How to find your way in a new Peruvian city

20190105_163006.jpg
Every hostel that I have been to, or most of them anyway, seems to have a token pet. A mascot, if you will. This playful little critter is in a hostel in Yurimaguas.

One of my favourite things to do while travelling on my own is to plunge myself into a new city, preferably one that doesn’t collectively speak my language, and try to figure out what to do.

It’s a puzzle and depending on the circumstances, can be more difficult than at other times.

Am I walking in strange streets during a tropical storm? 

I don’t know where my hostel is. 

I don’t have internet, or my phone is out of battery. 

I don’t have a hostel to go to. 

It’s getting late at night and I’m still figuring it out. 

It’s bloody great. I’ve learned to love the feeling of anxiety, and it really tests me when I think, sometimes, ‘I could be in real trouble here.’

Okay, so the first thing I do is:

1) I take a taxi or a moto to the Plaza De Armas. Everything I could need is there even if it is expensive. There’s always a restaurant, a chemist, a nice photo opportunity, and a place to get coffee and access to Wi Fi.

But just as importantly to do this, is I get a sense of direction and a feel of what the city is like.

2) The next thing I try to do, no matter how hungry I might be, is to find my hostel or hotel and to check-in. I prefer to walk if I can, so that I can get a sense of what a place is like. I’m hyper-alert and sensitive to the looks around me, and these looks from the locals tell me everything I need about the place.

Are people nervous or relaxed? How do they treat their personal belongings? Do they feel safe enough to take out their phones or cameras for photographs? Are the streets clean? Are people content with what they have, or is there a desperation or greed for your money? Do they project a sense that the foreigner owes them something?

20190110_163255.jpg

3) I usually have a rough idea of the place before I reach my hostel, but depending on the appearance, can be harder on the place than is fair, at first.

The best way to find a hostel is through the app or website ‘Hostel World’ and it rarely fails me. There is a ranking system for each hostel which gives you an idea of what to expect, which takes into account security, cleanliness, staff friendliness, and the value for money.

As I continued my travels in the Amazon, for the first time ever for me, I stopped getting available hostels on the app. I had to resort to ‘Lonely Planet’s’ guide of Peru. This guide made it harder to gauge a hostel compared to the app, but it certainly was an adventure and gave good representation of what price I could expect to pay.

I found one hostel the guide book offered, down along the mud of a riverbank, and I went there and I stared at the shack on stilts. The book described it as rustic. “Nope, no way,” I thought, but then I realised I had nowhere else to go. And the place was actually better looking on the inside.

4) After checking in I will look for a place to eat, and then check my guidebook for any city landmarks or museums if it’s early enough in the day. I’ll wait until the following day to see the sites further out.

If locations are exhausted I might stock up at the local market, or shop or take photos (usually just on my phone at that stage) or drink a beer or two while using social media, or even take clothes to a laundry if I’m going to be around for two days or more.

5) As soon as I have eaten I will try to plan how I can leave to my next destination. I usually know a few days ahead which direction I’ll probably take. For example, in Tarapoto I know I will want to visit Yurimaguas, the river port into the upper Amazon. How do I get there and when do I leave?

Gypsy Amy’s teachings on Peru

20180318_105947.jpg
Amy is great to have brunch with. But be warned. She is a food-digger.

WHO is Gypsy Amy, and why should you have to listen to what she has to say?

Amy is the friend I’ve known the longest in Peru. One of my first memories of her was after a night at a party hostel in Mancora, in northern Peru. Three of us who had been doing a TEFL course together in a nearby fishing village woke groggily as she said quite firmly, “I am never going to do anything, ever again.”

20180214_065025
I remember Valentines Day, when housemates Adriaan and Amy decided it would be fun to pretend to be a thing. Very cute. Too convincing.

Amy and I moved south to work at a school in Trujillo after completing the course. We became housemates for seven months, and colleagues at the same time, along with others who did the same course as us.

