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Feb Ď06

Think of a trip to Peru and the first thing that comes to mind is Macchu Picchu. And with this reason above all others I travel to this destination after being talked into it by a friend living there. But in the end we donít go to Macchu after all. And a good thing we didnít because landslides during my two week visit have stranded scores of tourists with no way out. It wasnít any sort of sense of foreboding that altered my itinerary, it was just dumb luck.

 

I am lucky to have met a local, Liliana, who is waiting for me at the airport and has taken the time to take care of all the arrangements. As you know when you go away a lot of organisation is involved. It doesn't matter where you are going, it could be to the northwest of England, so you'd need to find manchester hotels or it could be somewhere as far as Peru. Anyway, together along with her daughter, sister and brother we will be going by bus all over northern Peru for the fun of it.

 

But Iím skipping ahead.

 

Day one is reserved for the touristy shots in Limaís central plaza, here with Liliana

And on to the obligatory lunch of Ceviche, Peruís answer to Japanís sashimi concept except the rawness of the fish is tempered with a strong lime marinade for a few minutes. Itís only just edible to me but Iím a trooper.

 

It is as adventurous as I dare get with Peruís culinary treats. Plenty others I absolutely refused to try like the oft-offered Anticuchos (beef or chicken ogans on skewers), mondongo (stewed intestines), cuy (oversized jungle rat) and other stuff much too unpalatable for me to consider. Iím the exception though for the majority will go ahead and give anything offered at least a try.

 

During the day time we go see a museum of traditional costumes and other heritage stuff

Meanwhile, Iím in for some culture shock where it comes to transportation. Countless speeding small cars and people migle freely on the streets and while I constantly expected to see major accidents nothing happened somehow. It is, I can only guess, a precision dance learned since childhood with, of course, natural selection weeding out those who donít ďget itĒ.

 

Here we see an armored truck making its bank rounds. Security is not an issue taken lightly in these here parts.

 

At night, the square lights up Limaís governmental landmarks. Unlike most places in the states, there are endless numbers of people just milling about day and night - _any_time! I got used to seeing these crowds and it felt like the city was alive. Like cities SHOULD be!

 

But Lima itself was to be just an appetizer and itís also the case for most every other traveler. Lima is the starting point to points west, north and south. The plan for us is to head up by bus into the Andes for some eye candy. We make it to Huaraz, about a five hour drive north, where we see people dressed in quintessentially Andean fashion (but are unfortunately very camera shy)

A few hours farther up by bus and weíve cleared the tree line and the temperature has dropped. Every so often I ask the driver to stop so I can take a picture of the scenery and all the other tourists take advantage and snap their pics too. To be a team player, and maybe just a bit naughty, Iím chewing on coca leaves just like the locals. Supposed to make me immune to altitude sickness they say. I just feel sick chewing the stuff which tastes nasty (no buzz even, no fair!)

 

Weíve now reached the summit of the pass at 16,000ft Ė Iíve never been this high up before on my own two feet and the air is chilly and thinÖ walking just a few steps leaves you winded. Good thing I still have a wad of coca in my mouth!

It is from this vantage point that off to the left about a quarter mile away we suddenly see an icefall in actionÖ a snow avalanche tumbling noisily into an abyss several thousand feet below. With clouds threatening to engulf us in a winter storm we get with the program and take our seats in the van. Minutes later we head back down and later that night weíre back on another bus going farther north with the Amazon jungle our ultimate destination.

Over the course of the next few days most of our time will be spent riding tour buses from one town to the next. One gets creative in passig the time among friends. A spitball fight gets me some dirty looks but I can always count on being at the receiving end when Iím not paying attention!

We have a stopover in Huanchaco, a small beach town renowned for its Caballitos de Tortora, two-person straw rafts used equally well for fishingÖ or taking tourists out for a spin.

 

From there we ride on and eventually make it into the heart of the jungle where the air is is so much fresher compared to the Lima smog. Itís hot, as jungles ought to be and with myriad bugs making a nuisance of themselves. But weíre having too much fun to notice.

 

Tarapoto will be our homebase during our brief stay. Mode of transportation is by way of MotoTaxis, the ubiquitous converted scooters that dart all over the place.

Although noisy theyíre a lot of fun to ride around in and we take our own to head out of town to see some waterfalls

 

On the way we stop for breakfast at a marketplace that sells, among other things, whole chickens much the same way weíd see shoes on sale. A glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice costs a paltry 30 cents.

About a half hour later we enter the reserve and head up on a hike to see the waterfalls

And when we get there itís just as scenic as any other waterfall. Except Iím in the Amazons :-)

The water however is much too cold for this part of the world at about 69 degrees. Brrrrr! We take a ride on our mototaxi to another resort area, this one with some captured monkeys kept around as pets.

The monkeys are playful and so starved for attention that they get visibly upset when you finally decide to leave them alone.

Our final sightseeing takes us into a remote village where the native indians still cling on to their traditional dress and Quechua, their ancestral language. Liliana and our mototaxi guide took the offer to get made over as one of their own.

From the jungle we head back to Lima by way of the buses, a trip that will take about 24 hours. Along the way we get to see that much of the coastline is actually a barren desert, scenic in its own way.

And before long Limaís outskirts appear. The city is truly enormous with some 8 million inhabitants so small homes pop up on the landscape like so many scattered Legos.

Because of the news of the landslides down by Macchu Picchu we decided it best to spend the rest of the last few days of my trip in Lima and surrounding areas. This is anystreet, Lima

For me the most difficult aspect of the stay in terms of first world commodities will be the absence of hot running water which is rare outside of upscale hotels. Also rare is the concept of ice in soda (despite Coke being the national drink).

Taking a tour to a nearby resort, Liliana wastes no time in getting up to dance some to some Peru tunes sung by a hired performer at a restaurant.

The time is near for me to leave and by my last night Iím tired of all the partying. Well, at least I look so in the picture ;-)