My Poker Face

6 05 2010

If it’s possible, my last day in Máncora was even lazier than all the others. It was a scorching hot day but I’d got patches of sunburn all over me —backs of knees, side, and some amusing handprints showing where I’d missed getting my back completely covered the day before — so sunbathing wasn’t really a sensible option.

After having a really tasty smoothie at the bar, I went to the launderette to pick up my laundry but the original 8pm pickup of the previous evening had metamorphosed into 12pm in the book. She even had the audacity to point at the poorly overwritten 8pm in the book and imply that it had always been midday today. In the morning, I said goodbye to Melissa and Holly (they were heading to Ecuador too but not where we were off to; although I hope there is a slight chance that we bump into each other somewhere) and then packed my bags so that I could checkout.

Somewhere in the night I’d jumped out of my bunk onto my tube of toothpaste which had made a nice mess on my jeans so I had to clean them off a bit before I could conclude my packing properly. Another repack when I realised I’d left my passport in the bottom of my rucksack (somewhat essential for a border-crossing) and then I could finally checkout. The bill was a lot bigger than even I’d expected —384 soles for 3 nights — oh well I’d only have to change them to dollars soon anyway.

I just hung out around the bar and pool area chatting to the Canadians and then Olivia and Christi. When the gas stopped working in the kitchen they decided to head out of the hostel for lunch so, for the first time in Máncora I actually ate outside the hostel. We went to Green Ham and Eggs, a great America-owned cafe with the most fantastic food — the shrimp burger with homemade tartare sauce and beer-battered sweet potato fries was truly awesome —but with service that would make Fawlty Towers look like a Michelin-starred restaurant in comparison.

Olivia had to buy yet another pair of flip-flops — for the second time in less than 3 days she’d managed to lose/get stolen a pair at a bonfire party — and that was also an exercise in bizarre customer service. We ended up getting the American lady from the restaurant to take the money for the unattended shop; which had lots of really nice, expensive merchandise in it; and then had to wait a bit longer whilst she got the change from the restaurant.

After lunch I finally picked up my laundry and then joined the winner-takes-all Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament. I’m far from a good poker player but I had a lot of fun and my unintentional “I’ve only got a straight” (I wasn’t sure it was worth more than 2 pairs) when I was forced to go all-in for the first time caused a bit of mirth. Eventually after surviving quite a while and doing seemingly okay my stack of black chips got steadily smaller and just after the 3 tables had been consolidated to 2 I found myself outclassed and my next all-in with just a puny pair to show for my troubles was not enough to keep me in the game.

In the evening I said my goodbyes to Olivia and Christi and then we headed off to the bus station. Well, I call it a bus station but it was just a place along the road where we had to wait for the bus to finally deign to make an appearance. Quite why they wanted us there 30 minutes beforehand when there was no pre-boarding check or baggage drop-off I don’t know. The bus journey itself was not great, the frequent stops where the lights would come blazing on; the border crossing and the ravenous mosquitos meant that it was quite difficult to get a decent amount of sleep.

At around 4:30am we arrived at our first destination of Guayaquil, the biggest city in Ecuador — which despite being the final stop wasn’t announced. We arrived at a huge, modern bus terminal full of shops and restaurants (all closed due to the early hour) and then got our second bus to Montañita. This bus was empty so you could spread out a bit but the rising sun meant that it was also tricky getting a reasonable amount of sleep there too.





Surfing mañana

5 05 2010

I’d said when I first got to Máncora that I’d take a surfing lesson but it always seems to mañana mañana. Yesterday’s excuse was that I was too hungover and today the steady winds meant that the ocean was full of kite surfers and I didn’t fancy weaving in and out between them. At this rate it will be Ecuador before I finally pluck up the courage to go for the plunge.

So another lazy day chilling out on the beach (got sand-blasted due to aforementioned wind) and round the pool. I even pulled the Learn Spanish book out but my corazón wasn’t really into it so I gave up after a little revision. Another thing that will have to wait for Ecuador! At least I seemed to have rediscovered my drinking legs. By 4pm Andy and I had already started on the beers and the bar looked like it might be more promising that evening. In the end, it was still quite subdued for a party hostel.

