Chile

 Beautiful, beautiful, Valparaiso. 

Beautiful, beautiful, Valparaiso. 

          So the last time we spoke, I told you all about Nick stealing a seat from the poor pregnant woman with a broken leg who paid more for the luxury tour of Bolivia’s flamingo-filled lagoons. At the conclusion of that tour, all the participants were dropped at the border with Chile, our next destination. Where Nick and I went wrong was in thinking that the woman who stole our money and sold us a fake tour back in Uyuni had done her worst. No, no, no. She promised us the tour included transit to Chile, but neglected to tell us we needed pre-printed tickets for that, or give us the tickets. So Nick and I had to literally barter our way across the border, paying an additional fee and waiting around for about 2 additional hours until someone would take us. But once we were safely across the border, in San Pedro de Atacama, we found ourselves instantly able to put our blinding rage behind us because everything was so damn beautiful. Our time in Chile was divided amongst three destinations, all of which were incredible.

I.               San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro is a small town located in northern Chile, which is the southern end of the Atacama desert. It’s dependent on tourism and offers visitors the chance to take advantage of the desert’s magic. The town itself is rather cute, small with plenty of restaurants and cafes, but there’s not much to do. What you really want to do here is partake in desert-related tourism. We had actually already done most of these activities in Peru (remember the oasis at Huacachina with the terrifying sand buggy ride? That’s the same desert). If you find yourself here, definitely take advantage of the chance to: visit the salt flats, visit sand dunes, watch the sunset over the desert, and go sandboarding or sand-buggying (at your own fucking peril). The primary reason Nick and I made sure to stop here, though, was the stargazing tour. I’ve always had a fascination with the stars, and stargazing in Israel’s Negev Desert is amongst my top memories, actually, so I was pumped for this. I’m firmly convinced New York is the best city on earth, but there’s no question not seeing the stars is up there on the list of things I’d change about it.

      Anyway, we only spent one night here because we were really only there to do a stargazing tour. It’s known as one of the best places on the globe to see the stars, and there’s a big international observatory located nearby (where sciency people look into a fancy telescope and predict sciency things about stars). The tour we booked included a coffee break at the end of the tour, which Nick and I took as a personal directive to secure a bottle of wine to drink under the stars.

      This experience was truly one of the highlights of the trip so far. We started with a 30 minute lecture from our tour guide (an astronomy expert) on the different constellations we’d see (one of us was riveted, the other ensured if one us was to be miserable we’d both be miserable during the star lesson), and then everyone splits up into groups of 4 and shares fancy AF telescopes through which we can see the stars. Let me tell you: THIS. SHIT. WAS. MAGICAL. Once again, any trace of anger we felt over our Bolivia heist instantly went away was  was temporarily put on the back burner. I know for a fact that seeing the stars like that left a lasting impact on us both; in times that can seem this dark it was a much-needed reminder that there’s so much that is bigger than we are. It also probably was the stars and not the wine that made us realize this but who’s to say really?

A truly breathtaking experience. ---> Is something a suburban housewife who decorates her house with merchandise from TJ Max would say so I'll just say this was a 10/10 and do it or you're an idiot. <3

II.             Santiago

The day after our star tour, we caught a flight to Santiago. It was our first flight in over two months and being in an airplane again felt super luxurious. The flight from the desert in the north to Santiago, Chile’s capital, is only about an hour and a half. Add to luxury of flying that we treated ourselves to an air bnb instead of a hostel and you had the makings of an amazing weekend!

 Santiago is beautiful! View from San Cristobal.&nbsp;

Santiago is beautiful! View from San Cristobal. 

      Ultimately, we loved Santiago! We’d heard there wasn’t that much to do and that our next destination was way better, which is fair, but for two city people who’d been traveling in the developing world for several months, I will say just existing in a modern city again felt luxurious and rejuvenating.* Our air bnb hosts were excellent (we stayed in one bedroom of the apartment rather than having the whole place to ourselves) and had the best kitchen we’d seen in a while (another luxury!).

      Over the weekend, we spent a long time strolling around different neighborhoods (Bellavista FTW! Super gay friendly and fun!; Barrio Italia reminded us of Magazine Street in New Orleans)). One particularly hot day we climbed Cerro San Cristobal, a mountain in the center of Santiago with a stunning view of the city (and, shockingly, a big statue of the Big J himself at the top, reminiscent of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue; Nick was thrilled).

      I also made sure to visit Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights; established by the government in recent years to commemorate the dictatorship that brutalized Chile in the 70s-80s. The museum was focused solely on Chile’s history. It was heart-wrenching at times but informative, not fun but definitely recommend.

      And finally, I can hear your confusion through the computer so I’ll just clarify: yes, there were cheese plates every day we were in Santiago. Yes, we finished a bottle of delicious, high-quality, $3 wine each every day we were in Santiago. And no, we had no regrets.

