Leaving Peru

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

We have one day remaining in Peru before leaving for Venezuela. The journey ahead is going to be long taking over 2 days of solid travelling. This will include taking an overnight bus to Lima, taking an aeroplane to Carcas, Venezuela and then taking another overnight bus to Cuidad Bolivar. In our remaining free time we decide to have a relaxing day. John would like to spend the day ėn an internet cafe, but as it is our last day in Peru, I manage to persuade him to come with me on a tour to visit the pre-Inka ancient ruins of Chavin.

Our coach collects us at 9.30am from our hostel. It was a noisy night as the towns
Fiesta reached a crescendo at 3am in the morning and I didnīt get enough sleep. Bleary-eyed we wave goodbye to Zarella and load our belongings in the back of the bus. We then spend the next hour circulating the town several times to collect all the passengers. As our guide starts her detailed tour in Spanish, we try to quietly translate but the road is bumpy and it is too much for us to concentrate. Soon we are like the other passenger (who are incidentally all native Spanish speakers) and drifting off into a deep sleep.

The journey takes a long 3 hours through rural countryside. We see terraced hillsides, fields, mountains and streams. We stop at a mountain lake, Laguna de Querococha at 4000m where most people start drinking cups of coco tea to help alleviate the mild headache associated with altitude. A snow capped mountain melts into a still lake. It is spoilt a little by a farmer who is leading his sheep and horses over the fields. The horses have their front legs tightly roped together so that they walk with an uncomfortable bucking gait. A couple of native ladies also lead llamas and beg for their photo to be taken.

The paved road to Chavin is supposed to be new and we are all a little surprised when we zig zag up a steep mountain and then pass through a tunnel that is only half constructed. A worker jumps on the coach and guides the driver through a dark hole which has exposed steel cables sticking out from the sides and dirty workmen littered in muddy pools.

Chavin is a small town which has been unscathed by the earthquakes that destroyed many parts of the region. There are old wooden houses which have sunny balconies lining ancient cobbled streets. After some tasty lomo saltado (9 soles, 1.50GBP) in an efficient restaurant which must be used to quick stop offs during tours, we walk down the street to the ruins of Chavin.

The palace is an incredible 3000 years old. It doesn`t take long to realise that we are the only British speakers of the group and we don`t understand much of the tour. Our guide talks enthusiastically about the astronomical significance and layout of the stones. We walk to a big plaza which is lined symmetrically with steps. Behind this is one of the temples. There are rectangular chiselled stones stacked in layers of thick and thin bricks. In another area is a 21 meter circular plaza which is lined with intricate carvings of deities.

The hightlight of the tour are the underground tunnels. Made with large stones and incorporating air vents, they form a maze of passages. It is thought that these passages lead all the way back to Huarez, although the route has not been discovered yet! I still find it hard to believe that this was constructed 1000BC.

Because we can understand very little, we break away from the group. We wander around and see some large monster heads carved out of stone. There is a small museum which houses more carvings which we can look at close up. The site is certainly impressive, but we wish that we had been able to find an English speaking tour group instead.

After a generous 3 hours at the site, we board the bus back to Huarez. Fortunately we are not entertained with the pan pipes cd which was excruciatingly painful during the outbound jounrey (various versions of the Sound of Silence), and instead we watch a movie called Vertical Limit which follows an unbelievable mountain rescue attempt. Not really ideal viewing for our long ride back along the mountain roads.

We reach the town at 8pm and head straight to Cafe Andino for dinner. As with most of the really cosy places, this is an American owned joint complete with library and warm open fire. We tuck into some reasonably priced food together with the best strawberry milkshakes ever.

The Cruz del Sur bus to Lima departs at 9.10pm. Itīs cramped and crowded and we watch another pointless American movie that never quite made it in Europe. It soon sends me into deep sleep.

I wake back in the capital city of Peru, Lima. It is 5am in the morning and the toilet on the bus is so smelly that everyone is desperate to get off. Still half asleep and arriving a little earlier than expected , we feel lost. Our flight to Venezuela leaves at midday, but because we changed our flight a few days ago, we need to go to the LAN Peru office to collect our new tickets. The office is not likely to open until 9am. We have 4 hours to kill.

There are some benefits of being in the capital. We take a taxi to the LAN Peru office in Miraflores and spot a hotel cafe nearby. The cafe is closed but the hotel staff take pity on us and invite us to sit in their lobby until opening hours. We sit back in the 5 star Hotel on black leather sofas sipping complimentary coffee and fresh alfahora biscuits.

At 7am, the hotel cafe, unimaginatively called Cafe 21 opens. We select the expensive but worthwhile buffet breakfast for 32 soles (5 GBP each). We eat pretty much non-stop until 8.45am.

At 8.45am the LAN Peru office opens. John wanders across the street and returns with a paper highlighted with our names. It turns out that we didnt have to go to the office afterall which is a little annoying as we are already late for our check in at the airport.

We take a taxi to the airport. A hotel taxi costs 50 Soles but we figure that we have already paid for their servies during breakfast and opt for a local taxi which only costs 15 Soles (2 GBP). The taxi leaves the cosmopolitan area of Miraflores and speeds along small side streets which have colonial buildings covered in barred up windows. Soon we are on a small highway, darting off on small roads to avoid the tolls (which most of the cars seem to do) and arrive at the drop off point in the airport.

At 12.30 our plane takes off on time. I feel a little sad to leave Peru as it is one of my favourite countries in South America (closely followed by Bolivia). We started on the shores of Lake Titicaca and the rural life of those living on the Islas Flotantes, travelled to the breathtaking convent in Arequipa, and then spotted millions of birds at the `Poor Mans Gallapagosī. We viewed the mysterious Nazca lines, explored the remains of the Inca civilisations in Cusco and Machu Picchu and hiked in the mountains of the Cordillera Blanca, Huarez. There are similarities between Peru and Bolivia, but overall I prefer Peru. It is slighly more expensive but the locals I met were warmer and friendlier. I think that makes all the difference on your impressions of a country. Perhaps if our Spanish was better, we would have a different impression.

I am deep in my thoughts (and sleep) when the sun seems to be setting again. We are crossing over Colombia which seems to be filled with dense green jungle and muddy snaking rivers. As we descend into Venezuela we pass wineglass sandy beaches and mountains. I wonder whether Venezuela, our final country, will match our experiences in Peru. One more overnight bus journey until we can relax.
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