After the Belly Busty BBQ at 8pm (it was all right but hardly worth writing home about – or even mentioning in my blog) there was a Name That Tune quiz. Andy and I joined up with the Darwin girls as the Cuy Fuckers (we also weren’t going to win the prize for best team name either) but we didn’t do that well. The quiz had been set by Matt, the 37-year old bartender from London (he reminds me a lot of the British guy in one of the American home improvements show that they show on Net5 or Veronica) and that was obvious from the age of the music and the genre. Despite sharing the same age, my knowledge of classic rock tracks isn’t that great.

After the quiz the bar didn’t quite live up to my earlier expectations. At one point Andy and I were going to jump into the pool but one of the bartenders saw us emptying all the stuff out of our pockets and me removing my T-shirt so we got stopped just before we did the deed. This time when the bar closed and we were ushered out I decided to go straight to bed instead of moving on to a new venue.





A lazy day and beer pong

4 05 2010

I felt quite rough when I got up in the morning so I just lounged around by the pool soaking up the sun and listening to my iPod. Andy, on the other hand, only actually bothered to get up for sunset! In the evening there was a beer pong competition (throwing ping-pong balls into beakers of beer: forcing the opposing team to drink it) and I joined up with Ed from Dorset for one match.

We lost, having only got 2 of their 4 beakers, so we had to finish their remaining 2 beers too. I met a few new people in the bar that night — Julie and Sarah (Canadian); Melissa and Holly (Darwin, Australia) — and both Christi and Olivia were working behind the bar so there were lots of people to speak to but the bar was dead. I’d thought the previous night was quiet and didn’t think it could have got any worse.

An Irish guy, Tom, decided to jump in the pool; which was strictly against the rules after hours but it was funny to watch him splashing around whilst the bar staff just looked on. Apparently he was escorted to his room four times and kept escaping through the window (why he didn’t just use the door I’m not sure).

When the bar shut I headed down the road to The Point hostel in a tuk-tuk with the two Canadian girls: apparently there was a party on there, but the atmosphere wasn’t that exciting so we came back after just one drink and went to bed.

Julie, Ed and Sarah at The Point hostel

And having written all this I realise that I probably need to get back to some proper travelling soon instead of just relaxing on the beach otherwise my blog is going to get really boring!





Paradise found

3 05 2010

“And me, I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not some place you can look for, ’cause it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something, and if you find that moment… it lasts forever…” thus spake Leonardo di Caprio in the film of Alex Garland’s The Beach. And although I’ve visited far more paradisiacal looking places in my time I definitely felt that moment when I got to Máncora.

View from my sun lounger at Loki, Máncora

The overcast skies of Huanchaco 10-hours down the coast were replaced by cloudless blue; huge albatrosses scudded across the sky like pteranodons of yore and the surf looked like something that even an absolute beginner like myself might be able to try on a board.

Andy and I arrived at 6:30 and were immediately inundated with a bevy of tuk-tuk drivers offering to take us to Loki hostel. The first quote was for 15 soles — to which Andy told him to get on his motorised, cabin-enclosed bike — before we arrived at the much more reasonable fee of 2 soles. Once at the hostel we were immediately shown to our dorm and promptly went to sleep for a few hours.

In the morning we wandered around the beach and explored the town — nothing particularly noteworthy about either — and in the afternoon I just sunbathed on the beach. I asked about a book exchange at Loki so that I could trade my brand-new, unread book for something I hadn’t read yet but the paltry, dog-eared selection of books in Hebrew, German and Serbo-Croat weren’t really tickling my fancy so I was still without reading material. Maybe I should pull out that Learn Spanish book again.