III.           Valparaiso/Viña del Mar

        Our last stop in Chile was the coastal city of Valparaiso, bordered by the beach town Viña del Mar. I had several friends who studied here and told me it was great, and they were right! Valpo is known for its gorgeous street art as well as for being the home of Pablo Neruda. Nick and I spent two days just losing ourselves amongst the street art; in the neighborhood we were in there is almost literally no surface left untouched by vibrant colors.         

     Moreover, Valpo is known for having some of the best empanadas outside Colombia. Nick and I ended up disagreeing about which restaurant served the best empanadas, but agreeing that the city’s reputation for sitting atop the empanada world was well-earned. (Nick also lived out his passionfruit ice cream fantasies but I’ll let him tell you about that.)

On our last full day in the area, we went to the beach at Viña del Mar. Viña is Valpo’s ritzier cousin where the wealthy live (Valpo locals will tell you all Viña residents are snobby rich people), but it’s also easily accessible with a simple 20 minute train ride and where you go to the beach. I wouldn’t say it was the best beach we’d been to by any means but it did the trick! On our way back we visited a local Chilean coffee roastery called Starbucks and we have no regrets.

            And that was Chile! I’ll end by saying that we loved the country and were upset we didn’t get more time there (well, not that upset; we had to leave to go see my parents but we easily could have spent more time there on a different schedule). I think Chile is actually a wonderful vacation spot for anyone wishing to get away for a little while (more so than Peru or Ecuador, for example). It’s cheaper than The States, the wine is constantly a-flowing, and there’s an incredible diversity of landscapes to see (metropolises, desert in the north, Patagonia in the south, beachy hipster vibes on the coast, etc). If you’re planning a getaway – consider Chile!

*It’s definitely important to acknowledge the discomfort of talking about tourism in the developing world vs. the developed world. Nick and I are both keenly aware of how fortunate we are to have come from the background we both do, and be able to have the agency and the resources to choose selectively when we enjoy first-world luxuries and when we don’t. That said, it would be dishonest to skirt around a simple truth: travel in the developed world is different, more luxurious and convenient, and easier than traveling elsewhere. Happy to talk more offline if anyone is offended by a frank acknowledgement of this, but that’s where we’re coming from here. I should also mention that this post, including this post script, was written before our president demeaned himself and the country by making racially charged statements about countries he know nothing about, but unfortunately over whose destiny he wields tremendous power. Those remarks only add more relevance and urgency to this conversation, so again, come find me if discussing this interests you. 

Bolivia

          After a full month (10% of our total trip!, which is 10 months long and I know that because math) in Peru, the Litty Committee ( © ) decided to vamoose to Bolivia. That’s French for GTFOofPeru.

            For as wonderful as Peru was, our journey getting to La Paz from Cusco could not have gone worse. Well, I suppose we could have died but…actually no, our trip could not have gone worse. First, the man at the ticket booth for our bus company in the Cusco bus station decided our very existence offended him and yelled at us whenever we asked for…our tickets…that we had already purchased….for the bus leaving in 15 minutes. We ended up not getting our tickets until 8 minutes before the bus left. Then, after what was an actually pretty smooth border crossing into Bolivia, I got into a fight with a man whose masculinity was so fragile he flipped because I offered my spot in the bathroom line to the woman in front of me (the horror! But how will men be able to assert their dominance in a world in which we all realize gender is but a performance?! GO fuck yourself.). Then (despite paying more for a direct bus), the bus company had us stop in Copacabana, Bolivia and switch buses (with a 3 hour wait in between). “But we paid for a direct bus,” protested the weary travelers. “LOL STFU,” laughed the KGB officer in charge of our Bolivian bus company.

            “Ok but Tani, none of this sounds that bad,” is probably what you’re thinking right now. And you’d be wrong. Because after getting on the second bus, we drove for 30 minutes until we were told we’d have to de-bus, pay more money for a ferry ticket, then cross Lake Titicaca in a ferry, and meet our bus, which was loaded with all our belongings onto its own fairy, on the other side of the lake to journey on to La Paz.  Oh, also Nick was sick throughout this whole charade. Not just of me and not just of South American tourism but like actually physically ill.

            All right but once we got to La Paz things really did turn around. La Paz is a charming city that absolutely spoke to us. It reminded me of Athens a lot in that is densely populated, full of buildings with great architecture, grungy AF (which I’m all there for), full of street art and graffiti (again, there for all of it), and rife with restaurants and cafes. We settled in to our hostel, got Nick tucked into bed in the hopes he’d recover before his birthday the next day, and got to seeing the city.

            After turning around because we liked La Paz, things then turned BACK around to ensure we were facing the south end of a northward facing trip to Bolivia. Our whole crew was about to be in La Paz to go hard for Nick’s birthday, but his birthday fell the day before a Bolivian election (something about democracy or a president or a judge idrk), and there’s a strictly-enforced law in Bolivia that alcohol is not to be sold or consumed within 3 days of an election (something about fair elections or integrity idrk). Needless to say our livers went into an immediate panic. No one knew how we’d skirt this whole “compliance with the law” issue AND celebrate Nick’s birthday properly all at once. Actually talking to one another or eating really good food without drinking was certainly out of the question. And then, out of the pile of shit in which we found ourselves, a lone rose petal surfaced, reminding us that there IS a God and she really DID want us to drink the night away!