Amy’s read my cards with a turban on her head. We’ve had many drinks and danced with elderly Peruvians. We have been on the hunt for the perfect pizza in Peru. We have fought each other many times, often after a few beers. We’ve argued over dishes, I’ve cleaned her room and used her Netflix, and sworn at her for waking me up at midnight. We’ve procrastinated so much together, which means there’s a hell of a lot more we could have done. We’ve been to the movies to watch something in Spanish and didn’t even understand it. She dropped the popcorn.

Once we refused to speak to each other for more than a week, and we never even told each other we weren’t talking. It was only when I was drunk on a bottle of wine late one night that I forgot we weren’t talking, and the ice was broken. She is one of the bravest and gutsiest people that I know, and has in 10 months become a sister (but doesn’t replace my real and only sister). She will tell you exactly what she thinks, even if you’re not going to like it. And, so, this blog post is long overdue.

I’ve wanted Amy to give her advice about living in Peru for some time, and here it is. Amy’s exclusive voice:

 

Gypsy Amy
The cards don’t lie…

1) BE EXTRAORDINARY

Actually, you know what, my advice to people who come to Peru is to go do something out of the ordinary. Do something you haven’t done before.

There are so many things here in Peru that you can do, that you can never ever be able to do anywhere else you live (well, it depends where you live).

Go to the jungle, go to a spiritual retreat, try surfing.

 

 

 

2) AYAHUASCA

I have had a couple of beers, because it’s my last night I can drink for a couple of weeks. In two weeks I’m going to do Ayahuasca.

My advice to you is if you do go to Peru, try Ayahuasca for the first time because it’s legal here. Anywhere else it’s highly illegal. Go to the jungle, go to some Ayahuasca. Go to Cusco, go to some Ayahuasca.

I’ve done it six times. It’s my last day I can eat meat. No eggs, no coffee, no citrus. Life is going to be horrible.

DSC_4193
This chica loves living in the beach town of Huanchaco.

3) TAKE ON YOUR FEAR

Get out of your f–king comfort zone and do your greatest fear.

My fear when I went to Bali was the ocean, and I tried surfing. Coming here, I was terrified of Ayahuasca, and I did it.

Do something that you’re not comfortable with doing because there’s so many things you can do in Peru that a lot of people aren’t comfortable with. Go and f–king do it.

 

That’s my rant.

That’s my advice. Do Ayahuasca, or do something you have never done before, or do your greatest fear.

20180318_012445.jpg

How to get to Machu Picchu

20180728_114432.jpg
A back road through the Andes from Ollantaytambo to Cusco. I took this journey in a taxi on the way back from Machu Picchu. I paid 20 Soles.

The challenge with visiting Machu Picchu in high season is trying to book the ticket. It’s not just the ticket to get onto the site which is the drama, although that is painful enough. You also need to figure out how you are going to get there.

As far as I am aware there are four ways you can get to Machu Picchu.

  1. Walking the Inca trail.
  2. Take the tourists’ train.
  3. Take the residents’ train.
  4. Take a bus to Hydro Electric Station. Then walk about two hours to the Aguas Calientes (the tourist trap you need to pass through to get to Machu Picchu).

Option 1 is not an option if you have a budget, time constraints, and booked last minute. Option 2 is the way most of us seem to travel but you are being ripped off. Tickets are about $55 USD (at least) and you travel 40 kilometres. I tried to do option 3 as I technically am a resident but in high season I needed to book my ticket from Cusco’s San Pedro station in person, and tickets were booked a week in advance.

20180728_083655.jpg

I now wish I had taken option 4 but I didn’t know enough about this alternative route last minute and I preferred to guarantee making it to Machu Picchu instead. I have heard stories that this is a frightening route through the Andes.

I tried option 3. Failed. So I went with option 2.

To get to Aguas Calientes by the tourist train you can travel from either Poroy (about 15 kilometres from Cusco), or from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. I decided to go from Ollantaytambo even though it was about an hour and a half from Cusco.

I am glad I did it because Ollantaytambo was majestic and a great warm-up to the world wonder itself.

Okay, so I was anxious about how I was going to get to Ollantaytambo. I didn’t need to be. If you go to Calle Pavitos in Cusco (near San Pedro markets) you can take a bus. The tourist guide and the owner of the hostel I was staying at claim 120 Soles a taxi. But the moment I reached Pavitos and was walking to where I thought the bus was, a taxi driver stopped and offered me a shared ride for 15 soles.