In the evening there was a pub quiz in the bar so Andy and I formed a team with Christi (Alabama), Olivia (Australia) and Matt (Canada). We did okay but we weren’t even in the top 3. After a fair few drinks in the bar the long bus journey was starting to catch up with me and I began to hit a wall but a few alcoholic slushies later and I seemed to come back. Once the bar had shut we headed off to another bar but en route Christi heard about a bonfire party on the beach so we headed there instead. I immediately passed out on the sand and slept through most of it.

When we got back to the hostel around 4am Andy managed to trip and ended up on top of someone else’s bed; which was quite amusing for us but I’m not sure the Israeli in the bed found it so fun. Still, he never cracked a smile the whole time he stayed there so I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered what we did.





Leaving Huanchaco

2 05 2010

I hadn’t really spent much time in Huanchaco – my sudden trip to Lima and back for a day had curtailed most of the activities I had planned for it – but everyone else was moving on and I couldn’t see the hostel suddenly sparking into life any time soon. I tried to book myself on the Chan Chan and Moche pyramids for the day but the only tour available was in Spanish so I let it lie. I’ve seen a lot of ancient monuments recently so missing a few out wasn’t going to hurt too much.

I got up and had some breakfast with Julia and Pedro but my stomach was still not feeling good so it didn’t go down too well. Although perhaps scrambled egg and buttered toast was not the best choice for an upset stomach. Pedro and Julia left immediately after breakfast for the bus station — I assumed they were heading into town to buy tickets for later and didn’t realise they were going straight-away. Still, I’d expected Julia not to be there when I got back from Lima (the May Day bank holiday had stopped her previous exit strategy) so I guess we’d already said our goodbyes then.

After breakfast I just wanted to crawl into bed and lie there all day but checkout was at midday and if I was going to leave then I needed to vacate my bed and book a bus ticket, so Andy and I headed into the main town of Trujillo to book our tickets. We got there with a collectivo for 1.50 soles (50US¢) and managed to get some tickets on the 8pm bus to Máncora. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get any cama or semi-cama seats so we were on the economico bus. It was going to be interesting.

In the afternoon I could have tried my hand at surfing but the waves looked huge — possibly not ideal for a beginner — and the weather was once again overcast, so sunbathing was also not an option. I opened the book that I’d bought at Lima airport for the princely sum of 70 soles and realised after the first chapter that I’d already read it — money well spent!

So pretty much a day of nothing doing and yet another dull blog entry. In the evening Andy and I went along the seafront and finally found a restaurant that didn’t just serve fish (whilst with Sue I’d mostly eaten ceviche and other fish dishes so I couldn’t face upsetting my stomach even more with further pescetarian fare) and we both had some chicken.

Then it was time to head off to the bus station for my final Peruvian destination of Máncora before I made my way across the Ecuadorian border. Hopefully we’d find some parties there…





Sick of the high life

1 05 2010

This is apparently my 100th post on my blog. I wonder if anyone out there has actually read all 100 of my inane witterings about what I ate for lunch and what drinks I had in happy hour. If so, you probably deserve some kind of prize for putting up with my banal blog.

After waking up in the comfort of a five-star hotel (which I wasn’t even registered to stay in), Sue and I headed out into Miraflores to pick up some breakfast. We opted for some churros – a long, piped doughnut filled with dulce de leche, the super-sweet spread that you seem to find on everything throughout South America. Our first ones were quite tasty but we had another one again in the centre of town and for some reason unbeknownst to us they’d put salt on it as well and the dulce de leche was only piped into the visible ends of the doughnut – stingy bastards!

We wandered around the Plaza de Armas in the centre of town so that Sue could see all the colonial buildings – I’d already been here of course back in March. Down by the Plaza San Martin a May-day demonstration was starting but, despite (or perhaps because of) the presence of lots of riot police, it didn’t look particularly troublesome.

Sue decided that she wanted an alpaca wool blanket but the tourist shops weren’t offering them for prices anywhere near what a local would pay (negotiation at such a huge discount didn’t seem a possibility) so we gave up on that tack and headed off for lunch – once more in a fish restaurant down by the beach.

