Thursday, 17 September 2009

Making Decisions Crossing The Peruvian Border

We took an International Bus from Machala in Ecuador, to Tumbes in Peru. This border crossing is notorious for robberies and scams, as there is a 2km No man's Land between the two border outposts. In this dead zone, people have supposedly been disappeared or robbed of everything they own, left stranded without a passport between the two countries. The bus we took solves this problem by waiting for you at each point of exit and entry. A relief.

While crossing this godforsaken shithole, I was making notes, checking bus schedules and consulting my map of the continent. With only a few weeks remaining, I had to decide where I was going to head for, and where I'd leave out. The original plan had been to see some of Bolivia before heading to Rio for a couple of weeks' diving on the way home. Due to time and huge distances, this was now looking unlikely; unless I wanted to be on and off buses everyother day. And believe me...I don't. Peru is full of interesting places, probably the country with the best topography and historic ruins: the birthplace of the Inca Empire, after all. So I decided that Bolivia will have to wait for another trip, and Rio will be a few days on Ipanema Beach at best...I'll need the rest, to be honest. I'm gutted I won't see the Solaar Di Uyuni saltflats, race down the World's Most Dangerous Road on amountain bike, or visit the highest city in the world, La Paz. But they've been there for centuries, and I'm sure they'll still be there next time I visit.

Even spending 3 weeks in Peru would not quite do the place justice, but it's better not to rush around and feel like a package tourist. The lakes and mountains of the Huaraz region are said to be stunning, but sounded similar to the Colca Canyon as far as natural beauty goes. They're a little more difficult to access, too. I asked the Limeña who ran our hostel in Mancora which she would do if she had the choice of only one. She told me Colca was stunning, and that the Arequipa region around was beautiful. Mind made up for me, then.

Mancora was a pleasant enough town to unwind in for a few days. We'd intended to surf here, but there were no waves...just a stiff wind. The kite surfers were happy enough, the rest of us had to be content with sitting on the beach. This place is supposedly where the Peruvian Beautiful people come to holiday: we were obviously here out of season. Still, I had some of the fabled sea food here...the tuna was delicious.

Not so delicious was the vegetarian lasagne ordered by Garfield and Speckled one evening. It turned up, and Garfield dug in. Puzzled, he stopped mid-bite...and began to dig through the layers of pasta. Tomato sauce, and not much else. "Where's the fucking veggies?" he demanded. the waiter was duly called over, Garfield muttering "These people have to learn." The waiter fumbled through an excuse and fetched the manager, who duly delivered the best, and most outrageous, culinary excuse I've ever heard: "We liquify the vegetables." They blend them so that you don't have to make the effort to chew? Brilliant, and most unlikely. He was sent away, as was the food. Not the first food-related disappointment, and certainly not the last.

Speaking of disappointments, we decided to spend an afternoon at the mud baths 12km out of town. The tricycle driver took us through a meandering, extremely bumpy wasteland of grim brown hills and dead trees. So far, so bad? It had better be worth the trip, I thought as my spine was jolted by yet another pothole. We expected some hot springs, and a mud pool in a scenic spot: we actually got a steaming pool of silt at the bottom of a concrete bunker, full of human hair and fuck knows what else. "This is it???" I asked the driver, as he stretched out for his hour of doing nothing while we bathed. We both laughed as he nodded enthusiastically. Speckled found it just as amusing, and pointed out that we were here now, so just get on with it? Get on with it we did, splashing around and throwing lumps of stinking sulphurous mud at each other. The fine mud is (allegedly) good for facials, and we smeared this reeking mess all over us. Hopefully it did us some good? It has to be noted that Yorkshire folk are known for their aversion to soap and water, but give them a pool full of dirty water, and they're straight in there as if there was a prize for being first?

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