Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Summer 2012: A PERUse through Ecuador.

After three weeks in Colombia and a massive underestimate of finances, we had to reign in both time and money as we raced our way through Ecuador and into Peru.

Although we only spent six nights there, Ecuador started something in our South American tour that has stuck right until the end – spontaneity. Having spent the night in the quaint but not too lively Quito, we were heading to Banos (a six hour bus journey north) when we first ‘flipped our coin’.

Having been told a venture to “one of the most beautiful sights in the country” was an impossibility on our time scale, we became intrigued to try. Sat on the floor of a bus terminal in central Ecuador, we tossed the coin and the rest was history. Heads would have had us boarded a bus directly to our destination, but as it was, tails had us riding in the back of a local truck to a Crater Lake more than two hours off course. The snow-capped mountains surrounding the lake added to its natural beauty and the adventure getting there and back itself was worth adding to the travel bucket list.

Banos was a backpacking playground of rental buggies and motorbikes. We spent two days playing dot-to-dot with waterfalls along the winding countryside roads. Ecuador was flying by but we were doing it in style.
I’d hazard a guess that out time in Ecuador was spent 33% on transport, and that includes sleep. Our crossing into Peru being the most dangerous, lucky and ridiculous of those journeys. Travelling to the border at 11pm, we weren’t sure if we had time to cross that night. Dumped in a town that straight away we all felt unease with, we had to trust instincts and jump into a taxi with an Ecuadorian that said he could get us across the border that night – we had little other choice.

Even the local looked on edge as we swept the town for a sign of a Peruvian bound bus but, true to his word, he had us on a coach heading south that night. The entire experience probably summed up our time in Ecuador – frantic but after all was said and done, lots of stories to tell and a great deal of fun.

Deserving of some rest the three of us travelling together decided that a few days at a beach town was a great way to introduce ourselves to Peru.

Mancora is a place that parties 23 hours a day. Not at all a bad thing for three young lads but the batteries were anything but charged when we tore ourselves away from the fun of this surprising beach town. If you have a stereotypical view of what a South American party house might be like you aren’t too far away from the scenes of Mancora. We spent the days wallowing on the sun drenched sand before our tight timescale had us moving on again three days later. (You really appreciate the size of countries when you know that a 16 hour bus journey will only get you two thirds of the way to your next destination!)

A trait that resurfaces a lot in South America is arriving off a bus to completely contrasting natural surroundings to the ones you left 10 or more hours previously  - it’s the beauty and fascinating aspect of it being such a diverse continent. We got to Huaraz, a mountaineering and climbing hot bed, freezing cold and in countryside littered with the snow peeked mountains of the Andes, it felt like we should have been in a new country compared to the heat and ethos of Mancora.

Without the experience or days to spare to do a climb, we were still keen to get high into the Andes and see the mountain range from above - that ended up as a downhill mountain bike experience with a descent from 5200m to 2000m. At the beginning the cold froze my hands to the bike, the rough road (which is apparently used as an ‘A’ road by drug smugglers) rattled and shook my entire body – it was tough work. 45 minutes later and 2000m lower, the layers were off and the sweat began to be the produce of the hard work we were putting in – somehow the scenes of glaciers, sky blue lagoons and knife edge mountains make it all bearable.

After Huaraz, just a simple 8 hour ride to Lima followed immediately by a 21 hour bus had us  at the start point for one of the main reasons many tourists visit the South American continent – Machu Picchu.
From the colonial town of Cusco, Machu Picchu is a 4 day trek. Zip lining through canyons, walking along Inca trails, rafting down rivers and staying with indigenous families of the Inca region got us to the foot of our temporary Mecca.

We rose at 4am to be at the front of the queue, but that isn’t the front door. 1700 steps later let you into Machu Picchu - the physical exertion seemed part of the satisfaction though when we sat at sunrise inside the famously preserved archaeological site.

Glutens for punishment we conquered a further 1600 steps in scaling Machu Picchu mountain – the highest peak surrounding the great City. For three hours we looked down upon one of the Wonders of the World – smiling to the point of laughter at how lucky we were to be in our position. I’m still struggling to think of a better view I’ve ever had on my travels.

It’s often the case that truly heart stopping moments on your travels are memories that can only be dug out from inside yourself; the pictures from a piece of technology rarely do it justice. South America is quickly filling up my brains capacity – keep it coming, bring on Bolivia!

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