Hola all! Hope everyone in NZ is surviving the cold blast that we've seen on the NZ Herald pages! Brrr. Not make you all jealous and curse those chillblains, frosty pavements, feeding out on the farm, mittens, hats and winter jackets, but we are currently in Huacachina, Ica, Peru, where it has been a balmy mid 20's both yesterday and today - shorts and t-shirt weather! But before we arrived here, I left off the last blog in Piura, in northern Peru....
....So stuck in Piura, a dusty transport hub to break the journey between the good parts of Peru to the south and Ecuador to the north, we chilled out in our hostal til midday when we had to checkout of our room. We then continued to clutter up their reception lounge for another hour and a half before stuffing ourselves and our backpacks into a teeny tiny taxi again for the ride to the bus station. We then sat in the bus station waiting area for an hour or so until it was finally time to board our bus to Lima. The joys of having to wait for an overnight bus!
We were using Cruz del Sur, listed by Lonely Planet as the best of Peru's 'notoriously dangerous buses'. Their words not mine. After the cheap as chips buses in Ecuador - pretty much a US$1 per hour of bus travel, the buses in Peru seemed rather expensive - 130 soles for our Piura to Lima bus. But then by the time you break that down into US dollars and then into UK pounds, it doesn't hurt the wallet so much after all, at about £30 for what turned out to be a 17 hour bus ride.
So that old adage about getting what you pay for is entirely true when it comes to transport in South America! We'd gone from the buses in Ecuador having seen better days, having al la natural 'air conditioning' and either having locked toilets or an unlocked toilet but sans toilet paper, soap or tap to wash hands with, sans flush function and window to protect privacy (anyone unlucky enough to be passing the bus as you finished up your toilet business and pulled up your pants might get a mooning through the missing window) and sans recepticle to put any tissue you may have had in your pocket to cope with the possibility of it being a sans toilet paper situation (sorry, but the pocket tissue went out the window as we wizzed through the Ecuadorian countryside. It was either that or down the toilet that was sans a flushing motion or in my pocket - ew).
From this to our Cruz del Sur bus, complete with a luggage tag for our luggage with the other half stapled reasurringly to our tickets (though if our luggage ever does go missing we are going to be sadly berefit of sufficient Spanish to sort the situation out, even with one half of a luggage ticket!). Boarding the bus, things got even better, we had a bus assistant, much like an air hostess and a welcome and safety message played over the tv screens on the bus, though both were in Spanish. Oh well can't have it all. We were given a pillow and blanket and then the movies commenced. One after the other until near midnight. In Spanish with spanish subtitles. At full volume. We were fed (chicken and rice and two peas - a garnish perhaps?) and watered at dinner time and even entertained with a game of bingo, though this was a bit of a test for our spanish numbers!
Sometime I'd imagine around midnight, after sleeping between the quiet parts of the movies, we gave up and hit the assisstance button and requested that despite the old duck up the front enjoying her movie marathon at full volume, could it please be turned down somewhat. They obliged and we fell asleep properly, waking up in the stop / start nature of morning rush hour traffic in Lima.
At the Cruz del Sur bus terminal in Lima our bags turn up and pleased with this result we decided to stick with Cruz to get from Lima to Ica the following day. We get our tickets, for 55 soles each and then venture out to pick the most trust worthy looking taxi driver/car combination to get to our hostal in Miraflores. We pick well, the taxi is the first in almost three weeks to have seat belts, so we duly buckle up!
As we're so early our room isn't ready so we dump our stuff in luggage storage and head off to explore the craft stalls in various markets in the Miraflores area. The maze of stalls is neverending and we spend several hours admiring the crafts and goods for sale, picking up a few things before heading back to the hostal for our room and to shower, finally a hot one, first one since the great shower in Cuenca. Five cold showers ago. Tough for a gal who appreciates a fine shower!
Showered we head out to hunt for an entry down into Lima's new bus system that runs into the central city, along the expressway, much the same as Auckland's bus expressway thingy on the North Shore. In no time (for 1.5 soles) we are at the central bus stop where we walk from Plaza Grau up to the pretty Plaza San Martin with its statue of Lima's liberator by the same name. We head into the once grand bar of the Hotel Gran Bolivar and try out the famous Peruvian Pisco Sour, a cocktail made from grape brandy. It has a similar taste to Italy's lemonchello, but with less of the burning 'I'm drinking some really strong s***' taste. Still packs a punch though!
Fuelled up on pisco we walk the main drag with some beautiful colonial era buildings, from Plaza San Martin to the lovely and serene Plaza de Armas, with water fountain, palms and benches to sit on in the sunshine and enjoy the surrounding buildings - the Lima Cathedral, Archbishops Palace, and President's Palace (which is a little Buckingham Palace-esk in appearance).
We do a free tour of the building where the Spanish Inquisition was held and then as its getting on for late afternoon, head back to the bus station. Its hard to describe how, but the people and mood on the streets has changed and its gotten a little funky so we keep our wits about us, stopping only for a small bag of warm churros (1s!) and hustle back to the bus station to get back to the relatively safer Miraflores district and our hostal.
We have an early night at our hostal, The Flying Dog, (66 soles for a double room with shared bathroom). Its a fairly quiet hostal and has kitchen facilities and the toilets are clean, showers semi-so. Our room seems to have a skylight which projects above the roof like a box, which would be fine, except the side panels of glass don't reach the top of the skylight, leaving us with some permanent air conditioning, day and night without any extra blankets to compensate for this open-to-the-elements aspect of our room. The staff, though are very helpful, so if you can avoid room 5 with its odd open skylight, then it would be a fairly decent hostal.
So all in all we had a really good day in Lima, and found it to be pretty safe on the whole, though our reading of Lonely Planet's description of the city had lowered our expectations on the safety factor somewhat. Onto Ica....