Me wrestling a kraken-sized piece of octopus in my Pachamanca

After lunch we headed back to the hotel and, after 45 minutes delay, got the promised pickup to the airport. Sue met one of the girls from the fashion show – Riley (American, also living in Amsterdam) – and she hopped in the cab with us. Riley wanted to go to an artisan shop en route which caused the taxi driver no end of consternation – he was only hired to drop us at one location. Finally after some discussion with his English-speaking mother on the phone he agreed to take us there if we’d pay an additional amount of money.

After picking up some souvenirs for her son, we resumed our journey to the airport. My check-in was really quick – I had no bags to put in the hold and there was no queue for the check-in machines – and I then went over and joined Sue and Riley whilst they  checked in for their flight to Amsterdam. As we were going through security I suddenly realised that the national and international sections of the airport were split after we went through so I quickly hurried back and said goodbye to Sue across the metal barrier.

I then endured quite a long wait before the flight boarded – luckily eased by the discovery of a free WiFi access point – and then resumed my trip back to Trujillo. I got back to the hostel but Julia, Pedro and Andy were still out eating – so I headed to the empty Sabe’s bar for happy hour and had a couple of weak cuba libres. I wasn’t feeling too good and was just about to leave when the others turned up.

We played a bit of pool but after racking up the balls I suddenly had to dash off to the bathroom where I promptly disgorged my recent rum and cokes. After months of not getting ill from South American food I had finally succumbed – and this after I’d eaten in the posher restaurants instead of the usual backpacker’s fare. I stuck around in the bar for a while and didn’t have any further attacks but I felt far from good and not really in the mood for drinking. That was probably just as well since Huanchaco seemed to be absolutely dead for a Saturday night.

After playing a few games of pool with the world’s most annoying American (with Peruvian parents apparently) I finally headed back to the hostel and went to bed.





Another World

30 04 2010

Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day: the national holiday in the Netherlands) this year was strange: not just because for the first time in 10-years I wasn’t dressed in orange garb partying it up in Amsterdam; but also because for 24-hours I exited the world of backpacking. Not only did I take a mode of transport where the safety video didn’t constantly remind you: “The toilet is to be used for urination only. We repeat: the toilet is to be used for urination only. Should you have other needs please contact a member of staff and they will arrange a suitable stop-off with more comprehensive bathroom facilities but I was back in the world of 5-star hotels, business meetings and expensive drinks.

Obviously after so many months on the road — hiking boots that compared to my cats’ litter box would make that smell as fragrant as Chanel No.5; unruly sun-bleached hair; a face that hasn’t seen a razor for a month; scruffy clothes — it wasn’t going to be the smoothest re-entry into civilized society ever. Still, it could have gone much worse I guess…

In the morning I said goodbye to Julia, my travel companion of the past week or so, and then I headed to Trujillo airport (actually closer to Huanchaco where I was staying) to catch a flight down to Lima. “Why was I heading back on myself and using a quick and expensive mode of transport all of sudden?” some of you may ask. Well, last week my STBE-wife, Sue, got asked at the 11th hour if she could go to Perú to meet with some people from the Peruvian embassy, the trade minister and various luminaries within the South American fashion industry. It seemed like an interesting business trip so, after some deliberation, she agreed.

While Sue was sorting out all the last-minute arrangements for this, I was wandering through the Andes completely incommunicado and it was only when I got back to Huaraz that I knew she was definitely going to be in the same country as me. It seemed bizarre to be in the same country and not see each other so, after a somewhat stilted exchange of information — my lack of a phone and her lack of a properly-roaming Blackberry hindered the dialogue — I decided to fly back down to Lima for a day to see her.

I slept through a lot of the short flight and actually had a bit of a hangover for the first time in months: I think my recent dalliance with sobriety due to lots of bus journeys; trekking; and travelling with someone who doesn’t overindulge in the grape or the hop, finally lowered my resilience. I did speak briefly to my neighbour on the flight: Mia, a teenager originally from New Mexico who was working as a missionary with her parents near Trujillo. She was on her way down to Lima to take her SAT because she was home-schooled. They’d been in Perú for around 5 years. Religion and I don’t really mix — these days I’m firmly in the Richard Dawkins’ school of thought — but I kept those opinions to myself and hoped that the good they did for the local community outweighed any damage due to religious indoctrination.

