Enjoying Arequipa

We took the Ormeño bus line from Lima to Arequipa. The bus was supposed to leave at 4pm, but there was some mechanical problems and we had to sit in the most boring bus terminal for 3.5 hours. Luckily, there was a TV and we got to watch Seinfeld and that 70s Show so the time passed well. The bus was pretty comfortable (NO babies or crazy women) and I slept well. There was even a meal on the bus (chicken, rice and mashed potatoes). I’m glad we packed our own food.

Anyways, after about 14 hours we arrived in Arequipa, a city with the same population as Trujillo but with a coolness factor of x10. The city is quieter, cleaner and feels more efficient. The plaza de armas is beautiful (fountain, palm trees, well-lit, great architecture). It’s a touristy town but it’s not that expensive if you look around. We found a veg restaurant and had a sl. 3.50 menu lunch today that filled us up (apple juice, vegetable stew, locro de soya de carne with rice, salad and arroz con leche). We know we’ve hit the gringo circuit because there’s alpaca everything, everywhere, but the vendors aren’t pushy and it’s pleasant to walk around the city. Our hostal is full of friendly tourists and we’re really enjoying this city.

Have I mentioned that we like it here? Good food, good weather (in the 60s during the day, 50s at night), volcanos on the horizon (we haven’t seen it yet) and cool buildings. Everything here is built with white volcanic rock and it’s called the White City. It’s really unique and the whole place has character. The restaurants have personality (not someone’s living room like most of the restaurants we’ve been to).

We visited the Santa Catalina Monastery today, which was intense (it’s a nun city within the city). We were shocked at the entrance cost ($10 each! We’re used to maybe $1 if not less). But it is highly recommended in the guidebook so we checked it out. It was interesting. I think I’m still digesting it. It’s basically a nun fortress built of the volcanic rock and every nun has her own apartment within nun city complete with a kitchen, a bedroom, a prayer room, a potty room, and a room for her servent. The current 40 nuns live in a newer, closed off section of the abbey. The section we were looking at was inhabited from the 1500′s to the 1800′s. Most of it has been restored and there’s gardens and streets with names (I said it’s BIG). I was pretty impressed how much individual space the nuns had, it must have been a good option back in the day: a roof, food, safety, and barbed wire underwear….well maybe not the best option….but it was pretty neat.

Heading south down the coast

After a few days in Mancora, we returned to Huanchaco to pick up some things we left there (tent, sleeping bag) and visit with friends. It was really nice to return to a familiar place after all our travelling and run into people we knew just walking down the beach. Huanchaco may be dusty and give you diarrhea, but there is definitely a supportive community vibe of international travellers that makes you feel welcome. We only stayed one night and were able to fit in a few hours of surfing (or I should say trying to remember how to surf…but the waves were much gentler than in Mancora and we had bigger boards, so we were catching the waves until sunset) and spending time with David and some other locals we know. All of the volunteers from our “era” have gone back home or moved on, as we have just done.

We are now in Lima, getting our bearings and preparing for heading further south. We lost our only Nalgene a long time ago and need to find another one for our water purification needs. Buying bottled water gets expensive and it’s such a waste, especially here where litter is such a problem and plastic recycling is almost unheard of. Best to just not be a consumer of plastic and stick with one bottle. The only place we didn’t drink the tap water was Huanchaco, but that’s because it tasted horrible. I need to find another shirt and we plan to leave a bag of some things we can live without for the next few months and lighten our load as we plan to do some camping. I can’t get a hold of Effie’s cousin (I think she’s in labor probably) so we’re probably going to join South American Explorers, who will store our luggage for free and are an amazing source of information.

Matt’s feeling much better and we’re recovering from our sunburns. I’m already overwhelmed by Lima’s people density and noise and am ready to head south to see some mountains and canyons.

