before, blaming the airline for losing his friend’s bags, at which point he introduces me to Gee, my other Scottish comrade for the next week. Meanwhile I am apologizing for only waiting till 12, before hitting the bar with the gappies, whom I don’t introduce since I am blanking on half their names. I barely feel bad about this, and its all covered up smoothly as we go on making arrangements for the day; for the week, laughing and happy to be in each other’s company.
"I honestly thought you had missed the flight…again." I tell him, referencing his extended stay in Trinidad the previous summer after an abysmal misunderstanding of 24hour time.
"Yea, well fuck you," he says almost embarassed, "I'm here now though, aren't I?"
Indeed. He is here; I am alive (or will be after my coffee), and the world is as it should be. Onwards and upwards.
"Enseñame a Bailar, por favor!"
After wishing the gappies a pleasant return journey (they were England-bound that afternoon), the boys and I went out to hit the grey, depressing streets of Lima. Lima is always grey... its worse than London, and along with the rubbish on the ground and the insanity of the traffic, it makes for an awful tourist destination. It is however, the central hub for all the comings and goings of South American travellers, so its a must-see, or at least a must-stop, on my bizzare route around Peru.
Having started in the south, I had cut through the mountains northwards to Huaraz, and now, with the Scots, starting a return migration to the south, along the coastal deserts, to Cusco.
But before, a night out in Peru's capital!
Neither of the Scots know Spanish, so when we divvied up the various tasks of travelling, I got to play translator. Donning their kilts, which they cleverly realised was the best thing to wear out in South America, we downed some beers and headed out to the clubs. It was a free-for-all. Swarms of women came over to giggle and attempt to see what was being worn underneath. They assumed I was their local pimp and tour guide, and I fended off dozens of questions concerning their pale, Scottish bits and the reason why they liked wearing faldas (skirts) out to a club. The drinks flowed and I taught the boys the only phrase they needed to know. "Teach me to dance, please!" A sure winner.
I did not expect to have to teach them, "Are you a hooker?" although as the night went on, I suddenly realised that this was far more important.
"I don't understand what she's saying, but I think she's really into me," Gee slurs. Yes... she likes you alot. I think.
"Right boys. Its late. We've got an early bus. Let's hit the road." I manage to tear them away with the only loss of funds that which we spent on drinks.
We laughed all the way home, the boys only mildly hurt that they were used by the club manager as bait for gringo-chasers and whores. We went back to our hostel with the sunrise barely noticible through the grey haze of Lima, happy to be heading out of the grungy city and onto our travels.
"Is it...? Oh yes, its that time again! Beer o'clock!"
After a short 6 hour bus ride, complete with Nicolas Cage movies in Spanish (language is unimportant in Nick Cage films), we arrived in the oasis town of Huacachina (pron: Wa-ca-chee-na). Situated in the bosom (yes, I used the word bosom) of the southern Peruvian desert, its an ideal watering hole for the tired traveller. Or in our case, the adventure-seeking traveller. Riding out the day's good luck, we reached our hostel in JUST the right time to jump onto a sandbuggy/sandboarding tour of the surrounding dunes.
So we went, catapulting through the desert, strapped into the buggy with rollercoaster-esque fortifications, rolling around in the fine sand.
This time, our boards were a little better (marginally) and while it was still impossible to turn or stop, we bulletted down the dunes on our feet, ass, bellies, or any other part we could gain enough balance on the wooden boards.
After watching the sunset over the desert, we returned, slightly chilly, to our hostel and grabbed a wuick bite to eat with some Dutch and Aussie boys who had joined us on our tour de la desierta.
Announcing to great surprise and greater applause that it was that time again, the ever-present 'beer o'clock' we returned to the hostel, gathered up the stray other guests, a pair of swedes and an irish lassie who was game for a laugh, and we hit the town.
Note: The town entails about 15 buildings. 4 of which were pubs... so our choices were limited.
Undeterred, we pubcrawled around town, letting the laughs get louder, and the scenery get blurrier...
I woke up at 6, completely confused as to why the boys were shouting at me.
"The tour mate! The tour!"
Right! We had booked a boat tour of the Islas Balestas, 'the Poor Man's Galapagos', which we were supposed to be meeting outside...now.