At Lima airport I got an official taxi for the princely sum of 40 soles. The taxi driver duly informed me that our destination — the Thunderbird Hotels Principal in Miraflores — was muy caro and did I have a reservación? I guess I didn’t look like the usual patron of such an establishment. Luckily at the hotel I didn’t have too much trouble: I even wandered up to the reception and got a password for the WiFi; but after I’d been in-and-out of the hotel a few times one of the security guards asked me if I was staying at the hotel and what my room number was. My Spanish was not up to the task of answering this properly but luckily the concierge was able to step in and explain that I was waiting for my wife and would be staying at the hotel that evening but didn’t know her room number.

When Sue arrived we decided to head out for a late lunch. I didn’t really know where to take her — I didn’t think the kind of eateries that I’d recently frequented were quite what she had in mind — so we headed down to the seafront and found a Peruvian restaurant in the mall there. As we walked in they asked us where we were from: Sue said Holland rather than the UK so we had a Dutch flag on the table for our dinner. This seemed highly appropriate on Queen’s Day. They had a buffet-service but we decided to splash out and go à la carte. This seemed to be more in keeping with the white linen tablecloths anyway.

We shared a tiradito: a variation of ceviche that doesn’t have the onions. We also had it with the yellow chilli pepper sauce instead of just with lime juice. The portion was absolutely huge and it was lucky we only got one starter between us. Ironically the mains were probably a bit smaller but we shared them too: a seafood risotto with black squid ink and prawn and spinach ravioli. I hadn’t eaten this much for lunch in ages!

Queen's day in Lima

In the afternoon we went shopping around the Indian markets for some souvenirs and then in the evening Sue was having a business meeting with a local agent – Cristina. In true South American style she was nearly an hour and a half late and she’d brought her husband and his eldest daughter along too. Since they were also in the textile industry I think their presence at dinner was probably more appropriate than mine! They took us up to the old Lima culture ruins, Huaca Pucllana, which I’d visited when I was first in Miraflores back at the beginning of March.

Overlooking the ruins was a very posh restaurant and that was where we would be dining. Most of the dinner conversation was about the textile industry so I couldn’t really contribute but I did talk about my travels a bit. The family was most disconcerted to discover that I would no longer be visiting Brazil (they’d lived there for many years and the daughter, Alexia, was Brazilian) but I said I may visit there some other time in the future.

After dinner they dropped us back off at the hotel and then (after many attempts due to the faulty roaming) Sue phoned Cesar, her contact from the Peruvian embassy, to see where they were. I was pleased when it turned out that he was out in the Barranco district of town. I’d been there previously on a Tuesday night at 9pm and it was absolutely dead so I was intrigued to see what it looked like at midnight on a Friday. I wasn’t disappointed: it was heaving with people.

We got a taxi from the hotel and, in common with so many other taxi drivers in South America, he didn’t have a clue where he was going. We’d asked to go to Pica’s bar and he simply dropped us on the main drag and pointed us that way. The bar was not there. We asked a bouncer at one of the bars and he pointed us still further down the road. Eventually the bars ran out so we asked another couple and they pointed back the way we came, across the square and down into the park. This turned out to be the right instructions.

Me in Pica's with the fashionistas: Andrea, Rochi and Sue

Finally at our destination, we chatted to all the people that Sue had met at the fashion show throughout the week and the Vogue party the previous evening. It was a great night: although the beer was expensive compared to my normal backpacker budget.





Huanchaco

29 04 2010

We arrived in Trujillo early in the morning and got a taxi to Hostal Naylamp in the seaside town of Huanchaco. In our dorm we met Pedro (Portuguese) and Andy (Irish). I’ve been bumping into Andy quite a lot recently – we’d chatted to him in the queue for the bus to Huaraz and then seen him again on the Santa Cruz trek coming the other way – but didn’t know his name until now. I also met a French guy – Berto (Bertrand) – who was there on a 2-week holiday visiting his Peruvian girlfriend. I spent most of the morning getting my blog back up-to-date again and then wandered into town.