            Our hostel owner was perhaps the dopest man in South America, and when he saw our despondent faces he promised to be our night in shining armor. And boy did he deliver. Once it was dark out he took us to a literal speakeasy! A few streets away from our hostel, in a gorgeous mansion, behind two doors and two foyers was one of the coolest bars we went to in South America, with amazing cocktails. I actually got a decent Manhattan (the ultimate barometer against which any bar should be judged), Nick got a satisfactory margarita, and all was well.

            The next morning, with everyone at their peak level of hung over, the same hostel owner took us to a hole-in-the-wall serving Mexican street tacos. While not as good as the actual street tacos we had in Mexico (nothing ever again will be), they definitely registered on the dope scale.

            The rest of the weekend in La Paz was spent going out to a great variety of restaurants (sushi! Great coffee! British pub food!), watching massive street protests (apparently America’s not the only country with problems having free and fair elections), and touring the Witch’s Market. Probably our favorite actual activity in La Paz was riding the cable cars that serve as the city’s primary means of public transit after buses. I’m scared shitless of heights, so that was problematic, but in general the cars are an amazing way to see the city and riding them from one end of a line to another is less than $1 US. The survival rate is pretty high (somewhere around 20-30%) so that’s cool as well.

            After the weekend, Nick and my itinerary demanded that we split from our travel buddies. A sad moment, indeed, but we knew we’d see them all again at various points across the globe. Also what happened next is sadder because look. Listen. Look and listen:

           The #1 item on my to do list when we decided to visit South America was visit the salt flats in Bolivia. The pictures are dope, everything about it looks dope, people who go there say it’s dope, the Bolivian government almost changed the name to the Dope Flats last year. We hopped on a night bus from La Paz down to Uyuni where the salt flats are located, and our dreary asses were clearly not thinking straight because we made a critical error: we agreed to pay a woman to tour the salt flats before we were sufficiently caffeinated. What happens next will truly go down as one of 2017 greatest tragedy’s, right up there with our President committing treason and CATS returning to Broadway.

            This Bolivian Woman (alias: Bernie Fucking Madoff) took our money and then led us over to the van where our “tour” was supposed to start. The driver (alias: I don’t care) proceeded to drive us across the salt flats without stopping. “Wow! These are amazing and I can’t wait to stop and get a real tour of them!,” we thought as the car kept driving on and on….without stopping.

            Basically, this woman promised us a salt flat tour but just pegged us on to the last 2 days of another group’s 4 day salt flat tour…..a tour that had already concluded the salt flat portion of their tour.

            When we realized this, we had it out with our driver (literal screaming and yelling in Spanish) who refused to take us back to town. We had no choice but to accept our fate as prisoners of the actual worst tour known to man. In addition to being lied to, the driver crammed 8 people into a bus that really only could comfortably fit 6 (no joke you guys, whoever was relegated to the back seat had the circulation cut off in their feet) and wouldn’t stop so we could shuffle around to give the political prisoners in the back a break. To make matters worse, the woman sitting in the front passenger seat (the only one in the vehicle with an amount of leg room even approaching normal) refused to take her turn in the back with everyone else. As in, an actual adult human insisted she and only she deserved the throne. 

            In between stop 1 and 2 the other 6 of us just kind of dealt with it but after the second stop Nick decided he had had enough. Actually what went down next was pretty funny so I present to you their interaction in script form, as it truly happened:

 Nick, running, enters stage left.

Nick: Tani! Ima run and get the front seat before Regina George can get in.

Nick runs to the car, gets in front seat. Enter Regina stage right. She’s distraught and confused, as her throne has been usurped.

 Regina: [in Spanish] That’s my seat!

Nick: No….

Regina: [in Spanish] I paid more for this tour. I paid extra specifically so I could sit here.

Cue everyone else on bus screaming that that’s not true, they all paid together, and she’s a liar.

 Nick: Tani what is she saying?

Tani: That she paid more for her seat but everyone is telling me that’s not true.

Regina: Reading the room, seeing her first excuse is not going to work. [in Spanish] I need that seat, I actually injured my leg and I need the extra leg room for my leg.

Entire vehicle erupts with screaming and laughter that once again, that’s not true, and she seemed to have no problem climbing tons of rocks to take 14 selfies per minute literally a minute ago, also running to the car to reclaim her seat once she saw Nick was about to take it.

 Nick: …

Regina: Looks around, seems panicked, wondering what to do. [in Spanish] I’m pregnant! I need that seat!

All 7 billion humans on earth, in unison:  "…"

Anyway, that conversation literally actually very much for real happened. We called her La Reina del Mundo for the rest of the trip.