Back to coastal Peru: Máncora

We stayed an extra day in Tarapoto, enjoying woodfired pizzas while Matt fought whatever flu virus attacked him. We took the Sol Peruano night bus to Mancora. It was not a good busride. We were told it was pretty direct and was a semicama, and the bus made a LOT of stops and the seats barely reclined. I think my karma lately has been to attract bratty kids to sit behind me and kick my seat, pull my hair and have parents with no sense of discipline or consideration. I don’t know how to make right my karma, but I’m trying to be patient. Anyways, I do NOT recommend anyone taking Sol Peruano bus. The only good thing is that they didn’t play any movies and barely any music (if you don’t count the mother singing and stomping her feet behind me). Oh, just so you know, after 8 hours of listening to them (it was a 20 hr busride), I asked them nicely to hush up so I could sleep, they were the ONLY ones talking and they laughed at me and said lovely things in Spanish like who am I to prohibit them from laughing and singing in their own country. ohhhhhhhhh…

But onto other things, we arrived in Mancora, on the coast, via Sullana (note to travellers: avoid transferring in Sullana if you can help it. Stay in Piura, there’s food and other buses to choose from and they don’t charge you a transfer fee.) Mancora is known as the year-round sunny spot in Peru, on the northern coast. Unlike the rest of the coast, which is desert, this area is less deserty. There are palm trees and some green and it is HOT.

It is also very touristy and the most expensive town we have been to in regards to lodging and food. But the food’s good, we found a breakfast place called Green Eggs and Ham that has genuine waffles, hashbrowns (cooked perfectly), homefries and french toast. It’s a little pricey but it’s worth it with a view of the ocean. We also found our first vegetarian restaurant (Angela’s Place) that has an emphasis on whole grains, legumes and vegetables. She has gluten free bread, cookies and all vegan items are marked on her menu. That’s a first! Most veggie places here are peruvian food with carne de soya replacing the meat, or really high on the starch and really low on green veggies and protein. It’s run by an Austrian woman and yesterday Matt had a bean and veggie burrito and I had a spinach pie and stewed quinoa.

We rented some surf boards yesterday and attempted to remember what we learned in October. We both got thoroughly thrashed. I almost made it past the wave breaks and spent all my energy fighting the monster waves. The surf was strong and hard, I think I’ll wait until we go back to Huanchaco for another lesson from Juan Carlos. Matt eventually made it behind the wave break and sort of caught a wave, which means he didn’t get tossed like a rag doll. Neither of us were able to stand up on the boards, but it was fun to try again. And since it’s so warm, we just surfed in our bathing suits. I almost lost my bottoms each time the wave broke on me, though. I don’t know how those surfer girls keep their clothes on while surfing; there’s a challenge that never occurred to me.

We also got sunburned while surfing. We have nice waterproof sunblock, but we should’ve reapplied every hour or so since the sun here is STRONG. We’re at 4 degrees from the Equator and it feels like it. It cools down a little at night and there’s more mosquitos here than we saw in the jungle town of Tarapoto.

It’s nice to back on the coast, although I am already missing the mountains, clean air, somewhat drinkable water and friendly people there. I forgot how badly the locals on the coast take advantage of the tourists. They double the prices and you have to call them out on everything from a simple moto ride to a bottle of water. It’s frustrating and the taxi drivers are angry at you if you would rather walk. I’ve had a few guys yell and make the kissy sounds at me when I walk down the street without Matt. Laundry is a bit more expensive than Trujillo but a lot cheaper than the jungle (they tried to charge us sl.42 in Tarapoto, here it’s sl.23, but we paid sl. 12 ($4) in Huanchaco), but another traveller warning, don’t go to Encuentro for laundry, they lost one of my nice rei breathable tank tops and refuse to take responsibility for it. I’ll have to readjust to noisy, dusty, coastal Peru again, but at least it’s warmer than in October. We feel like swimming because it’s so hot. And it’s so nice to swim in the ocean. There are mud baths outside of town that we may go to later today, but it’s so hot the prospect of a hot springs seems a little counter productive.

