Peru is one of the top travel destinations in South America, and with good reason, too. It has more ancient archaeology and culture, more extreme adventure, and more colonial history, than virtually anywhere else on the continent, and perhaps anywhere else in the world. Peru was my first stop in South America. Amazing country.
I've been thinking for some time about how I should wrap up my entire, colossally incredible six months here in South America. And I've decided that a conventional wrapup is simply out of the question. Too much to say. Too much already said. And really, no regular little reflective summary could ever do this experience justice. So instead of attempting such a futile endeavour, I have instead embarked upon another, less crazy, more fun little challenge: I have composed a "checklist" of my time down here! The checklist "ticks off" the things that every South American backpacker should do during their time down here, and that I can honestly say I've done. Plus, I've added a section down the bottom, for a few more that I haven't done, and that I should have done — or that it's perhaps good that I didn't do. Read, laugh, and enjoy. Por favor. And if you want to check off a few more South American experiences of your own, feel free to add them as comments.
So this was Peru, take two. For take one, I got stuck in Cusco for 8 weeks, and I didn't end up seeing very much else (not that I regret that — Cusco rocked). This time, I traversed the entire length of the country — from Tacna and the Chilean border, in the south, to Tumbes and the Ecuadorian border, in the north — and I saw plenty of that which lies in between. It's been a hectic four weeks, heading north through the place. It's been filled mainly with adventure and with expeditions, but also with sun and with relaxation. I'll have seen more of Peru than of any other country in this whole trip (I ain't spending 3 months in any other single country): and yet, even after all that, I've only just begun to discover what my new second home has to offer.
Since Máncora is only 2 hours south of Tumbes (Peru's northernmost major town), you would have thought that it would be fairly easy to find some transport from one to the other. But apparently, on Sunday afternoon, this is not the case. Einat and I ended up waiting over an hour for a combi, and even then, we only just managed to squeeze onto one (it was already ridiculously overcrowded, and we just made it worse). There were also no afternoon buses to be found. Anyway, at least we eventually made it out of this funny little beach resort town, and got to Tumbes, which is the gateway to Ecuador.
Although I have no particular problem with my lodging at Sol y Mar, I have been persuaded to change the hostel that I'm staying at, for tonight (my final night) here in Máncora. The ever-indecisive Einat can't stand the unreliable water and the crowded little dorm of Sol y Mar any longer; and she's convinced a Canadian girl called Erin, and myself, to come with her to the HI down the road. Personally, I really couldn't be bothered moving for one night; but then again, I couldn't be bothered arguing with Einat either. This place is much nicer, but it's a bit more expensive as well.
I met Einat yesterday morning, when I first arrived at Sol y Mar, here in Máncora. She's a very unique Israeli, in some ways: she lived in Argentina for three years, during high school (with her family), so she speaks fluent Spanish, and she sounds like an Argentinean; she also travels alone. In other ways, she's not so unique: ultra-tight with money, and happy to travel really raw, to save a few shekalim. She's nice, but her complete and utter indecisiveness, coupled with her stinginess, made it hard to put up with her for more than a day or two.
Along with Einat, and some Argentino hippie friends of hers, I hung out on the beach all night tonight in Máncora, lying by a bonfire. There was a big bonfire going on at the busy end of the beach — just outside Sol y Mar — but we made our own, a lot further up, away from the big crowds. Was a bit cold, but the fire kept us warm enough (the rum helped as well :P). I fell asleep when the hippies started singing entire albums of Argentinean songs. Not a bad night, really, if a bit weird.
What can I say, except "the beach: it's good to be back"? :P
I made the most of my first day at the beach, after four beachless months in South America, in the best way possible. By doing not very much. Read a book. Met some girls. Swam in the ocean. Sunbaked all afternoon. Ate a mountain of delicious ceviche (raw seafood, soaked in lemon juice — you can find it every 5 metres or so, here in Máncora). Slept a bit. As we say back home (and by "we", I have no idea who I'm referring to — probably very few people), I chillaxed. Perfect way to end my time in Peru. Stuff the mountains. I'm sitting on the beach this weekend.
Look, this place ain't the bee's knees. The rooms are packed and are abysmal; the staff couldn't give a rat's about you; and the prices aren't amazing. But hey: it's literally on the beach; it's surrounded by bars, restaurants, and cafés; and you're guaranteed to meet a tonne of other backpackers here. Plus, I don't believe there is any other actual dormitory accommodation around here. Oh yeah, and it has a nice pool and poolside lounge area. So go on, give Sol y Mar a try: everyone else has.
My bus this evening left Chiclayo at 10pm, and pulled in to the sandy shores of the beach resort town of Máncora at about 3am. Seems like this is about the best possible time to get in — it's that kind of a place. The entire town was pumping full-volume with discos, clubs, and bars. Drunk gringos and sleazy locals everywhere. Girls squealing, hips grinding, beers clinking. Pity that I was too buggered from my bus journey to get into it. I checked into a budget dorm at Sol y Mar (yep, front desk open and kicking at this time), downed two shots of vodka, and crashed until the morning.
While I was waiting to catch a combi back from the ruins of Sipán this evening, I had a nice long chat with one of the locals, who comes there each day to sell his artesanias (lit: "handicrafts", i.e. souvenir shmontses). My friend explained to me how Sipán is a very remote and impoverished area, and how the discovery of the gold-filled Moche tomb in 1987 did little to change this in the long-term. He described how impossible it is for the locals around here to travel, or to have any real hope of getting out and doing something different with their lives, due to their very modest finances. And he also said something that really made me stop and think: "you tourists that come here are our biggest opportunity, and our only hope".