So other than that, we spent the next day and a half trapped on a tour we didn’t want to be on. But, I will say that the tour took us to three magical lagoons where we were able to get extremely close to flamingos. Although we were still getting over not seeing salt flats, Nick and I both were able to take a minute and mentally reset once we were at the lagoon. It was good for us to be able to mentally reset, say to ourselves: “OK, yes, sure the experience of being taken for a ride and not being able to do this thing we were so looking forward to really, really sucks, but we are so lucky to be here and we still have so much breathtaking beauty ahead of us. Let’s exhale and just move on.” Then we slapped ourselves for turning into Elizabeth Gilbert’s next book but for a few seconds there we were pretty healthy.

In the end, that was Bolivia! We loved La Paz and would def recommend. We loved the bit of the salt flats we got to see and would also recommend. And despite havig two horrible experiences with particularly nasty individuals/companies, we left with a pretty positive impression of Bolivia overall. It’s cheap and has so much to offer (way, way more than we did even; we had to speed through because we had a flight to catch in Northern Chile). If you’re on this continent, get yourself to Bolivia.

Mwa!

Southern Peru

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After Lima, we had a whirlwind two weeks. If I’m being honest, those 14 days were a blend of a lot of things and there was a lot we’d avoid if we were to do it again.

            At this point, our group became larger, approaching 15 people all traveling together. The bonus here was that these are some of the best people both of us have met. A primary goal of the year was to meet new people and make friends from all over, something we’ve been doing in hostels the whole time. But this group in particular was something special. Each of the individuals we traveled with was unique and hilarious, and each made their own different impact on us and our trip.

            On the other hand, traveling with 15 people presents complications. It’s near impossible to satisfy everyone all at once, and finding alone time can be tricky, even if you’re good at demanding it like I am. We wouldn’t change our time with this group in any way, but it would be dishonest of me to paint only a rosy picture here. 

            That said, this large group made its way down the coast of Southern Peru as follows:

 The full extent of Nick's happiness in Paracas.&nbsp;

The full extent of Nick's happiness in Paracas. 

1.     Paracas, known lovingly as “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” Emphasis on the “poor,” de-emphasis on the “Galapagos.” Like yes technically we saw wildlife if three penguins 167 feet away and 2 sea lions counts as wildlife but it’s certainly nothing Darwin would write home about. Huacachina is located in the Atacama Desert, though, which is absolutely stunning. IG, though, see below for other “must dos” in the desert, so TBH I’d say skip Paracas.

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2.     Huacachina. Is. Stunning. If I told you to close your eyes and picture a textbook illustration of an oasis (which I would never do because I’m not an incense-burning yoga teacher utilizing visualization techniques) you would picture Huacachina. Amidst sand dunes as far as the eye can see is a literal circle of green trees and blue(ish) water. The town is tiny but it doesn’t even matter because it’s so fucking cool to look at. The original plan was to spend only 2 days here but that quickly turned into 5. During that time we spent:

·      2 days lounging at a pool and drinking Pisco sours (the official drink of Peru).

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·      1 evening going sandboarding and sand-buggying. The system works as follows: Tourists voluntarily pay money to an individual with suicidal tendencies. This man drives you and your fellow tourists at 346 mph over the sand dunes in what is supposed to be a “joyride” but is more analogous to a kamikaze mission flown by Japanese fighter pilots. At four points throughout your tour of hell the driver stops at the top of a sand dune and hands you a sandboard (again, for which you paid). You are then expected to careen down the sand dune at a speed rivaling that of the drive in which you partook. (Actually TBH it was pretty fun but also terrifying). Then you watch a peaceful sunset, pray to whichever god you choose to say thanks for keeping me alive, and then head back.

·      1 day at a beautiful winery, eating and drinking with our friends. Fun aside: Our hostel advertised the winery tour as 50 soles/person, but the winery told us once we got there that the winery was actually free, meaning we’d just been duped into paying 50 soles to our hostel for the “wine tour”  when we each could have paid 15 soles to catch a cab to the free wine tour. Except as fate would have it, we hadn’t paid yet, giving us leverage with which to tell our hostel owner to fuck off. In the end, we didn’t pay, and the hostel the next day changed the sign advertising the tour to say “must pay in advance.” Fuckers.

3.     Arequipa – beautiful colonial city in Southern Peru with not much to do but makes for a very relaxing few days. We got lost strolling the cobblestone streets and looking at the wonderful architecture. There is a museum there called the Museum of the Mummified Child, telling the story of an archaeologist studying Inca culture, who discovered atop a volcano two Inca children that had been sacrificed and perfectly preserved by the ash raining down on them. Seeing a mummified corpse is eerie, but the museum was a win.

 Central Plaza in Arequipa with the town Synagogue. Shalom.&nbsp;

Central Plaza in Arequipa with the town Synagogue. Shalom. 