Selva Time Extended

We spent a few days in Moyobamba, enjoying some real food (I found lasagna! It had palm hearts and olives and it was yummy!) looking at orchids and relaxing. We headed east for a day hike to Lahuarpia, where there’s waterfalls and swimming holes. It was gorgeous. All we did was take a combi bus towards Tarapoto and got dropped off on the main road in the village of Lahuarpia. The trail head is to the left of the road past the first set of houses. There’s a little booth set up for the sl. 1 entrance fee and the trail is well-maintained, with a stone path through most of it. There’s arrows and signage about animal conservation! The first waterfall is easy to get to and takes only about 10 minutes. The waterfall is big and intense but I was able to swim behind it onto a ledge filled with soda bottles. The water was refreshing, but not glacially cold so it was a nice balance for the warm, humid air. The trail follows the river and there’s a fun rickety bridge and a picnic area near the second waterfall. The third one is the smallest but has a flat rocky area for picnicking. The whole place reminded me of the gorges in upstate NY and VT. Funny we’re in the jungle, near the Amazon and we find a river that reminds us of New England, except for the rain forest birds flying overhead. And the owl butterfly we saw munching on some fallen fruit. We’d only seen that butterfly at the Seattle Science Center, so it was fun to see it in the wild. It was a beautiful day and we definitely enjoyed swimming and hiking around. Carry a stick, though, the neighbor dogs think they own the picnic area.

We eventually ended up in Tarapoto, which is a bigger town filled with noisy mototaxis. We spent a lot of time relaxing and eating well. We found a restaurant, Cafe d’Mundo that has Italian food that’s pretty good. Adobe oven wood fired pizza (thin crust) with blue cheese and spinach raviolis were our favorites. We rented a scooter one day and wandered around town, trying to find the tourist info center but never did. Matt drove most of the time and I went around the block successfully and drove along a dirt road and rolled it into a ditch (very slowly). I’ll stick with 4 wheeled motorized vehicles. But it was fun to ride on back and be among the crazy traffic for a few hours. Traffic is crazier here, but everyone pays attention while disobeying traffic rules. I’ve seen very few accidents and they were all minor, but people here run every red light and turn left in the right lane. But, they all pay attention and it seems to go along just fine.

I have good news, I have finally discovered dark chocolate NOT made by Nestle. The chocolate is locally made in Tarapoto from Amazon cacao. We visited La Orquidea Chocolate factory, which seemed like someone’s house. We got there on a Saturday afternoon at 1pm, and the lady told us the workers left at 1pm and she couldn’t show us anything. Too bad. It was a trip to find it, behind the hospital on some muddy torn up road under construction. We were able to buy a few chocolate bars at price (sl.3 for 100g). They only have two non-milk chocolate flavors and they are both 60% cacao. The milk chocolate flavors seem fun (coconut, coffee, quinoa, peanut) but the milk chocolate is kind of blah.

Matt just came down with the flu or some virus so we’ve been laying low watching movies and eating pizza. It’s nice to take a break in a more modern town and watch some sitcom reruns (a lot of Friends, Scrubs and the Simpsons). It does make me more homesick but it’s a little re-charge of TV space out time that I’m ready to tackle more traveling. We hope to go to an ecolodge meditation retreat later today if Matt feels better.

Welcome to the Jungle, baby!

We’ve discovered that the more you ask around, the more varied the answers you get are. The road from Chachapoyas to Pedro Ruiz is closed from 6am to 6pm everyday, making getting out of Leymebamba a pain, unless you want to spend another full day in Chacha (which we do NOT). Talking to one of our students the other day, she mentioned that the road is open on Sundays! We double checked the info around town and some said it’s open, some said it’s closed. We made our escape plan and spent Saturday packing and saying our good-byes. Luckily the new volunteer arrived and we were able to give her pointers and a tour of town (note to all: the only green vegetables in Leymebamba are found uphill from the cemetery by a nice guy named Max. I bought his spinach crop in one day, but he also has swiss chard and broccoli. Score!) In the morning I taught Cely (the only good cook/restaurant in town, also one of our students) how to make tofu and her family loved it! They ate it raw with honey from sugar cane. I also taught her how to make coconut milk and she treated us to lunch.

So, another kink in our plans surfaced as the usual 3am/5am bus out of town doesn’t happen on Sundays. The big market in Yerba Buena throws everything off and we bargained for a shared taxi to the market (1 hour, sl. 4 per person) and then found a combi to Chachapoyas (2 hrs, sl.8 per person). We arrived in Chacha, once again (but luckily not all day) and our bus driver told us he was going to Pedro Ruiz, but wanted to stop and have lunch and we could leave our packs strapped to the roof and to meet him in 30 minutes. We trusted this man, went and had lunch, came back to the plaza 45 minutes later (peruvian time, folks) and sat on the bench for 20 minutes. I was trying not to freak out that all our stuff was gone and people were buying our underwear in another town…but Matt wrote down his license plate number and we just waited. Matt took off and went to look for the combi station while I waited in the plaza, and as usual, within 5 minutes of him gone, the guy showed up! So eventually we were all reunited and inside the combi to leave town…but not yet. We went to the driver’s house to get his family (and they do NOT live in town). Then we went to get his friend and his family, then a stop at the drugstore and a stop at the market and finally (less than an hour later) we were on the road.

