Episode 9: Baños/Cuenca/Mancora/Lima/Cusco, Ecuador/Peru
Beard length (Tom): Dr. Harold Shipman
Skin colour (both): Liverpool F.C. 1996 FA Cup Final suits
Location: Cusco, Peru
Date: 10th April 2010.
It’s been a while, but frankly we’ve done very little since my last update, which has suited us down to the ground!
I wrote from Baños in southern Ecuador and we ended up spending 4 days there doing minor walking, major lazing and relaxing. It should be marketed as a tonic for travellers, because just being in one place for a few days is very nice, but when that place is in such a fantastic setting with plentiful and varied restaurants (including a Swiss place where we availed ourselves of the meat fondue and feared for our faces slightly with a vat of boiling oil on our table after a few beers!) and thermal baths, you would think they’d be shouting from the rooftops!
Our hostel here was also a winner – just away from the centre of town and with a roof terrace in the shadow of the local waterfalls. It was also cheap, always a bonus for us.
After our stay in Baños, we were back on the buses, with a very uncomfortable journey to Cuenca on a packed bus with the usual array of beggars/healers/Godsquad/key ring sellers with surprisingly long spiels.
I also had the pleasure of a teenage breast-feeding mother propping her feet on my leg whilst leaning against the adjacent seat-back. Under normal circumstances, I would of course have given my seat up, but this was a lengthy bus journey along winding mountain roads. I know, I’m going to burn in hell.
One feature of this journey was the scenery: as our friend Steve from Peckham would say, it was spectacular, in every sense of the word. Like a mixture of Scotland, Switzerland and Wales on steroids – towering mountains, low clouds and plunging valleys in every conceivable shade of green.
We arrived in Cuenca in a downpour and having not booked accommodation in advance we were a little moist when we eventually found somewhere. We did little exploring that evening, in the knowledge that we’d have the following day to do the museums.
You’d think that with the bad luck we’ve had with museums we might have checked whether they were open on our only day there. You also might be convinced by now that having visited every church in South America, we’d be quite well up on religious holidays.
Good Friday! Bloody Good Friday – who’d have thunk it? We thought it was quiet when we went out in the morning, but when the best museum in town was shut we realised something was amiss and spent large parts of the rest of the day wandering deserted streets, popping our heads into churches to disrupt services and generally bemoaning our luck.
As a side-note, can anybody tell me why in South America there is so much metal sticking out of the pavement? For the umpteenth time I nearly broke my toe on a metal rod which once held a bollard (I presume) in Cuenca and a couple of days ago we saw a middle-aged guy hilariously, but almost tragically, trip on a metal loop and stumble uncontrolled into a busy road. Thankfully for him, the drivers were obviously as busy chortling as we were, and didn’t plough him down.
While I’m picking your brains, why are tree trunks sometimes painted white at the bottom (the first 5/6ft or so)? Answers on a postcard please.
Anyway, I won’t bore you with our day-long journey from Cuenca to Mancora in Peru, the highlights of which were: taking in the frontier town of Huaquillas (squalid – Jane was told by a bicycling passerby that she was eating bacteria whilst enjoying her lunch, though her iron constitution has since stuck two fingers up at him); the least impressive border in the world I suspect (the dribble of a litter-infested river which marks the crossing to Peru); and some absolutely rammed buses (which thankfully we weren’t on) where children were passed through windows to board!
Mancora was lovely. That’s not to say I won’t whinge about it shortly, but our hostel was on the clifftop overlooking the town, the beach was superb, the weather hot (it won’t surprise you to learn that it was a little too hot for us!), the beach dogs plentiful, the food good, the beer cold and gringos evident in large numbers.
There’s not a huge amount to report from this town – we were roused from our daydreaming on the beach one day by frantic whistling from the guys running the beach bars and everyone pointing to a group of swimmers some way out. When the surfers interrupted their fun to urgently head that way, we were convinced there had been a shark attack and therefore something actually worth telling you about.
You can imagine our disappointment when we saw no blood and we can only assume from what little we saw of the aftermath to the rescue, that at worst it was a fat lad with cramp.
Talking of fat lads, I got some much-needed exercise one night when we failed to take any money down the steep cliff track for dinner. This resulted in something of an Ironman event for me – up and down said (unlit) cliff track in 30 minutes with an interval brainteaser against the clock of trying to find our stashed money (and failing). When I returned to our table, I was sweating like a scouser in Dixons (with apologies to my scouse friends and family).
So, we had a lovely few days in spite of the unnecessary exercise. My suggestions to the Mancora town council though (I feel it’s my duty to add some negativity, even when a place has been generally kind to us), would be to think about pavements, especially with the sheer number of heavy goods vehicles rattling along the main dusty street.
Also to get control of the many dogs: add some fur to the majority – a lot of them looked like a dog/piglet cross, some had genuinely scary eyes (a bit like Mason Verger in “Hannibal”) and I saw at least one have a shit in the surf (no more swimming for us after witnessing that).
Anyway, this is getting a lot longer than I expected having done pretty much nothing since the last update, so I’ll quickly tell you that we were in Lima for a night where we spurned the old town, ate KFC greedily, were delighted to see Man Utd crash out of Europe, but were disappointed that all the quarter finals of UEFA’s premier competition (!) were being shown the following day, apart from that of my team, Liverpool.
So, we’re in Cusco, after a 23 hour bus journey which was hard going in spite of paying for the most comfortable seats. The films shown were either too quiet to watch or started jumping just prior to the denouement, to be turned off and never return (I’m sadly never going to get that first 90 minutes I invested in “Seawolf” back).
The icing on the customer service cake was being roused dictatorial-style by a terrible cover (the stock music on long-distance buses: I think this one was an upbeat, cheery version of “Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve) at 4000 decibels, followed swiftly by breakfast, followed by 8 hours of no food or drink being served. We salute you Cruz del Sur (and they’re supposed to be the blue riband company!).
Without wanting to be too repetitive or sound too gay, the scenery here (both on the journey in and on arrival) is absolutely breathtaking.
Today we’ve said “No Gracias” to approximately 122 hawkers/touts (we’re genuinely thinking of getting T-shirts) and have visited the Inca temple of Qoricancha, which was very interesting and impressive and is so far my favourite Inca temple in Cusco.
Right, I’ll let you get back to your lives. We’re off to Machu Picchu on Tuesday (so my next update will include several hundred photos), before heading to Puno and the blue waters of Lake Titicaca.