4.     Colca. Fucking. Canyon. All right y’all, I just need to shove back from my desk and take my glasses off for a second. This shit is the second biggest canyon in the world, and it’s undoubtedly beautiful. How*fucking*ever. The tour we did was a 2 day trek down into and then back out of the canyon. Nick and I both were incredibly disappointed in the tour for several reasons and I’m going to need you to listen to them for just a second:

·      “Free breakfast” on day 1 means bread and coffee. Do NOT get me started.

·      The “hostel” at the bottom of the canyon provides a wooden plank on which to sleep on and a threadbare sheet. AND THAT’S IT. I don’t know what kind of twisted Phantom Tollbooth reality these people are living in but that’s not a bed.

·      The big-ass sign advertising “happy hour, 2 for 1 pisco sours” is misleading because, as the rude bartender will quickly inform you, this place offers neither happy hour, nor pisco sours, nor any drinks at a 2 for 1 rate. Oh also, they charge you to use the outlets. Piss off.

·      The trek back up to the top of the canyon begins at 4 am the second day, and includes 3 straight hours of rocky, uphill climbing (as you are literally climbing your way out of the world’s second biggest canyon). Know what it doesn’t include? BREAKFAST! Oh, I’m sorry gringos, did you want some sustenance before you engage in several hours of rigorous cardio first thing in the goddamn morning? LOL JOKE IS ON YOU BECAUSE THAT’S A NO CAN DO. 

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Colca Canyon. 

Woohoo. 

 

When all was said and done, Nick and I were grateful to have seen the canyon, but if we’re giving advice we’d say get yourself to a lookout where you can snap pictures from the top of the canyon. No need to climb down.

 

5.     And our last stop in Peru was our favorite: Cusco. My baby. My precious city. Cusco the beautiful. So Cusco is another colonial city built literally on the post-genocidal ruins of the Incas. The city was the Inca capital so the Spanish treated it with the utmost respect. Not only does Cusco offer more breathtaking architecture, but there are a plethora of fabulous restaurants (Jack’s café, anyone? Vegan food at Greenpoint?!) and coffee shops to enjoy. Cusco is the jumping off point for 2 of Peru’s most famous attractions as well:

·      Machu Picchu. Heard of it? Yall, this was once again a failure of Peruvian tourism because everything we paid for was a straight up lie but it didn’t even matter. MP absolutely lives up to and exceeds the hype. Everyone’s pictures are taken from the lookout point at the top of the compound because that’s where you can capture a view of the whole area, but the tours let you get right up in there. First, you’ll work on your buns of steel because if you don’t take the bus with all the rich, white people you climb 43,000 steps to get there (I was truly living for the exercise!). Then, you’ll get the full tour of the place including its history (my wet dream, Nick’s cold shower), how it was built, where to take the best instas (you know, the important stuff) and they end the tour with free time to wander around. Only piece of advice is to watch out for bugs because the place is riddled with sand fleas. If you’re not familiar, sand flea is Spanish for “literal Nazi-inspired death trap” and refers to bugs that have no problem attacking your legs in a 1-2 maneuver: first they make your legs bleed when they bite you, then they leave your legs to break out in the allergic reactions to end all allergic reactions as you writhe around in excruciating pain for 5-6 days. If I hear a single one of you say “stop complaining, you’re traveling for a year! You’re living your best life!” I swear to god I will hear you through the computer and mail you a box of live sand fleas. I’m serious. Try me, Brenda. But anyway Machu Picchu is totally great you should totally go.

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                    Gross. 

·      Rainbow mountain. The Incas were rampant homosexuals so they named their favorite mountain rainbow mountain. Is what I wish were true but it’s really just a dope looking mountain that's stripey AF because #geology and you can climb it and take pictures there. Absolutely go. If you don’t plummet to your death on the narrow mountain road your wide bus is expected to navigate (adventure!) then you won’t be sorry. Also next to rainbow mountain is the red valley, so named because it’s a red fucking valley and you feel like you’re on Mars. Also, there’s a Peruvian civilian who sits at the entrance to Mars and tries to charge you money to go here but he’s an actual liar. Don’t pay him. He’s just a guy with a diploma from Trump University who thought of a genius business plan in which he makes a living by tricking all the gringos into giving him money he’s not authorized to collect. But anyway the Red Valley is totally great you should totally go.

 Just another gay visits Rainbow Mountain.&nbsp;

Just another gay visits Rainbow Mountain. 

 

I do have give a special shoutout to Thanksgiving 2017. Nick and I were both pretty bummed to be missing Thanksgiving and being with the members of the family we don’t feel like murdering with an ice pick (kidding, love you all). In the end, we accumulated 16 people including us (only 1 other American), rented a beautiful AirBnb, and feasted for 48 hours. 3 Americans taught the 13 foreigners what it means to be grateful for something (kidding, but we did show them how dope American Thanksgiving is!), and we all felt truly #blessed to be able to celebrate with such good food and such good people. To those of  you reading this, thanks for making Thanksgiving 2017 one for the books. To those of you not reading this, fuck you you told me we were friends and you promised to read my blog.