We rushed down, still drunk and met the coked up Swedes from the night before still actively raving in the streets, alone. After finding our bus, we jetted over to the bay, where I bought my coffee, and passed out in the front of the boat as it lazily took off to the Islands offshore. I woke up to 4 languages being spouted in my ear, explaining about the value of bird shit as a fertilizer in the 1800s; the mating season of sea lions; and the diet of penguins. The sun was too bright, and the smell of guano was too strong. I gazed about, took in what I could, and happily rejoiced when the boat began its return journey and I could doze again.
We arranged our belongings, gathered everything together, and departed from Huacachina that evening, accompanied by Eimear, our Irish lassie, to Arequipa.
"Deep as baaalls"
We reached the white city early in the morning and booked into our hostel and took our necessary naps. Arequipa is known as the white city since its old buildings were constructed out of the volcanic rock that is found in the area that is bright white. It makes for a pretty city, and as the second biggest in Peru, a far superior version of Lima.
Arequipa is an important stopover for tourists for other reasons than that however. It is also situated next to the world's 2 deepest canyons. To hike down into (and back out of) one of these was the reason we had come, so after a day spent walking the sunny, white streets of downtown, we booked onto a tour and retired to sleep.
The Colca Canyon is quite impressive, and amazing and whatnot, and after walking up he mountains of the Cordillera Blanca, I felt confident that the descent into and return out of, the giant crease in the earth's crust would be easy. It wasn't.
I realised the morning of the trek that my stomach was in knots, a bad warning sign of things to come. It wasn't until after the 3 hour drive to the Cruz del Condor (a lookout on the tp of the canyon where you can se dozens of Condors flying about a foot from your head), that my bowels gave way.
After that, it was a 4 hour hike down the cliffs with only the most serious determination to hold back the flow. Protip: Do not attempt hiking with diarrhea.
We made it to the oasis in the gorge not a moment too soon and enjoyed the luxuries of a pool, well cooked meal and toilet paper.
The following day it was all uphill, scaling the other cliff of the worlds deepest canyon at sunrise. We made it successfully, with the only shit en route that of the donkeys. After relaxing in some hot springs and another meal which I hesitantly ate, knowing I was only filling the tank to be purged again, we headed back to Arequipa, and boarded the first bus to Cusco.
This looks familiar...
Cusco. Again. Goddamnit. I had made the whole loop around the south of Peru, and come back to where I begun.
Pros: 3 more days of beer o'clock, bungee jumping, and good company.
Cons: The worst bus ride in history....repeated.
So thats what we did. The boys paid for their Inca Trail trek, Eimear and I teamed up to drink the whole hostal bar under the table with joint Trini-Irish ferocity, and we spent 3 days alternating between hungover as ass, and drunk as fuck. Luckily for us, for the boys especially, Cusco seems to have more tourists than locals in it, so chatting up people at the bar was less of a risk of losing important information in translation, such as "What's your going rate?"
The long and short of Cusco was much of this. We never made it to the bungee, as my stomach was in knots without having been suspended by rubber bands 120m in the air, and Rob was perpetually hungover, so we kept missing the times.
When the time came to bid my Gaelic comrades adios, I was overcome by great sadness and great ingeniuity. Screw the bus. I would shit myself for sure riding up and down those hills for 22 hours. Plane it would be.
So I hugged my mates goodbye (appropriate length hugs this time), paid the extra lump for a flight and took off... third time BACK to Lima.
A dip in the saaaalt
I landed, hopped in the first bus heading north, and booked it out of that grey menacing metropolis to the long, sandy beaches of Mancora.
Not much to report out of here. I finally took my first sea bath in the Pacific. Couldn't attempt the surf lessons, since I woke up only ever in time for the 1PM football match, and my balance was usually gone by the end of the second half.
Now, I have left Peru, after a long roundabout trip, and crossed into Ecuador, home of US currency, the equator and a slew of Pacific coastal surfing towns which I am currently crawling northwards on. First time the customs officers didnt even raise an eyebrow at my passport, perhaps as the German guy I was travelling with mentioned, I'm getting closer to home...
Ciao for now.
- Some truly sad news to report as I finish this entry: My camera was lost in the deserts of Huacachina several weeks ago, and although I have backed up all the photos on a USB, the oppurtunity to take more is vanished. I am/was deeply upset by this, but travelling without the burden of taking pictures is almost a relief now. I reunite with Alyssa shorly to head north to Colombia, and the boys took enough for me when I was with them, so I am not totally destitute.