We drove through the sacred valley as he picked up hitchhikers, including a Quechua man who played a pipe from the back seat. We picked him up from Urumbamba, and we had a limited conversation in Spanish while driving along roads with snow caps glaring from the horizon.

(*It has since come to my attention, from travelers from Manchester, that there is a much easier and even cheaper fifth option. If I remember correctly, if you pay 120 Soles to the right tourist guide, you can get a ride to Hydro Electric Station. From there you can walk to Aguas Calientes. The price also includes a night (or two?) at a hostel, and the ticket price into Machu Picchu. This seems too good to be true for me, but if it’s the case, this is by far the easiest and cheapest option for a foreigner on a budget).

Cusco!

When you make a life for yourself in a foreign country, the things you truly came to experience are forgotten, for life often is predictable. Predictability means complacency for someone such as me.

I had one week off for holiday and I knew I had to do something with it. I had to borrow money and use my damage deposit to scrounge up enough money.

I bought a return flight from Trujillo to Cusco for 680 Soles for an overnight flight, packed one bag to last six days, and scoured tickets for Machu Picchu.

While in Cusco I stayed at a hostel called Puriwasi (18 bed mixed room for 29 Soles). That is a decent price compared to other places during this journey.

Here is some quick advice before I focus later posts on experience:

-Altitude sickness! Cusco is more than 3000 metres above sea level. If you fly here you will not acclimatise as well. I was in hell for 18 hours in my hostel bed. Avoid alcohol.

Maybe drink a lot of water, and wear a hat! Avoid too much walking on the first day.

Drink a coca tea from time to time. It is better to drink it before you feel the effects of the sickness.

-To visit many ruins or museums here you will need a ‘Boleto Turisto’ pass which covers about 17 places. Get it from the La Muncipalidad office in Av Sol (near the plaza de armas). The pass lasts 10 days and costs 130 Soles (if you a resident it costs 70).

-Travelling to Machu Picchu is its own story! There are many ways to get to the world wonder. I will mention more in detail in another post.

-Knowing Spanish helps with the experience but most people in customer service have an excellent ability in English (better than many visitors travelling from across the world).

It is a great place to practice with confidence. Try it, and you will meet many interesting people from across the world. For me it included Peruvians, Americans, Canadians, French-ians, amd Argentinians (who taught me how to pronounce their country properly!).

Adventures to Interpol

 

20180326_133657(0).jpg

SOUTH African casa-amigo Adriaan and I arrived at Lima Interpol to see a crowd of Venezuelans mingled in front of the front walls. We could skip through the gate. I felt uncomfortable – as if I was benefiting from white privilege, but as it was made clear to me thatI was in a different part of the process and didn’t need to be in that line.

We entered an air-conditioned room with seats. The few people in there were either waiting by filling out forms or getting their fingerprints printed. Each of the housemates had a different process. The Canadian’s process seemed the most complicated. She is still in Lima. I wonder if we will ever get her back.

The South Africans seem to be really easy, so it seemed. But what complicated my process as an Australian was I had to pay my fee online to the Australian Federal Police. The Peruvian Interpol form gave me the link to pay (which wasn’t quite accurate).

I hadn’t paid the fee yet so I didn’t think I could continue the process, so I tried getting my passport back. They explained to me in Spanish (even though they couldn’t really understand) that I would have to wait for it. After a few attempts at trying to find someone who spoke English, and probably being a real nuisance, I managed to get an administrator from my workplace on Whatsapp to communicate with the officers.

I felt dumb as the officers made gestures at me to follow the process. I mistook one gesture to mean ‘sit down’ but it actually meant ‘follow me’. The officers colluded and said ‘Australiano’ a lot with smirks on their faces as each took turns taking me to each process. I thought these were friendly ‘hey, he is exotic’ smirks but the officers really weren’t interested at my attempts to flirt in terrible Spanish.

20180327_175107.jpg
Australia and South America, a world away. This wall was in Passion, the hostel I stayed at in Barranco.