All right mon petite cheries and that’s that! To conclude, Peru has SO FUCKING MUCH to offer and should be on everyone’s list! I’d definitely say, in all seriousness, be on the lookout as a tourist just because many people will try to rip you off, and be assertive, but Peru is an amazing country with an abundance of activities and experiences to offer. A+, Peru. Except the sand fleas. Please work on that.

 

Lima

 In Which Nick pretends to be a sports fan for more than just the shots of shirtless soccer players.

In Which Nick pretends to be a sports fan for more than just the shots of shirtless soccer players.

Leaving Huaraz with a group of 7, we collectively decided to spring for the first class seats on our night bus. South American buses generally exceed American bus quality, but the “coach” class is typically on the second level, with first class below. First class is an experience in its own right. There are only 12 seats on that level, so you and your 6 friends can be as loud and obnoxious as you want and rest assured you’re only ruining 6 people’s journey rather than the three times that much upstairs. Moreover, the seats are literal Barcaloungers, massive leather armchairs definitely fit for this queen. They serve you food that’s completely inedible but it’s the thought that counts (and as a backpacker, being treated like a human being by anyone in the service industry in Peru is such a pleasant surprise), and the movie they blast until your ears bleed is only two and a half hours long. Overall: A+.

            We had all heard horrible things about Lima from others: that there was nothing to do there, it was unsafe in certain points, it was ugly, etc, etc. Because our expectations were so low, Lima definitely exceeded them by a large margin. This made sense to me because as a teacher, I always told my students I had no expectations of their success whatsoever, so that when they didn’t fail miserably it was a win for everyone! (Joking. That was a joke. I didn’t do that. The only ones who failed my class were the ones who couldn’t pay enough).

            Our hostel was in the Miraflores neighborhood in Lima, which is gorgeous. Getting out of the cab, I ran and hugged the Dunkin Donuts and Nick and our friend Dale ran and hugged the McDonalds (until a certifiably insane individual literally started to touching Nick’s toes and laughing, so they ran across the street and hugged the Burger King). Everyone was happy.

 Running Errands = Purchasing Alpaca Fur Hats. V important. V haute couture.&nbsp;

Running Errands = Purchasing Alpaca Fur Hats. V important. V haute couture. 

            Fully caffeinated and full of fast food, we all ran some errands that we’d been meaning to cross off our list for a while. The most important was securing Peruvian soccer jerseys for everyone in anticipation of the Peru-New Zealand world cup qualifying match that evening.

            Since the match offered Peru its first chance ever to head to the World Cup, the main public park right across the street from our hostel was showing the game on large screens. Watching the game that way, with thousands of Peruvians screaming for 90 minutes without taking a break to breathe, was its own highlight. The game was a 0-0 tie, but the experience was worth it.

            After the match, this introvert made his way to Lima’s finest trashy gay club and danced until 5 in the morning. (Gays visiting Lima, get at me, I got recs.)

Drag show in Lima. 

            Honestly, the rest of the weekend we were in Lima was incredibly chill, full of discovering great restaurants, walking to the waterfront, and enjoying the company of our fellow travelers. Once the weekend was over, it was back to the Barcaloungers and on to Southern Peru!

 Vamos Peru!&nbsp;

Vamos Peru! 

Mancora

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         If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you already heard about Montañita-gate 2017, in which Nick and I were promised a joyous beach in Ecuador and were handed a large pile of shit in its stead. Needless to say, we didn’t really see the point in going on with life anymore and opted to stay in bed for a few weeks with the sheets pulled over our heads.

          Which made it all the more exciting when we arrived at our first destination in Peru: Mancora. Mancora is a tiny beach town that’s gradually become less tiny as gringos like us hear more about it. And with good reason: In the end, we stayed here for about 2 weeks.

           When the night bus dropped us off in the morning at Mancora’s central town square (read: three and a half buildings that could easily collapse at any moment), we were immediately accosted by four hundred and sixty three tuk-tuk drivers vying for our business. “Ah, a typical South American town, how refreshing!,” thought we as we physically pealed back cab drivers right and left to get some breathing room. In the end, we took money out of the ATM and picked the least aggressive cabbie we could find to take us to our hostel. When the cab driver didn’t have change for the Peruvian bill the ATM gave me, he offered kindly to drive me to the nearest store where I’d be able to break my bill…..if he was then allowed to charge me twice the fare because of the extra ride he was giving me. “Ah, a very typical South American town,” thought I as I told him in my most polite Spanish to fuck off and no I wasn’t paying him double because he didn’t have change. Anyway, the saga called “All’s Not So Quiet on the Western Front of Mancora: Tani fights the Cab Driver” lasted for a good hour until he finally went away. And thus began our 2 week stay in Mancora.

