Goodbye Ecuador, Hello Peru

Trip Start May 01, 2005
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Trip End Mar 25, 2006


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Sunday, June 19, 2005

I was sorry to leave Baños, that is, when I was able to. Road blockades delayed my departure so I missed travelling part of the way to Cuenca on the famous train from Riobamba, the ´El Nariz de Diablo´. Who wants to travel on the devil´s nose anyway, he probably doesn´t keep it too clean.

I arrived in Cuenca in the pouring rain, and so it continued for four days. This left me with lots of time to wander round the hundreds of churches, dodging the cheering, hooting masses when Ecuador beat Argentina in the World Cup qualifier. I met up with my sister-in-law´s cousin who is doing voluntary work there (Hi Jude!). It was great to talk to someone who actually knows me, rather than go through the traveller´s mantra of "where-u-from-where-u-been-where-u-going?". This is the traveller´s most valuable currency, the recommendations for where to go next, which hostels to avoid, which bus to get. The second most important currency is books. Doing nothing most days or travelling to your next destination involves a great deal of reading, and swapping books with other people or discovering a good book exchange becomes as important as finding a bank. Wilbour Smith rocks.

The first questions I am asked by local people is "where is your husband?" and "how many children have you got?", followed by disbelief that a woman of my age would have neither, when women here in their late 30´s are grandmothers. But even I was not immune to the Ecuadorian version of the wolf-whistle, the prolonged hiss, which sounds like air coming out of a deflating spacehopper. And is as exciting.

Attitudes towards pets in Ecuador was interesting. Dogs are kept on roofs or balconies, and I rarely saw anyone actually walking them. I was told of one family who, when their dog managed to get off the roof and was subsequently killed by a car, impassively collected the body, cooked it up and ate it. Then again, some dogs manage to have fun. A girl I met who´d worked in the jungle saw a monkey riding a dog. You don´t see that every day.

After Cuenca, I spent a few relaxing days in Vilcabamba, the so-called ´valley of longevity´ where people live to a ripe old age. The scenery was stunning, mountain peaks so beautiful they looked painted on to the sky, tiny yellow birds with orange heads, and butterflies all the colours of the rainbow. And here I am in Country No 2, Peru. I arrived in Mancora, on the west coast of the country, after a tortuous journey through the night with little sleep but lots of army checks. The beach was beautiful (not one speedo in sight) and I´ve gone a lighter shade of gray. It's a funny little place, one main street full of bars and shops selling tourist tat, behind which is the beautiful, long beach.

Travelling solo has so far had its advantages and disadvantages. Being on my own means I talk to other people, locals and travellers, more than I think I would have done in a couple, plus there are huge numbers of other single women travellers to hook up with if you feel like it. But travelling alone does mean you have no-one to help recover your embarrassment when you overbalance due to the weight of your rucksack and end up struggling like an upturned turtle (or terrapin, in my case), arms and legs waving helplessly. Plus you have to sit next to all sorts of odd people on buses. I sat next to one old cowboy who was wearing leather chaps and they bloody stank. I think bits of his horse were still stuck to them. I´ve also had a few ínteresting´ comments from some traveller couples, and once again the Belgians come up trumps - a girl from Brussels asked me how I could possibly even walk down the street on my own. Generally with my feet, I told her, unless of course they´re planted up someone´s backside for asking stupid questions. Other couples are more welcoming, being generally a bit bored with each other and keen to talk to someone else. I´m currently travelling with a really nice couple, it´s great not to have to entertain myself all the time.

I´m now in Chiclayo, a town surrounded by agricultural industry, mainly sugar cane, cotton and rice. The reason to come here is to see the pre-Columbian ruins at Sipan and Tucumbe, pyramids that look nothing like their Egyptian cousins but more like discarded earth after a motorway has been built. We´ve visited all the museums we could find and seen the amazing treasures found in the tomb of Lord Sipan, but the most interesting fact to be learnt was that there was a period in Peruvian history called Wanka Chanka. Cue sniggering from the gringo visitors.

We´re staying in the Hotel Paracas, very nice, but don´t go for a room overlooking the street unless you´re keen to overhear arguments at 3am between various señors and their ´mujers de la noche´about the cost of a certain transaction. But the great thing in this hotel is the television. After two months in a television desert, I sit in my room at night in a semi-catatonic state faced with the agonising choice of ninety channels. Ninety! There´s even a dodgy porn channel which is very badly dubbed into English. Think ´Flashing Blade (anyone under 35 may not remember this classic series) but with no clothes and not set in France in the 1700´s.

¡hasta luego!
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