Huanchaco

There were lots of the local reed boats – caballitos de totora (little reed horses) – along the beach and their owners were busy repairing their nets ready for their next trip out. Apparently you can pay them to take you with them and it’s supposed to be an awesome ride but I didn’t see any fishermen preparing to push-off. The surf looked pretty good and I was teased to take some surfing lessons but I may save that for another place.

I had lunch in a Dutch-run vegetarian restaurant just next to the hostel. I had the falafel which was allegedly the best (only?) in town but it was hardly up to the standards of a Maoz falafel after a boozy night out in Amsterdam. After lunch I headed down to the beach and sunbathed for a bit whilst reading my book.

In the evening we (Pedro, Andy, Julia and I) decided to head to Sabes bar – apparently this is the best place in town – but it didn’t open until 8pm so we had a beer in the hostel first. After eating some fish at one of the local restaurants we then went to the bar. Happy Hour was still on so I had about 4 gin and tonics. They tasted pretty weak but I was getting quite squiffy so there must have been some alcohol in them.

We played a few rounds of pool (Andy in particular turned out to be very good) but my playing has continued to regress as I’ve travelled and I was quite dire. We then played pool with some new arrivals in the bar (Peruvian, Israeli and Swiss) which with our 4 different nationalities as well made the bar begin to feel like the United Nations! A bit later on I chatted an English and a Dutch girl before I headed off to bed – I had to be up early-ish the next day for a flight back to Lima.





Farewell Huaraz

28 04 2010

We headed off to Cafe Andino for breakfast. It seemed like so long ago when I’d last had a decent cup of coffee and the T-Rex breakfast burrito was awesome. After that we headed to the Movil Tours bus station in a tuk-tuk to book our bus ticket up to Trujillo for that evening.

I spent most of the day desperately trying to get my blog up to date after all the days in the hinterland; although we did head out in the afternoon to get a slice of cake with Leon (Dutch) and Elin (Swedish) who Julia had been chatting to on the roof terrace.

In the evening we all headed off to Pizza Bruno for dinner and then Julia and I had to dash off to catch our bus. The bus was quite comfortable (easily comparable to Cruz del Sur) and it boded well when they put Clash of the Titans on. Unfortunately the DVD kept skipping huge swathes of the film so eventually I gave up watching it and watched the recently downloaded Shaun of the Dead on my laptop instead.





Back to civilization

27 04 2010

On the way down, I finally found the energy that I’d been lacking all week – perhaps it was the prospect of getting back to the real world – and walked down the valley quite fast. It also helped when I put my iPod on and was practically dancing my way down the rocks.

Views on the final way down

After about 4 hours steady walking with very few breaks, we got to Cashapampa. Here, for the first time on the whole trek, someone actually checked our ticket to ensure that we’d paid the park entrance fees and then we caught a collective taxi to the nearby town of Caraz. Our original plan was to take another trek from there to another nearby lake but by this point I think we both felt completely trekked out and we’d seen enough lakes so we decided to head back to Huaraz. After a quick pit stop to get a soft drink (Kola Real!), we got another collectivo (my rucksack was in my lap for the whole 2-hour journey) and headed back to Jo’s Place.

Reunited with all our remaining clothes and, of course, my laptop, we showered and chilled out for a bit before deciding to head back to Chilli Heaven for dinner again. This time I decided I was going to have some Mexican food – although in the end I got some chicken hoisin fajitas which I guess would be a Mexican/Chinese fusion. Whilst there we bumped into the Irish couple from the Way Inn – Bill and Laura – and they also joined us for dinner.

This time I did treat myself to a Leffe Blond but I finished off with a local beer – my budget isn’t that accommodating! Simon gave us the details of the best bar in town but we were all quite bushed from our days of trekking so after dinner we headed on home.