            All right guys, here’s the deal. Nick and I were exhausted from weeks of nonstop moving between towns, in desperate need of a beach with good weather, and felt like staying off the grid for a while (LOL JAYKAY @ this last one, you all know I go full Carrie at the prom if I’m out of wifi for 6 minutes). Our first hostel was fine (despite a bedbug scare that turned out to be caused just by sand fleas), but we moved on our second day to a gorgeous hostel called Casa Naranja, the Orange House.  

 La Casa Naranaja in Mancora. 'Twas los tits.&nbsp;

La Casa Naranaja in Mancora. 'Twas los tits. 

          Casa Naranja gave us a private room with our own bathroom, a delicious breakfast every morning, and a pretty decent kitchen for us to use. We spent our days at the beach, catching up on blogging and talking to loved ones at home, pinning one another down so we could forcibly sing Britney’s greatest hits while the other desperately tried to get away*, and lazing around. Life was tuff.

      Mancora in general has one main (unpaved) road, one main strip of beach, 10-15 restaurants, and excellent weather (at least at this time of year). It’s not the place you go if you’re on a foodie’s adventure, not the place you go if you want fast-paced, and definitely not the place you go if partying is your scene (there’s one party hostel in town, which is fun, but it’s not a club, and it’s your only option). Each day, our routine involved walking from our hostel, across town, to the central marketplace to haggle for prices on veggies and chicken, and then take a cab back with our groceries. We ended up knowing the main stretch pretty well, and the familiarity felt nice after spending all of Ecuador moving every two or three days.

Some general highlights from our time in Mancora, though, that were a little more unique:

  • Swimming with giant sea turtles and sea lions
  • Getting up close and personal with pelicans bigger than Trump’s ego
  • Spilling water on my computer and having it go dark for a full week (fun!)
  • Demolishing Nick in back-to-back-to-back-to-back (x9) ping-pong games
  • Reuniting with old friends we’d made in Quito and making new ones (we’d ultimately end up traveling with these guys for the next month)
 Nick swimming with giant turtles while I was safely on the dock. Where there were no giant turtles. That could easily kill me. Far away from the danger. Of the killer turtles.&nbsp;

Nick swimming with giant turtles while I was safely on the dock. Where there were no giant turtles. That could easily kill me. Far away from the danger. Of the killer turtles. 

Ironically, this post is shorter than others despite spending half our time in Peru in Mancora because, by design, our time here was largely uneventful. By the time we left, we’d started feeling the urge to move again, having fully rejuvenated and like 86% gotten over our Montañita experience.

For those who want a beach town that’s off the grid, or at least more so than Peurto Vallarta, check out Mancora. It’s underdeveloped and feels remote, but that’s absolutely part of its charm (not for everyone, but excellent for those to whom that description appeals). Surfing is good here, so they tell me, and the small collection of restaurants offers a pretty decent array of options.

*this applies more to one of us than the other 

Ecuador

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Ecuador

          Hey Boo-Boos; been a while. Since I last wrote to you, we’ve had almost several nuclear wars, the world has learned that sometimes men commit sexual assault, Nick has forced me to listen to Britney Spears’ greatest hits 1 or 23 times, Peru has advanced to its first world cup ever, and at least 16 sorority girls dressed up as cats for Halloween. And all the while, my fiancé and I have been having a blast in a little country known as Ecuador (that’s Ecuador, to those of you who don’t speak Spanish).

            Ecuador is a tiny country located between Colombia and Peru, famous for its hot chocolate, volcanoes, and terrifying public trash cans that serve as the basis for at least 46% of Stephen King’s work. So where to begin?

            Nick and I hopped on a casual 24 hour journey to get from Colombia to Ecuador. “What? OMG! 24 hours?! That’s a crazy and improbable number!,” is most likely what you’re thinking right now. And you’re right. It was crazy. And improbable. Apparently South America thought so, too, because they tacked on another 3 unexpected hours on top of that, so that by the time we disembarked in Quito our travel time was a whopping 27 hours. On a bus. That rationed out leg room like bread during WWI. And smelled questionable. And thought that “full blast” was too low a volume at which to play a shitty movie at 3 am (LOL JOKE WAS ON US GRINGOS WHO WANTED TO SLEEP). Actually Nicholas had noise cancelling headphones so he was fine. Fuck that guy.

            ANYWAY bus #1 dropped us off at this little town like 10 minutes away from the border in Colombia. We then had to take a taxi to the border. Only once my ass was firmly sandwiched between the noise-canceller himself on one side and my entire backpack on the other did I realize I had no Colombian money left because I saw a really attractive looking bag of cookies back at the bus station and decided to go for it (I regret nothing). For a rule follower like me, you can imagine the amount of panic this induced in me as I began scrolling through my brain all the images I could conjure of what I would look like in a Colombian prison uniform. I persevered though, and when I asked the guy if he took American coins he said: “Yea.” CRISIS AVERTED. So we got our passport stamped out of Colombia, walked across the border and got ourselves stamped into Ecuador, and then caught another cab, then another bus on our way to Ecuador’s capital: Quito.

