For many people, the trail from Cusco heads straight towards the coast, via the Nazca Lines, those mysterious etchings in the desert seen only fully from the air. The other option is towards Arequipa, a town popular with gringos and in close proximity to the world’s deepest canyon, Colca. Time was not on my side however, so it was straight to Lima for me – a city that I had been told time and time again was dirty, crowded dangerous and unpleasant.
Pulling in to the area of Miraflores then was a rather nice surprise. Families enjoying the sun, parks full of people and very classy shops and cafés on every street. True, this area is well known as the most upmarket part of town so it is not a fair assessment of Lima to judge it by this area alone. I was never wanting to stay here at all, however, so a couple of nights in a nice area was all I could ask for. The sea was in walking distance, and spending time in the warmth at the salt water at sea level was a welcome change from the last couple of months which had been spent almost entirely at elevation and often in the cold.
It was here that I was to say goodbye to my long-time (long-suffering) travel partner (hi Mirjam!), and head back in to the highlands. To mark the occasion, we went to the swankiest ceviche place in town, in the capital city known for its ceviche. We were not disappointed. Degustacion de Cebice, followed by a perfectly prepared Tuna steak alongside a cold bottle of Torrontes (white wine from Argentina – far more interesting than the ubiquitous Malbec, and generally unavailable in Europe it seems). Tiramisu and coffee to finish? Why not. It cost us dearly, but it was worth it. We dined alongside very wealthy limeños and felt like royalty; a worthy goodbye.
My remaining amiga and I went to the hills, specifically the town of Huaraz in the cordillera blanca to the north east of Lima. This area is known to contain some of the best trekking and mountaineering in South America, so I couldn’t pass it by. The events from the movie Touching the Void occurred here, and Joe Simpson annually makes the journey to the area to give tours. For all of the beauty of the mountains, the town pales in comparison. I judge it harshly on its appearances which is mostly unfair since the entire town of flattened in a huge earthquake in 1970 (which also destroyed the local town of Yungay killing 20,000 people in a single minute) and so is all modern red brick buildings. There is no charm in these buildings, but sadly (for me at least) there is even less in the town itself. For visitors, there is everything you need – hostels, supermarkets, restaurants and travel shops – but nothing more. All the better then, to head to the hills. Before this however, you are advised to stock up on calories, so a visit to Patrick’s Creperie is a good way to do this. Alternatively, try Chilli Heaven, a place a placed owned by a biker from Bolton that specialises in spice and serves up excellent fajitas and curries.
Fortunately I met up with a friend from earlier in the trip and we arranged to be tent buddies for the famous local walk known as the Santa Cruz trek. An early start meant that no one was in much of a sociable mood on the day so the minibus was a quiet place for the two hour drive to the trail head. Once we got a move on, it improved a great deal – as with most of these active treks, the people in the group were lovely. The first day was a lovely stroll through farmland and lush valleys, and the camp-site in a verdant spot next to a icy clear stream. Again, as with the Salkantay trek, the food was excellent. This was prepared by our guide, Leo (the rarely seen, female guide) who was a great chef as well as a great guide. An early start (they always are) was followed by the most challenging day, an ascent to the pass at just shy of 5000 metres. We were not fortunate with the weather and so the cloud closed in, and the visibility dropped to twenty metres or less. The temperature plummeted, and then we got snowed on. Chilly. After maybe a four hour climb with what felt like no oxygen at all, we made the pass. On the other side of the mountain, the weather was far nicer and the cloud even parted briefly to give us a look down the valley. It was all downhill from here – literally, fortunately, so the rest of the trek was simple by comparison. High peaks and cliff faces surrounded us all the time, but the clouds mostly stayed away. Two days of walking through gorgeous scenery followed.
Once returned to the grotty haven of Huraz, it was off for a beer and a celebratory fajita. We’d already decided to do a day trek the following morning due to it being constantly recommended to us, so that was that. The walk up to Laguna 69 was tough, with more than one false ascent (This must be the top! Oh… no it’s not) and for whatever reason, I found it very challenging due to the altitude. At the top though was something worth getting there for – a perfect blue glacial lake surrounded by snow covered slopes and dramatic peaks. No one swam, and I am not surprised.
Frustratingly I discovered upon the evening’s return that the hostel was full. Loath to move hostels again just to get on the bus the next day, I ran around town looking for the place to buy bus tickets (not at the bus station… confusing? You bet!) and book a place in my next destination. I didn’t have a chance to take a shower or change after a hot sweaty hike, so it was straight on to the bus with questionable armpits. Next stop: Huanchaco! This is a small cute beach town next to Trujillo on the coast where the local fishermen still travel out on reed boats. I couldn’t bear the thought of staying in a city at this point, so the beach was a perfect location to chill out for a few days. My own room, surf lessons and good food. Sadly I was on my own at this point for the first time since southern Argentina, but it could be worse. In any case I stood up on the first wave I tried to surf so I can’t complain. Just had to get that in there.