Monday, July 13, 2009

Time to... say goodbye. And other adventures

July 7th saw an emotional, if somewhat rushed farewell to my travelling companion "young Haley" in Lima airport. So, be warned folks, she's again wandering the streets in Ireland. You'll find her in the premier drinking spot in Mayo (well, she does live there) and in the house parties of Dublin over the next couple of months.

Since the last blog entry there has been some amount of going and excitement, not least was the arrival of housemate and friend par excellance Miss Madden, but more of that later. The rest of Bolivia was a blur of nights on the town, cycles down the infamous "world's most dangerous road", chill-out-nights by the campfire in the Bolivian jungle, cross country horseback riding and getting caught up in political protests. After Potosi we headed to Sucre. It's a beautiful town; all white colonial grandeur with a dash of crazy Bolivian streetlife throw in for good measure. The people of Sucre are almightily pissed off that it isn't still the capital of Bolivia. Instead, that honour goes to La Paz, which unfortunately has to be one of the most ugly cities I've ever been in. It's built in a massive valley in the middle of nowhere and apart from the fact that you can sometimes see the snowy cap of Mount Potosi in the background in-between grey skyscrapers, it has little to recommend itself on the beauty side of things. However, it is also a hopping party city with a good backpacker scene and lots of cheap markets (family, all your presents were bought there). Also, it's close to the backpacker mecca of "the world's most dangerous road" and the jungle of Bolivia. Having more balls than me Mary cycled down this unsealed road and got the t-shirt. I, on the other hand, took the ever-so-slightly-less-dangerous option of getting a bus on what the Bolivians built to replace it. It should be named the "new world's most dangerous road", I'm sure the statistics will bear it out. The most awesome, stunning and shit-inducing drive of my life... twice! Never mind that we were driving around 3,500 metre mountains in a tiny minibus packed with devil-may-care locals, it was more the fact that the driver was eating his lunch over the steering wheel at the same time that concerned me. His preferred style was to overtake on bends, on hills and preferably on hilly bends while poking around with his hands in his plastic bag of chicken and taking swigs from his bottle of Fanta at the same time. They love their Fanta over here. I had to spend a few days in an idyllic lodge in the jungle just to get over the experience.

After a farewell night in La Paz which turned into a fancy dress party (I dressed as a ball of wool, Mary as a fairy) we had to say goodbye to Bolivia and head for Peru. Unfortunately we weren't able to carry on our "no flights" record and travel across the border by bus. There's been some political problems internally in Peru recently. Of course, given that we hadn't read a newspaper or any online current affairs (Jordan and Peter Andre's breakup besides) we hadn't a clue about this. Turns out the Peruvian president wanted to give a load of rainforest to oil companies and when the locals protested he sent the army in and killed 14 of them. Nice. So, there have been protests in the south of Peru and also in Bolivia mostly taking the form of road blockades. We got caught up in one on the way into La Paz. It was kind of scary when 50 men threatened to throw rocks at the bus but thankfully things cooled down and we didn't get stoned. Anyways, it meant that we needed to get a flight to Peru. Happily all was well and Annmarie arrived in Cusco the same day as we did (albeit in a healthier state since she hadn't been up all night socialising in the dodgy backstreets of La Paz). A few days of celebrating Annie's arrival and acclimatizing (read sleeping, dossing around and eating a lot) were needed before embarking on what was going to be the pinnacle of our trip, The Inka Trail. Some words of praise are warranted for Cusco though. It's a gorgeous city with beautiful archlined plazas and incan walls peeking out of white plaster wherever you look. Having said that, it's a complete tourist trap and every 5 seconds you find yourself rabbiting "no gracias" to the constant stream of hawkers selling paintings, woven dolls, postcards and (omigod) massages. It got a bit wearing after um.... ten minutes.

After our Cusco R&R we headed off on our four day, three night Inka Jungle Trail. Our group consisted of us three lovely cailins and four Yanks. Initially we christened ourselves as Team MJRIP (in honour of Michael J - Beat It featured heavily on the playlist) but once we became more comfortable in eachothers' company and the inevitable decline in decorum followed we became Team Wankstain (don't ask).

The first day of our trip was spent driving up to the top of a mountain pass then cycling downhill on winding roads for about 60 kilometers. I reckon I made it to kilometer 40 before i accidentally crashed into the side of the mountain. It was sore, and although at the time I was quite insistent about getting back in the saddle, thankfully the girls managed to convince me it wouldn´t be a good idea. 3 weeks later and I´m still picking the scabs off my knee and elbow (sorry to be gross). Thankfully too the injuries didn´t stop me from completing the rest of the trip. The next 2 days were spent walking to the base of Machu Picchu some of which on original inca trail (though we copped out on paying the $500 US to do the "real deal"), some through jungle, some along traintracks, some beside rivers. The fourth day was D-day itself. Rising at 3.45 am we hiked in the dark up Machu Picchu to get into the ruins as the sun came up. It was awesome. Even better was the view from Huayna Picchu (that big rocky mountain you see in the background on the postcard image of the site) which we hiked afterwards. We were all terribly proud of ourselves for making it up Huayna Picchu.. it was super tough but worth the amazing views from the top.

Our bodies were exhausted after the trip and it took a few days back in Cusco to recover. And then sadly Mary had to say a sad goodbye to us and South America... we all flew to Lima together and Mary headed off on her way home while me and Annmarie hung out in Peru´s capital for a few days. Lima is not exactly a picture postcard kind of place. Apparently it´s nice for a few months in summer, but for the rest of the year a grey fog hangs over the city. We did have a MacDonalds there though, which was nice. It´s true, they do taste the same all over the world.

After Lima we moved on to the central highlands of Peru, to a place called Huaraz which is close to the Cordillera Blanca (part of the Andes) and a big centre for hiking, climbing and moutaineering. We spent a day rock climbing (I sucked, Annmarie was better, it´s very hard) and another day hiking to Laguna 69 which is a beautiful turquoise coloured glacial lake, unfortunately not in the shape of the similarly-named sexual position, but stunning nonetheless. Having done all of this exercise we decided it was high time to give ourselves a bit of a break, catch a few rays and hit the beach. So we headed off to the Peruvian coast to a place called Huanchaco. However the sun refused to co-operate and it was overcast while we were there. This prompted us to spend alot of time in fancy fish restaurants eating slap-up meals and drinking bottles of wine, which was equally enjoyable to my mind. However sun was definitely on the agenda so we moved 8 hours up the coast to Mancora, Peru´s premier beach destination. Not exactly the Costa del Sol, but not banana huts on the beach either, Mancora knows how to party, and we did quite a bit of it while here.

Sadly that´s all at an end now and there was another goodbye today... Annmarie has left to catch her flight home to Ireland and now I´m a solo traveller. Travelling with two of my best mates was awesome fun, so I´m really quite scared about doing this on my own now. Tonight I´m catching a bus which crosses the border into Ecuador. It´s also going to be sad to leave Peru, it´s a great country. I´m going to have to dig that Spanish phrasebook out of the depths of my rucksack and get learning again. Wish me luck!