Quito 

 La Plaza Independencia in Quito

La Plaza Independencia in Quito

           Nick and I enjoyed our time overall in Quito for the most part, but it still wasn’t our favorite. The neighborhood where the hostels are located is full of cobblestone streets and old buildings; it really reminded us of La Candelaria in Bogota. Overall, like La Candelaria, I would say the plus is that it’s gorgeous and the downside is the safety factor. This is undoubtedly the place to stay if you’re a backpacker (it’s where the vast majority of hostels are located) but it’s not the best place to walk around aimlessly and stroll.

            We spent two days in Quito; and they were days well-spent. One of them was a lazy Sunday that was spent catching up on work and reading in our hostel (you need these days when you’re doing long-term travel. It’s impossible and exhausting to be a tourist every day for a year). The other was spent doing a free walking tour and going out to eat and drink with new hostel friends.

          

 View from our hostel in cotopaxi national park

View from our hostel in cotopaxi national park

Cotopaxi

            After 2 days it was off to Cotopaxi National Park. Our hostel in Quito runs a sister hostel at the base of several volcanoes in the area. The area is absolutely stunning and the hostel prides itself on operating a relaxing nature-filled getaway for guests; while staying there, all meals are provided (they’re delicious), 2 really fun excursions are included in the price of booking, and guests stay in wooden cabins with working fireplaces at night. Nick and I did 2 rigorous but breathtaking hikes together before splitting off for different ones on the third day (Nick tried his hand at horseback riding, I climbed up a volcano to see the glacier that covers it). We were really, really upset to be leaving by the third day because, well, look at these insane pictures…

Baños

       From there it was off to Baños – a small city in Ecuador named for its natural thermal baths that are open to the public. We ended up spending several days here. The town was lovely and we were still traveling with 2 Aussie friends we made in Cotopaxi. During our time there, 3 things stand out:

  • The thermal baths: The baths themselves were relaxing – it is literally a natural hot tub. That said, it’s a public facility so they were incredibly crowded and not maintained in the nicest fashion. Still worth a visit but as a recommendation I’d say go during the daytime. We went at night, which is apparently when the entirety of Baños decides they’re also going to go.
  • Pailon del Diablo waterfall – y’all. Trust me: this shit was crazy. Our little group decided to hike to this waterfall and we were NOT disappointed. For $1 we took a bus to the entrance, where you hike down to the waterfall. Then, you pay an additional $2 to enter the actual waterfall area. We didn’t expect much because TBH who hasn’t seen a waterfall in their time on this planet, right? WRONG. IDIOT. Let me paint a picture for you:

 We paid our fee and started the trek to the fall, and felt a little sprinkle. “Oh, this is a normal occurrence in and around waterfalls!” thought the 4 weary travelers. Took a few more steps they did, and met with some MORE water they were. “Still norms,” thought the travelers. As they proceeded to make their way through the cavernous pathway to the Devil’s waterfall (the name serving as a major FUCKING WARNING SIGN they would later kick themselves for not heeding) the spray from the waterfall continued to grow in strength. And grow. And grow. And GROW UNTIL THEY WERE ALMOST DROWNING IN THE DEVIL’S WATERFALL.

Being rainy season and all, this waterfall was less nature’s equivalent of a fair maiden whose pleasantness offers a nice respite for weary travelers on a summer’s day and more of nature’s John McEnroe when it doesn’t get its way. Suffice it to say – we looked at the end like we had gone for a swim because this waterfall was so powerful. The experience was awesome. Just maybe wear a poncho.

 

Montañita

            Montañita is Ecuador’s Sayulita…or so people would like you to think. It’s haled as the greatest party beach town in South America by some, and as a nice relaxing place to catch some waves by others. Unfortunately for us, however, all of these aforementioned people are liars with scars on their rear ends because of the precipitous amount of fire perpetually in their pants. Montañita sucked. Granted, we went at the off season, but the place was a ghost town, it rained the whole time, and neither of the restaurants to be found in this city was of much value. We later found Montañita’s prettier sister in Peru, so it all worked out, but Nick and I literally went and left after one night because I only have one life to live. So on to Cuenca we went!

Cuenca

        Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage site – a gorgeous old colonial city in the south of Ecuador. We spent a long weekend here to close out our time in Ecuador. The night we arrived, one of the city’s pubs was hosting an Oktoberfest event. After 2 months of cheap hostel beer, tasting an IPA again was honestly like drinking the nectar of the gods…if the gods only let you have 2 at a time because the nectar was overly alcoholic. From then on, the weekend was honestly a blur of good coffee, finally finding great Mexican and Thai in South America, 50 cent pastries, and winding narrow walkways amidst a mass of colonial architecture. Cuenca might not be the most action-packed place on your Ecuador, to do list, but it’s a fantastic place to chill for a few days. 10/10.

 

Fun Facts About Ecuador