How to find your way in a new Peruvian city

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?


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?

Travelling to Peru’s Tarapoto

A view of a back section of Tarapoto. 

The trouble with travelling without knowing the local language is not knowing what is happening as things are going on. You can only sense and adjust to the reaction.

I always hate stopping in Chiclayo (770 km north of Lima). I haven’t been there, really, except for at the bus station. The bus needs to refill and this one took almost 90 minutes and I kept feeling I must have missed the call to get back on.

I thought the bus to Tarapoto would take 24 hours from Trujillo. When we stopped after 21 hours, in the early afternoon, and when everyone left, I had to ask in clumsy Spanish if we were in Tarapoto. We were.

The hostel room that I stayed in. 

Moto drivers wouldn’t give me time to breathe. They offered a ride but I needed to think up my plan. I finally took a ride to the Plaza De Armas (town centre) and walked from there to my hostel El Mural. For 35 Soles a night I had a private ensuite with a desk, which was good value for what I later received in my travels.

*This blog is the beginning of a collection of journal entries of my three week trip through the north east of Peru. 

Adventures to Interpol



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.

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.

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!