They took me to a room filled with dentists who told me to lay down. They checked my teeth in two seconds and told me to stand.

Then they all spoke to each other for ages as I stood uncertain. “You can go!” the chief dentist said. Then an officer grabbed my hands and gently pushed my fingers in ink and put them on two pieces of paper. He put the papers in two envelopes while I could clean my hands.

They let me leave within two hours. Adriaan and I walked to the nearby mall and celebrated in a restaurant next to a TGI Friday. We drank a bottle of refreshing Chica Morada just as my sister messaged from Australia.

20180326_141414.jpg
Cheers bro!

“Good evening,” she said.

“Buenas tardes, hermana hermosa. Como estas?” I wrote, first checking with Adriaan that hermana did mean ‘sister’.  Then I sent a selfie. “I am drinking Chica Morada. It is made of purple corn.”

“Very nice,” she wrote. “I am at work. Wish I was drinking purple corn.”

It must have been the dehydration and trying to sleep on an overnight bus, but for some reason I found this hilarious.

The process had not finished.

I still had to pay the Australian Federal Police $99 Aus dollars (245 soles and expensive for application standards). I tried paying online because I needed the receipt to continue the process, but because it’s a fingerprint application it needs to be sent by snail mail. I filled the printed documents and copied my identity papers, and then had to find the Peruvian equivalent of a post office. A friend helped me through the process but paying express post to Australia cost me 270 soles! Owch!

El Gringo Idiota

Zorritos.jpg
The highway that passes through Zorritos. 

It’s 5am in the morning, the waves crash on the beach to my right as I lay on my bed, and the race that stops my nation has come and gone while I was sleeping.

Fortunately, the mosquitoes seem to be somewhere else but it may be that the glow of the laptop will tempt their return. It is a worry. The mozzies seem to like me more than the others, and given that I  am currently in a mild malaria and a dengue zone, a dice rolls every time another itchy dot shows on my skin.

I have repellant and I’m using it more, but I would say that the type I have is most effective within two hours.

So I currently stay in Zorritos, a small village along the highway. As my Kiwi neighbour Guy, who does the same course I do, points out in my last blog I described Peru as a ‘small fishing village’. I was obviously referring to Zorritos.

It’s a small place, and tourists are almost unheard of unless the surfers wait for transport on their way further south to the surfing city of Mancoura. It means we do stand out, and we are looked at, but I’m assured this is a safe place, and that this is curiosity and not a sign of bad intentions.

My Spanish is terrible and I do rely on the limited skills of Guy to get me by sometimes. I know “please”, “hello”, “goodbye”, “good morning”, “good afternoon”, “very good”, “gringo”, “apples” “thank you” and “El Robo” (as in the dog steals your breakfast if you’re not careful) and this is usually enough to get me by. I also keep “idiota” in reserve to use soon (as in El Gringo Idiota/ white man is an idiot). Sometimes “how much?” also comes to me, like when I asked for potatoes (in English) at the markets.

laneway.jpg
A laneway near my accommodation. This is not the Peruvian flag. This is the Ecuadorian flag as we are close to the border. 

Also doing the English teaching course along with Guy and myself is a Canadian named Barbra, who witnessed this exchange and bailed me out .

Chris: Potatoes! (points at them). Cuánto cuesta? (How much?)

Spanish lady: ?????? ?????? uno kilo. (translator comes to the rescue. “1.50/S.”)

Chris: For what? One? That’s expensive.”

Translator: I don’t know. Ounces?

Chris: Kilo! Si!

Spanish lady: ??????? ?????????

Translator: We are from Canada and Australia.

Chris: (looks at Spanish lady’s daughter sitting nearby bearing witness, and in the driest, roughest Aussie accent…) G’Day mate.

(Everyone laughs. Tension breaks).

Spanish lady: ??????? ???????

Translator: What do you think of it here in Peru?

(Chris stares blankly at Spanish lady for two minutes trying to find a word I can use. Muy Bien (Very Good!) would work but I forget I know this phrase). Perfecto!

So anyway, this is all good fun.