We got to see the construction they are doing that makes the road inaccessible 6 days out of 7. They are making one narrow dirt road into 2 lanes and most of it involves blasting at a mountain. When almost everyone uses hand tools, this will be quite a long project. But the scenery is beautiful and there’s a few caves to go through. Sooo we ended up in Pedro Ruiz, where the big bus companies pass through who knows when. You just have to wait on the road and flag them down and if there’s room in them, they’ll let you on. Matt did a little investigative work and we instead took a shared taxi to Nueva Cajamarca (with a child sleeping on my shoulder most of the ride) and then a combi to Moyobamba. The guide book says the big bus takes 5 hours (steep switchbacks, narrow roads) but in the car we were in Nva. Cajamarca in 3 hours and 30 minutes later in Moyobamba.

So now we are in Moyobamba, enjoying the jungle. It is a humid here, but not too bad and I’ve only seen a few mosquitoes. (We’re taking the malaria pills…it’s a risk zone) Moyobamba’s a pretty big town with a movie theater and lots of stores with modern clothing. We’ve been eating lately at the Olla de Barro, which has a lot of jungle-style food like ocopa (a creamy peanut sauce on potatoes), cocona juice (sweet but refreshing, it looks like a giant persimmon) aguaje juice (ok…kind of chicha like but looks like giant lychees). And they have lasagna that’s not only vegetarian, but has broccoli, mushrooms and hearts of palm in it. Hooray!

We’ve been hiking around town, looking at miradors and botanical gardens (lots of pretty orchids and bromeliads). We visited a coffee factory (Rio Mayo) and took a tour and drank some good coffee (me! liking coffee!). We made it to the hot springs today, which I’m happy to say is all outdoors and there’s about 5 pools with varying temperature of hot water, some pipes cascading cold water and 2 lukewarm pools. It’s quite beautiful and they have a semi olympic pool (it was drained) and a jungle gym as well. There’s a restaurant (all meat) and it’s only sl. 1 (30 cents us) to get in and soak. It’s sl. 1 more to rent a locker, which is necessary. It costs sl.3 to take a mototaxi there from town, or you could walk…it’s pleasant and an orchid preserve and the coffee factory are on the way. So it was beautiful and relaxing (except for the typical extremely loud non-stop cumbia music and my bathroom experience (you thought this post would be without a rant…ha!): I went to the bathroom to pee and there was a hand written sign that says I have to pay, but no one manning the door (all I knows is that it’s a guest making money)…so screw that, i go in, pee, get out and a woman is walking towards me demanding money. All I’m wearing is my bikini and I point to myself, how shall I pay you? oh, i keep change in my top….please. and she was like, you have to pay and I told her I’m not paying to pee. Why can’t they up the entrance fee by 10 cents or something and let people use the bathroom? A situation like that only ENCOURAGES people to pee in the pool…which I hope no one was doing…but I also didn’t see anyone else going to the bathroom while I was there. The place is set back in the forest, at least there’s plenty of trees to use if the bathroom police gets too pushy. But I’m proud to say I didn’t pay her and I didn’t get beat up or yelled at. But really, that irritates me. You pay to enter then you have to pay for a hole to pee in?! Ok, I’ll stop talking about el orinar.) There was this lovely woman at least 90 years old at the springs, hobbling between the hot water and cold water. She made me smile, as well as the butterflies doing their thing around the pools. There was a tiny tunnel between two pools (for the water to pass through) and at one point a guy surfaced! He shimmied through the tunnel which was about 10 feet long but 10 feet under the ground…and it’s all hot water! We didn’t try his stunt, but I was impressed.

Moyobamba is a pretty town and we’re enjoying it a lot. Tomorrow we’ll head to one of the waterfalls (more swimming!) and go to Tarapoto, deeper into the jungle. The newness of travelling is upon us once again.